"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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll talk specifics.
LET'S MAKE A DEAL
I wanted to write fiction, but couldn’t seem to sell it. I found, however, that I was selling short satirical magazine articles with astonishing regularity, and soon I sold a couple of “how to” articles on spiritual topics to the Christian market. When it came to magazines, I just had more success with nonfiction than fiction. I decided to write a proposal for a book of humorous essays called Imaginary Jesus, and started looking for an agent so I could submit it to the publisher who printed my magazine. I started through Writer’s Market, trying to cut the pile of agents down to a top ten list. I mentioned that I hoped to have an agent soon to one of the magazine editors, and they told me that they preferred un-agented submissions when they had worked with an author before, so why didn’t I send a proposal over and abandon my agent search? I immediately sent my proposal to the publisher, who said we would probably strike a deal with no advance and see where the book could go.
Excited and a little overwhelmed, I contacted an author friend named Gary Thomas. Gary had taught a seminary class at Western Seminary a few years previously and had graciously agreed to an interview for a class project of mine at the time. Now he agreed to meet me and my wife and give advice about the writing life. In the course of our conversation he told me that I really did need an agent and referred me to two of them, giving permission for me to use his name when I sent my queries. Both agents were out of my league without Gary’s referral and, in fact, I had crossed them both off my agent search list a month earlier simply because I didn’t think they would represent someone like me.
HE LOVES MY QUERY BUT HATES MY BOOK
I sent a query to these guys within about 24 hours of talking with Gary, and the man who was about to become my agent, Wes Yoder of Ambassador Literary, sent me a note the next day saying he wanted to talk. During our conversation, Wes said he read my partial, hated it and told me he didn't want to represent me. I believe he said, "This is bad," as well as, "You're not delivering what you promised in the proposal." He told me that he suspected I was writing what I thought agents and publishers would want to see rather than what I really wanted to write ... that I wasn't being weird enough or honest enough, and wasn't embracing my desire to write a story instead of essays. He did say, though, that he would be willing to take a second look if I reworked it.
That weekend I radically altered the book from essays into a novel, and started writing the story of a guy named Matt Mikalatos who discovers while sitting in a coffee shop that the Jesus sitting across from him is not the real Jesus at all, but an imposter, which leads to encounters with the apostle Peter, a talking donkey, and a giant chase through space, time and Portland, Oregon. I sent five chapters off to Wes, and within a few hours he was sending me e-mails and leaving voice messages not to talk to any other agents. He said he wanted to be the "real agent" for Imaginary Jesus.
SUCCESS WITH WES
Now that it was fiction, I needed to finish the book! I wrote it in the evenings and the holiday breaks over Thanksgiving and Christmas ... the first draft was finished in just under six weeks, which was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I have a lot of memories of turkey cooking in the kitchen while I was hunched over the laptop by the fire.
So, my agent search lasted about two weeks from start to finish. About two months later the book was finished, and within a few months more we had two offers from great publishers on the table. And Imaginary Jesus hits the shelves this April! Looking back, I know Wes was right - I was successful when I wrote what I wanted to write, not what I thought would sell.
This guest column by Matt is an exclusive online
supplement to a feature on him in the Feb. 2010
issue of Writer's Digest (the "Breaking In" section).
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