Editors Blog

How I Got My Agent: Beatriz Williams

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Beatriz Williams, author of OVERSEAS: A NOVEL. 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.

(Writing a synopsis for your novel? Here are 5 tips.)

 

      

Beatriz Williams‘s first novel, OVERSEAS, is out May 10, 2012
from Putnam. In a starred review,
Publishers Weekly said
of the novel, “This is a delicious story about the ultimate
romantic fantasy.” She lives in Connecticut with her husband
and four children.


“THE ONE”

Ours was a whirlwind courtship. I found her online, after a thorough study of available matches, because I liked her background and the capable intelligence radiating from her photograph. From the moment we sat down for coffee in a bustling Le Pain Quotidien in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, I knew she was The One.

Lover? Spouse? No, my literary agent.

(What a movie can teach writers about how to start a story strong.)

Now, we all know the author-agent relationship is a business partnership. Publishing can be a brutal industry, and we’re playing for money, here, for real stakes. Throw in the mushroom cloud of ebooks, the magnetic pole-switch of self-publishing, the Babel of social media, and the process of finding literary representation requires a harder head than ever before.

Still, at the heart of all this, we have a book: a thing of subjective value, an object of emotion. You want an agent to fall in love with your book, and to find you an editor who falls in love with your book. You want passion behind your representation, and so you want an agent who gets your book, who gets you, and therefore finding an agent will never be quite as objective a quest as finding a lawyer or an accountant.

A BOOK THAT’S READY TO SUBMIT

When I finished Overseas, after a couple of fatally flawed first efforts, I knew I finally had a salable manuscript. A sweeping love story with a compelling hook — a First World War infantry officer follows the woman he loves across time to contemporary Manhattan — Overseas had all the elements of a strong romance, with the scope and structure to interest readers of mainstream fiction as well. This was my big chance. I didn’t want just any agent to take on my manuscript, I wanted The One.

I researched with care. I wanted a young agent, still building a client list, with a well-regarded agency behind her. I wanted someone who was romance-friendly, but not limited to genre fiction. Less objectively, I wanted someone with drive and curiosity, someone intelligent and vibrant and full of ideas. In today’s tangled marketplace, a background in law was a decided plus.

After scouring online resources and written directories, I came up with a list of four agents, with Alexandra Machinist (then of the Linda Chester Literary Agency, now of Janklow & Nesbit) at the tip-top. I sent out email queries on Thursday, and within 24 hours, two agents had replied with requests for the full manuscript. Alexandra was one of them. “By the way,” she added, at the end of the email, “did you know I grew up in your hometown?” I didn’t, but I took it as a good omen.

(Without this, you’ll never succeed as a writer.)

A NERVOUS PHONE CALL

I sent her the full manuscript, which she promised to take with her on the airplane to a weekend conference in Los Angeles. It was a three-day weekend; Monday was Yom Kippur. On Tuesday, while I was unbuckling my one-year-old from her car seat, I noticed a voice mail on my cell phone. The area code was 212. My hands began to shake as I pressed the buttons. “This is Alexandra Machinist,” the recording ran. “I just finished Overseas, and I love it.”

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3 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Beatriz Williams

  1. docyoc

    Great post and congrats on landing your first choice. You had me convinced I had mistakenly jumped into reading a love story when after reading the introduction of your post! I hope your relationship with your agent continues to feel that way.

    @shadesdown, keep up the hard work. I’m sure it will pay off in the end, and you’re damn right about thank god for email queary submission!

  2. AlexAdams

    @shadesdown, you might try heading over to the Absolute Write forums. There’s lots of great query-writing advice over there, and a sub-forum devoted to critiquing queries. Many a writer has secured an agent and/or sold their story with Absolute Write’s help.

    @Beatriz, thank you for sharing your story! And may your novel sell an obscenely huge number of copies (including the one I’m buying, of course)!

    (Alexandra is my agent, too, and she’s the bee’s knees.)

  3. shadesdown2001

    Wow, Ms. Williams makes it sound so easy. Apparently, luck has everything to do with it. Well, that and the best damn query letter/email a writer can muster up. And that would be my problem. I have finished the book. I have edited, re-edited along with spell checked, and rewriting the entire book. I find that that query letter got me doomed. I have done plenty of research on “how to writer the perfect query” and still, it seems to fail me every time. I have sent out more than 200 in the past two months and still never got past the query email stage. Thank God for the email exceptions or I would have to score a second job just to pay for the postage costs. What is the secret to the “perfect query letter?” What am I doing so wrong that the successful authors are doing so right?

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