“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. 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 email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Carson Morton is the author of Stealing Mona Lisa, a debut that
the New York Journal of Books called a “well-crafted, beautifully
written, and engaging mystery.” Carson was born in England but
has lived in the US since he was eleven. He has worked as a
professional musician, television composer, playwright, and
screenwriter and currently lives in Nashville.
See his author website here.
GETTING AN AGENT THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY
I wish I had some dramatic story of pulling a beautiful woman out of the way of a bus on the streets of New York only to discover that she was a literary agent and yes, she’d be happy to read my manuscript, but, in truth, I got my agent the old fashioned way: through Writer’s Market.
After working for years on my first novel, Stealing Mona Lisa, I switched into promotional gear and bought a yearly subscription to WM’s online service. I assembled a list of about 40 agencies based on criteria such as, “historical fiction,” “works with first time writers,” etc. I would also visit the various websites listed to get a feel for the agency. Then, putting my talents as a “Database Guy” at a major university to use, I put them into a handy-dandy database and rated them on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the best prospect. Then, basically I went down the list one by one, paying careful attention to their specific requirements. Some wanted a simple pitch in an e-mail, some wanted me to attach the first two or three chapters, some preferred e-mail, some snail-mail, some had text windows on their websites. The point is, I tailored each submission specifically to the target. It was a lot of work and no small pain in the (fill in the appropriate part of the body that suits your sensibilities).
POLISHING THE QUERY
I put a huge amount of work into the opening sentence of the query (the first and possibly the last thing a prospective agent will read). This is what I came up with:
“What could be more lucrative than stealing Da Vinci’s masterpiece Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum and selling it to an American millionaire? How about stealing it and selling six exact copies to six American Millionaires?”
Voila, the results:
Queries sent: 21
No reply: 6
Pas(s)adena (as they used to say out in Hollywood): 14
Requests to read full manuscript: 2
That last number is interesting. The first agent to request to read the manuscript, Bernadette Baker-Baughman (now of Victoria Sanders & Associates), offered to sign me up as a client. After speaking with Bernadette and her associate, I knew that these were the right agents for me. By the time the second agency requested the full manuscript I was already signed. Less than a year later, Bernadette had found a home for my book: St. Martin’s Press. It will released on August 2, 2011, the hundred year anniversary of the actual theft of that most famous painting.
John Irving once said that nothing had ever happened to him that couldn’t be improved in the writing. With that in mind, I take it all back. The real story is that I was strolling through the canyons of Manhattan one day when I saw this beautiful young woman (my future agent) step out in front of a bus…