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How I Got My Agent: Roz Morris

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns.

“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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Roz is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Chrissie won.)

     


Roz Morris is a novelist and the author of
Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books
and
How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

(which is also available on the Kindle).
Roz is the
ghostwriter of 11 novels, eight of them bestsellers.
She is now coming out from under the sheet with novels
of her own. She blogs about writing, and also tweets.

 

THE NEWBIE

I started as most writers do, with a twinkle in the eye which became a first chapter, which became weekends at the keyboard, which became a way of life. I inflicted short stories and a novel on my writer husband and writer friends, who, to my surprise, urged me to submit to agents.

I thought I must be on my way to instant representation. Instead I got handwritten notes saying: “Some of us wanted to take your novel but the agency head felt it wasn’t for us.” Other notes hinted that the characters weren’t three-dimensional yet or the concept needed more work. With hindsight I know that means I was doing well—but at the time all I saw was the big, fat NO. I thought my novel must be rubbish and started another.

CAN’T WRITE AS ME? I’LL WRITE AS OTHER PEOPLE

Then I got the chance to ghostwrite a novella. My husband had been commissioned to write it and the publisher changed the brief so radically that he had to start again. However, he had other commitments—so I jumped in. It was accepted—and I realized I was going to get away with it. I would have a novel in print and without any agents at all. More commissions followed. I hadn’t got anywhere with my own writing, so I wrote as other people. I went part time, critiqued fledgling novelists and several of my ghosted thrillers became bestsellers.

I dusted off my early novel and looked at it with the benefit of my experience. I saw horrific flaws and marveled that those original agents had been so nice about it—but halfway through, it started to give me goosebumps. There was a story burning its way out, and now I knew how to tell it. I scourged it into shape.

Because of my ghosting, I was interviewed for How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly, although they realized they couldn’t quote me because my ghost identities were confidential. But they invited me to the launch.

TOAST OF THE TOWN

That party was an eye-opener. I met agents and publishers whose eyes bulged when I told them who I’d ghosted. People made “phone me” signs across the room. Cards were pressed into my hand and one editor scribbled his number on his speeding ticket. I danced home thinking, at last—now I will have an agent to represent the real me.

I was wrong.

Life became surreal. Agents were querying me. Publishers too. They asked me what I wanted to do next. I said I had a novel called My Memories of a Future Life, about a musician who cannot play anymore, and gets drawn into a disturbing, possibly supernatural experience as she searches for a cure. And I was brewing several other ideas about characters who are entangled with each other in unusual, surreal ways. “Send Future Life ASAP,” they said.

They loved the writing and were intrigued. However, they were looking for thrillers, not unusual modern fiction. I was at a crossroads. If I wrote what they were looking for, I’d get deals immediately—and good ones. But I was hoping to build a brand as me, which I could keep up for as long as I could bash a keyboard. I decided I was flirting with totally the wrong agents.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Now I knew what I was looking for, I got out Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and sent targeted queries. I found a new agent who was building a list at a big agency, who clicked with Future Life. I thought she was “the one,” then she told me she couldn’t take on any more clients. Generous to the last, she didn’t let me go without introducing me to some agent friends who liked unusual modern fiction.

Clearly the way to go was personal recommendations. While writing to the others, I remembered agent Jane Conway-Gordon, as I had ghosted one of her clients years before. We’d got on well, liked the same kind of stories, but I didn’t think Future Life would be her cup of tea because most of her clients wrote mainstream crime. I called her, described my novel and intended to ask if she knew who might like it. Instead she demanded to read it. Jane offered representation the following week.

All in all, finding the right agent for my work took 15 years. And bizarrely, she was right under my nose.

Roz is excited to give
away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You
can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Chrissie won.)

Become a Writer’s Digest VIP and
get a sub to the magazine, a sub to
WritersMarket.com and much more.
(A $190
value for $50!)

 

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30 Responses to How I Got My Agent: Roz Morris

  1. Roz Morris says:

    Thank you, Veronica! Our time will come…

  2. Veronica says:

    So glad to hear your story! It’s admirable to see people stay true to their passion, especially when it means personal sacrifice. In my work, I’m often the behind-the-scenes person and know how deflating it feels when credit flies away with the big boss. Good for you taking pictures with the covers. Bravo!

  3. Roz Morris says:

    @Darcy – well said! People tend to think the path to publication is write, get an agent – and if you don’t you’ve failed. Actually, there are many, many ways. good luck!

  4. Darcy says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Roz. As an aspiring writer it is so encouraging to hear that there are many different ways one can make it to publication. None of us have to fear that because our story may not be like another writer’s that someone it is invalid. Our lives are just as unique as our novels, why not our path to an agent?

  5. Roz Morris says:

    @shawna @Arr @Ashley – thanks, and nice to meet you!

  6. Ashley says:

    This was a great story. This blog always gives me inspiration. Keep up the good work.
    -Ashley

  7. Arr Ell Ess says:

    Just write, people. The rest will come.

  8. Shawna says:

    Found my way here via twitter. Good post! Thanks for sharing your insights! It’s timely for me as I’ve just recently started thinking about how I’ve neglected my writing in favour of photography lately.

  9. Roz Morris says:

    @Alicia @blf @Maren – thank you! Writing is like that. You start, and before you know it years have passed. A bit like a princess in a fairy tale.

  10. Maren says:

    Wow! Way not to give up! I write and I know how hard it can be to keep having faith in your work:) Your story is fun and inspiring:)

  11. blf says:

    I have hope that my three years of turning ideas around my gray matter will develop into a published work one day. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Alicia says:

    Wow. 15 years. Even though that number is a littler discouraging, your story was still inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Roz Morris says:

    @Brenda – it certainly did seem crazy at the time. Sometimes I think I should give myself a stern talking-to. I do still enjoy ghosting – it’s great fun to collaborate with someone and make a novel that is what they want it to be. But when I’m standing up with my name on a book it’s got to be me. Good luck with your search, when you do start.
    @Chrissie – we ghosts are unsung heroes in a way. We write a book and hand it over for adoption. I’ve been in a meeting with my ‘author’, watching the sales team gasp at his every word and not even look in my direction. The room was decked out like a shrine in the covers of his novel – the novel I’d just handed in. Ghosting is a good word for what we do.
    @Linda – thank you!
    @Joe – Good question. Fortunately my agent does also handle thrillers so I wouldn’t have to uproot. But sometimes authors do have different agents to handle separate facets of their career.

  14. Joe Sewell says:

    Okay, I’m crazy enough to comment for the free book … but I’m not so sure about this 15 year business. :) I will admit, this is the first time I’ve heard about ghosting from your perspective, Roz. I’m impressed and stunned at the same time that it took you so long to find "the one" [agent, that is] with your ghosting success.

    Then again, would you need to find a different agent for a different venue, say if you wanted to do your own thriller?

  15. The more I learn about you, Roz, the more I want to learn!

  16. chrissie says:

    I love stories like this, as exciting it is to hear about how lucky some writers get with their agents, these kinds of stories are great as well. And though we sign up for it, ghostwriters don’t get the credit they deserve, but it’s nice to hear the industry doesn’t look down on that. Great piece, thank you!

  17. Brenda Kezar says:

    I had no idea so many books were ghost-written! I also have to give you kudos for being faced with all those agents (and the sure bet) and still following your own path. I don’t know what I’d do in the same situation . . . but I’d sure like to find out, lol!

    If I can ever get my novel revised and polished, I’ll have to begin the agent search in the not-so-distant future. Not looking forward to it.

  18. Roz Morris says:

    @Tanya – you read my mind. One of the sentences I cut out of this piece made the comparison with finding the perfect partner! Keep going. With 15 years under your belt you have mighty amounts of experience and are probably better prepared to make your writing career last.

  19. Tanya Eby says:

    Fifteen years! I’m almost at the same benchmark. Your article gives me hope and lets me think that maybe the search for the perfect agent is also a little bit like the search for the perfect love. They both take time. And maybe therapy.

  20. Roz Morris says:

    @Carol – my lips have to be sealed! As to your other point, we change a lot as writers. In a way I’m glad I didn’t succeed from the start as I wouldn’t have made a good job of the novels I wrote then. Although I would have had guidance from the agents and editors I worked with, that would have been using someone else’s input to develop my work. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but the way I actually did it, I developed my craft myself. Although it was a long wait, I think when I presented to agents again the second time I was far more sure of what I wanted to write and better equipped to do it.
    @Amanda – it sure was a rollercoaster! That’s the price for trying to do something a little unusual, I guess.
    @Elle – books are ghosted for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes established authors can’t keep up with the output (James Patterson) or die (Robert Ludlum). Sometimes the authors are simply not able to write a book although the public is sufficiently interested in them to want a story from ‘their world’. And so the publishers call people like me… Thanks for the compliment on my blog!
    @Andie – thank you. This blog is one of my must-reads too! Best of luck at the conference.
    @Freedom – Thanks! Watch out, world, I’m coming…
    @Kay – actually, I do. And when I see bus or Tube posters for them, I pose beside them and get friends to take pictures.
    @Jane – No, it’s not the be-all and end-all by any means. Just the start. Good luck with the novels.
    @Alexander – great to see you here! What an interesting point about my voice changing. I am aware that I adapt slightly for each audience, to fit in with what the readers want and what the material needs. I do it with my fiction too. Guess I learned it from being a ghost!
    @James – thanks for coming over! You rock too!
    @MaDonna – you’re welcome.

  21. Thanks for sharing your story!

  22. James says:

    Hi Roz! You rock! (Just saying…) James

  23. Dear Roz,

    I’ve read you at your blog and, let’s see, five others?

    Naturally, certain things about you and your career are repeated and, usually, some new insight is added.

    Still, it seems each space has you speaking in a slightly different voice.

    Is this the blog owner’s editing, your conscious intention, my hallucination, or some other factor?

  24. Jane Steen says:

    I keep coming across writers who seem to regard getting their novel published as the be-all and end-all of their world. I keep trying to get the point across that writing is a huge, diverse field, and you can be successful as a writer in many different ways. Your story confirms that! I hope I win a copy of Nail Your Novel, and that maybe I’ll drag that first novel from the corner where it’s sulking and fix it (I am doing Novel #2 the favor of paying it some attention in the meanwhile).

  25. Kay says:

    Hi Roz! Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. I’d love to know how you manage to stand in a bookstore beside a bestseller you’ve ghosted and resist saying " I wrote that!" :) Congrats to you for following your passion there.

  26. Freedom says:

    Stumbled on your blog & this post from WordPress tags. From the comments above looks like I need to spend some more time with your blog! Very interesting story. I had no idea that a lot of novels were ghostwritten, either. And now, finally, you get your own byline authoring your own novel. Congrats!

  27. Andie Newton says:

    I have been writing for about a year and a half. I just started a blog and I’m attending my 1st Writer’s Conference (write on whidbey island) and I am ..bleep..my pants. An agent and 2 editors are on my docket. I love coming over to this blog and learning…without it, I’d still be writing with pencil. Okay, maybe not that bad. But…I really appreciate the posts (and this post was really great!)

  28. Elle B says:

    When I first ran across your blog, I was shocked to discover that some best-selling thrillers are ghosted. This might sound naive, but why? Does someone get a name that sells, then can’t write anymore or gets blocked? Anyway, I’m finding your advice invaluable, though sometimes a bit discouraging. But it’s better to know the realities, and it certainly won’t stop me from writing! Thanks!

  29. Loved hearing your story, Roz! Though I knew some of it from your blog, it’s really amazing to see how things can turn from one way to the next. I’m glad you ended up with the right agent for you.

  30. Carol Riggs says:

    Hi Roz! (aka DWC) Nice to read your article–that ghosting bit is pretty fascinating. I wish you could spill the beans about for whom you’re writing! 15 years, wow. Good perseverance! Congrats on getting your agent. :)

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