“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 Greg Gutierrez,
who writes short pieces about
surfing as well as novels.
ZEN AND THE ART OF SURFING
The night of my high school graduation, I had the last fistfight I would ever share with my father. This relationship would be the underlying gist of my first novel. I hopped on a flight to Oahu in search of waves, and to find myself. The drinking age then was 18 and in bars I told girls I wrote for Surfer magazine. In reality, I worked at a shady visitor’s information booth where I gave tourists a case of pineapples if they attended a seminar on timeshare condos. It took a few years, but my writing did appear in magazines. An early break came in 1998, when The Surfer’s Journal ran 5 stories from my collection, Zen and the Art of Surfing, in one issue. Later, through a grant from the Julian Paz Foundation, Zen and the Art of Surfing was published in paperback and is now in its eighth printing.
I have taught high school English for the last decade. Four and a half years ago, I started writing a novel. Two long years later, I was finished. I called the book Mammoth Lakes.
THE SDSU WRITERS CONFERENCE
In 2007, I went to the San Diego State University’s Writer’s Conference where I hoped to be discovered. It was a turning point for my writing. I received vital feedback from editor Toni Plummer (loved my character’s names and suggested I shorten my chapters so that each one read like a short story) and the following agents: Betsy Amster (told me my work was too violent for her, but that I’d find an agent), Loretta Barrett (“show me, don’t tell me”), Jennifer De la Fuente (“keep it under 100,000 words”), Elizabeth Evans (“the first sentence is the most important, have tension on every page”), Jud Laghi (“stick with it, it’s a number’s game”), Judith Riven (“lean and clean, no extra words, no clichés”), and my favorite, Sally van Haitsma (I still hit her up with industry questions and she always answers me with insight and kindness). My book wasn’t nearly ready and I spent two years cutting out 30,000 words and rewriting it top to bottom including the title, which became Mammoth Mountain.
About a year ago, while still fine tuning my book, I began to send out queries in groups of ten. Eventually, I sent out fifty with no success. Then, after over four years of working on the book, I figured out how to put its essence into one sentence. “What happens when a lost man finds Christ, only to lose his soul?” I opened my query with this sentence and contacted ten more agents. Boom! I had two requests for full manuscripts and two requests for partials. I got a call from Benee Knauer, Victoria Sanders’ editorial director. She enthusiastically requested a two-week exclusive read. “I wouldn’t have it any other way!” I told her (not filling her in that my book was being read). Two weeks later, Victoria herself called to tell me even though she was only halfway through the book, she wanted to sign me.
I was excited, but nervous. What if she finished it and decided she didn’t like it? Would she change her mind? I was cursed with my writer’s imagination and self-doubts. It all became real a few days later when the contract arrived in the mail.
REWRITING AND SUBMITTING
We spent about four months polishing the manuscript. It’s three weeks since Victoria submitted it to editors. For me, waiting to hear whether a major house wants it has been more agonizing than looking for an agent. I’m trying to lose myself working on my second novel.
My advice to writers is to read your entire novel in one or two sittings before you send it out. This is how an agent will read it and some mistakes may be easier to see. Then, send out lots of queries, making sure each one is better than the previous one. Don’t give up; someone is going to fall in love with your book.