“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring W. Luke Everest, author of speculative fiction. 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.
Wm. Luke Everest is a Canadian/Brit with an American Green
Card living behind a keyboard in Warwickshire, England. He’s
currently cleaning up his first novel, PAINT THE RAVEN BLACK,
with his agent, Leslie Gardner, Director of Artellus Ltd. He runs a
blog for writers on narrative technique, motivation and the practicalities
of success at everestbyfog.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter.
HOW I GOT MY AGENT
Ever since I could read, I’ve tried telling stories.
“Write a little every day, without hope and without despair,” wrote Karen Blixen. I was given this quote by my mentor, Scott Bradfield, on the first day of my MA. He stood over the seminar room, scrawled this on the whiteboard and said it was the most important piece of writing advice we’d ever receive.
I disagreed with the entire quote save three words: “write every day.”
I wrote with despair, not consequent of my lack of professional prospects. I fed off it for my devout beliefs of artistic practise. For years I compared my work to the likes of Guy de Maupassant, Ray Bradbury, Graham Greene.
I couldn’t write my way out of a puddle by comparison. I wanted to know why. I believed in hope and despair, and in defining “greatness” by the grandest standard I could imagine. I still do.
Here’s the problem: I submitted my work with hope. Each piece, I’d send to one market–whichever seemed most grand at the time. I’d dream of acceptance, screaming with joy, phoning all my friends and family. I’d receive a rejection letter, almost always a standard form, and never submit the work again, anywhere. My hopes of having written something that could stand aside Graham Greene were dashed.
I usually wouldn’t even submit them to the correct genre of magazine. Beyond hope, I was blind. And my work doesn’t readily fit a genre type. It often falls into the “sort of speculative” non-category. To sell those pieces, I have to carefully select a magazine with a varied readership. Back then, I’d just submit to the magazines I liked to read.
At Alt. Fiction 2010, I was fortunate enough to wind up chatting with Iain Banks over a beer. He said to me, in his thick Scottish accent, “Don’t waste your talent, boy. Send out the best you’ve got and let the world decide. If they tell you it stinks, work on sending out something better.”
The first half of this quote did not sink into my brain. I took it purely to mean that I ought always to improve my work. Hope and despair were my fuel. I just wanted to “make good art”, as Neil Gaiman recommended in his recent speech at the University of the Arts. Yet in retrospect, unhealthy hope and despair probably distracted me artistically, and certainly slowed me down professionally.
Six months ago, a friend demanded he send on my behalf two unpublished, un-submitted short stories to Leslie Gardner, the same agent who represented Anthony Burgess. It was such a long shot I told myself not to care.
We rarely bother telling ourselves things if not to shield ourselves within a lie. I used to have dreams where Leslie agreed, then wake up and stare at the ceiling for hours, despairing at my reality. I’d sit and stare at my keyboard imagining how stupid she must think me to submit such poor writing. I’d also sit and imagine her phoning to tell me I was the next Anthony Burgess.
In reality, she didn’t fulfil the dream or the nightmare.
(Look here to see a growing list of writers conferences.)
Two months later, I received an email offering advice on how to improve my two short stories. She included nothing else. My hopes had been dashed. But I remembered something Iain Banks once told me about never letting important people forget your name. So in a fit of despair, I wrote Leslie an email saying, “In the back of my bouncy, aspirant brain I’d hoped you would take me on as a client.”
Fifteen minutes later, she e-mailed: “I’d love to work with you.”
I’d imagined screaming if she said “yes.”
I froze. I nearly dropped the phone. I said, “Oh my…” in a tone that probably made everyone in the room think someone had died. I don’t remember much after that. “Eye of the Tiger” might have blared in my head and drowned out the world.
But hope and despair grew worse. In fifteen minutes, everything I wrote went from an artistic exercise to a potential financial saviour. It took another two months to understand what Karen Blixen meant. “Focus on the work,” she was saying. “Make good art.”
All I can offer now is, I’ll try.
Finally I’ve learned the difference between despair and desire. One helps you improve. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that happiness doesn’t create itself anymore than art does. Here’s to hope. I hope for a career and for you all to hear more from me in the future. Here’s to being honest with myself, while keeping hope tiny in comparison to will.
And I’ll reiterate: I’ll try.
Here’s to making good art and sending it out, and if you tell me it stinks, I’ll work on sending out something better.
Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Literary Agents Chime In On How to Start a Story Right.
- Interview: Lisa Bankoff, Agent at ICM Partners.
- Agent Dan Lazar Examines a Successful Query.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- How to Work With a Freelance Editor.
- 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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