Book Launch Countdown — Working With Agent Smith!
Here’s the deal.
You can’t get published without an agent.
You can’t get an agent unless you’ve been published.
Getting published WITHOUT an agent:
The story of our “Conquering Depression” book is a fairy tale. It never should have been published. My pastor and best friend, Mark Sutton asked me to help him write a book on depression since I had just recovered from two years of counseling for my depression. He wanted my medical angle on depression and he would give his counseling angle on depression. We sat down and wrangled out a format — a thirty day plan for conquering depression. The idea was that anyone could break a habit in thirty days. And, when you are depressed, you can’t take things in large chunks. You’re lucky to swallow small bites. Take one day at a time, was our feeling. We started working on it in the early summer and by Halloween, we had a finished outline, the first week or seven chapters, and a book proposal. Now, what to do with it?
Here’s where it gets weird. Mark was going to Nashville the second week of November to hold a marriage seminar. We had met an editor we will call Ben when he was at a major Christian publisher in the Northwest. Since that time, Ben had been hired by Broadman & Holman and was now living in Nashville. What if we got Ben to give us some advice on a good publisher for our book? Maybe he would know if the current market would welcome a book on depression.
We met with Ben at lunch on a Friday and I had the book proposal in a clear binder on the table. While we were waiting for Mark to come to the table, Ben picked up the binder and asked, “What is this?” I was supposed to keep my mouth shut but I told him briefly it was a book proposal for a book on depression from a Christian point of view. His eyes widened and he frowned. He frowned! Then he said something I will never forget. “Since we’ve moved to Nashville my wife has really struggled with depression and we can’t find a good resource anywhere. I’ll take the book.”
We signed the contract that next January. It was just that easy. No, it was a God thing!
Working WITH an Agent:
It wasn’t long until a man contacted Mark and wanted to be our agent. He was highly recommended and I saw my opportunity to get “The 13th Demon” published. At that point, I had shopped the book around without success for a year and a half as an unsolicited manuscript.
We will call my new agent Frank. Frank promptly got to work putting together a book proposal. He asked for my first six chapters and then I got a bill for $400. I was puzzled. What was this bill for? It was for editing my first six chapters. Now, I have learned since then that an agent will edit your chapters if you are a new author. But, Frank had never mentioned he would charge me for this service either in our talks or in our contract. I was a bit disturbed, particularly when he suggested some substantial changes that sounded suspiciously like he didn’t understand fiction writing at all. But, I paid the bill and made the changes. Then, I started getting copies of my rejection letters and the letters had been copied onto the back of someone’s manuscript pages. Maybe this was normal for an agent, but it was disturbing to think that somewhere one of his clients had a copy of a rejection letter on the back of a page from MY manuscript. Two years passed and I never heard a word from Frank. I got the occasional rejection letter and finally, Mark and I called him only to discover he was now being sued by a former client, AND was under indictment for fraud. We fired him! Two and half wasted years!
Lesson to be learned: Read your contract carefully and have it checked by an attorney. Really research your prospective agent. Ask up front what expenses you will be responsible for. And, check out a reputable source such as the Writer’s Digest Guide to literary agencies.
Agent #2: Four months later, Mark was at a retreat in a western state and he ran across a kind couple who asked him to have a seat at their table. In the course of the conversation, it turned out the man was a literary agent and by the time Mark came home, we had a new agent. This time, the agent was with a major literary firm out of New York City. And, right off the bat, it was easy to see this man was vastly different and far more professional than our previous agent. However, I ran into an instant problem. He refused to represent my fiction! What? I want to get my fiction published. This was what I had lived for; dreamed for; hoped for since I was 13 years old. And yet, he steadfastly refused to even read my fiction and told me, “Fiction has to be stunning to get published. Forget fiction and stick to your non-fiction.” We went back and forth for two more wasted years. He decided to leave his firm and go back out on his own and he let me out of the contract. He was a kind man and he taught me a lot. But, our relationship was very frustrating.
And so, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog post, I decided to self publish. And, after getting “published” and establishing a “track record” I was given a list of five agencies by a good friend of mine who insisted I needed to find an agent and become respectable and go the traditional route of publishing. The first two agencies turned me down. But, the third agent, Jeff Jernigan was kind and supportive and understood that I had a working knowledge of the publishing industry particularly after working with BookPros and his words were this, “When you get you next book finished, contact me. We’ll sign a contract and I’ll get you a publisher.” And, that is exactly what he did!
I can’t sing his praises enough! Jeff has been a wonderful agent. He went the extra mile in my contract negotiations. And, in our conversations he would say things like, “I will see to it you become a successful author.” He was encouraging from day one and he has delivered far and above my expectations. It took me ten years to find a good agent who believed in me, but it was worth the effort and the struggle.
Don’t give up. Take my advice and develop a “track record” of some type through contests, blog posts, essays, whatever you can find to show that you are a good writer and one day, you will find an agent who will make all the difference in the world. It happened to me and it can happen to you!