I am re-posting Eve’s column in honor of her
paperback coming out April 13, 2010.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Eve Brown-Waite, author of First Comes
Love, Then Comes Malaria
NO WATER, NO CLUE
First, let me assure you that you do not need to have connections to get an agent. Nor do you need to hobnob with already published authors, or be famous, or have money. Nor, apparently, do you even need to know what the hell you’re doing.
Of course, no one believes me when I tell them how completely clueless I was when I began this endeavor. But it helps if you imagine a young mother with an undergraduate degree in political science and a graduate degree in public health (no literature or creative writing courses there) toiling away in the Third World while writing about toiling away in the Third World. Yup, that was me. No electricity, no running water, no writers’ group, no Internet access … no clue.
I was back in the states by the time the book was (I thought) finished, but I still didn’t have much of a clue. I suppose I could have integrated myself into a local writers’ group or sought out some resources on this newfangled thing called the Internet. But hell, I was struggling just to make my way through the supermarket without getting dizzy, and I still got giddy every time I picked up the telephone and got a dial tone! It just seemed easier to plod along on my own.
ONE BY ONE …
After blindly sending my manuscript off to a number of publishers, I learned that if I wanted to even approach a major publisher I’d first need an agent. So I bought that year’s Guide To Literary Agents and winnowed it down to about fifty agents who I thought might be matches. And then I proceeded to query them—one by one. Honestly, I’d wait for a response from each and every query letter before I’d go ahead and query the next agent on my list. And quite often that meant waiting months for some intern to pull my letter out of the slush pile and send me the standard rejection form. Yes, I was a very polite girl—and a very naïve author.
Needless to say, after three years of doing this, I’d only made it a quarter of the way through my now outdated list of agents. And it was while I was tracking down one particularly promising-looking agent, who’d opened up his own agency in the meantime, that I came across Laney Katz Becker. (By then I’d gotten a bit familiar with the whole Internet thingy.)
Laney was relatively new at the young agency (which I took to be good signs, as I thought she’d still be looking for new clients). She loved memoirs (another good sign) and especially those that transport the reader to an exotic location (Bingo! Or tic-tac-toe … I suppose the bingo would be that she liked books with a Jewish theme and she seemed to have a sense of humor). So I sent off a very funny query. I’d read somewhere that your query should reflect the tone of your book. Then I prayed.
Laney quickly wrote back and I sent her three sample chapters. Then I got my whole family praying. I should probably say right here that I am a Jewish, Humanist, Unitarian Universalist with pagan tendencies married to a proudly ex-communicated Catholic. So when I say “pray” it might not really be what you imagine. But we did send out positive energy into the Universe for Laney’s continued good health, and of course, that she’d like the book.
Soon Laney asked to see the entire proposal. My entire what? I asked. Your proposal, she answered and then went on to explain that nonfiction books are sold on proposal only. Surely you’ve written a proposal, she added. No, sadly, I’d only written an entire book. So I got myself several books on how to write a proposal and went to work. And when I finally sent my proposal to Laney, I had my entire e-mail list praying for Laney’s continued good health and that she’d love my proposal.
On March 15, 2007, Laney called. “I love your book,” she said. “I’d like to represent you.” Three and a half months (and several proposal revisions) later, Laney sold my book—at auction—in a six-figure deal. Me: An unknown author with no connections. Just some good writing, a lot of persistence and some prayers! Oh, and one great agent!
Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster
Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure
Changed My Life, (2009, Broadway Books)
available in paperback on April 14, 2010.
See her author website here.