Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I tend do to things backwards. First I got my book sold, then, I got an agent. I was at this conference and met the president of Cumberland House Publishing, who sent word that they wanted to publish my debut novel. Soon after, I received in the mail a document requesting my notarized signature. Cool! Then I realized I knew nothing about the ins and outs of a publisher’s contract and immediately got out my copy of Guide to Literary Agents.

I stumbled across an agency that listed James Patterson as one of their clients. I was clueless to the fact that they no longer represented him. In truth it was his earlier books that they’d sold. Even so, had I known I would have been duly impressed. They also listed the words NO SOLICITATION. Now why would they include themselves in Guide to Literary Agents if they didn’t want to have inquiries? My thoughts exactly.

I promptly called them up. A very pleasant voice greeted me on the phone. I explained that I was a newbody-nobody, but had sold my book and needed representation. Did they have an agent there that might be interested in me? She told me to hold on and eventually connected with me one of their agents who said she would not represent me, even though I had sold my novel, unless she truly liked it. That sounded reasonable. I asked her if I could send it to her. I went on to explain that I needed her answer yesterday. She laughed and said to overnight it and she’d take a look. I did. She called me the next evening and told me that it had probably happened to her before, but she couldn’t remember when, that she’d sat down to read a manuscript and didn’t get up until she’d finished it.

I said, “Does this mean you’ll represent me?” She laughed again (I liked her immensely already), and assured me she would. Her name was Sarah Piel and she was with Arthur Pine Associates, now known as Inkwell Management.

Sarah did a good job for me negotiating my contract and I got busy with my second novel. By the time that I’d finished it Sarah was no long with Arthur Pine. She’d left the industry to birth children and didn’t bother to tell me. Worse, Arthur Pine no longer existed. By now, they’d merged with the two other agencies to form Inkwell Management and no one at Arthur Pine, not even Sarah, had made mention of me to any of the agents there. I would have to start querying.

I got busy and composed what I felt was a strong query letter and started sending it off. Eventually I sent it to twenty-five agents in N.Y. and managed to hear back from twenty-three of them to either send the first three chapters or in many cases the entire manuscript. I was tap-dancing on the clouds. I figured I only had to get an acceptance from one of them and it had to be a numbers game. Surely one of the twenty-three would want me. After all, I was already published and now touring with the Dixie Darlin’s, four nationally published authors with a passion for promotion that had managed to make one-hundred appearances. Piece of cake.

Never slice your cake until someone’s ready to eat it. One by one all twenty-three agencies wrote back, with several saying some pretty nice things. Regardless, they also added the word, BUT, at the end of their last sentence. BUT ~ it didn’t fit into their list, BUT ~ they couldn’t determine where to place it. BUT ~ they had just purchased something similar. You name it ~ there was a BUT at the end of each letter. So much for it being a numbers game.

I was too discouraged to send out another host of queries. The first batch had cost me a small fortune considering they had all asked for hard copies and I’d sent each of them a fresh one. Okay, I admit I reused one manuscript. Why not? When it was returned I noticed it had only six pages with noticeable fingerprints on them along with some coffee stains on page 132 (Did they stay up reading long into the night? If they did, they weren’t impressed. They promptly sent it back.), and decided I could easily re-use this particular manuscript. So I printed out replacement pages for the soiled ones, but immediately noticed the color of the paper didn’t match. I set out to find a ream of paper that would. After three tries I stumbled upon the correct copy paper that I must have originally purchased. The new pages I printed couldn’t be detected from the original pages that I printed. Cool! Then I realized it would have been cheaper just to reprint the entire manuscript.

I was more miserable than ever. I’d wasted all that time and money chasing and buying paper, not to mention the gas I burned up going to those places in the first place. Bummer. To ease my pain, I reminded myself that I would be using this paper for many days ahead as I got busy on my current manuscript.

Soon after, I happened to be in Nashville touring with the Dixie Darlin’s and decided to drop the twenty-three-times-rejected manuscript off for my publisher to read. I hadn’t previously approached him because I was so sure I could secure N.Y. representation. Huh! Well, he loved it and called me to tell me he was bringing it out in hardcover that September. I was overjoyed and promptly threw out all the letters that had the word BUT in them. What did they know?

On to my next novel. When I finished, I queried Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary. (She has a great blog! Check it out.) Rants & Ramblings, On Life as a Literary Agent. She called to tell me she loved the novel and would very much like to represent me, if I was willing to do some work on an edit. Was I? I’d climb Mount Everest to do so if it meant representation. We sealed the deal. She would be my agent. And to think I hadn’t even had to send it off to any of those places that sent back letters with the word BUT in them. Cool!

This is exactly how it happened. I have to be honest. My mother’s words are imbedded in my brain: Always tell the truth; you don’t have to keep the facts straight.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author or Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne and the soon to be released All That’s True. (Jan. 2011). Visit the website at http://www.jlmiles.com/. Write the author at jackie@jlmiles.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story and very inspiring!