How I Got My Agent: Brian McClellan

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Brian McClellan, author of PROMISE OF BLOOD: Book One of the Powder Mage Trilogy. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Brian is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: burrowswrite won.)


brian-mcclellan-author-writer        promise-of-blood-novel-cover

Brian McClellan is the author of Promise of Blood, book one of The Powder
Mage Trilogy, which was praised by both Kirkus and SciFi Now. He is also the
author of “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue” and the upcoming The Crimson Campaign,
due out in February of 2014. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and two
dogs and a cat. In his spare time he plays computer games, makes homemade
jams, and tends to a hive of honey bees.  You can find Brian via Twitter,
Facebook, or on his website.





I’ve heard a number of various stories over the years about how authors ended up with their agents. My own mentor first met his agent at a convention; bought him a drink, chatted him up, and left with an offer to submit manuscripts directly. This is a wonderful way to go about it and how I usually recommend new authors try and grab an agent. The agent now has a personal connection with you, and this makes all the difference in the world for how hard they will look at your stuff.

Of course, that’s not how I got my agent.

I tried for a long time. I write epic fantasy, and so I went to the appropriate conventions (Worldcon and World Fantasy). I was introduced to agents and editors by my friends. I even had a couple of them ask for the manuscript of my first novel.

I wound up getting form rejections from all of them, except for one polite editor who said he could see I had talent but I needed far more experience, and feel free to submit to him in the future.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)


Fast forward to World Fantasy 2010. This was my first solo convention, and I was shopping a novel I had just finished a couple weeks before. I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t realize until I arrived just how terrified I’d be. My hands shook. I stuttered. I didn’t sleep more than a couple of hours the entire four day weekend. One agent blew me off, and another editor took pity on me and offered to look at the first three chapters.

I came home defeated. The whole weekend was a bust. But I had this new novel to shop and damn it, I was going to shop it. Maybe I didn’t make a good impression in person where they could see my nervousness, but I had confidence in my ability to write and I knew I had a good book. The key now would be to write a fantastic query letter.

(Note that Brian’s novel, PROMISE OF BLOOD, is on sale on Kindle for $1.99 for the month of September 2013.)

I researched query letters. I found dozens of examples and looked over them, reading about what made them good or bad. I read agent’s blogs to find out what they were looking for. I tried to find as many as possible for works of genre fiction because, after all, that’s what I was submitting.

I kept my query letter short and sweet. I told them the length and genre. I told them the hook¬—the reason that readers would pick up my book instead of someone else’s. I gave them a single paragraph that summed up the story, and finally I provided my credentials (of which I had very few).

My query, what I had spent weeks working on, was a basic form letter. But it’s a terrible idea to send form letters to agents, so I changed it a little bit for each agent: I addressed them by name. I commented about the books they represented, or an author friend that had recommended them, or that I had met them at such and such a convention. I made each letter into its own personalized query.

(What is the definition of “New adult”? That, and many more definitions explained.)


My first batch of letters was seventeen queries. Some were paper. Some were by email. I sent them all out and then sat back, prepared to wait for months until I received a response. A little over a week later, I had two offers of representation for my book, Promise of Blood. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I ended up signing with the fantastic Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates.

The experience gained by going to cons, networking, and composing queries all contributed to my success in landing an agent. Although I reached my goal rather quickly, the key factors in this often intimidating process are patience and preparation. Do your homework, set goals, and expect to encounter rejection along the way. Make finding an agent your priority and keep in mind that this is an essential relationship for your writing career.

GIVEAWAY: Brian is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: burrowswrite won.)


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15 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Brian McClellan

  1. PhotosByPflanz

    Hello Brian,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with finding a literary agent. I just finished my first children’s chapter book and I am working on the query letter. I am also starting the outline for my first fantasy novel and would love to read yours. Best of luck on your sales and I hope I have the same good fortune.

    Best regards,
    Brian Pflanz

  2. justine_manzano

    Hi Brian!

    I’m pretty sure this is how things would go for me. I’m pretty awkward in person and come off much more polished in writing. I’m often referred to as cute and quirky, which always makes me feel like people view me as a precocious child. 😉

    Happy for your success!

  3. rjshirts

    I’d love a copy of your book to go with my signed bookplate… Silly bookstores in my town have been sold out.

    Thanks for the advice on the personalized queries as well. Definitely food for thought here.

  4. Amanda Helms

    Hi Brian!

    I think I first saw you/your book featured on Scalzi’s The Big Idea. Will have to add to my reading queue! Thanks for sharing–as someone who also tends to come across better in writing than in person, it’s nice to read that the traditional method still works (though of course all avenues have worth and something to teach).

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Vocarin

    As a future writer, I find this to be very interesting. To me the idea of approaching a publisher or an agent always feels like setting out to pick the lone flower on the mountain peak – daunting, scary, and the sole inspiration for all sorts of reasons to go do something else with my life. So to hear that it can be done by someone who tripped up along the way and didn’t just get lucky by buying their agent a drink is encouraging because it reinforces that agents are people too, and that the personalized letters and research really do pay off in the end. Thank you for sharing this with us, and all the best.

  6. Katie

    I’m ecstatic to see an epic fantasy writer featured on GLA’s “How I Got My Agent,” since that’s what I like to read and write! =)

    Two offers of representations after your first round of queries is incredible. Congratulations! Another epic to add to my queue!

  7. jluu0519

    Great article about breaking in. I was told by another published, successful author that everyone breaks in differently, so don’t get too discouraged when you fail the first few (or many) times.

    Thanks for sharing this!


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