“How I Got My Agent” is a new 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.
This installment of “How I Got
My Agent” is by Colin Broderick.
Colin is the author of the memoir,
Orangutan. His site, www.colinbroderick.com,
will be up and running soon.
On the sixth day of the sixth month 2006, I left my apartment in Hells Kitchen with the last of my belongings in a small U-Haul truck to drive to farmhouse up north and try to save my life. It might sound like I’m fabricating the facts here for dramatic effect but as I started the truck and headed north I glanced at the dash clock and it read 6:06. It occurred to me then and I still believe it now that there was some Dante-esque connection at play here, my life had literally spiraled to its lowest point. I was a 38-year-old, twice divorced alcoholic weighing in at an astonishing 115 lbs. I was broke and now I had lost my apartment. It was time to start the long crawl out of the hole I had dug for myself. I had witnessed the depths of the inferno and it held little of the allure it once did for me. I wanted nothing more to do with it.
Within three days, I had started writing what was to become my memoir, Orangutan. I had been writing for twenty years since moving to New York from Northern Ireland at the age of 20 to work construction. I completed a couple of novels, plays, short stories and notebooks full of poetry—but I had only ever managed to get one short story published and that had been 10 years before. I spent my twenties convinced that I would be “discovered.” An agent or editor would read one page of my manuscript and run to the nearest phone to dial my number with an offer that would catapult me into the waiting arms of the Nobel Prize Committee. It didn’t happen. I did send my early manuscripts out to a few agents and agencies but I can’t remember even receiving a rejection letter. It seemed finding an agent was a more elusive dream than finding a publisher. I used to joke that you needed an agent to get an agent in this town.
THE AA REFERRAL
After spending a year on Orangutan—a year that saw me back on the bottle for a brief but productive period that added a stint in an upstate jail to my resume—I started dating a girl who had been a bartender of mine once upon a time. She was a writer, also. She read what I had written and was convinced that this was the manuscript that would finally get me published. She took me back to the city gave me a place to stay and a desk for my work. I married her for her efforts and quit drinking to devote my time and energy to creating a career for myself in the only profession that has ever made any sense to me: writing.
I was at a meeting one night way downtown—one of those meetings you hear about where the alcoholics gather to drink coffee and smoke their cigarettes—when I heard a guy about my age tell his story. He’d escaped from a locked ward at Bellevue Mental Hospital, and was the first to escape from the institution since the early 70s. He’d sobered up and written a book about it, and with the help of his wonderful agent had just nailed down a book deal. I lurked around outside the meeting afterward waiting for my moment. He was quite popular and had a lot of goodbyes to say but I was patient. This was my guy—I was sure of it. When he finally turned to leave, I followed him around the corner and stopped him with a tap on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, my name’s Colin I just heard your story in there and it was great. Here’s the deal; I heard you say you have an agent, well I’m a writer myself and I have this manuscript almost finished and I could really use an agent.” Here he started mumbling some line about how he had introduced someone to his agent already and it hadn’t really worked out for him but I didn’t let him finish. “I can assure you, I told him that if you introduce me to your agent you will always remember this as the night you discovered Colin Broderick.” He smiled. I had appealed to his cooky sense of happenstance. He laughed and eyed me skeptically.
“You’re not bullshitting me,” he said. “You can really write?”
“I promise, I will not embarrass you.”
Three days later (thanks to a phone call from this nice man), I was seated in the office of Dystel and Goderich down on Union Square. I on one couch, Jane and Miriam on another facing me. “Okay, shoot,” Jane said clasping her hands in her lap and the two women glaring at me with raised eyebrows.
“What?” I had no idea what to do next.
“Well, why are we sitting here with you? Shoot.”
This was the moment I had been waiting for my entire adult life. Here was an honest-to-goodness shot at the hoop. I jumped right in with my story and within a few minutes I could tell they were warming up. We had made a connection. They asked me if I’d brought anything with me for them to read. I had. I gave them a disc with what I had of the manuscript so far and in within three days I was back in their office signing a contract. I had my agent!—the same agency who represented Barack Obama, a Hemingway, Judge Judy, and a Bellevue escapee. I had found my home.
It took six months for them to sell Orangutan to Three Rivers Press, (Random House, no less). Over the past year, both Jane and Miriam have been working closely with me helping me refine my next book proposal. They have just submitted it to the publishers. It’s been a long hard road, but it’s been well worth the wait. And that Bellevue escapee, author Chris Campion, and I became fast friends into the bargain.
supplement to a feature on him in the Jan. 2010
issue of Writer’s Digest (the “Breaking In” section).
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