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08:24 am: Wright's Writing Corner: The Great Agent Hunt
Hey Folks,

 This is the final posting in my Prospero Lost Odyssey. The earlier postings are here:

Part One: Prospero Lost, an Odyssey

Part Two: The Awful Truth About Publishing

Part Three: The Long Dark Waiting Of the Soul

 

The Great Agent Hunt

 

Now, some of you who read the earlier sections may recall the night in December of 2003, when I decided I wanted the best agent out there. Well, deciding and accomplishing are two entirely different things. I had decide, yes, but how did one go about doing such a thing? How did one even find out who the best agent in the world was much less convince him to take one as a client?

 


 

Right away, during that conversation in Madison at the coffee shop, my editor and I talked about agents. I asked him to recommend one, and he said he could not. I then mentioned several names, and he politely gave his opinion, which basically came down to: any agent I had heard of was probably too high power for me, a beginning writer.

 

I did not tell my editor at that time about my resolution to snag myself the best agent in the universe. I thought he’d think I was crazy…or worse, pretentious.

 

In my secret heart of hearts, there was an agent I wanted. I had met him, along with other agents, back in the 80s when I used to crash publisher’s parties at Science Fiction Conventions. I had been impressed with him then. He has spoken to me quite nicely at the time. Later, I had occasionally read articles by him in writing magazines. He seemed to me to embody the qualities I wanted in an agent.

 

Unfortunately, over the years, I had gotten his name mixed up with another agent. So, while I asked my editor about the agent I remembered—whom we will call for the duration of this section, my “dream agent”—I got his name wrong. So, he was not mentioned during this first conversation.

 

World Fantasy Con was in late Oct or early Nov.. Early enough that it took place before the annual SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Publisher’s Reception in New York City, a party SFWA throws for the members of the publishing world, colloquially know as the Mill and Swill.


Leaving my family and traveling to New York on my own is a big deal, let me tell you! (Especially back then, when all three boys were small.) But, hop on a train I did, and off I went to New York.


On the way, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what I wanted in an agent. I decided that agents generally came in two types: salesman-like and lawyer-like. I did not want someone who was salesman-like, a slick talker who might fast-talk me. I wanted a lawyer-like agent, someone who knew more about the publishing field than I did.


The more I thought about it, the more my dream agent seemed like the guy for me. I wondered what he was up to now, twenty years after I had first met him, and whether he would be at the party. (By now, I had finally remembered his name correctly.)

 

Once in New York, I met up with fellow Bad Ass Faeries anthology editors Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Jeff Lymon, whom was kind enough to put Danielle and I up. We had a lovely dinner and attended Mill and Swill together. (We went as John’s guests, even though he did not himself end up attending.)

 

Once I arrived, I met my editor who introduced me to some lovely Tor people and kindly let it be know that, God willing, I would soon be a Tor author (did I mention, coolest publishing house in the universe?)

 

Potential agents came out of the woodwork. I went home with twelve business cards.

 

If you are not an aspiring writer, you may not know how strange and surrealistic this was. Usually, starting writers are lucky if they can get an agent to stop and tell them what time it is.

 

 The last time I had tried to talk to an agent, a couple years before, I had to hang out in the bar for forty-five minutes, waiting for a brief opening during which I could slip up and beg for a card. This was…very different, to say the least. It was like a geek girl suddenly discovering that she had been voted prom queen and all the cool guys were offering to buy her ice cream.

 

New agents, old agents, agents I knew and admired, agents people had warned me against; they all presented cards. I felt like the newest debutant at Almack’s. A high powered agent, the very same whom I had waited so long to speak with at a convention, practically drooled. (That was a nice moment. I don’t mean to put him in a bad light, though, he was very charming about his practically drooling.)

 

So I wandered around, gathering cards and eating cookies…and looking for the agent I really wanted to talk to.


And then, he was there, talking to another agent. Somehow, I found the courage to walk up and speak with him. To my delight, when I described myself as I had looked years ago, he remembered me. So, I asked him for his card.

 

He turned me down.

 

Flat.

 

All these other agents are vying for my business, and he would not even give me his card.

 

Well, when I got home the next day, I did the research I should have done before I went. (Somehow, it had not occurred to me to look on the internet for someone I had met in the pre-internet days.)

 

It was all right there on his website:

 

We regret that at this time we are not considering materials from new authors. The agency no longer reads fiction or non-fiction submissions by authors who have not been previously published by a major publisher.

 

You can see it yourself, right here:

 

 

Back at home, I contacted one or two other agents who seemed promising. But none of them seemed right to me. I spent hours contemplating what I wanted in an agent and kept coming to the same conclusion… and there was only one agent I’d met who fit the bill.

 

Meanwhile, my novel was progressing through the long slow process of being approved by Tor. (More about this in the final section.)  Some of this took a while, and I really, really wished I had an agent to help me in the process. But I couldn’t get myself to pursue any of the agents who seemed interested. They just did not seem right.

 

That spring, John’s novel Orphans of Chaos was nominated for a Nebula. By one of those weird coincidences found only in real life and sit-coms, the award ceremonies were being held in Tempe, Arizona, across the street from where my best friend worked. She and another mutual friend paid our air tickets for John and I to fly to Tempe. She also offered to put us up, and Tor offered to pay for the banquet…so John and I were on our way to Arizona!

 

That year, the Grand Master Award went to Harlan Ellison. Neil Gaiman showed up and talked in his honor. That was a delightful surprise. Mr. Gaiman is very amusing. But one guy there was even funnier that Mr. Gaiman. His speech made me laugh so hard that I could not breath (which was kind of embarrassing, as I was at a table with a bunch of strangers, David Weber, and a nice guy who wrote scripts for Battlestar Galactica. All of whom were amused, but none of whom were turning red and blue from lack of oxygen like me.)

 

The gentleman who gave the really funny speech was Harlan Ellison’s agent…my dream agent.

 

Somewhere during the summer, I considered giving up and just picking some other agent. But it came to me very strongly that I should at least try one more time to get the agent I wanted. So, I wrote a letter, the best letter I could, and waited. Once I actually had a deal with Tor, I would send it.

 

That November, it finally happened. Tor—the coolest publishing house in the history of time—actually bought my book. They offered me a nice advance and informed me that the series would now be called Prospero’s Daughter.

 

“You do have an agent, right?” My editor asked over the phone.

 

“Uh…not yet, but I will soon,” I responded quickly, promising myself I’d get back to one of those other folks if my letter failed.

 

As it happened, I never did send the letter…because it was November again. Instead, John and I bundled ourselves onto a train and went back to New York, again, to attend the Mill and Swill for a second time. (I am still amazed that John, who did not like to travel and knew we really could not afford the train fare, agreed to this. He could have said, “Just pick someone else from your pile of business cards, already!” but he didn’t. He was entirely behind me.)

 

Upon arriving in New York, John and I went to the Tor offices for a tour, and I was introduced around as “Tor’s newest author.” The people there were all very nice, and the Flat Iron building is an impressive sight. Tom Doherty, the publisher, explained to me that in the movie Godzilla, you could see Godzilla bash in the Tor offices. For some reason, probably related to the oddness of human nature, I thought that was really cool.

 

We had a nice dinner with John’s editor and then went on to the SFWA reception (the aforementioned Mill and Swill…except John and I don’t swill. So we just milled.) This time, the place was really loud. I found my dream agent again right away, but it was just too loud to talk to him. After hanging out near him and failing to be able to talk to him, I told John I was just going to give up.

 

“After coming all this way?” he cried, aghast. I don’t think I’ve ever seen John look as surprised at me as at he did at this moment. I was shattering his image of his “get things done” wife. Ashamed that I would even think of such a thing, I nodded grimly and went back into the fray.

 

Finally, I had a moment to speak with him. I started by thanking him for the speech that had made me laugh so hard. Then, I explained about being an author with a contract and no agent and a bit about how I had come to sell my novel.

 

Impressed by my tenacity, he agreed to let me send him the book…which he liked enough to sign me on as one of his writers…which is how I came to be represented by Richard Curtis, who may in fact be the best agent there is.

 

 

At Long Last: Prospero Lost

 

You would think that would be the end of the story, but it was not. That was late 2006. The book still had three years of odyssey ahead of it.

 

First, it became clear right off that my second book was too long. I either had to chop quite a bit from book two, or I had to turn it into a trilogy. I opted for the second, adding 20,000 words to the new Book Two and 80,000 words to the new Book Three.

 

It was at this point that the end of Book One changed again. The careful sculpting I had done to make the book more conclusive came to naught, as what had been my final chapter was now something like Chapter Six of Book Two. So, due to length issues, Book One ends on a cliffhanger after all.

 

Then, came more waiting. And some waiting.


Did I mention the waiting?

 

The book was put onto the schedule and taken off, for various reasons two or three times.

 

Only this time, I had an agent, so I wasn’t alone in the waiting. That was very comforting.

 

All this time, I had been planning to attend World Con in Montreal, Summer of 2009. 2009 is John and my 20th anniversary, and we decided to postpone other plans we had made and take our anniversary/honeymoon (we never had one originally) trip to Montreal to attend the massive, multi-hotel convention. I was very excited about this idea. It sounded splendid!

 

At first, I thought I would have two books out by then. Then, one book. Then, it turned out, the book would not be out in time for World Con 2009.


I was crushed.

 

Really, I had done a good job of being patient in the past, but this time I just broke. I wrote my agent a letter and let him know how sad I was.

 

My agent shared my note with the publisher at Tor, and God bless them both, they put the book back on the Schedule to be out in time for World Con.

 

For this, I am eternally grateful!

 

(The down side of this is that, after my being so calm for so long, the publisher at Tor will forever remember me as: “the lady who cried.”)

 

And then it actually happened! The book was edited again, copyedited, final edited. A cover was picked…it didn’t look much like the story, but people liked it.

 

And then, one day it arrived. (It never rains, but it pours. On the same day that I first held my novel, after such a long wait, we received word that we were first in line to adopt a lovely 13-year-old Chinese girl. This is after a 3 ½ year wait to adopt a daughter.)

 

And now, after all that, the book is out in bookstores!

 

You can go even out and see it for yourself, if you don’t believe me.

 

 

 




Comments

[User Picture]
From:damcphail
Date:August 26th, 2009 01:40 pm (UTC)

Lady, You're The Best

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Jagi,

You amaze me. Your talent and perserverence, your outlook on life. I am so happy to see the blessings come your way. God bless you and your family. Thanks for the nod.

D-
[User Picture]
From:princejvstin
Date:August 26th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Lady, You're The Best

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Seconded. Her persistence and perseverence (and her talent) are admirable and great examples to others.
[User Picture]
From:damcphail
Date:August 26th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Lady, You're The Best

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Amen to that! That's it, Jagi. We're keeping you.

D-
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 26th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Lady, You're The Best

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Thanks, guys.

But then, I'm keeping you guys, too. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:damcphail
Date:August 27th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Lady, You're The Best

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:::sigh::: I always dreamed of being a kept woman, but somehow, this isn't quite how I pictured it ;)
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:August 26th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
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I saw the book in my local Barnes and Noble!! I have to wait for my next paycheck to come in to buy it, but it was there! I was so excited when I saw it! :)
[User Picture]
From:cdenmier
Date:August 26th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)

Intimidating

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Being someone mostly unfamiliar with conferences and conventions and events with names like "Mill and Swill," this all seems intimidating. Were you intimidated by all of this? Did believing that you had a good, salable novel boost your confidence?

Me...I don't like even the friendliest and most non-threatening small-talk. It drives my wife nuts to go to weddings or events with me...

One other question: would you say that your long, trying road (kudos on the determination, by the way) is par for the course among writers? That is, do you think that it's an average of sorts?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 26th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Intimidating

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>Were you intimidated by all of this?

I give all credit to God. This may sound silly or trite, but I mean it. Yeah, some of this stuff was terrifying...but I got through it by praying. I just kept praying and trying if it came to me to try.

Many authors have as long a route. Others, truthfully, have longer routes. Really, every writer's experience is different.

Writing is a great activity for people who are not particularly social...and many of them become published. So, don't lose heart!
[User Picture]
From:cdenmier
Date:August 27th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Intimidating

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"I give all credit to God" ... "I just kept praying and trying"

Can't beat that answer. Sometimes it's the thought of going out and looking for these opportunities that is what is really intimidating. Being open and taking the chances when they come is still hard but not as hard as reading all that you went through and thinking "where to start?"

Thanks!
[User Picture]
From:bradrtorgersen
Date:August 26th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)

Astounding story of perserverence!

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Jagi,

Thank you for sharing this multi-part story of your voyage to publication.

Inspiring. Heart-rending.

Yet another example of how the people who get their books in print, are the people who refuse to give up.

Well done!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 26th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)

Re: Astounding story of perserverence!

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Thanks.

It was very satisfying to have a chance to write all this up and share it with someone. Kind of makes it all worth it. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:crimmycat
Date:August 27th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)
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It really is out, and I really read it, all the way from scratching my head and going "Erin's in the dedication!" to the final closing. Good book!

I suspect our gamemaster is not going to be pleased, as she and I are going to be enthusing over your book when we're supposed to be paying attention to "When last we left our intrepid adventurers..." But that's okay; I'm going to be loaning it to his wife...
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 27th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
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;-)

As Erin most certainly deserves to be!

Very glad to hear you read it and enjoyed it enough to lend it!

Also amused to have a message from Gyrfalcon, who in our regular, long running game is the mage name of Dr. Strange.
From:xander25
Date:August 28th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

*potential spoilers*

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Just finished! Awesome read! Without being too spoilerish, I especially liked the tidbit about how science came to be :)

I'm very tempted on running out and picking up Shakespeare's Tempest, which I've never read (potentially, even Dante's Inferno). What little I know of it comes from brief synopses online, and of course an episode of TNG, in which we see the Orient Express on Prospero's island (I wish that Data would have continued in his Prospero costume throughout the episode):

[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 28th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)

Re: *potential spoilers*

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So glad you liked it! I'm glad you liked the background...Solomon's part, so to speak. ;-) One thing that's fun is to see how each reader enjoys different aspects of the story from the previous reader.

The first book only touches on the Tempest briefly, but by volume three, it figures in a bit more prominantly.

I wish there was a good movie version. There probably is, but I haven't figured out which one it might be yet. Forbidden Planet is a version of the Tempest, too...though I've never seen it all the way through.

Thanks for the Data scene! (Of course, he doesn't give up his "art" in my version. ;-)

Edited at 2009-08-28 07:07 pm (UTC)
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