“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 Robert Hicks,
who broke on to the scene with
his extremely successful novel,
Widow of the South. His next book,
A Separate Country, comes out this month.
I am the son of an optimist. Every night, after he had said our prayers and just before he turned out the light and left our room, my dad would stand at the door and repeat his seemingly tired mantra to my brother and me, as he whispered, “Never forget, all things are possible.”
I tell you this because it is at the bedrock of why I decided, in my mid-forties, after many years as a music publisher in Nashville, that I would write a novel about Carrie McGavock and the Battle of Franklin, though I had never taken a creative writing course or written as much as a sentence of fiction, unless, of course, you count tax returns. I also tell you that because it is now hard to remember all the struggle and frustration that led me from there to here. Truth is, though there were years of struggle and frustration, for the most part, they seem to have vanished from my memory.
Unlike most of you reading this, I had given up any and all aspirations of being a novelist sometime after eighth grade. Yet, twelve years ago, I found myself trying to figure out how this little house-museum, Carnton (in Franklin, TN), where my story takes place, was going to survive after me. We had never received any public funding, and what private funding came our way mostly came through my solicitations. The day was going to come when I wouldn’t be around – and then what?
WILL SOMEONE PLEASE WRITE THIS?
I spent several years trying to get others interested in writing the story themselves. I wasn’t looking for a ghostwriter, but rather someone willing to take on my story and put his or her name on it. I pitched my non-novel that I wasn’t really writing to just about anyone who might listen. Problem was, few really were listening.
That is until I spoke, via a cold call, to a wonderfully kind, nonfiction editor named P.J. Dempsey. She listened to my story and told me that I should call Jeff Kleinman, a literary agent in DC who seemed to have a passion for lost causes. Now, this may not seem like much encouragement, but beggars can’t be choosers and it was direction – and direction meant momentum (and for that I will forever thank P.J.). Within minutes, I called Jeff’s office and somehow – this part neither of us have ever figured out – my call went straight to him. Sounding both a bit confused and annoyed, he gave me a chance to lay out Carrie’s story, and before I had finished, he seemed genuinely moved.
WRITING THE BOOK
Over the next couple of years, though we had never met face-to-face, Jeff stayed in touch and slowly convinced me that if this was my story, I needed to try to be the author. I soon realized that trying to write was far harder than simply pitching a story. I guess that’s why bars are filled with more folks who will gladly pitch you a yarn than with published authors.
Finally, with the first third of the book more or less completed, I sent what I had to Jeff. He not only offered me representation – he told me that the “partial” I sent him was good enough that he could sell it without the rest of the novel. (Only later did I learn that this is exceptionally rare. New writers should finish their entire novel before contacting an agent. But, again, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time.)
I remember the moment, weeks later, when I heard that Jeff had sold Widow of the South. I was awash in thought. So rarely in our lives is the end result as we envisioned it. So rarely are we given the chance to live out our dreams. All that has happened began with that optimist who stood at the door and whispered to my brother and me to never forget. He always told us that we make our own luck, but everything in life is a gift. I think he was right on both counts. I have been living way over in the gift column of life for a long time now. As I remember it all as a gift, I’m really not sure I have anything of value for those of you who are struggling other than my profound belief that all things really are possible, despite all the “no’s” that come our way in life.