How I Got My Agent: Don J. Rearden

“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 and we’ll talk specifics.

Don is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Keith won.)


Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern
Alaska. He teaches English at the University of Alaska
Anchorage. His debut novel is The Raven’s Gift
(Penguin Canada, Jan. 2011), a story Jodi Picoult
called “a read that opens our eyes and finds the
fault lines of a heart in one breathless sitting.”
See his website here.


My subject line always began the same way. I didn’t even type the three words into the subject line. Typing was too slow. A spammer must be efficient and work with lightening speed. Locate e-mail address. Cut. Paste. Send. Repeat. I had found directors and film producers for my screenplays in the same fashion. Why not an agent? After all, I lived out on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, just about as far away from literary agents and the publishing world as humanly possible. My only hope was to capitalize on my exotic locale and the writing skills I’d been honing during those cold dark winters, and if that didn’t work, just spam the hell out of any and every agent with an e-mail account.

So I sat down and located my first victim: Adam Chromy of Moveable Type Literary (formerly of Artists & Artisans). This was in the day before many agents were publicly posting an e-mail address, and when I found him, I perused his website and actually liked what he had to say about the industry and what he was looking for in a writer.

My magical subject line was simple: “Greetings from Alaska!”


I’ll spare you the body of the e-mail, but a few lines are worth sharing, if only for a laugh at how ridiculous I sounded. Goofy and embarrassing sentences like, “The middle of nowhere is a long way from the publishing world, and my writings are apt to be discovered one day by some wayward polar explorer who will pry the manuscripts from my frostbitten fingersunless you are the agent brave enough to read them before that fateful day.”

If that didn’t catch Adam’s eye, I’d find another agent’s e-mail, hit forward, paste the new address in the email and begin my latest spamming campaign.

Before I could even hit send on the next e-mail, a response from Adam appeared in my inbox. At the time, I was hoping to sell a nonfiction book about how to be a creative genius. Adam quickly pointed out that my meager film credits and high school teaching career didn’t amount to enough authority to work a Slurpee machine, let alone the clout or credibility to share my brilliant insight in my manuscript, Unleashing Your Creative Monster. Then, after smashing my literary hopes for my manuscript in one sentence, he asked for what else I had. Perhaps a novel? Of course, like everyone else, I was working on one, and sent him the entire thing. All twenty pages of an attempt at historical fictiona Yup’ik Eskimo war novel.


Later that day I received a personalized rejection. The story itself wasn’t what he was looking to sell, but he liked the writing style and my voice. Adam said to let him know when I finished another novel. So, before my spamming campaign began, it was over. I’d learned in my first day of an agent hunt that wasn’t quite ready for an agent.

That first failed hunt for an agent began and ended on one Alaskan spring day in 2003. In 2005, I finished a novella and had grown even savvier at spamming filmmakers. Naturally I would use the same tactic to hunt for a literary agent. But first I would email that one agent dude in New York who said he’d read my latest work. I searched my inbox, found Adam’s kind rejection e-mail, and hit REPLY.

Adam signed me based on the work from the novella. The novella garnered attention of some major houses, but ultimately they passed, and so I dug in and wrote a full-length novel: The Raven’s Gift. Thanks to Adam Chromy and his foreign rights agents Danny and Heather Baror of Baror International, a few of those manuscripts of mine will no longer have to be pried from my frostbitten fingers.

Don is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Keith won.)

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15 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Don J. Rearden

  1. anda woodworth

    Hi Don.
    Thanks for the advice. I’m trying to figure out a way to move to Alaska where I can breathe. I’m a dog trainer working on a short story about some of the dogs I’ve met (including some lovely Alaskan sled dogs owned by Mary Shields.

  2. Catherine platt

    I remember Don from high school…. We were in the gifted program and it’s awesome to see him use his God’s given talents and to share with everyone. I have been keeping my out for the new book and I tell my kids that someone I Know from high school and Yes someone from No Man’s land rural southwest AK wrote a novel! Congrats Don from Missie Buckles (Chefornak AK)

  3. Mimi Cross

    Okay, Don. I’m ready for your advice as far as my spam goes, I mean, my query.
    What do you think of this one:
    Greeting From Asbury Park
    Wait—somehow, that sounds hauntingly familiar . . .

    Great story, thanks for sharing!

  4. iola reneau

    Wow I love the creativity and boldness but would be hesitant to try and replicate it.
    Honestly though it would make me want to read the manuscript too.

  5. Sabine French

    Congrats on getting to the next rung on the ladder, Don. As a fellow novella writer, I was especially heartened to read that you got representation based on one!

  6. Rita Monette

    The best "how I got my agent" post yet. Loved it. At least you didn’t have to suffer through too many rejection letters. You got one kind enough to tell you your faults right off the bat.

    I’d love to win and read your book The Raven’s Gift. It has to be good!

  7. keith

    Uh… Did I win? I don’t see any other comments. If I do win – and this is purely coincidental – I can save Don the cost of postage. I live in Anchorage.

    I have to say that I wish I’d read Don’s interview a few months ago. I also queried agents too early. So I’m revising my novel and will query again in a smarter, more respectful fashion.

    Congrats to Don. It’s great to see a fellow Alaskan in print. And it’s heartening to know that we have talented writers teaching at UAA.


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