Weekly Wrap-up: How to get a literary agent using dark magic

This has been a pretty crazy week, with big news and small news

The big news is that I now have a literary agent for The Epic Novel, Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media in New York. I’m pretty psyched about this and I’ll tell you a short version of the story below. Other stuff happened this week, however…

I’m finally a white male on Facebook

First funny thing was on Tuesday when I was checking Twitter and saw another post saying “I can’t find any strong women in fantasy.” Statements like this, some more extreme and unbelievable like “I can’t find any books by women” really baffle me. As a student of human behavior and a frequent bookstore browser, I feel like I have to get to the bottom of this. Also, if I said I couldn’t find a particular kind of book, I expect the reaction would be “Why don’t you Google it, you non-Googling person who can’t use Google!” or “Come on, man, it’s 2017.”

What I was really curious about was how people find books.  When I find someone who can’t find a book as easily as I do, I’m left with three options to consider:

  1. They don’t browse bookstores, but instead rely entirely on recommendations, either from people or algorithms like Amazon and Goodreads
  2. They’re blind
  3. They’re too busy with their Nintendos and Yo! MTV Raps to actually read, and they’re just repeating something someone else said

So I asked this question, in a fun and curious way, on Facebook in the Grimdark Readers and Writers group where the discussion is usually very friendly. And the response was mostly friendly. Some people reported that indeed they just don’t go to bookstores and rely on Amazon for paper books and everything else. I really like to browse, so I don’t find it hard to find every kind of character that people are writing about. There are plenty of women, and there are plenty of definitions of strong.  Finding books with “strong female characters” is, according to me, easy if you browse at a bookstore.

However, as I was lectured by a fellow author, that’s because I’m a white male who would like to maintain the monochromatic distribution of power in literature, especially in fantasy. I, according to Ed, have a sick urge to deny authors the right to tell stories about particular kinds of people, because underneath it all, white males are the only people who should be portrayed as powerful.  This isn’t about the psychology of book browsing, it’s about me putting down women.

People who read my books and stories don’t say the same thing.

I politely told him he was incredibly presumptuous and not to do it again. A simple discussion of psychology turned into me being all about white male power. It was a good example of how the internet gives people a way to facelessly confront people and say stupid things with only the consequence that you get told off.

Short stories

I had sent my short story “Killing Montherek” to Grimdark Magazine, and although the reader there agreed that it was grim and dark, he didn’t think it really worked. So I’ll be finding another place for that one.

Writing Group

On Wednesday night after a day of sending queries, I went to the Fairlee Public Library’s writing group and completely put to rest my worry that my next novel Firesage is not complex enough or weakly characterized. Getting in front of people and talking about your book (not necessarily reading it) is really helpful. As I was showing them the map I realized that any story that is fully plotted and has a sacred volcano is probably sufficiently complex. Now I can take solace in knowing the story is “character-driven.”

Getting an agent

I’m sure I’ll have more to tell about this story in the coming weeks, but getting an agent was a crazy experience. I had an entire six month plan laid out for getting an agent, including rewriting and polishing Firesage if The Queen’s Night was too long (it was). Friends had told me that I likely wouldn’t even hear back from anyone, so I had a list of 75 agents to contact, and the plan was to contact them eight at a time every four weeks.

The first two queries I sent were on web forms, so I sent both of those and got to work on an email to Russell Galen. As I’m sitting there polishing my letter, I get an email from Trident Media, which I expected was just an autoreply acknowledgment. I opened it and it turned out to be a request for the full manuscript. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared. I had to take out the Heavy Metal cover by Julie Bell that I used as a cover for my beta readers (as my five year-old son said “I can see her boobs”).

My thoughts as I’m doing this were “Hmmm…okay, I guess he liked the pitch, but there’s no guarantee he’ll like the book, so stick with the plan and keep querying.” I spent the rest of the afternoon sending another six queries. Russ Galen got back to me and said that although he liked the pitch, he didn’t totally and completely love it, and therefore the book was too long. I said “Okay, I’ve got a shorter book I can send you in a few months.”

The next day, during a blizzard, I got an email from Mark Gottlieb saying he wanted to talk on the phone. Those of you who have studied this know what that means. We did talk, and after the compliments he gave me on my writing, I couldn’t sleep last night. I talked to his client Deborah Wolf and she only had positive things to say, so even though I was officially “sleeping on it,” I confirmed with Mark as soon as I could.

If you came here looking for how to get a literary agent: write the best book you can write. Write something totally original.  Then study and become a better writer and rewrite it.  Then write the best book you can write.  Then write a better book because you’re a better writer by now.  If you give it time, and you’re careful, you’ll be such a better writer by the middle of the book that you’ll have to start over.

Some agents are willing to take a chance and read something that is typically too long for a debut, so I got lucky. But the reason he wants to represent it is the quality of the work. My only advice at this point is don’t be desperate to publish and do as much homework as you can. Read as much as you can on how to find an agent, make sure you’re dealing with real pros, and write the best book you can. No dark magic required.

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