How I Got My Agent: Richard Ellis Preston, Author of ROMULUS BUCKLE

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Richard Ellis Preston, author of ROMULUS BUCKLE & THE CITY OF FOUNDERS. 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: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: DanielJayBerg won.)
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Richard Ellis Preston, author of ROMULUS BUCKLE & THE CITY OF FOUNDERS. 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: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: DanielJayBerg won.)

richard-preston-author-writer
romulus-buckle-book-cover

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk.
Although he grew up in both the United States and Canada he prefers to think of himself
as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and has lived on Prince
Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm
whale autopsy. ROMULUS BUCKLE AND THE CITY OF THE FOUNDERS (47 North,
July 2013) is the first installment in his new steampunk series, The Chronicles of
the Pneumatic Zeppelin. Booklist said of the debut, ""What a glorious, steam-filled,
larger-than-life, action-packed adventure!" Richard has also written for film and
television. He currently resides in California. Find Richard on Twitter.

HOW LIGHTNING STRIKES (AFTER 20 YEARS)

How did I get my current agent? In the 20 years I’ve been both a screenwriter and a novelist, I have had three. I relocated to Los Angeles in 1991 with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. I didn’t know anybody inside the industry so I had no open doors. Hundreds of queries and submissions were mailed into a black hole. I needed my own contact network. I took an extension screenwriting course at UCLA with an instructor who worked in a genre I liked. My intention was to blow that instructor away with my mad-scientist writing "skills," diabolically forcing her to give me extra attention.

The students were tasked to produce the first 30 pages of their spec screenplay by the end of the term: I handed in a completed screenplay. Impressed, my instructor set up a meeting with her agent (lesson: a personal contact opened a door). That did not work out, but it was a legitimate shot. A co-worker opened a door for me as a script reader with Storyline Productions at Universal Studios; their development executive liked my script and he kindly submitted it to every agent he knew who was looking for new clients (lesson: a personal contact opened a door). Everyone passed but one -- and all it takes is one. I was signed on by Susan Sussman at the Premiere Artists Agency, which was a brand new outfit.

I was sent to pitch meetings at Universal, Paramount, etc., but no one on the A-List ever bit. My contract with Susan ended amicably but was not renewed. I went back to vainly submitting and pounding the pavement.

(Which writers' conference is the BEST to attend?)

SUCCESS IN SCREENWRITING BURNED ME OUT

My UCLA instructor called me one day (lesson: a personal contact opened another door) and put me in touch with a B-movie company, PM Entertainment, who was looking for screenwriters. I ended up working for them (and a few others) for a decade, penning medium-budget action, sci-fi and family movies and TV shows for HBO, USA, TNT and Animal Planet. Television wore me out. When my current gigs dried up or got cancelled, I turned to writing novels.

I love writing novels. When my first manuscript, the first installment of a steampunk adventure series, was completed, I bought the thick, heavy agent and publisher listings and starting lining up my query letter lists. But I had a pal on the inside. During my early days in California I had gravitated into group of new friends, all recent L.A arrivals who were interested in cracking into the entertainment industry. We were writers, actors, directors—and a lawyer. That lawyer, Julie Kenner, eventually quit the law business and became a writer. After years of hard work, her talent won out and she now pens NY Times bestsellers.

A REFERRAL: YET ANOTHER DOOR OPENED BY A CONTACT

Once Julie heard about my book, she told me to hold off on the queries and let her submit it to a handful of agents she thought might be interested (lesson: a personal contact opened several doors). Three passed, and one bit. The big one. Adrienne Lombardo, a brand new agent at Trident Media Group in New York, read my book within a month, loved it, and offered me a contract with the agency in November of 2011. The manuscript went out to her top five publishers in the new year and I had a two book deal signed with 47North, Amazon’s new sci-fi publishing imprint, by March, 2012. Twenty years after my arrival in Los Angeles, I finally felt as if I had arrived. (Adrienne later moved on to other things and I shifted into the care of Alyssa Eisner Henkin at TMG, so my third agent was a smooth transition).

(Adapt your book into a movie script -- here's how.)

Lessons Learned: cold queries and submissions can work, but the odds are insanely long and it’s a tough haul. I’ve witnessed the slush piles firsthand and wow, the amount of unsolicited stuff pouring in on a daily basis is mind-boggling. And it is a much bigger pile now than it used to be. Sure, go ahead and query and submit, but today I believe that you should spend more of your time, energy and money making contacts. You have to find somebody to open a door for you. Join a writing group and be engaged; somebody is bound to have success and they tend to carry their friends along with them. If you live far away from an urban center I would recommend you put your cash into a convention trip to Kansas City rather than a mountain of query letters; when you spend a lot to get there, it motivates you. Don’t be a wallflower. Grab an apple martini or a Shirley Temple and approach every agent, writer and publisher you can. Make a personal contact. Open a door.

GIVEAWAY: Richard is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: DanielJayBerg won.)

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