Monday, March 1, 2010

Diff'rent Strokes

by Bente Gallagher

Last spring, I spent a weekend in Bowling Green, KY, at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. (Nice little event, if you’re in the area. This year, it takes place on Saturday, April 17th at the Carroll Knicely Conference Center, which is hooked up to the Western Kentucky University campus . Yes, I’ll be there again. Discussing “Lovely Little Mysteries” with Jane Cleland, Laura Bradford and Beverle Graves Myers. 12 o’clock sharp. In case you’re in the neighborhood...)

Back to last year’s event. I can’t remember the topic of the panel I was on then (it’s a few events ago now) but I do remember at one point talking about how each of us found representation. Whether that was the point of the panel, or whether we were just answering a question from the audience, I’m not sure, but I do remember being there and discussing it.

There were five of us, all writing different aspects of crime fiction, from fluffy super-cozy mysteries (mine) to dark and disturbing psychological thrillers, and everything in between. There were even zombies. Our stories of how we found our agents turned out to be just as different.

Honestly, I thought most of the others would have done the same thing I did: I cold queried agents whose names I found online until one of them bit and offered to represent me. There was nothing magical or ordained about it. It took about four months and about forty queries, which I sent out in batches of five. Basically, I did it the old-fashioned way.

Turned out I was wrong. There was someone who got the editor first, and ended up signing with an agent the editor recommended. There was someone who pitched an agent at a writing conference and ended up getting signed. There was one guy who sat next to an agent on a plane and got to talking with him, and ended up being represented that way.

My favorite, though, was J.T. Ellison’s story: she got herself a membership to Publishers Marketplace ($20 a month; well worth it!). She posted excerpts from her work in progress on her page, she checked the little box that said ‘looking for representation’... and she had her dream-agent approach her, asking to represent her!

That’s nice work if you can get it.

Another friend and sort-of critique partner drove me insane with her dithering last year. She kept polishing her manuscript, kept tinkering with it, kept writing and rewriting her query letter, kept going over it and over it and over it until I wanted to strangle her. Couldn’t she just get the damn thing out there? I mean, it isn’t a matter of life and death, you know? It may feel that way, but it really isn’t.

Anyway, after several months of getting on my last nerve, she finally decided she was ready, and emailed queries to her top ten agents one Monday morning. By Friday, she had six requests for full manuscripts and the next week, there were two offers of representation in her email.

That’s nice work if you can get it, too.

The thing is, there isn’t one right way to find an agent, just like there isn’t one right way to write. You can give five authors the same sentence, or the same premise, and tell them to build a story around it, and you’re gonna get five different stories.

And that’s fine. It would be pretty boring if everyone did everything the same way, wouldn’t it?

Bottom line, I guess, is that if you’re looking for representation, leave no stone unturned. Open yourself up to possibilities. Don’t be too proud to cold query, and don’t forget to do your homework first, even if it drives the people around you crazy. Go to conferences and meet the agents. Talk to the person next to you on the plane. And subscribe to Publishers Marketplace. It’s well worth the price tag. Even if you don’t get an agent out of the deal, you’ll get a whole lot of other helpful information. If you keep at it, sooner or later the stars will align and you’ll be in the right place at the right time: your baby (AKA manuscript) will get in front of the right agent, who’ll agree to be yours. And then that’ll be one hurdle jumped, and you’ll have to worry about the next one: whether your agent can find an editor who loves your book as much as the two of you do.

No, there are no guarantees that having an agent will get your book published. It helps, but it’s not a certainly. But no one ever told you getting published would be easy, did they? Or if they did, you have my permission to kick them where it hurts most.

Before I sign off, let me make a pitch for my new book, PLASTER AND POISON, third in the Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. It’ll be officially released tomorrow, and available in a store near you. If you’re in the Nashville area, stop by one of my signings: I’ll be at the lovely Mysteries & More in Lennox Village on Saturday, March 6th, from 2 to 4 PM, and later that evening, I’ll be at Sherlock’s Books on Fifth Avenue in downtown Nashville for the Art Crawl from 6 to 9 PM. With—as it happens—the brilliant J.T. Ellison, who’s signing THE COLD ROOM, fourth book in the Taylor Jackson series.

Be there, or be square!


TOM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennie Bentley said...

So nice of you to stop in, Tom. Your comment is very much on topic, and I appreciate it (not). :-P

A Good Blog Is Hard to Find said...

I'm turning on the comment approval feature so that on dear friend Tom cannot comment anymore.

River Jordan said...


Very nice information and well said. I know this will be helpful to aspiring writers and wish I had read it so many years ago.


Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, River. Yeah, this is the kind of information you learn as you go along; I didn't have it when I started out, either. But maybe now it can help someone else!

I enjoyed hanging with you the other day. Hope we'll get to do it again sometime!

Leona Wisoker said...

Loved this post; very true, finding an agent is a path with a million variations . . . I found mine through a family get together! Love the blog title, too, that's what drew me in . . .