How I Got My Literary Agent: Tex Thompson

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Tex Thompson, author of ONE NIGHT IN SIXES. 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.

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Column by Arianne “Tex” Thompson, author of ONE NIGHT IN SIXES
(July 2014, Solaris). Tex channeled her passion for exciting, innovative,
and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published
epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional writing
instructor and editor for the DFW Writers Conference, Tex is blazing a
trail through writers conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around
the country—as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman
stampede. Find her
 on Twitter!

Phase I: Junior Prom, Revisited
It’s the first day of the 2012 DFW Writer’s Conference. People are gathering in the ballroom. My buddies and I are gossiping frantically about who’s going to pitch to whom, what so-and-so said when HE went and talked to such-and-such, and oh my God, did you hear her pitch? Who does she think she is? (For the record: anyone who wants to re-live the high school experience should absolutely come do this. Your larval stage awaits.) I’ve hit a terrible snag in my plan: as it turns out, my dream agent with the bigshot agency and the killer client list is just world-wreckingly cool and interesting and charismatic in person, and if I can’t even work up the guts for a casual introduction, there’s no way I’ll have the gumption to pitch to him later.

(Attending a writers’ conference soon? Learn how to prepare.)

Then a new person meanders into the room, sporting ruby-red cowboy boots. “Hi,” she says with a smile,”I’m Jennie Goloboy.”

You know, Jennie Goloboy. One of those other, newer, lesser agents. The one I’d been following on Twitter—the PhD-wielding arch-historian who’d just joined Red Sofa Literary—the lady who writes zombie romance and patronizes her local cheese festival and has Informed Opinions on the use of pewter in 18th-century American colonies. You know, the casual avatar of everything I aspire to be.

And she’s talking to ME.

“Hi,” I say, extending my clammy hand.  “You smell pretty.”

Phase II: Barfing On Your Shoes for Fun and Profit
Yes, it was that bad. I’d spent months getting this steady IV drip of her interests and personality, and yet it didn’t occur to me until that very moment that I ought to be nervous as hell, because she was EXACTLY the person I wanted to read my book.

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.

But nervous and awkward actually worked in my favor. She asked what I was writing, but I couldn’t bear to stammer out my canned pitch on the spur of the moment. So I demurred (“oh, cowboys and Indians and fishmen – I’ll tell you about it later – hey, have you met…?”). We talked about other things, I introduced her to a few other writers, and later we waved to each other a couple times in the hallway. By the time I bought an extra pitch session and sat down to actually tell her about my project, I had my head together. This time, I started not with a prepackaged schpiel, but with an earnest question:  “What made you want to get a PhD in history?”

Phase III: Lessons Learned
You might have already guessed that we had a great conversation. Then we had another one over the phone, after I sent her the manuscript. Then we had another one after she sold my first two books to Solaris. But what you might not guess—and what she only told me long after the fact—is that she was sold on me long before she read a page of my work. “Every time I saw you, you were helping someone,” she said. “Every time I mentioned you to somebody, they got a big smile on their face.”

So here’s what I took from that. Agents at conferences know we’re nervous. They know we’re desperate. What they don’t know, and can’t tell from a shrink-wrapped pitch, is what kind of people we are. And if you present yourself as an appealing person – if you’re generous in helping your fellow writers, if you ask good questions during classes, if you do your homework and respect people’s time and take an active interest even in the folks who can’t directly benefit you – then it becomes much easier for an agent to imagine how great you would be to work with.

(Literary agents share advice on how to approach them at a writers’ conference and pitch your work successfully.)

Even if you didn’t realize how great it would be to work with them.

Even if they’re not the agent whose name you wrote all over your geometry book.

Even if you still can’t shake hands without embarrassing yourself.

——————

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

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Your new complete and updated instructional guide
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much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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