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How I Got My Agent: Elizabeth Huergo, Author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Elizabeth Huergo, author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ. 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. GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wisetraveler13 won.)

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Elizabeth Huergo, author of THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ. 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.

GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wisetraveler13 won.)

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Elizabeth Huergo was born in Havana and immigrated to the US at an
early age as a political refugee. Since receiving her graduate degrees in
English from Brown University, she has taught at a number of colleges
and universities. A published poet and story writer, her first novel is
THE DEATH OF FIDEL PEREZ (Unbridled Books). She is presently
working on her second novel, Between Ana and Ella, a contemporary
Latina version of The Grapes of Wrath. Find her on Twitter.

ALL IT TOOK WAS ONE GOOD SENTENCE

My first impulse whenever someone asks me how I got my literary agent is to laugh and explain that I have no idea how the universe works except that it seems to require surrender at every point. We control so little, really. My second impulse is to tell you a story about how deeply I listened to Richard Peabody, writer and mentor, and how that seemingly passive action led me to a wonderful agent and then a publisher.

Toward the very end of his novel seminar, Richard talks about the critical elements of a cover letter, the sort of cover letter that will pique an agent’s curiosity, despite the endless piles of queries she receives. “You have to describe your novel in one sentence,” Richard insisted. The students in the class pushed back. He answered their questions, but he stuck to his point and went on to elaborate on other, rather counter-intuitive aspects of the cover letter.

(Is it wise to sign with a new agent?)

I BOILED IT DOWN TO THIS ONE LINE...

The following week, everyone came to class with their draft cover letters. All of the students had written two- and three-page letters about the plot or the writing process, long explanations about the writer’s heart-felt devotion to the beloved manuscript. On some level, conscious or unconscious, the students seemed to feel that they knew more about the industry, about the culture of agents and publishers and writers, than Richard did.

Me? I took him quite literally—in large part because I have spent so many years teaching writing and observing the energy students often misspend in resisting instruction. I struggled all week and finally boiIed my novel down to one sentence, the opening sentence of my cover letter:

The Death of Fidel Pérez is a tale told by Che Guevara and overheard by Italo Calvino.”

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

80% OF THE AGENTS WANTED TO SEE MORE

Richard gave it a thumbs up while the students around me winced visibly. A few days later, I sent out my first batch of ten query letters to New York agents interested in literary fiction. Are you ready? I got an 80 percent return--which is outrageous. Eight out of the ten queries I sent led to a request for a brief excerpt. Then five of the eight asked for fifty pages. In the end, three asked for the full manuscript, and one of those three was Katie Grimm, an extraordinary agent at Don Congdon Associates.

After speaking to Katie, I remembered something else Richard said during our seminar. It was almost a throw-away, a casual bit of advice tossed like a message in a bottle: “Get an agent who genuinely believes in your work.” I signed the contract. Katie pitched my novel for a full year with exactly the same enthusiasm, intelligence, and work ethic that she demonstrated the first month we worked together. She found Unbridled Books and Fred Ramey, another extraordinary professional.

GIVEAWAY: Elizabeth is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: wisetraveler13 won.)

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