How I Got My Literary Agent: Caseen Gaines, Author of WE DON'T NEED ROADS: THE MAKING OF THE BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY

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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Caseen Gaines, author of WE DON'T NEED ROADS: THE MAKING OF THE BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY. 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.

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Caseen Gaines is a popular culture historian. He is the author of
Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and
Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, which received the
2012 Independent Publisher’s Book Award, as well as A Christmas
Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. Caseen also
directs theater and teaches high school English in New Jersey,
where he lives. His most recent book is WE DON'T NEED ROADS:
THE MAKING OF THE BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY, which
has been praised by Library Journal, best-selling author Ernest
Cline (
Ready Player One) and Back to the Future co-creator
Bob Gale. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

A BOOK DEAL WITHOUT AN AGENT

When I began writing books, I wasn't sure if I needed, or wanted, an agent. I solicited opinions from a friend who is in publishing, as well as some very helpful blogs and “how to” books on nonfiction writing, as to whether or not an agent would be an ideal partner on this new venture I was preparing to embark on. The feedback was conflicting, and I embraced the disagreements. When querying for my first book, I submitted to editors who accepted direct submissions, as well as agents, and figured I would let the universe decide which path I should take.

(In the middle of querying? Here are some helpful tips.)

There was one agency that topped the list of ones I most wanted to be with, if the universe decided for me to go that route. This agency earned its "top spot" distinction almost exclusively because they represented the authors of I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, a book similar in style to the project I was pitching, an insider look at Paul Reubens career and the Pee-wee Herman phenomenon of the 1980s.

I queried the agency, received a phone call and request for a full proposal, but before I heard back, I was offered a deal with a publisher I (correctly) sensed I would love to work with. I jumped at the opportunity and, days later, a very polite rejection came from the agency.

The universe had decided and the matter was settled. I would forever be an author without an agent.

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SO THAT'S SETTLED ... RIGHT?

Shortly after my first book was published, I pitched a second to the same publisher. It was quickly accepted and the cycle began again. After having two well-received books under my belt, it would be easy to assume that the road to a deal for the third one would be an easy one to travel on.

That assumption, like most, would be largely incorrect.

For my third book, this time on the making of the beloved Back to the Future trilogy, I ended up querying agents and editors again. There was the ebb and flow of interest and rejections, high hopes and false starts. I queried Peter Steinberg, who at the time was running his own agency and who impressed me based on his client list. It turned out that the Lebowski book was one that he represented, and by the time I was pitching my first book, Peter had already left that agency.

After sending him an email on during the first week of July, I made the rookie mistake of accidentally resending the same email to him a few weeks later. I was certain I had blown it – don’t bug your potential agent, all the blogs and “how to” books had warned – but to my surprise, Peter responded to my second email within minutes. In retrospect, sending my first message to him during a holiday weekend probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, so I'm fortunate I made the accident.

(Writing nonfiction? Hear submission advice from literary agents.)

AN OFFER FROM PETER

Days later a telephone call followed, which went excellently and ended in an offer of representation.

We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy found its home at Plume books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, thanks in large part to Peter’s Herculean efforts. He is an amazing champion for me and my work, and I now add to the chorus of people who advocate for authors being represented by agents. As a published author, sometimes you need another advocate on your side, and sometimes you just need someone to bounce ideas off of. For me, Peter has been valuable in doing both and much more, and my work has been better for it.

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