How I Got My Literary Agent: Tony Peak

Tony Peak, author of INHERIT THE STARS (Nov. 2015, Penguin Random House), shares how he obtained his literary agent, after signing a publishing contract.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Tony Peak, author of INHERIT THE STARS. 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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Column by Tony Peakdebut author of INHERIT THE STARS
(Nov. 2015, Penguin Random House). Tony is an Active Member
of the SFWA and an Affiliate Member of the HWA. He is represented
by Ethan Ellenberg of the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. His interests
include progressive thinking, music, wine, history, Transhumanism, and
planetary exploration. Happily married, he resides in rural southwest
Virginia with a wonderful view of New River. Follow him on Twitter

Contract first, agent second
There’s an aura of mystery and anxiety when writers seek an agent, like we’re questing for the Holy Grail or something. Some writers assume that agents are these unreachable gatekeepers of publishing. Of course, that’s not true. They’re people too, and love good books like the rest of us.

(Exclusive Requests From Literary Agents—What Are They and How Do They Work?)

I got an agent only after signing a contract with one of the Big Five (Penguin Random House) for my space opera, INHERIT THE STARS. While that is a story in itself, there’s also a lesson to be learned: once you receive a contract offer from a big publisher, if you don’t already have an agent, that is the time to seek one. Find representation before you sign any contract. An agent can negotiate a better deal, specifically regarding foreign and audio rights. That being said, I was excited, and not a little naïve, when I accepted said contract without question.

Even though I’d gotten a publishing contract on my own, I knew that if I wanted to turn my passion into a career, I needed an agent. Plus, it took months to get through Penguin’s slush pile, and I wanted a better shot the second time around. I wanted someone who had my back, who would guide me from mistakes, and who could represent my work in an ever-changing industry.

'Penguin author seeking representation'
So I wrote a short and sweet query letter. Sure, I’d written these before, and I still have my spreadsheet of rejections, filled with failed queries to various agents over the years. I had one ace up my sleeve (I’d gotten a Big Five contract without needing an agent) so I led with that. I even titled the email ‘Penguin author seeking representation’ to grab attention.

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Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.

It worked. I received a phone call from a well-known New York agent in short order. Now, this being the first time I’d ever spoken to an agent over the phone, I was extremely nervous. I don’t think I breathed until the conversation was over. Trust me, just relax. Be yourself, and make it clear what your expectations are, for your writing, and for an agent.

Well, that agent eventually decided not to offer representation. I was bummed out for a day or so, until I sent out more queries. Same subject line, same everything. Hey, it’d worked once, right? This time, several agents replied. I tended to focus on New York agents (that’s where the heart of the publishing industry is, and when your agent says he can have lunch with your editor to discuss things, that is an advantage). I had three considering representation, with whom I engaged in pleasant phone conversations. But still no offer. I knew I had to patient.

The right agent for the right book
Then Ethan Ellenberg, of the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, contacted me. He was so interested in my query, that he’d already started reading INHERIT THE STARS. We had a nice conversation over the phone, and he offered representation right there. I was floored. But, I told him I owed the other agents the courtesy of offering representation, before I made a choice. Ethan heartily agreed, and I let the other agents know that I’d received an offer. I finally made up my mind after Ethan finished reading my novel over that weekend, expressing praise for my work. I knew he was the right agent for me.

(When will an agent want to be the ONLY one reading your work?)

If you’re seeking an agent, remember: be straightforward, know what you want, be professional, and never sign a contract while you’re still jumping up and down with joy.

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Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

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Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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