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.