How I Got My Agent: Jennifer Lawler

"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. 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. Jennifer Lawler is a nonfiction specialist.
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"How I Got My Agent" is a new recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. 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.

This installment of "How I
Got My Agent" is by
Jennifer Lawler, who is a
nonfiction specialist.

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THE REFERRAL

Earlier this year, when I was finishing up my new book proposal, I mentioned to a casual coffeehouse friend that I'd be looking for a new nonfiction agent. Marilyn, said coffeehouse friend, is a former journalism-major-turned caterer-turned-food-writer, and she asked, "Are you going to query Neil?"

I thought: Who's Neil?

It turns out she was talking about Neil Salkind, a friend of hers from a social organization, who, among other things, happened to be a literary agent. Marilyn had introduced us a few months previously when Neil was at the coffeehouse one morning - but at the time, I was working obsessively on fiction and editing a quarterly martial arts magazine. I wasn't focused on nonfiction books, so I just said hello and let them get back to their conversation. My impression of him was that he was comfortable in his own skin, interested in all kinds of people and things, genial and generous.

But no, I didn't think of querying him until Marilyn urged me to.

What I planned to do was to follow the route new writers are suppose to follow: Research agents who represent your kind of work (I write mostly self-help and how-to books, and my new proposal is in the same vein), then make a list of your top ten favorites, query them, wait a couple of weeks for feedback, make any necessary adjustments to the query letter, make another list of ten agents, query them, then repeat, until either someone makes an offer of representation or you run out of agents to query.

CONTACTING NEIL

Fully prepared for a long siege, I drafted a query letter and gave my proposal a final polish, ready to start contacting agents. Then I remembered what Marilyn had said about Neil. So I did some online research and found out who he represented, what books he'd sold recently, and came away with the belief that he could do good things for my career. So I e-mailed him, reminded him of our brief introduction and our mutual friend, and he immediately suggested we get together over coffee, talk about my new project and see what we thought of each other. (Yes, the theme is emerging: Hanging out at coffeehouses is instrumental in building your career.)

So we met. In the first few minutes of our conversation, he showed that he was squarely on the side of the author, that he knew a lot of people in publishing, and that he could sell books. Also, he liked my book proposal, and he had ideas about it - lots of ideas, which was wonderful. I was specifically looking for someone who could keep up with me because I try to write as much as I can.

He offered representation right away, we signed an agreement and now I'm looking forward to a long and mutually prosperous relationship.

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Writing your query? Check out The Writer's
Digest Guide to Query Letters
. It's a great,
up-to-date resource for query letter writing.

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