In 2006, I was hired as an editor for Writer’s Digest Books. By that time in my life, I had written tons of newspaper articles, a few dozen magazine pieces, and even had several stage play productions of my work. Things were going pretty well, but I never really thought too much about getting an agent because I didn’t have any book-length works to sell. After all, you only need an agent if you have either a novel or a nonfiction book (more specifically, a book proposal) to sell.
MEETING SORCHE AT A CONFERENCE
In October 2006, I attended the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, IL as a panelist. (By the way, this event was cool but no longer exists, I believe.) At the festival, I moderated an agent panel. One of the participating agents, Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary Representation in Boston, was asked a question regarding whether publishers came up with book ideas and then simply “found” writers to complete the project. Sorche said “yes,” and also added that agents, as well, will conjure up good ideas and seek writers for projects. She then said something along the lines of, “Right now, I’m thinking about how come no one’s done a book on old movie houses still in operation.” This caught my interest.
It caught my interest because I was just starting on a 10-part series for Pennsylvania Magazine on historic theaters around the state. I chatted with Sorche a little bit at the writers’ conference but didn’t talk business. (This is something I still think is underrated—just talking to an agent like a normal human being and making a nice impression in their mind—rather than giving yet another pitch.) A week later, after the conference was finished, I e-mailed her and said, “Thanks, nice to meet you, etc,” but I added, “I’m writing this series for Pennsylvania Magazine. I’m a produced playwright and old, historic theaters is a topic that’s kind of up my alley. I know it’s not ‘movie houses’ like you mentioned, but if you were ever interested in seeing something more on this subject, just let me know. Thanks.”
I stared at my inbox and phone. Nothing happened. A week went by and I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. Three months later, I checked my work voicemail and it was her. “Sounds interesting,” she said. “Give me a call and we’ll talk.”
Chuck’s book was released in Sept. 2010:
How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack
DEVELOPING THE FIRST PROPOSAL
On the phone, Sorche hashed out what she wanted to see in terms of a book proposal. After that, I started educating myself with lots of books on book proposals and asked writer friends for sample proposals. It took a few months to put something together and send it to her. We crossed paths again in New York in May 2007 and she had a marked-up copy of my proposal with suggested places to revise and expand. The next part took a while (nine months—probably above average), as we passed the proposal back and forth while I was making revisions and she was explaining how to better it.
By the beginning of 2008, we were just about done. Sorche and I crossed paths at another writers’ conference and she had brought a contract, just like she said she would. The contract was only for a one-book agreement (meaning we would only be tied together for that one book, legally), but we had dinner and talked about what else I had in my head. She liked my other nonfiction ideas and said she was game to rep other proposals when I finished them.
And that’s pretty much it! I could go on with stories of revisions and submissions to editors, but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with how her and I got linked up.
the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents.
Buy it here online at a deep discount.