How I Got My Agent: Dom Testa

“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.

 

Dom Testa is a radio host in Denver and
an award-winning young adult author
The paperback of
The Comet’s Curse,
the first book in his sci-fi series, is available
now. See his
series website here.


NOT LOOKING FOR LOVE

Relationship experts say that the key to finding true love is to not look for it. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, the anecdotal evidence appears to back them up. How many couples have you known who either met through total chance, or met when one or neither was even interested in a relationship? They weren’t cruising the bars, or active in an online dating service; it just happened. That’s essentially my story when it came to landing an agent and a book deal. But before you roll your eyes and/or curse me, consider this: the road to representation is often much easier when your focus isn’t on the actual hunt itself, but rather on the product that fires your passion.

My publishing journey began in the early 90s when I participated in the annual Dr. Seuss birthday celebration at a Denver-area school. As a morning radio show host, I’m often asked to either emcee an event, or to be a celebrity this-or-that for a charity. But this was different, and—surprise, surprise!—I had a great time. I began reading at schools on a regular basis. Plus, because I’d been writing as a hobby since high school, the kids’ enthusiasm inspired me to devote more and more time to polishing my skills.

By the late 90s I had segued from reading at elementary schools to actively working with older students. I began hosting writing assemblies and workshops at middle schools (something I still frequently do today), while scribbling out ideas for a YA book. My radio career took up much of my time, but all writers know that you carve out whatever time possible to get it done. By 2003 I had finished the first few drafts of what would become The Comet’s Curse.

FORMING MY OWN PUBLISHING COMPANY

But I never considered finding an agent, or, for that matter, landing a traditional publishing deal. I wanted control of the release, the cover, the marketing, and the planned sequels, so I opted to form my own publishing company and put in even more time. This was truly a labor of love, and I felt that if I believed in it that much, I could do anything with my book.

The Comet’s Curse was published in January of 2005. In the fall of that year I was cruising down I-25 in Denver when my cell phone rang. On the other end was Chuck Sambuchino, calling from Writer’s Digest magazine. “Pull over,” he said to me. “You don’t want to be driving when I tell you this.” What he told me was that I had won the grand prize in the annual Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Book contest, beating out 1500 entries from around the world. Yes! (pumps fist in air)

In the next two years I published two more volumes in the Galahad series: The Web of Titan, and The Cassini Code. By this point I was overwhelmed with radio, speaking, running a small independent press, and finding time to write. One evening I sat on my deck, drinking beers with my friend Judith Briles, who has published more than twenty books. I told her that the time might have come to find a traditional publisher. She recommended I contact a former agent of hers, Jacques de Spoelbergh.

TOR BOOKS

Jacques was quite pleasant, but unsure that he would represent me. Instead he suggested that I directly contact Tom Doherty of Tor Books, the worldwide leader in sf/fantasy. My first thought was, “Really? Write to the man who FOUNDED Tor? Isn’t that…presumptuous?” But I did indeed send off the package, with a one-page letter to Tom and copies of the first two Galahad books that I’d published.

Five days later—yes, five—Kathleen Doherty, the publisher of Tor’s YA division, called. Her first words to me were memorable: “We love your books, and want to sign you to a six-book deal.” After I picked myself off the floor, I got back in touch with Jacques, and, after a few in-depth conversations, agreed that he would represent me with this series. He’s a true gentleman, and a savvy industry vet.

So my story is quite different than most. I funneled my energies into creating a tangible—and credible—body of work. While some might say, “wow, it only took you five days,” I’m quick to point out that the entire process began fifteen years earlier. That’s fifteen years of writing, visiting schools, hosting workshops, building a one-man independent publishing imprint, and staying focused on the end result: the book itself. The key is gravity; I created gravitational pull that attracted people to my book. And then, like true love, it “just happened.”

 

 


 

 

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