If You Build It, They Will Come: Letting Agents Come to You

I didn’t get my agent the traditional way.

I tried the traditional way, of course. I sent queries, I sent chapters, I sent samples and stories and clever letters, but they didn’t work.

In the end, an agent approached me. You could say this was an accident or a gift of chance, but you’d be wrong. The fact is, I concentrated on getting my work published in smaller markets, and it got noticed. You can make this work for you, too.

Here’s how I made the “getting published in smaller markets” part happen…

(Can you query an agent for a short story collection?)

 

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Column by Michael Poore, whose fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Fiction,
Talebones, Southern Review, The Pinch, and other magazines. He has been
nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Fountain Award, and the Sturgeon Award.
Poore lives in Northwest Indiana with his wife, writer Janine Harrison, and
daughter Jianna. He is a proud member of the Highland Writer’s Group and
the Indiana Writer’s Consortium. His debut novel is UP JUMPS THE DEVIL
(Ecco, 2012), a story that follows John Scratch, the devil himself, and was
praised by NYT bestselling author Patrick deWitt as, “Part fable, part warped
historical travelogue, Up Jumps the Devil is an inscrutably charming debut
novel that poses the question: What if Satan wasn’t that bad a guy? I don’t
know where Michael Poore came from, but I sure am glad he’s here.” 

 

I FOCUSED ON SHORT FICTION AND LITERARY MAGAZINES

I wrote fiction, and sent it off to literary magazines. LOTS of literary magazines. I totally ignored warnings against simultaneous submissions; unless a publisher has paid you money, they have no right to tell you what to do with your work, and you’ll die of old age waiting for some of those journals. When I say I sent to lots of journals, I mean I sent each story out to at least ten editors. I had a tiered system: blitz the great journals, then the good journals, then the fly-by-night publications, and hope to get an acceptance from a great journal before settling for something less. I rolled the dice. I got rejected. I persisted. I read voraciously, and honed my craft. I treated writing like a job, working for hours every day, whether I felt like it or not. I drank some beer and got married and lived my life. I wrote every day, no exceptions. If I couldn’t write for hours, I made sure to at least write something. I got divorced. I collected some speeding tickets and some dogs.

After some years went by, I was getting published regularly, in wonderful journals like StoryQuarterly and Glimmer Train.

Okay, that’s the “getting published in smaller markets” part. Here’s the part about how an agent contacted me.

SO THIS EDITOR KNEW THIS AGENT…

I sent a story called “The Wind In His Cotton Mountain Paradise” to the very reputable Greensboro Review. The editor called me up and said, “You have a sick mind!” Then he published the story. In the same issue, he published a story titled “Birds In the House,” by Kevin Wilson (author of The Family Fang and Tunneling to the Center of the Earth).

Wilson was friends with Michelle Brower of Folio Literary, a sharp, well-regarded agent. He let her know he had a story coming out in the Greensboro Review, and she got hold of a copy and read everything in it, including “The Wind In His Cotton Mountain Paradise.”

She liked the story well enough to email me. A couple of years later, she sold my novel Up Jumps the Devil (a humorous biography of the devil), to Ecco Press. Now we’re working on getting a second book out there. Michelle has moved to Folio Literary Management, and I think it’s safe to say we are both happy with our relationship.

So what’s the take-away, here? Drink beer and get a divorce?

(What should you do after rejection?)

… YOU CAN GET NOTICED IN DIFFERENT WAYS

It’s that old saw: writers write. Do more writing than anything else. Focus on writing and sending your polished work to journals and magazines. If you get a lot of good work out there, it will be noticed. Get people to review your work online. Get your name out there on the web. The fact is: agents are out there looking for writers just as hard as writers are looking for agents. Let them find you.

This approach is desirable for a couple of reasons. One: an agent will only represent your work well if they are excited about it. It’s a war out there, and the only way an agent will give your work every ounce of fight they’ve got is if they’re INSANELY IN LOVE with it. If an agent goes to the trouble to look you up, you know you’ll get their best.

Two: The internet is on your side. I’m not just talking about publication opportunities. My sci-fi buddy Ted Kosmatka (The Games, The Prophet of Bones) hooked up with an agent once because they were both in the same chat room. You don’t know who you’re talking to in those rooms. It could be Charles Manson, or it could be somebody who sleeps with an editor at Penguin.

Roll the dice. If you build it, they will come.

I also recommend the beer and the divorce.

——————

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5 thoughts on “If You Build It, They Will Come: Letting Agents Come to You

  1. Altariel

    This is a great article. I’m working my WD short story contest piece. It is a great reminder to keep writing and that short stories can be as valuable as a novel, even as I work on the revisions of the novel.

  2. dymphna st james

    Very encouraging! I have written a collection of short stories and have completed the first draft of a novel. I am unpublished and I have to admit I have not been very vigilant about sending my short stories to magazines and literary journals. I agree that you have to keep writing. I am concentrating on developing a large body of work and honing my craft. Good luck with your book!

  3. bendwriter

    I can’t decide why I like you more, because you admit to beer drinking and dog collecting (which makes you totally approachable and the opposite of writer-snob) or because you gave us permission to feel okay about multiple submissions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Monique L. Miller

    Thank you so much for this article. I thought that maybe this process wouldn’t take forever if you have a lot of material, but I see now that it can take FOREVER no matter how much work you put out there. And the only solution is to keep writing and let your work speak for itself.

  5. annemarielacy

    This was so funny, and so helpful. And I just happened to be sitting at the computer preparing to polish a short story to send to Glimmer Train, so it was very timely for me. Thank you so much. And I am going to Amazon from there to order Up Jumps the Devil…

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