“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lori Roy, author of BENT ROAD and UNTIL SHE COMES AROUND. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Lori Roy was born and raised in Kansas, where she graduated from
Kansas State University. BENT ROAD, her debut novel, was awarded
the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author,
named a 2011 New York Times Notable Crime Book, named a 2012
notable book by the state of Kansas, and nominated for the Book-of-
the-Month Club First Fiction Award. BENT ROAD has been optioned
for film by Cross Creek (Black Swan/The Ides of March), with Mark
Mallouk to adapt and Benderspink to produce. Her second novel,
UNTIL SHE COMES HOME, was published in June 2013, again
from Dutton/Penguin. Lori currently lives with her family in Florida.
Visit Lori on her blog, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
April 16, 2009 5:06 a.m.
I attack the querying process with a spreadsheet. It’s seven columns wide, several rows long and must be printed on legal paper. The names of literary agents run down the side of the spreadsheet and the columns are labeled name, address, genre, email, snail mail, submission guidelines, miscellaneous. I approach my queries as I approached the audit workpapers I prepared when I was a tax accountant. I label my spreadsheets, tick and tie addresses I have confirmed, highlight my research with a yellow marker. I wore blue suits and pantyhose in my accountant days. Now I wear Levis with holes in the knees, but I can still format a nice spreadsheet.
After all my research and all my organization—each printout three-hole punched and stored in a two inch binder—it is a connection who helps me land an agent. I met her four years earlier at a writers’ conference. She lives in Sweden. We’ll call her the Swede. She emails with news that Jenny Bent has recently started her own agency and is accepting submissions. The Swede has followed Jenny’s career for years. You should give her a try, the Swede says. I scan my spreadsheet, and there she is. Jenny Bent of Bent Literary. I check her submission guidelines, attach the first ten pages of BENT ROAD, my query letter and press send. Jenny is the ninth agent I query.
April 19th, 2009 8:52 p.m.
From: Jenny Bent
To: Lori Roy
Could you please send the entire manuscript for BENT ROAD?
I read all the blogs, so I know I have a few currents to navigate. Two partials of BENT ROAD are currently with other agents. I believe in common courtesy, and while my insecurities make it difficult for me to believe the other agents will care, I email them that I have had a request for my full manuscript. They respond promptly with their appreciation. My first instinct upon receiving this request from Jenny is to press reply, attach and send, but I resist. Instead, I stay up most of the next two nights to read and re-read my manuscript. The second time through, I read it out loud. I’m hoarse by the time I email it to Jenny on April 21, 2009.
May 4, 2009 9:26 p.m.
From: Jenny Bent
To: Lori Roy
I loved reading this book. Could we set up a time to talk tomorrow? Do let me know.
I’m still wearing my PJs when I read this email at 6 a.m. on the morning of May 5. I run upstairs to tell Husband who is sipping his first cup of coffee. She wants to talk tomorrow, I say to Husband, and then turn and run back to my computer. The email was sent the night before, which means she wants to talk today.
I email the Swede to share the news. I email another friend for advice on what to ask an agent. Again, I’ve read all the blogs. I know what a writer is supposed to ask, but because I’ve highlighted my research, labeled my workpapers, three-hole punched my printouts, I already know the answers to those standard questions. The smartest thing I did when setting out to find an agent—I only queried the agents I would be privileged to work with.
We trade a few emails throughout the day, Jenny and I. I send my phone number and times when I’m available, which is any time because it would take a crowbar and a book of matches to pry me away from the phone. She emails that she is having a crazy day and won’t be able to call until tonight. In the mean time…
May 5, 2009 11:29 a.m.
From: Jenny Bent
To: Lori Roy
…So as not to keep you in suspense, I am calling to offer representation.
I’ve been writing for almost twelve years by the time I open this email. I’ve collected countless rejection letters from literary journals—really they were rejection slips of paper. I’ve attended several writers’ conferences, lectures and readings. I’ve read books on writing, studied with gifted teachers, met great friends. I’ve struggled to understand the four fallacies, humbled myself to the concept of plot and beaten the adverbs out of my vocabulary. I’ve spent hours sitting at a desk, ashamed that I’m wasting my time. I’ve written badly, very badly. I’ve written two other novels that hide on the lowest shelves in my office. I’ve spent a year and a half writing BENT ROAD. I can’t say how many drafts I’ve been through. I lost track after the sixth. I’ve read it out loud so many times, looking for and listening for the clunkers, that the manuscript induces nausea. And there it is in a single line in a single email.
The phone rings in the early evening. Husband answers it. He calls the person on the other end Ms. Bent and hands me the phone. To avoid the chaos in my house, I take the call on the deck. In front of me lies my list of questions. I ask none of them, because when the moment arises, they all seem ridiculous. I already know who Jenny represents. I know how long she’s been an agent, where she’s worked, and because of blogs and online interviews, I have a good idea of her personality and work ethic. I know she will represent me and my book with professionalism, enthusiasm and perseverance. When the phone call ends, I am represented by Jenny Bent.
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- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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