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How I Got My Agent: Josh Levine

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Josh Levine. 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. Author Josh Levine is co-author on a biography about the legendary music executive Neil Scott Bogart titled, The Rise and Fall of the Disco King: The Neil Bogart Story. His agent is Andy Paulson of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary.

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Josh Levine, author of GOING PLATINUM. 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.

(Never open your novel with a dream -- here's why.)

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Josh Levine is co-author on a biography about the legendary music executive
Neil Scott Bogart titled GOING PLATINUM: KISS, DONNA SUMMER, AND
HOW NEIL BOGART BUILT CASABLANCA RECORDS. He is
also working on the second draft of his first work of fiction. His other writing
credits include a documentary based on the Holocaust restitution case, Stern v.
Generali, called “On Moral Grounds." He spent the summer and fall of 2005
researching Adolf Stern’s landmark case against the Italian Insurance
company, Generali, and the repercussions in the aftermath of its
settlement. He has also written for the Beverly Hills Courier
where he covered the LAUSD. He lives in Los Angeles with
his lovely wife and 2 young children. On Twitter @Dead_Matter.

The end (kind of)

This is a story without an ending. More accurately, the ending is pending. Today is Halloween 2013. I just got off the phone with my co-author and long-time friend, Brett Ermilio. From a Variety article posted to their Web site five minutes ago we just found out Spike Lee is attached to direct a bio-pic called “Spinning Gold” starring Justin Timberlake. The subject of the film is Neil Bogart. I have nothing to do with this movie but it affects me greatly and I am happy.

We’re talking to our editor and his managing editor about the proper way to release Going Platinum: KISS, Donna Summer, and How Neil Bogart Built Casablanca Records. The fact is we have options. Our publisher, Lyons Press, can coincide the release of the book with the movie, or they can release the hard cover in the fall of 2014 and wait to release the paperback with the movie in the Spring of 2015, or any combination therein. I never thought I’d be in this position. It all feels so tenuous. The future can’t happen fast enough.

(What writing credentials will impress an agent or editor?)

The Middle

Brett lives in New Jersey with his family and it took him a year or more to write the first draft of the manuscript. He put in work cold calling acquaintances, business partners, employees, long-lost family members of Neil’s and put together the framework. Considering all the preparation he had to do that’s one hell of an accomplishment. Brett is a workhorse.

I helped Brett re-write it into the manuscript it is today. I live in Los Angeles. I’m a fiction writer juggling a full-time job, a wife, two kids, a mortgage in addition to my version of the great American novel. It took us an additional eight months of cross-country emailing until we couldn’t stand to remove any more commas and all our past versus present tense woes were corrected. We had squeezed every ounce of creativity from all the personal family stories we could get our hands on. The thing was just plumb done.

I had a budding career as a script writer years ago but have since lost contact with my old agent. Brett was juggling his own life back east. The daunting task of finding a non-fiction agent to help us sell this thing was before us but the path was so unclear. Days and weeks were passing by and neither Brett nor I had much luck with queries. We concentrated on the book proposal. I can’t stress this enough: your book proposal is important. Take your time with it, love it, and make it fit with the book your trying to sell.

I work in advertising. For those of you reading this who also work in advertising a word of advice: get in good with your proofreaders. I knew that Andy Paulson had a life outside of work having something to do with a publisher of humor books. On the off chance that Andy would be able to connect us with an agent I sent an awkwardly worded email that ended with “You can totally ignore me if you want to. I would.” A few minutes after I sent the email Andy entered my office and closed the door. He presented me with a business card. As luck would have it, Andy was a nonfiction agent at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary (ZSH) in New York. I pitched him the book. A few weeks later Lyons Press emerged and we signed a contract. It really was that easy.

Andy has since left the business but I will always think fondly of my email, his business card and his great patience with all the questions and nagging Brett and I suffered him through. In the contract we signed ZSH has first right of refusal on any other non-fiction topic I pitch. I have a few but I’m biding my time while I finish my novel.

(How to pitch agents at a writers' conference.)

The Beginning

I am 38. I’ve spent 28 of those years dreaming of walking into a bookstore to find my book on the shelf. With the advent of e-books, and brick and mortar stores falling by the wayside everywhere, I just barely may get to fulfill that dream.

I do not hesitate to admit that without the movie finding its own budget the idea that anyone would be interested in Neil Bogart seems a little far-fetched. That’s not to take anything away from Neil or his rather extraordinary life as a 70s era music mogul. But still, Lyons Press made a good move. If you can find a friend with a super famous uncle worthy of a bio-pic and non-fiction book, do it. If not, take my advice: never give up.

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