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How I Got My Agent: Cicily Janus

Categories: Breaking In (Writer's Digest), Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns.

“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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics

   

Cicily Janus is the author of The New Face of Jazz
(Random House, July 2010), which Grammy-winner
Wynton Marsalis called “probably one of the most
important books on jazz to date.” Cicily lives in
Colorado. See her website here.

 

A PAJAMA PARTY WITH AN AGENT GUEST

The old adage write what you know certainly applies to my success story as a writer. In 2005, I began to hear voices. I assume they’re the same voices the rest of you hear every day when you sit down at your computer. The writing bug bit me in the very worst way and, within a year, I had my first novel completed. In the fall of 2006, I attended my first writing conference in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. There were about twenty writers total and we all stayed in the same house where the daily workshops took place. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I think that writing would ever be my profession.

Gary Heidt from Signature Literary Agency was the agent scheduled to work with us. At some point during the first evening (we had all had our fair share of wine and beer that night), there was a knock at the door. I was sitting in the main living area in my pajamas. (As a matter of fact, we were all in our pajamas.) I, being the closest to the door, was roped into answering it. With a looser than usual tongue, I asked the man at the door if he was lost, seeing as he obviously didn’t get the memo regarding the pajama party. He laughed and said, “I only brought my agent costume.” After picking my jaw up off of the floor, I let him in. Throughout that weekend, not only did Gary give me his time in regards to the craft he also spent time talking about life and mutual interests like jazz.

AN INTERESTED EDITOR

Not once did I think of him as this scary entity or a future rejection … I thought of him as an ally. Throughout the two years following the conference, we kept in touch via e-mail. The e-mails were sometimes six months apart, but I made sure to keep them professional and courteous. My first novel never saw the light of day, of course, but I never once brought up the “question” of representing me in the future.

Fast forward to the spring of 2008. I was attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in my hometown of Colorado Springs. I had just completed my second novel and was slated to pitch it to an editor from HarperCollins. He rejected it. Later that evening, I got to know this particular editor and he mentioned how much he loved jazz. (Although the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference is one of the larger in the country, I found plenty of time to get to know agents and editors after the scheduled events.) Eventually, I mentioned my idea about a book on jazz. He seemed interested in the project, and forked over some names of agents I should query. He also told me to have them send him the proposal. But, because of my established relationship with Gary, I couldn’t think of any one better to hit up first.

“YES I REMEMBER YOU, CICILY”

Within two weeks I finished the first draft of the proposal, garnered some attention from a few key players in the jazz community, and sent him the following email:

Hi Gary,

This is Cicily Janus.  If you don’t remember, I met you at the Mass. Writing Conference with Mike Neff in October 2006. I am writing to you because I have an editor from Harper Collins who is interested in seeing my NF book proposal titled, New Face of Jazz. This book would essentially be a field guide to jazz across the country. It will also touch on jazz education, influential artists alive today as well as various resources for jazz listeners and players. I have members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Jane Monheit, and jazz musicians across the country already endorsing this project.

If this is something you might be interested in, I would be more than happy to send you my proposal via email or snail mail. Hope you are well.

Cicily

Within a few minutes, he replied and said to send it over. Two months later, he signed me on as a client. Although he really liked the first draft of the proposal, he made sure that I was also willing to work and apply his suggestions. Since then, we have tirelessly worked to bring this project to life. It took us four major proposal rewrites, 48 editors (48 rejections) and nine months to sell the book to my editor at Random House. Gary never gave up on me.

Gary didn’t remember me because of a pitch nor did he remember me because I hounded him about representing me. He remembered me because of our mutual love for music and the fact that I got to know him as a human being. Be who you are on a day-to-day basis because this is what not only has shaped your writing, but the traits that will ultimately determine your success as an author.

This post is an online exclusive complement
to a spotlight on Cicily in the Sept./Oct. 2010
issue of WD. If you don’t have a sub to
Writer’s Digest, what are you waiting for?
Get one now!

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