"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. 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.
Alison is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Jen won.)
Alison Espach's debut novel is The Adults (Feb. 2011,
Scribner), a story People called "one great book ...
smart," while Publishers Weekly said “Espach perfects
the snarky, post-ironic deadpan of the 1990s and
teenagers everywhere." Alison received her MFA in
Fiction from Washington University in St. Louis.
Her short fiction has appeared in McSweeney's, Five
Chapters, and Sentence. She teaches in New York City.
HOW DID I GET MY AGENT?
I am actually still wondering that. Not only did I query Molly Friedrich at two in the morning, via e-mail, with a glass of red wine in hand; not only was she one of the two dream agents I impulsively queried that night, frequently listed on top agent lists and representing Pulitzer Prize-winning authors who had made me want to be one (Frank McCourt, Jane Smiley, Elizabeth Strout); not only had nobody ever heard of me besides a few friends and my parents, but I addressed her as Mrs. Friedrich in the query. Then, I hit SEND. I blame the wine.
I woke up the next morning with a headache, and somehow, a response from Molly Friedrich. She wanted to read the manuscript. I sent it, and after a few weeks of silence, she called.
WINE DID PLAY A FACTOR
The first thing she told me was that she never would have responded to my query if it hadn’t been for her associate agent who actually liked something about it: the title, The Adults. She, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that someone in the new millennium, I, unknown writer, had written an e-mail to a successful business woman and had the nerve to imply that she was married. She also wanted me to know that she wasn’t fond of my first paragraph in the query either.
At this point, I considered it was possible she had called just to yell at me. What, I wondered, did this agent like about me? “I liked the second paragraph,” she said. “And the book.”
I apologized for the salutation, and told her about the red wine, and how I had sat on that query for months, revised it to death, put my “voice” into it like some blogs suggested, and then took my “voice” out of it like some other blogs suggested. Ultimately, the query was a beaten to death product of too much indecision, and too much blog advice; it was somehow voice-driven and annoying, yet formal and boring, over-confident and yet full of self-doubt. I had researched, and thought about the query so much, but I didn’t once think about the greeting. I told her it was not nerve that wrote Mrs., it was Merlot.
JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF
It was a late night haze that confused me into believing an agent like Molly Friedrich would want to represent me. It was impatience. I was fed up with myself, with over thinking. Of writing, and never sending. On an impulse to purely act, to not think, and just start my career, I took the plunge I jumped off the cliff, but with my shitty, offensive query.
Molly laughed. She forgave me. She said that if we were going to work together, she just had to get that off her chest. That was two years ago. We’ve been working together ever since, happily, I might add. She sold my debut novel The Adults, which was published by Scribner in February 2011, and is a constant source of support and guidance.
Note: I do not suggest sending drunk queries, or personally offending the agent to get his or her attention. I do not suggest hitting the SEND button at two in the morning, when reason and good judgment tell you to wait. But if it has been months of relentless and sober editing, perhaps a year of constant doubt, if you have read the query so many times you can recite it on stage by memory, maybe it is time to pour yourself that glass of wine, turn off the internal critic that is always calculating the odds, and just hit send. There are queries of perfection, of good judgment and perseverance, and then there are other kinds of queries. Mine was an impulsive one-night stand kind of query. Definitely not recommended, but every so often, it works out.
Alison is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Jen won.)
Need to sharpen the beginning of your novel/memoir?
Check out the great resource Hooked, which is
all about writing an excellent Chapter 1.