“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 email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Jude is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
that Tess Gerritsen says “keeps the pace frantic
and the thrills non-stop.” Jude writes hardboiled
detective novels—lean, clean, and bluesy, with dashes
of cynicism and wry humor. He also works as a
registered nurse in a major urban medical center
in north Florida. See his website here.
A BOOK DEAL WITH NO AGENT
You want to know the best way to get a literary agent? Publish through a small press and then get a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
I’m kidding. But, if you can get a book deal with a small press and a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, then one of the largest literary agencies in the world with offices in New York and London will send you a query letter offering representation. That’s what happened to me, anyway. And you know what? I turned them down. That’s right. I sent one of the most powerful agencies on the planet a rejection letter. Now, before you start assuming I’ve completely lost my marbles, let me explain why.
Way back in 2004, when I was working on my first novel, I read an article in Writer’s Digest by a newly-published author named J.A. Konrath. After reading the article, I bought Konrath’s first book (Whiskey Sour), and started following his version of this new-fangled thing called a blog. I liked the book, and I liked the blog. Whiskey Sour was a mystery, similar to what I was working on, and I knew Konrath’s agent had gotten him a six-figure deal for the first three titles in the series.
I did a little research and discovered her name: Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. This was the agent I wanted: my dream agent. If she could get Konrath such a great deal, I felt sure she could do the same for me. I finished my novel and sent her a query, certain that she would jump at the chance to represent me and that fame and fortune would soon be mine. A few weeks later, I received a form rejection. I queried some other agencies, same results.
FROM EDITORS TO AGENTS AND BACK…
I attended a literary conference, pitched the novel to an agent there, and she requested a partial. Yes! I was on my way! But a week or so later I received a detailed email explaining why the book was not right for her. Back to square one.
Soon after that, I became friends with a book editor. She read part of my manuscript and promptly listed numerable problems with the story. I felt that some of those problems were irreparable, so I put that novel aside and started developing a new character. That character’s name was Nicholas Colt. Between my first novel and what would eventually become Pocket-47, I wrote a middle grade novella. I was unsuccessful in finding an agent for it, and I was unsuccessful in placing it myself.
But I had the first few chapters of this Nicholas Colt thing, and my editor friend said she loved the voice. I finished the book, and she announced on her blog that it was “brilliant.” Time once again to search for an agent. My editor friend had a New York agent, and she loved my novel, so the natural thing for me to do was ask her for a referral. I did, and she gave me one, and I sent the manuscript to her agent. He called after reading the first three chapters and offered representation.
I was absolutely thrilled. I can remember his exact words: “I’ll be very surprised if we’re not successful with this.” Well, we weren’t. The novel went through several rounds of submissions, and several revisions, and the recession happened and nobody was buying anything and this and that and…
After over two years of frustrating rejection, I decided it was time to move on. The agent and I parted ways amicably, and a few months later I sold the novel to a small press by myself.
A SECOND KEY REFERRAL
Fast-forward a year or so and the starred PW review. Suddenly, a lot of people in the industry were interested in my book, including the big literary agency with offices in New York and London. So why did I turn them down? Because shortly before they queried me, I queried an agent named Lauren Abramo regarding subsidiary rights for Pocket-47. Lauren Abramo … of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.
I had been corresponding with author J.A. Konrath for several years and commenting frequently on his blog, and he was kind enough to give me a referral. Lauren loved the book. And who do you think she passed me on to? That’s right. Jane Dystel, my dream agent, the agent I had queried over five years ago.
So you want to know the best way to get a literary agent? Both of my agents came through referrals. You have to write a great book, of course, and a great query, but it never hurts to have a friend or two in the business. In fact, I think it’s essential.
Jude is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
check out expert advice with Writing and
Selling Your Mystery Novel.
Want more on this topic?
- Agent Irene Goodman shares tips on thriller writing.
- Thriller writer April Henry tells how she got her agent.
- Interview with agent Stacia Decker, who is actively seeking thrillers.
- Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
- Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
- Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they’re looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!