How I Got My Literary Agent: Maria Mutch

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Maria Mutch, author of the memoir KNOW THE NIGHT (March 2014). 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. Maria's literary agent is Nathaniel Jacks at Inkwell Management.
Author:
Publish date:

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Maria Mutch, author of the memoir KNOW THE NIGHT. 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.

know-the-night-maria-mutch
maria-mutch-author-writer

Maria Mutch’s essays, poetry and short fiction have appeared in literary journals
across Canada and the US. Her debut memoir, KNOW THE NIGHT (March 2014,
Simon & Schuster and Knopf Canada) is about her experience of being up at
night with her oldest son, who has Down syndrome and autism, combined with
the 1930s Antarctic adventure of Admiral Richard Byrd. Find Maria on Twitter.

BE PREPARED

I suppose the moral here is be prepared. But, at the time, I was a terrible Boy Scout.

At a writers conference I attended in 2010, I decided to take advantage of the program’s consulting service. The faculty member reading my manuscript was a journalist, but I knew enough about responses to writing to know that was a good thing, even if what I’d been working on wasn’t journalism. The problem, which was really just process, was that the manuscript I’d been working on for nearly two years was still in its early, unruly stages (my book would take a total of four years to write). I’d been working to combine the story of being up at night with my older son, who had multiple diagnoses, no longer spoke and had developed a sleeping disorder, with the Antarctic adventure of the explorer Admiral Richard Byrd. I had read Byrd’s book, Alone, and loved it—it had helped me during those dark nights—which is why I was folding it into the story of my son. There were other tethers and threads, too, such as jazz (which my son listens to), and Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. There were a lot of ideas and emotions curling around in the small vortex of my work.

As it turned out, the journalist liked what I was doing and I went back to my home with his suggestions and the desire to keep going. As the months went by, I continued researching, adding material to my manuscript and rearranging the disparate parts.

(How much money can you expect from selling your first book?)

9 MONTHS LATER

About nine months after the conference, I received an email from an agent, Nathaniel Jacks at Inkwell Management; the journalist (and, yes, his positive karma for this kindness is immense) had told him about my manuscript and he wanted to see it. Which made me wildly excited, for about three seconds before I remembered that I wasn’t remotely ready. My unwieldy ideas were still unwieldy, and I had imagined all along that I wouldn’t show my manuscript to an agent until it was done and no longer so unruly. How was I going to explain myself and the collection of tentacled beasts I’d been working on? And then, since opportunity was indeed availing itself, how could I not?

I worked for the next sixteen hours, stopping to help my husband with our two sons and then diving back in. I gathered what I could of the manuscript into a sensible order, wrote a cover letter, and then woke at 3 a.m. to recheck everything I had done. I clicked the send button right after breakfast and then dealt with the morass of excitement, anxiety, vulnerability and relief that I felt. I settled back down at my desk but it was difficult to concentrate and I was exhausted.

(Find out why agents stop reading your first chapter.)

TALKING WITH AN AGENT

That afternoon, Nathaniel emailed me and arranged for us to talk on the phone, just after my boys were home from school. I remember breaking into a cold sweat when the phone rang and my younger son getting impatient while the receiver was pressed to my ear. He handed me a note that he had scrawled, “Can I have some ice cream?”

Nathaniel and I talked at length about the manuscript, where it was heading and what, really, it was—the first of many conversations about genres and categories and defying boundaries. He was prepared to wait while I finished the book (another eight months) and the effect of that was transformative. I got to work with renewed energy and an understanding of how to tame some of the wilder aspects of my writing. After I turned in the manuscript, he sold it to Simon & Schuster and Knopf Canada (more revisions, and more taming, followed). Having Nathaniel’s wise responses and his trust in my ability to bring clarity to my ideas has taught me so much about the process of creating. I also learned about the power of word-of-mouth, and the vital and sometimes serendipitous responses of early readers.

And, somewhere in there, my younger son did get his ice cream.

Image placeholder title

This guest column is a supplement to the
"Breaking In" (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer's Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Dulan_1:14

On Writing to Give Grief Meaning and Write Out of Challenging Situations

Author Lily Dulan explains why writers have to be willing to go to difficult places inside themselves for their writing to make a positive impact on ourselves, others, and the world.

Brandt_1:14

Gerald Brandt: Toeing the Line Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Science fiction author Gerald Brandt explains how this new series explores the genre boundary and how he came to find his newest book's focus.

plot_twist_story_prompts_moment_of_doubt_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Moment of Doubt

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character experience a moment of doubt.

dr_caitlin_oconnell_finding_connection_and_community_in_animal_rituals_author_spotlights

Caitlin O'Connell: Finding Connection and Community in Animal Rituals

In this post, Dr. Caitlin O'Connell shares what prompted her to write a book about finding connection and community in animal rituals, what surprised her in the writing process, and much more!

new_agent_alert_zeynep_sen_of_wordlink_literary_agency

New Agent Alert: Zeynep Sen of WordLink Literary Agency

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Zeynep Sen of WordLink Literary Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.