“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 we’ll talk specifics.
progress, including a historical novel trilogy
and a couple nonfiction books. He authors a
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DOES ED MCMAHON KNOCK OR COME RIGHT IN?
My journey to acquire an agent began with arrogance and ignorance. It took a lesson in humility to reach the coveted prize. I’ve been blessed to be represented by Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. Janet is well known in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) and is considered to be among the very best at what she does.
Since owning my first crayon, I’ve always been a writer. I had authored three books by the time I was 22. The only thing that was holding me back, in my not-so-humble opinion at the time, was that I had yet to be “discovered.” I kept thinking that Ed McMahon would knock at my door at any moment with a big check and a team of reporters flashing their cameras.
My book writing ambitions took a detour for more than 20 years as I veered into journalism, then marketing and soon owned my own advertising agency. (One of the highlights of my agency’s experience was producing a series of anti-meth documentaries titled Crystal Darkness which were seen by more than 10 million people across the United States and Mexico.) Although these ventures were successful, my heart still yearned to write books. So when my friend encouraged me to share a room with him at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in Spring of 2009, I decided it was time to stoke the ancient fires.
I DISCOVERED CRITICAL TRUTHS
Unfortunately, I came with the “discovery” chip on my shoulder and with a lack of appreciation for all an agent provides. I asked myself, “Do I really need an agent?” It didn’t take me long to realize my approach was somewhat akin to buying a “Do It Yourself Brain Surgery Kit.” I remember at one point spending days working on a proposal to send an editor who, as it turned out, had been laid off from the publishing house three months earlier. In that revealing moment I realized it would take me years to do the research, build relationships and to understand the industry at even an interning agent level.
I quickly discovered these critical truths:
- I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
- Every successful writer I met raved about having an agent. So who was I to think I didn’t need one?
- Writers with strong agents are taken much more seriously. If you do get a book contract on your own, the first thing a publisher is going to do is encourage you to get an agent.
- Good agents are worth every bit of their commission. (Emphasis on “good agent.”)
- One of the great benefits of acquiring an agent is becoming a member of the family of writers who are represented by the agency. Why fly solo in a plane you barely know how to pilot?
PITCHING THE PERFECT AGENT
When I returned to Mount Hermon the following year, I was on a focused mission. I would generate some strong interest in my work from editors and then leverage this into agency representation. Not just any agency, but the one I felt would be perfect for me. Two days into the conference I sat myself at a dinner table strategically between Books & Such agents Janet Grant and Wendy Lawton. “So, tell us about yourself,” they prompted, in between bites of pasta.
“I’ve got several editors excited about my projects and now I could really use some adult supervision,” I said. They laughed. Then after hearing about my works and platform, they said they understood the buzz. Janet requested my proposals and after several months of correspondence, I received that glorious e-mail welcoming me to her prestigious fold.
WHAT I TOOK AWAY
Although, I still consider myself a rookie, here are a few takeaways I learned through the process:
- Know Your Strengths and Emphasize Them. My platform was my hot button. Even though I felt strongly about my concepts and my writing, I always led with my platform in pitches because it was what got people to listen. Lead with your strength, be it your writing, ideas, personality or platform.
- Do Your Homework. Be a student of publishing and spend time devouring the many wonderful writer, agent and editor Blogs that are available. Agents will be more excited about representing you if you’ve already removed your training wheels.
- Develop Personal Relationships. People buy from people they like. An agent will shy away from a great project if they think the writer is a jerk or is going to be overly needy. They’ll want to know you’ll not only work well with them, but with fellow writers who will also be critical to your career success.
- Wear Their Shoes. If you were an ultra-busy agent, working hard to make a living, wouldn’t you want to bring on clients who were low in maintenance and high in production? Invest time in understanding their world and strive to be the perfect client.
“Elements of Fiction” books in
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