“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Janet Fisher, author of THE SHIFTING WINDS. 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 email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Column by Janet Fisher, author of THE SHIFTING WINDS (March 2016,
Globe Pequot Press, TwoDot). Janet lives on a Century Farm in Oregon
bought by her great-great-grandmother, subject of her first book, A PLACE
OF HER OWN, which was called “a riveting tale” by Woodland magazine.
Two of her historical novels were PNWA Literary Contest finalists.
A long road
When I packed my bags and drove to the 2012 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Seattle to find an agent, I had been trying to get published for 33 years. During that time I wrote 19 books. Over the first half of that period, four agents had represented me without success. For the second half I wandered in a wilderness of rejections and bursts of hope. I kept writing books, kept honing my skills, kept trying to find another agent.
My 18th book had become a PNWA literary contest finalist in 2004, my second contest finalist in two consecutive years. I received lots of rave rejects on that one but still no agent. My optimism took a blow.
In 2006 my dad died, and I chose to keep the family farm. Caught up in the turmoil of losing my father and taking on his farm, I began to think I could quietly let the writing go. I wouldn’t admit I was quitting. But who would even notice?
As I walked the land’s timbered hills and rich river bottom I became intrigued with the fact that my great-great-grandmother Martha came west over the Oregon Trail and purchased this farm after her husband died. It’s one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman, and I felt a connection as the second woman in the family to own her farm. I decided to try one more book and write her story.
Once the manuscript seemed ready I started to query agents, and got nothing. A year of that and I decided I needed to go to a writing conference and meet agents face-to-face. I put my money on PNWA.
I arrived at that 2012 PNWA conference with plans to pitch Martha’s story, my 19th book, but I had serious reservations about the conference’s new “Power Pitch Blocks.” The system involved choosing a 90-minute block of time in which authors would line up to pitch each of the agents or editors on their chosen lists. I’m not a large-sized person, and I could easily imagine getting trampled by eager authors, all wanting the same agents or editors I did.
My book was nonfiction, but most of my still-viable work was historical fiction. So I selected agents and editors who accepted both memoir/biography and historical fiction.
The big moment
I stepped into that crowded room, chin high, heart racing. The session proved surprisingly organized. I was neither trampled nor pressed for time. But it was intense. Agents and editors sat behind a long table, each with a chair opposite for the person pitching, with five or six chairs stretched out behind for those waiting in line. We had three minutes for each pitch—well, one minute to pitch, two minutes for conversation. How daunting to make a compelling case for a book-length work in one minute. Every three minutes the bell rang, and we moved to our next place, like a musical chairs game.
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It all went so efficiently I pitched everyone on my list and still had time. As I sat on the sidelines wondering what to do next, I saw New York agent Rita Rosenkranz sitting at the long table. I had seen her at PNWA conferences before and liked her, but in previous years I had always brought fiction to pitch, and she only accepted nonfiction.
It occurred to me that what I had this day was nonfiction. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself, “I need something—now. I can deal with the fiction later.”
I walked over to Rita’s line. After I gave my pitch, she smiled. “I know one house that’s doing this kind of thing.” She asked me to send her a proposal and three sample chapters.
I got seven requests for material that day and felt pretty good about it, but as the responses trickled in over the next month or two, only one came back with an offer of representation. Rita Rosenkranz.
In less than a year she cut a deal for my book with Globe Pequot Press/TwoDot imprint. A PLACE OF HER OWN was released in June 2014.
Happily ever after
But what about the fiction? I finally approached Rita with that, feeling almost as nervous as at our first encounter. Would she send me back out to the wilderness again?
Rita not only accepted the fiction, she was delighted to represent it.
So now my debut historical novel, THE SHIFTING WINDS, is out, released March 1, 2016. Same editor. Same house. And it’s set in the same pioneer era as the first. Although the main characters are fictional, a lot of real American frontier history wraps around their story. I brought the project out from my earlier work because I hoped this one might fit my editor’s list. It did. I had to revise extensively before submitting because I’ve learned some things about writing over the years, but the bulk of the research was done, and I knew the characters like old friends.
My own story doesn’t end there. Rita is shopping more books for me. More historical novels. All this, because I didn’t give up, and because I dared to walk into that dreaded pitching session—and because of a moment’s decision in a crowded room.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Literary Agents Explain Why They Attend Conferences (And It’s Not What You Think).
- Voluntary Masochism: Writing With Emotion.
- How I Learned to Kill My Darlings.
- Why Tough Love is Crucial to Writers.
- 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 writing a query letter.