How I Got My Agent: Robert L. Owens

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Robert L. Owens, author of POINTMAN. 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. Robert's literary agent is Faye Swetky of The Swetky Agency
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Robert L. Owens, author of POINTMAN. 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.

(When can you finally call yourself a writer?) 

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Robert (Bob) Owens is the author of POINTMAN (Delizon, Aug. 2013). He
graduated from the University of California-Davis prior to entering the U.S.
Army. He served in the Mekong Delta and in the Cambodian invasion with
the Ninth Infantry Division. Mr. Owens was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat
Medical Badge, and Purple Heart medals. After his tour of duty, the author
worked as a teacher, school administrator, and county superintendent of
schools. Robert lives in northern California with his wife Kathy and they
have two adult children, Alicia and Jeff.

IT BEGAN 40 YEARS AGO

Forty years have passed since I wrote the first words to my novel Pointman. The story was not originally written as fiction. It was a diary of time spent in both Vietnam and Cambodia, sloshing through the swampy Mekong Delta and wandering in triple canopy jungle.

I was one of the lucky ones as I returned home alive and with the Combat Medical Badge, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. I served as a medic in a platoon where nearly everyone had been wounded, but we only had one man killed in action. But our one loss was one too many, especially in a war none of us understood.

As I wrote the memoir, I found that I didn’t like the use of first person and that the story didn’t “pop.” It wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. So I fictionalized it. The writer’s tool of “what if” was used as I wondered how much money could be made if heroin were shipped back to the states. It was an interesting question, but I was not foolish enough to try. My imagination did result in a war story with characters in conflict over very different goals, but the main focus became “one man’s fight for love and survival in a world of drugs and violence.”

QUERYING IN THE 1970s

Originally titled The Heroin War, publishers in the mid-1970s still allowed authors to submit their work to the slush piles. Although I received encouraging words and requests for the entire manuscript via this process, no contracts were issued. Looking back, I’ve read that this was the same time Oliver Stone pitched Platoon (for fifteen years) and, despite his Oscar-winning success as the screenwriter of Midnight Express, no one wanted to touch a Vietnam story. The subject was still too fresh and disturbing.

With my lack of success, I set aside the work and got on with life---marriage, career, family. Those were my priorities, not a novel that hadn’t sold. Thirty plus years passed, the children were grown, and I’d retired. The novel that had been set aside, but never forgotten, was brought back to life. I repeatedly revised the novel on the computer until it was simply the best that I could do.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

Upon completion and with the help of Writer’s Market, it became clear that all major publishers no longer accepted unsolicited manuscripts and I again needed an agent. I turned to the Guide to Literary Agents and began my search. The Guide helped me focus on those agents that specialized in war and action/adventure genres.

Thus, I began my search, e-mailing agents and explaining that a former developmental editor of the book, Robert Lowry, had commented that Pointman was “one of the best novels I’ve ever read” as part of my pitch. Many agents passed, but five requested to see the entire manuscript. Still, only one caught me off guard with her comments and her awareness.

AGENT FAYE SWETKY

Agent Faye Swetky responded to my e-mail by stating, “Okay, I’m not sure I’m getting this. Is the Robert Lowry to whom you refer the one who died in the 1990s? Or is it another Robert Lowry?”

Her comment made my face flush with embarrassment, but I quickly congratulated her on being the first to acknowledge Mr. Lowry and the fact he had died in 1994. After my explanation, I filled out the “Submission Synopsis-Unsolicited New Book” on the Swetky Agency’s website. After reviewing my input on the required entries of “Genre, Blurb, Synopsis, and Platform”, Ms. Swetky requested the manuscript and soon followed with her comments, “As for this story, I like about everything. The writing is strong. The characterization is real. The description is lush, without being overkill. So far as the darkness goes, I find that refreshing, and I’m pretty sure that some of our editors will too.”

She was right. After notifying the other requesting agents, I signed the contract with the Swetky Agency, feeling that her knowledge of Mr. Lowry, her website’s content, her belief in the novel, and her advice in subsequent e-mails, made her the right choice to represent Pointman.

After a few months, an offer from Delizon Publishing came in and my heart raced when I read the word “contract”. Although Delizon is a small publisher, I was thrilled that Pointman would finally be published after so many years. I always wanted the confirmation of selling the book to a publisher to legitimize the story, to show that the work was valued by someone other than myself. Faye Swetky took my dream of publication, to tell the story of these young men and women, and made the dream come true.

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