Editors Blog

How I Got My Agent: Richard Ellis Preston, Author of ROMULUS BUCKLE

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Richard Ellis Preston, author of ROMULUS BUCKLE & THE CITY OF FOUNDERS. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: DanielJayBerg won.)

 

 

richard-preston-author-writer         romulus-buckle-book-cover

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk.
Although he grew up in both the United States and Canada he prefers to think of himself
as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and has lived on Prince
Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm
whale autopsy. ROMULUS BUCKLE AND THE CITY OF THE FOUNDERS (47 North,
July 2013) is the first installment in his new steampunk series, The Chronicles of
the Pneumatic Zeppelin. Booklist said of the debut, “”What a glorious, steam-filled,
larger-than-life, action-packed adventure!” Richard has also written for film and
television. He currently resides in California. Find Richard on Twitter.

 

 

HOW LIGHTNING STRIKES (AFTER 20 YEARS)

How did I get my current agent? In the 20 years I’ve been both a screenwriter and a novelist, I have had three. I relocated to Los Angeles in 1991 with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. I didn’t know anybody inside the industry so I had no open doors. Hundreds of queries and submissions were mailed into a black hole. I needed my own contact network. I took an extension screenwriting course at UCLA with an instructor who worked in a genre I liked. My intention was to blow that instructor away with my mad-scientist writing “skills,” diabolically forcing her to give me extra attention.

The students were tasked to produce the first 30 pages of their spec screenplay by the end of the term: I handed in a completed screenplay. Impressed, my instructor set up a meeting with her agent (lesson: a personal contact opened a door). That did not work out, but it was a legitimate shot. A co-worker opened a door for me as a script reader with Storyline Productions at Universal Studios; their development executive liked my script and he kindly submitted it to every agent he knew who was looking for new clients (lesson: a personal contact opened a door). Everyone passed but one — and all it takes is one. I was signed on by Susan Sussman at the Premiere Artists Agency, which was a brand new outfit.

I was sent to pitch meetings at Universal, Paramount, etc., but no one on the A-List ever bit. My contract with Susan ended amicably but was not renewed. I went back to vainly submitting and pounding the pavement.

(Which writers’ conference is the BEST to attend?)

SUCCESS IN SCREENWRITING BURNED ME OUT

My UCLA instructor called me one day (lesson: a personal contact opened another door) and put me in touch with a B-movie company, PM Entertainment, who was looking for screenwriters. I ended up working for them (and a few others) for a decade, penning medium-budget action, sci-fi and family movies and TV shows for HBO, USA, TNT and Animal Planet. Television wore me out. When my current gigs dried up or got cancelled, I turned to writing novels.

I love writing novels. When my first manuscript, the first installment of a steampunk adventure series, was completed, I bought the thick, heavy agent and publisher listings and starting lining up my query letter lists. But I had a pal on the inside. During my early days in California I had gravitated into group of new friends, all recent L.A arrivals who were interested in cracking into the entertainment industry. We were writers, actors, directors—and a lawyer. That lawyer, Julie Kenner, eventually quit the law business and became a writer. After years of hard work, her talent won out and she now pens NY Times bestsellers.

A REFERRAL: YET ANOTHER DOOR OPENED BY A CONTACT

Once Julie heard about my book, she told me to hold off on the queries and let her submit it to a handful of agents she thought might be interested (lesson: a personal contact opened several doors). Three passed, and one bit. The big one. Adrienne Lombardo, a brand new agent at Trident Media Group in New York, read my book within a month, loved it, and offered me a contract with the agency in November of 2011. The manuscript went out to her top five publishers in the new year and I had a two book deal signed with 47North, Amazon’s new sci-fi publishing imprint, by March, 2012. Twenty years after my arrival in Los Angeles, I finally felt as if I had arrived. (Adrienne later moved on to other things and I shifted into the care of Alyssa Eisner Henkin at TMG, so my third agent was a smooth transition).

(Adapt your book into a movie script — here’s how.)

Lessons Learned: cold queries and submissions can work, but the odds are insanely long and it’s a tough haul. I’ve witnessed the slush piles firsthand and wow, the amount of unsolicited stuff pouring in on a daily basis is mind-boggling. And it is a much bigger pile now than it used to be. Sure, go ahead and query and submit, but today I believe that you should spend more of your time, energy and money making contacts. You have to find somebody to open a door for you. Join a writing group and be engaged; somebody is bound to have success and they tend to carry their friends along with them. If you live far away from an urban center I would recommend you put your cash into a convention trip to Kansas City rather than a mountain of query letters; when you spend a lot to get there, it motivates you. Don’t be a wallflower. Grab an apple martini or a Shirley Temple and approach every agent, writer and publisher you can. Make a personal contact. Open a door.

GIVEAWAY: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: DanielJayBerg won.)

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17 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Richard Ellis Preston, Author of ROMULUS BUCKLE

    1. REPJR

      Hi mpoeltl,

      Well, there are certainly as many ways to accomplish agent/publication success as there are writers. My experience was certainly on the friend-opening-doors-for-me end. Join a few Facebook author groups – that’s easy and people tend to flock to your assistance if you ask for help.

      Best of luck,

      Richard

  1. Donnajmm

    We all know that manuscripts pile mountains high somewhere in La-La Land. To get read out of that pile is nearly impossible. Your article of networking with people to get doors opened to you is a more expedient way. Just an unforeseen experience here, an arranged or chance meeting there can become the key to the birth of your book or script. Thank you for this clear cut information. It may give hope to some who are frustrated and don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, just the oncoming train.
    Morris
    D.J. Maher Mielzynski

    1. REPJR

      Thanks for the comment, D.J.,

      Agreed! Even trying to make contacts can be frustrating, but allies are worth their weight in gold out there. And don’t forget the gatekeepers who might be considered the “little” guys: secretaries, assistants, readers, dog walkers, they all have the close ear of the people they work for, and they all tend to be on the lookout for a gem to bring to their attention. Always be nice to them, be genuine and friendly, and they might offer to read your work and potentially bring it to the attention of the boss. I certainly could hand the development exec at Universal a bottom-of-the-pile script when I was a reader there, but I had to be absolutely all in on it, blown away, to take up his time with it. But I WANTED to find one.
      Good luck with all of your projects!

      Best,
      Richard

  2. Scrima99

    This was a great read. Hearing the recurring theme of the story (a contact gives more opportunities) will forever change how I think about publishing and how I go about trying to get an agent.

    1. REPJR

      Thanks, Scrima99!

      Glad I could help! Please check out the previous comment I made on making friends with the “little guys” above, because they are the real gatekeepers in the offices when it comes to dredging the slush piles because they are often the ones who read them.

      Best,

      Richard

  3. MetroSwan

    This was interesting and motivational. I’m looking for conferences near me as we speak and I’m actually going to talk to people. Nice to know where I should be focusing my energies. Blind querying can get exhausting. Congratulations on your success!

    1. REPJR

      Dear MetroSwan,

      Thank you! The battle continues! Publish or perish, as they say. I am thrilled that my article gave you a boost and you are looking at conferences. When you do go, be prepared to be an extrovert (though not over-aggressive) and approach all of the people you can. Other writers can be just as much help and more accessible than the agents/publishers at organized events as well. Facebook is also a great place to join like-minded author groups and you also tend to have a few members attending any big event you might go to, so you already have some support in place in advance.

      Don’t expect to weep up a super wide net of BIG contacts at the conferences. You may well get a few of the big fish, but the small-to-medium attendees often bear the best fruit in the long run, and you end up making some good friends.

      Best of luck,

      Richard

    1. REPJR

      Dear NRTomasheski,

      Thanks so much, NR! My cover artist, Eamon O’Donohugh, did a masterful job on the cover! I’ve had reviewers who hated the book still say how much they loved the cover – lol! Since my series is from 47North/Amazon it’ll be in a lot of online venues but it will rarely show up in bookstores (Especially Barnes & Noble, for obvious reasons). I greatly appreciate your interest in the series.

      Best of luck with all of your projects,

      Richard

    1. REPJR

      Thank you, burrowswrite! Steampunk actually seems to be growing with leaps and bounds in terms of popularity these days, so I hope the trend continues.

      Best of luck with all of your projects,

      Richard

    1. REPJR

      Hi Daniel!

      Thanks for the question. It obviously depends on the scenario, but if you are approaching an agent, publisher or writer I’d be as precise and brief as possible. If they are attending a convention or book event then they expect to be engaged so you have more space there to chat them up. Trust your gut instincts on how the person is responding to you. Introductions through a mutual acquaintance tend to get you more mileage but if you are initiating the contact on your own just be pleasant, brief and to the point. If your subject looks like he/she is willing to gab, go for it. Otherwise, see if you can send a submission or do a follow up and make your elegant exit, stage right. Don’t approach the person as a potential friend, first. Approach them as a potential business partner and show them what you have for sale. If you leave them with a pleasant, professional memory of you that is a bonus that will help you more often than not. Any time you submit a manuscript or query letter the general rule is to follow up 3-6 months later unless otherwise specified. Do that, but if you never hear from them again write it off as gone and spend your energy expanding your network. I cant tell you how many great connections were plugged in for me by friends who weren’t even in the book/writing business. Hope this helps.

      Best, Richard.

  4. kylegwhite

    Good to see a post about SF&F in general and steampunk in particular.

    The suggestions are helpful. No longer can authors hide behind their books. To survive today, they have to socialize, make contacts, and be responsive on social media. Introverts no longer need apply.

    Please register me for the give away.

    Kyle White

    gkylewhite.blogspot.com

    1. REPJR

      Oops, looks like a made a comment and didn’t respond to you directly, Kyle. Anyway, thanks for your comment and good luck with the giveaway!

      Best,
      Richard

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