Category: agents

How I Got an Agent: Part III

Alias: The Complete First SeasonWelcome back to another exciting entry into this series, started here and continued here. When last we met, I had admitted to being extraordinarily stupid. Not that that’s anything particularly noteworthy for me, but in this case, the stupidity had to do with my approach to writing and trying to “break in.” What approach?

The “write a book, submit it to an agent, get a nice rejection and write a new book” approach.

In my defense, I didn’t just pursue this approach. Once my final draft was rejected, I sent it around to other places, as well. Not rabidly. I didn’t send out hundreds of queries. I didn’t query everyone in the book. I would send it to some agents I thought might be interested, and I would send it to some editors who also were open to queries. Over the years, I did have more nibbles. Some requests for full manuscripts, some more personalized rejections, but no Big Results.

So how was what I was doing stupid? For one thing, I wasn’t approaching writing as I approached getting a library job. When I wanted a job badly, I sent out 50 applications in the space of about three months. I would have sent out more, but those were all the jobs I qualified for. And those applications took time and effort to seek out and complete. It was hard work. When it came time to query about getting a book published or getting an agent, I sent out sporadically. I’d send three or four, then wait a few weeks or few months and send a few more. I wasn’t methodical, and I didn’t devote a lot of time to it.

Would things have gone differently if I had? I can’t say. What I can say is that I didn’t approach it on a professional level, and so I got amateur results. If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to doing this as a business, it might always remain a hobby. That makes sense to me now, and I hope it will continue to do so. Then, I was too afraid of rejection–or at least that was my mental excuse. But come on–when the time came for me to get a job, I applied like crazy, rejection or not. You can’t lose a game you don’t play, but you also can’t win, if you know what I mean.

The second stupid thing I did was not revise. I saw “no” and my brain shut down there. Are the five books I submitted bad books? No, I don’t believe they are. They just weren’t ready yet for the next step. They weren’t at a high enough level. In this instance, I blame me being new at the whole writing thing. If you hike halfway up a mountain–higher than you’ve ever gone before–then you feel like you’ve accomplished something, and you have.

But you’re still only halfway up the mountain.

What I should have done with those rejections from Joshua is looked at them, analyzed them, and then continued doing whatever it was I had been doing up to that point. Writing whatever book I was working on. Finished whatever project I had going. Then, when I had a bit of time to think and be more objective, I should have gone back to the rejections, reread the books, and done another draft of them. Polished them even more. Granted, nowhere did Joshua say “Please revise this and send it back to me.” I would have done that if he had asked. But he also left the door open, saying he could see potential, but he couldn’t decide if it would be worth my while to revise, or if I should just try something else.

Maybe I could have not revised one or two books, but five? I should have tried something different–actually revising–before I ever got to five submissions. Live and learn, right.

All of this will make ever so much more sense once I get to Part IV, but there are a few things that need to happen for me to write that one, so I’ll just end it here for now. Next week, Part IV will come.


How I Got an Agent: Part II

I Spy - Season 1In Part I, I talked about how I’d gone to a Con to mingle with editors and agents in the fantasy field, and how I’d ended up getting a phone call response to my book out of one of the connections I made there. I just want to note again how I don’t feel like that description really does the process justice. On paper, it seems so cut and dry. I went to the con, mingled, got a good contact. It wasn’t that way in real life. For one thing, I don’t know if Joshua would have given me the time of day if it hadn’t been for Brandon’s introduction, although for the life of me I can’t remember now if Brandon introduced me to Joshua personally when I first met him or not. Moot point.

What I mean to say is that I don’t know if I can wholeheartedly endorse the Con approach to meeting PWMs. If you’re naturally outgoing and can mingle with the best of them, then maybe it would work for you. I failed to note in my last post another key thing: I essentially crashed the Tor and Del Ray parties. I certainly didn’t have an invite, and though I generally believe that the parties aren’t “closed,” it didn’t do much to help me feel like I belonged, if that makes sense.

I did go to one more Con: WorldCon in LA the next summer. World Fantasy was more of an intimate Con. No hordes of fans, just a couple thousand. WorldCon . . . was much bigger. Very easy to feel lost in the mix there. I once again went with friends, and this helped somewhat. I once again went to parties. But in the end, I had a lukewarm feeling about cons. I personally am not a good enough extrovert to be able to go up to total strangers with the purpose of getting them to publish or represent my book. (Of course, I plan on going up to strangers and trying to get them to BUY my book, so perhaps I’m going to have to get more practice. One hopes that actually having a book makes a difference. Sort of a tangible piece of evidence that I am not crazy. Who knows?)

So . . . Cons can be very useful. You certainly get to see and talk with some of the movers and shakers in the industry. Could that be spun into a successful novel pitch and an eventual book deal? Theoretically. But keep in mind that there are tons of other aspiring authors doing the same thing. These poor editors and agents get a lot of requests. Some are just flat out crazy (trying to shove a manuscript to the editor while he’s in a bathroom stall, for example). Some are weak. (My approach). None are guaranteed.

In my case, I sent Joshua the next 50 pages of my book and waited a few weeks. I got a very nice two page letter explaining what he saw as the flaws of the book, and how he would have to pass on this one, but also saying he was very interested in seeing more from me. A few days later, he even called again to see if I had any more questions for him. So while I didn’t get an agent on my first submission, I did make a very good first impression.

So. He wanted to see something else. At that time, I was working on a very different book (Ichabod), but I wanted to send Joshua something similar to what he’d just seen. Building on the suggestions he’d made on the first book I sent him, I wrote a new one, workshopped it, and sent it off. Joshua passed on it, once again writing a very nice letter detailing the reasons why.

This set up a pattern for me. Over the next five years, I sent Joshua Weaver of Dreams, The Adventures of Barboy, Vodnik, Ichabod and Pawn of the Dead. Each one of them received pretty much the same answer–a letter saying there were things he enjoyed, but that ultimately it was another no from him. Each one felt like I was close enough that I just needed to make a few tweaks to my approach to writing, and I’d be solid for the next book. Each time I wrote a new book instead of revising the current one.

This was stupid for a number of reasons, some of which are obvious, some of which might not be.

But all of which will have to wait for Part III. I’m all out of lunch break, folks.

How I Got an Agent: Part I

Get Smart - Season 1 (The Original TV Series)It’s official. After five years, I have an agent. Correct that–after five years of TRYING, I have an agent. I’ve been writing since 2000. Writing daily since about 2002 or so. How did I get said agent? Well, I can give the general outline right now, though some specifics might need to wait to come out later.

Back in 2003, I was invited to be in a writing group with Brandon Sanderson. Brandon was in the English MA program at BYU with me, and had a book deal in the works with Tor for Elantris. Anyway, he had been trying to get a second writing group going for a while, and I came into the scene then. It was a small group at first, but it eventually got to be about eight or nine by the time I left Utah in 2007. We met weekly, with submissions capped at about 5,000 words per week. Good times.

Anyway, Brandon often told us about how he got his first book contract. He’d taken a writing course at BYU from Dave Wolverton (I was actually in the same class, but I never spoke to Brandon then–he sat across the room from me.) Dave told him that it was time to start going to Cons. You’ve heard of some of them: ComicCon, DragonCon, WorldCon. Conventions with thousands of fantasy fans banding together. And not just fans. If you go to the right Cons, there are fantasy authors, agents and editors there, as well. There will be panels that focus on different aspects of the business, upcoming trends, etc. Anyway, Brandon started going to these Cons, going to parties and doing his best to sell his books. That’s where he met his agent for the first time, and it’s where he met his editor, too. So Brandon was a big believer in going to Cons.

He was gearing up to go to World Fantasy in Madison, Wisconsin in 2005, and he kept trying to convince some of us in writing group to come, too. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. It would be a big expense, and the thought of trying to go up to a bunch of strangers to sell my book was about as appealing as the thought of performing open heart surgery on myself. At the last minute, I decided to bite–three weeks before the Con, I got the plane ticket, registered and got everything set up.

The Con was an interesting experience. I roomed with Brandon, Isaac Stewart (the guy who now does maps for Brandon’s books) and Dave Wolverton. I went to panels on writing, went to bookstores with Brandon and Dave, and went to parties at night. The parties are where you have a good shot at meeting People Who Matter (we’ll call them PWMs for short), or at least that’s what I was told. There’s free beer (and soda), and lots of schmoozing. I never felt quite so out of place. You could tell there were lots of other people there trying to do the same thing I was–people would walk around the room looking at everyone’s name tag, looking for the PWMs. Since I don’t drink, I didn’t even have some liquid courage to get me to loosen up. I managed to squeak out something to two PWMs: an editor from Del Ray, and Joshua Bilmes, Brandon’s agent. Joshua was very gracious and said I could send him the first three chapters of the book I had written, and then I fled the scene to try and regroup and stop hyperventilating. (Looking back at my journal, I still get tense just remembering it. Interesting side note–that party was November 4, the five year anniversary of my first date with Denisa. Kind of a strange coincidence.)

The Con was overall a mixed bag for me. I felt like I’d learned some, made some better connections with a few people, but I felt like I’d really failed at the whole “being proactive” thing. Whenever I tried to talk to strangers, I just panicked. I couldn’t think of anything really good to say, and I was sure I seemed like a complete idiot. But I got home, I got the chapters together, and I sent them off to Joshua. They were the first things I ever sent anywhere. I’d heard the horror stories: I was convinced it would take hundreds of such letters before I got any real interest from anyone.

Joshua called me on the phone less than two months later.

I was sick, lying in bed and playing World of Warcraft when Denisa walked in with my phone. “It’s Joshua,” she said. I stared at her. “Joshua who?” and then it clicked. I spoke with him. He liked the piece I’d sent very much, and agreed to see the next 50 pages before he made up his mind. He had some reservations about it, and wondered if they would turn into bigger problems. I’ll leave off the narrative there for now, since I’m about out of time. (No worries, though–I’ll take it up next time I blog about this).

The moral of the story? I met my agent by being proactive. By forcing myself to talk to people, even though I was terrified of doing it. By deciding at the last minute to follow other people’s advice, even if it involved traveling halfway across the country. I’ve heard people talk about how they “broke in” to publishing for years, and the only thing everyone has in common is that no two stories are alike. Well, that and the fact that they were all willing to put a great deal of effort into something they felt passionate about.

But we’ll get to the “great deal of effort” in a later post.

Life without Television Thus Far (and a Writing Observation)

So it’s been a week and a half since I ditched satellite, and I thought I’d report back on the experience. Honestly, it’s felt very freeing. Some of the shows I watch regularly have started up in the meantime, and . . . I’m not watching them. No Chuck. No American Idol. No 30 Rock (well, I have watched 30 Rock online–some things shouldn’t be lived without). I even missed the Golden Globes on Sunday, probably the hardest thing I’ve passed on to this point. But it’s not like it’s felt very difficult. It doesn’t even feel like that big of a lifestyle change. The only real difference is that there’s one less time-sink temptation in my life. With abundant TV available, I could always just sit there and channel surf if I wanted to. Now, the surfboard’s been burned.

I like it.

And the promised writing observation? On an entirely different note, I heard back from the agent who had requested the full manuscript of Pawn of the Dead. It was a no, which was disappointing. How could it not be? At the same time, it’s all just part of the process. The second I heard the request for the full, I was very happy–but in that same moment, the probability of being disappointed in the future shot up. Interesting how the more joy something brings you, the more potential you give it to bring you sorrow.

And that’s all the metathinking I’m going to do today. Promise.

Rquest for a Full Manuscript

I had other things to blog about today, but they just got superseded by another request for the full manuscript of Pawn of the Dead. Don’t really want to share more than that with you all at this point, and I realize it’s not a book deal or anything, but when you’re a WWA (Writer With Aspirations), any news of that sort is good news. A bit of positive reinforcement never hurt anyone.

Oh–and GO BYU!!!

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