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How I Got My Agent: Elizabeth Huergo, Author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Elizabeth Huergo, author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. 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.

GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wisetraveler13 won.)

 

DSC_0193-Huergo-First-Choice           Fidel_Perez_Jacket-12-198x300

Elizabeth Huergo was born in Havana and immigrated to the US at an
early age as a political refugee. Since receiving her graduate degrees in
English from Brown University, she has taught at a number of colleges
and universities. A published poet and story writer, her first novel is
THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ (Unbridled Books). She is presently
working on her second novel, Between Ana and Ella, a contemporary
Latina version of The Grapes of Wrath. Find her on Twitter.

 

 

ALL IT TOOK WAS ONE GOOD SENTENCE

My first impulse whenever someone asks me how I got my literary agent is to laugh and explain that I have no idea how the universe works except that it seems to require surrender at every point. We control so little, really. My second impulse is to tell you a story about how deeply I listened to Richard Peabody, writer and mentor, and how that seemingly passive action led me to a wonderful agent and then a publisher.

Toward the very end of his novel seminar, Richard talks about the critical elements of a cover letter, the sort of cover letter that will pique an agent’s curiosity, despite the endless piles of queries she receives. “You have to describe your novel in one sentence,” Richard insisted. The students in the class pushed back. He answered their questions, but he stuck to his point and went on to elaborate on other, rather counter-intuitive aspects of the cover letter.

(Is it wise to sign with a new agent?)

I BOILED IT DOWN TO THIS ONE LINE…

The following week, everyone came to class with their draft cover letters. All of the students had written two- and three-page letters about the plot or the writing process, long explanations about the writer’s heart-felt devotion to the beloved manuscript. On some level, conscious or unconscious, the students seemed to feel that they knew more about the industry, about the culture of agents and publishers and writers, than Richard did.

Me? I took him quite literally—in large part because I have spent so many years teaching writing and observing the energy students often misspend in resisting instruction. I struggled all week and finally boiIed my novel down to one sentence, the opening sentence of my cover letter:

The Death of Fidel Pérez is a tale told by Che Guevara and overheard by Italo Calvino.”

(How much money can you expect from selling your first book?)

80% OF THE AGENTS WANTED TO SEE MORE

Richard gave it a thumbs up while the students around me winced visibly. A few days later, I sent out my first batch of ten query letters to New York agents interested in literary fiction. Are you ready? I got an 80 percent return–which is outrageous. Eight out of the ten queries I sent led to a request for a brief excerpt. Then five of the eight asked for fifty pages. In the end, three asked for the full manuscript, and one of those three was Katie Grimm, an extraordinary agent at Don Congdon Associates.

After speaking to Katie, I remembered something else Richard said during our seminar. It was almost a throw-away, a casual bit of advice tossed like a message in a bottle: “Get an agent who genuinely believes in your work.” I signed the contract. Katie pitched my novel for a full year with exactly the same enthusiasm, intelligence, and work ethic that she demonstrated the first month we worked together. She found Unbridled Books and Fred Ramey, another extraordinary professional.

GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wisetraveler13 won.)

 

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24 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Elizabeth Huergo, Author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ

  1. kadelr

    It just goes to show you what paying attention and listening when you think you have nothing else to learn can do for you and your writing career. Little turns of phrases and off-hand comments can be the thing that opens the door to your future. So happy for you that you listened when others didn’t!

    Kelly

  2. vrundell

    As always, following directions is the hardest/simplest thing to do. Hardest, because it goes against that drive for independence, and simplest because it defines the path…
    Ah, humans are curious beings.
    Congrats on taking the right road, and best wishes for success.
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

  3. wisetraveler13

    Knowing that there may only be “one sentence” between me and my literary agent gives me hope! Thank you for your wonderful advice, and God Bless!

  4. Pattypans

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing what you learned. I don’t know if you teach as well as write, but I can tell by this article that you would make an excellent teacher, because you freely share what you know, and you do it in a personal, straightforward, easy-to-understand way. The anecdote and the aftermath drive your point home. You’ve given me something priceless in this short article, and that is something I don’t say carelessly. Thank you again.

    1. ehuergo

      You are very kind, thank you. Please do not stop writing. Keep your mind focused on a very positive image; say, you reading an email from an agent or signing your agent contract. If you’re interested, you can read interviews and brief essays by other writers at Self-Reliance: http://www.elizabethhuergo.com Cheers, Elizabeth

  5. BonZHotPen

    I got my first agent at the Moondance International Film Festival in Boulder, Colorado. I pitched what was then my very first screenplay to a panel of professionals in the field, and one of them was an agent. He loved my pitch and wanted to sign me. I was amazed. I accepted. Later at the awards ceremony, I actually won the Spirit of Moondance Award for Best Feature Screeplay! *My agent has since retired, and I’m looking for another agent or manager to represent me as a screenwriter. Currently, I’ll be working with Hal Croasmun in his ProSeries for 6 months.

    Many thanks for your article!
    Bon

    1. ehuergo

      I love stories with happy endings–however corny that sounds. Congrats on finding your first agent. With all of your success, I imagine pitching to a second agent will be a bit easier. My best wishes and thanks to you. Elizabeth

    1. ehuergo

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I owe the idea to Richard Peabody, as I mentioned. If you want to read a bit more, I posted an interview with him at my Self-Reliance blog: http://www.elizabethhuergo.com

      Remember to keep it short. Write the letter the agent wants to read; not the letter you want to write.

      My best wishes to you, Elizabeth

    1. ehuergo

      Be tenacious and very well organized. Be sure to research the agents a bit on line in order to ensure that the agent “matches” the manuscript you’ve created. If not, you’ll get into a negative feedback loop, receiving rejections that have nothing to do with your writing and the best qualities of your writing. If you’re interested, there is a bit more writing advice on my Self-Reliance blog: http://www.elizabethhuergo.com

      My very best wishes to you! Elizabeth

  6. Sun_Suz

    It is the synopsis I am having trouble with. A quick description I can do, or intrigue the reader in the shortest amount of time, which is what you did, Thank you for the article.

    1. ehuergo

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Let me see if perhaps I can help you.

      Remember that this sentence is not really a synopsis–at least not in the way that we usually use that word; say, a “plot synopsis,” which outlines the salient plot points of the story.

      You’re not giving the reader a taste; you’re releasing the aroma of the story. Does that metaphor help? You need to be a step or two removed from actually tasting, which is what the synopsis does. (That will come later!)

      The brief description is something I saved for the second short paragraph of the letter. I wrote a 3-4 sentence description of the novel.

      So think “elevator pitch”: you literally have the time between floors and before the elevator doors open to convey a sense of your manuscript.

      Hope that helps you! My best wishes to you–and if you would like to read other author interviews, check out my blog: http://www.elizabethhuergo.com

      Elizabeth

  7. Erica

    Congratulations! I’m looking for an agent for some creative nonfiction I wrote about my year in beauty school as a more mature student and all the drama, hard work and friendship I experienced. This is very helpful! x

    1. ehuergo

      Thank you for the good wishes and for taking the time to write back, Erica.

      Be tenacious and well-organized in your search. Be sure to do a little bit of online research about the agent. It’s really important to send your queries to agents who are interested in the type of story (fiction, non-fiction, etc.) that you are telling.

      If you want to check out some other author interviews, try my blog, Self-Reliance: http://www.elizabethhuergo.com

      Thank you again for your kindness. Elizabeth

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