6: Finding A Literary Agent
you've written a treatment, developed your characters,
poured your heart into a manuscript, edited your work,
dazzled your loved ones, and you had at least one other
pair of eyes read your work to give you some feedback.
Now you want to make the jump from writing a book to
getting it published. You'll need two things:
1. An agent.
2. Thick skin.
are inundated with manuscripts everyday. In order to
get your work looked at, you'll need representation.
A literary agent's job is to bring your work to publishers
and get it read. But first you have to find an agent.
I finished the original manuscript for my first novel,
MEG (originally titled White Death), I purchased a book
entitled "How to Get Published." Like many
of you, I had no "ins" or distant relatives
in the business, I was starting out from scratch. The
book contained a list of literary agents, each firm
describing the genres they were most interested in (fiction,
non-fiction, romance, etc.) and instructions on how
to contact them.
As a first step, almost every agent asks for a 2-page
query letter describing your story. They do NOT want
the manuscript unless they are interested in your story.
Agents also ask you to provide a SASE (self-addressed
stamped envelope). . .to make it easier to reject you.
is where the tough skin comes in. You are about to enter
a field where rejection is the norm. If you can't PERSEVERE
through this phase, you won't make it. That's why I
talked about setting those goals in STEP 4. Because
now more than ever, you need to remind yourself what
your goal is and how badly you want to achieve it. Remember:
If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.
been in sales, my philosophy was simple: I was going
to send a 2-page query letter to every literary agent
that handled fiction. First I developed my 2-page query
letter. Extremely important: Make sure you compose a
letter that SELLS YOUR STORY. Next, I started with the
As and went through the Zs. Mailed those puppies out
and prayed... ENTER REJECTION. Of the 65 letters I sent,
I received 28 responses on a 3 X 5 card with my name
scrawled in pencil (usually misspelled) that basically
said THANKS BUT WE HAVE ENOUGH CLIENTS. I received 4
letters from agents who asked to see the first 3-5 chapters.
The other agents? I never heard back from them. Of the
four agents who asked to see chapters, only one was
interested in working with me. One out of 65! But I
only needed one, right? Ken Atchity in Los Angeles believed
WHITE DEATH would make a great book and movie, but first
the manuscript needed a ton of editing. Ken describes
it like this: Editing is like cutting a fish, first
you chop off its head and tail, then you get to the
meat. Ken also felt:
A) My manuscript took too long to get to the action.
B) There was no central hero.
C) The book droned on too much about science.
made me an offer. He would assign a member of his editing
team to work with me, but I had to pay the editor's
fees. The cost: $6,000. Gulp. I was broke, supporting
(barely) a family of five. Now a man who I had never
met wanted more money than I had earned in the last
six months to edit a book that still might never be
published. And no, he wasn't about to do the work, then
collect later. No other agents were interested. What
to do? At some point you too may come to this fork in
the road. I can't advise you here. You have to weigh
your priorities. Me, I was miserable in my job as a
door-to-door salesman. I had to make a change. I had
to believe that I was going to make it. I have also
always believed that goals cannot be achieved without
sacrifice. I preached this to my basketball players
when I was coaching. Now it was time to put my money
where my mouth was.
Sacrifice #1: I had worked nights and weekends to finish
Sacrifice #2: I owned a ‘71 Malibu convertible my father
had bought me when I was seventeen. I realized it was
time to sell it. With that money, and money I borrowed
from loved ones, I paid for AEI's editing fees.
editor, David Angsten, taught me a lot about pacing.
He'd edit a few chapters, even create new scenes, then
I'd go in and edit his work. After a while, I understood
where he was going and took over. Six months later,
a new story: MEG; A Novel of Deep Terror was created.
Ken was happy but not satisfied. He had me hire another
editor, Ed Stackler, to do a line edit. Ed did a terrific
job with Meg. He really tightened the writing and taught
me a lot. Some of you may be wondering if all these
editors were necessary. For some of you they might be,
for others no. To me, these were my first real teachers.
I knew I had a great story to tell, I knew I could write
action, but I was inexperienced. A few basics I learned:
1. Format: manuscripts should be double-spaced in a
12-point font. Seems like a little thing, but no one
had ever taught me that.
2. Every story needs a central protagonist (hero) and
antagonist (villain). I had lumped a team of people
to catch the Megalodon.
3. Jump into the action ASAP. My first chapter with
the MEG vs. T-Rex helped sell the story, but then I
drifted a bit. By cutting out the fat, I streamlined
the manuscript was finished. It had taken me from August
1st, 1995 to January 15th to write White Death, then
February 1st through September 10th to edit it into
MEG. Since January, I had been working as a sales manager
at a local meat company. The owner had promoted me to
General Manager so he could retire and I could referee
battles between his son and step-sons. My job was to
unite the family to manage the business. Guess I united
the family a bit too well.
On Friday, September 13th, 1996, I went to my J.O.B.
(Just Over Broke) and learned I had been fired. I thanks
the family and went home, convinced it was the best
thing that could have happened.
weekend, Ken sent MEG and a one-page treatment for a
second book (eventually the story that would become
DOMAIN) to the biggest Publishing Houses in the country.
MEG had a decided advantage over other manuscripts.
Months earlier, Ken and producer Warren Zide had secured
a deal with Hollywood Pictures (Disney) to option Meg
as a movie. Although I hadn't been paid yet, things
looked promising. A two-day bidding war yielded a huge
two-book deal with Bantam-Doubleday. By setting a goal
to become a writer, I had changed my life for the better.
Little did I know, the roller-coaster ride and my education
were about to begin. . .
Coming Soon Step-7 : Prepare for the "What-If"
To Step 5