“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Camille Griep, author of LETTERS TO ZELL. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
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Column by Camille Griep, author of LETTERS TO ZELL (July 2015, 47 North).
Camille lives and writes north of Seattle, Washington. Her short fiction, poetry,
and creative nonfiction have been featured in a number of online and print venues.
She is the Editor of Easy Street also serves as a senior editor at The Lascaux Review.
Her second novel, NEW CHARITY BLUES, will be released in Spring 2016. Follow her
The beginning of the quest
Once upon a time, a long time ago in 2013, it was a sticky summer weekend in Portland, Oregon where I was attending and volunteering for a small, local conference. The workshop group I was assigned to was to be led by agent Cameron McClure of the Donald Maas Literary Agency. Already thrilled at the possibility of glimpsing just what agent might be looking for within the array of manuscript samples in my group, I was even more excited when I was tasked with picking Cameron up from the airport.
The conference hotel was no more than a mile away from PDX and I climbed into my red car and took it through the carwash, banishing the evidence of my serious Junior Mint addiction. I made an airport sign like the limo folks, put on my conference t-shirt, and strode into baggage claim with a cold bottle of water to retrieve her from her long haul from New York.
My mind raced. She was bound to be very hip, being from New York. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worn a t-shirt. What if I couldn’t find her? What if she didn’t even like water? Or red cars?
My fears were for naught. When I found Cameron, which was easy—as she is in possession of quite possibly the coolest hair in the universe—she was gracious and kind. Having already read the samples for our workshop group on the plane, she immediately asked about my own manuscript and my ideas. While locating her bag and extricating ourselves from the parking garage, I tried to explain my book as elegantly and as non-panderingly as I could while navigating the unfamiliar streets surrounding the airport.
I almost got us back to the hotel.
The access road to the hotel had one exit, which I mastered easily, but the hotel driveway itself was a strange left hand turn which I missed, looped around, then missed again, causing us to drive the PDX access road not once but twice. On the plus side, it gave me plenty of time to talk about my manuscript. On the other hand, I was sure she thought she’d been stuck with the biggest idiot at the conference. I felt pretty lucky that she’d already asked to see my manuscript once it was completed.
Meeting my Agent in Shining Armor
Throughout the rest of the weekend, I paid attention to what Cameron had to say about everything. I tried to listen to the comments she made on the other manuscript samples in our group, hoping to avoid pitfalls as I completed my own. It turned out she had interesting feelings on when to break the rules. We even had similar tastes in popular literature, eschewing some of the same big names and loving some of the same smaller ones.
Someone once told me the relationship with an agent is almost a work-marriage of sorts. By the time the weekend was finished, I knew I would be broken-hearted if I didn’t eventually win Cameron’s favor. I asked her a few more questions about my manuscript and how to proceed. She gave me an important piece of advice: Take all the time you need to get it to me, just make sure it’s right.
I took five months to do just that. I wrote for three more months, collected beta feedback, and edited for another month, finishing just before the end of the year. I sent the manuscript off and started to counsel myself on a backup plan, just in case. I researched other agents, so that—as with short story submissions—I could send the manuscript right back out in case of rejection.
Happily Ever After
Luckily, Cameron asked me to take the next step. We did an intense round of edits, in part to make the book stronger, but also in part to test how we would work together as a team. When those edits were complete, she offered me representation for LETTERS TO ZELL and I happily accepted.
These days Cameron is my champion and my first reader. She challenges me when I take the easy way out, she redirects me when I go wandering toward writing that is not my own. She is supportive and tough, demanding excellence and helping to bring out the best in my writing as well as my novels as whole narratives.
I’m thrilled to have Cameron as my teammate and support, even if she has a little fun at my expense from time to time. When we interviewed with the publisher I’d eventually sign with, we had an affable discussion with the acquiring editor. “She’s great to work with,” Cameron said. “Just don’t send her on a book tour without giving her a map.”
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Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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