“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
May 2010. The novel was chosen as an Indie Next
notable pick by the American Booksellers Association
and has sold in 18 foreign markets. Boyd’s next book
is Rogue Wave (Dec. 2010). Besides writing, Boyd
lives in the Seattle area, loves to act, and fulfilled
a lifelong dream in 2003 when he became a Jeopardy!
Champion. See his website here.
THE DEAL WITH MY WIFE
I started writing my first novel while I was finishing my PhD dissertation. How I thought I could do both at the same time, I have no idea. It took a year to finish the book, and in 1996, I queried four literary agents. Yes, only four. Out of those four, one of them asked to read a partial manuscript and gave me some positive feedback but ultimately decided not to represent me. One out of four was a stellar percentage, but I didn’t realize it at the time, and I stopped submitting it. My wife thought I gave up too easily, and she was absolutely right. (I listen to her much better now.)
At the time, she was just starting her pre-med courses in anticipation of applying to med school. It meant that I would be supporting her during her training, so I put my writing on hold to concentrate on work. So the deal was that I would support her through nine years of pre-med, med school, and residency, and then when she was a full-fledged doctor, I would be able to quit my job and get nine years to become a published author. Not a bad deal, eh?
PITCHING AGENTS IN PERSON
In January 2005, I left my job to crank up my writing again. I finished my second novel in 18 months. Now it was time to do the agent search again. This time I was more savvy. I went to writers’ conferences like the Las Vegas Writers Conference, Thrillerfest, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, and pitched my novel in person. I also queried the traditional way. I would say my success at getting an agent to ask for a partial manuscript was approximately 1,000% better when I pitched my book in person than by query letter. I would strongly advise anyone looking for an agent to pitch them in person at a conference. Putting a face to a book gets the partial through much faster than if it’s a query letter from someone the agent has never met.
At least four agents asked to see the entire manuscript of my second novel, but no takers. I know I got over 50 rejections, but after you get above that, do you really need to know the exact number? Suffice to say, I queried every agent who I thought would be remotely interested. None were.
Back to the keyboard. I finished my third thriller novel, The Ark, in 2007. This time, I didn’t bother to query. I went straight to conferences to pitch. At the 2007 Agentfest (part of Thrillerfest in NYC), agents only saw authors during the lunch session, and it was arranged that one agent would sit at each table. Who you were sitting with was totally random. I was talking with author Jon Land at the time, and we were late to the lunch, so we sat at the very last table in the room, which was about six miles from the front. Being late to that lunch changed my life. At that table was Irene Goodman, a very well-respected agent who has been in the business for 30 years. She had been representing primarily romance and nonfiction but was looking for thrillers to add to her portfolio. When we were all seated, she went around the table and asked each writer to pitch their novels to her. Here’s the exact pitch I gave her for The Ark:
A relic from Noah’s Ark gives a religious fanatic and his followers a weapon that will let them recreate the effects of the biblical flood, and former combat engineer Tyler Locke has seven days to find the Ark and the secret hidden inside before it’s used to wipe out civilization again.
As soon as I said “Noah’s Ark”, she asked to see the first three chapters. I told her I still had some slight editing to do, but when it was ready and polished, I would send it to her. I would advise anyone pitching a novel to have a pithy one sentence summary of what your book is. If you can do that, it’s clear that you know what your story is about, which is more more attractive to an agent than a rambling five minute recounting of the plot.
THE SECRET IS TO KEEP WRITING
During Thrillerfest and then the PNWA conference that year, I found ten more agents who wanted partials. I also got blurbs from James Rollins and Jon Land, both of whom generously agreed to read an early copy. If you want bestselling authors to give you blurbs, go to conferences and spend time with them. Again, writers’ conferences are where it’s at.
By this time, Irene (she tells me now) wondered if I had forgotten about her. I hadn’t. She was among the first agents I sent the sample chapters to. I mailed them on a Thursday in September. On the following Monday, she called me. CALLED ME! She was the first and only agent to ever call me, which made quite the impression. She told me she loved the opening, and would I be willing to Fedex the entire manuscript to her? Uh, let me think … Yeah! I would have driven it there on a unicycle if she wanted me to. I got a call from her on Thursday offering me representation. I chewed it over for a day (I’d sent it to other agents who weren’t quite as quick to respond). On Friday, I accepted.
It’s been 14 years since I finished writing my
first novel. So every writer who talks about persistence being
a defining trait of published authors is absolutely correct. Listen to
them. Keep writing. Don’t stop at that first novel. Don’t rewrite it
over and over. Move on. You’ll improve your chances a hundredfold by
writing that next book.
to a spotlight on Tom in the July/August 2010
issue of WD. If you don’t have a sub to
Writer’s Digest, what are you waiting for?
Get one now!