“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring James Markert, author of the novel A WHITE WIND BLEW (Feb. 2013, Sourcebooks Landmark). These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
(Looking for an agent? Laura Biagi of Jean V. Naggar Literary seeks new clients.)
James Markert is a novelist, screenwriter, producer, and USPTA tennis
pro from Louisville, Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and two children.
He has a history degree from the University of Louisville. He won an IPPY
Award for The Requiem Rose, which later became the literary novel,
A WHITE WIND BLEW, of which bestselling author Robert Hicks said,
“With a historian’s eye for detail, Markert spins his story of a world where
men and women were healed and made whole.” James is the screenwriter
and co-producer of the upcoming feature film, 2nd Serve, a tennis comedy.
He is working on his next novel, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley.
MORE TO THIS STORY THAN MEETS THE EYE
So let’s start by saying this: my agent is Dan Lazar at Writers House, and I owe my writing career to him. I queried. He responded five minutes later. I sent him the manuscript for what is now called A White Wind Blew. He called two days later and offered me a contract. Sounds simple, right? Maybe even a little boring for the purpose of this blog topic. Buuuuuut, that’s not exactly how it went down. Like so many writers out there, I have a longer story to tell.
I’ve been writing fiction since college, and even self-published two novels I wish didn’t exist. Add that to the three manuscripts buried in my closet and I’ll show you the hundreds of rejections that accompanied them. With all the rejections, I was down on the canvas for a bit but never out of the fight. I always bounced back and prepared for my next beat-down.
At first I took them personally, thinking, “Ah, this agent is just having a bad day because this is clearly the world’s next best seller.” It’s kind of funny now—in hindsight, I realize that I simply wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t ready. Not yet, at least. I struggled for a good decade before really having any success. Month after month, year after year, my stuff kept getting turned down. But I realized three things: One, I absolutely loved to write and tell stories, regardless if I was any good at it. Two, I could tell that my writing and storytelling were getting better after every draft of every book, so maybe, just maybe, it would happen one day if I kept at it. And Three, despite the hundreds of rejections, I’d had just enough agents tell me that I had talent and imagination. Those three things together kept me from giving up.
(How to Start Your Novel: What Movie Beginnings Can Teach Us.)
I WENT TO A PUBLISHER FIRST
And then I wrote The Requiem Rose, my first historical and my fifth attempt at a novel. I was convinced this was the one, which was usually the case when I’d finish a book, but with this one the feeling was different. I perfected my summary and started sending out queries to agents who seemed open to reading historical fiction. I don’t know the exact number, but I’d venture to say over a hundred passed on it—roughly 90 just passed at the query level and about 10 more passed on the full manuscript. Welcome to life in the slush pile!
My favorite rejection was one word: “Nope.”
But I kept chugging along, making changes here, doing a rewrite there. Most that read the full ms “loved” it but still passed for various reasons. So I hacked up a plan. “I’m going to publish with a small publisher (Butler Books—they’re terrific) and prove the book’s worth, and then get me an agent.” I published The Requiem Rose with Butler Books, and it was carried in 6 stores in Louisville, KY. On week one I hit number 1 on the Courier-Journal’s Best-Seller List, ahead of Ken Follett and Jonathan Franzen for that week! I remained on the list for 11 weeks. My plan was working.
A few months later I won an IPPY Award for Best Regional Fiction and it was also becoming a hit with local book clubs. I was quickly approaching 2,000 copies sold. I’d also had one of my screenplays being made into a movie, and Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town was set to star in it. I hadn’t contacted an agent in over a year—I was waiting.
After the movie (a tennis comedy called 2nd Serve) was shot, I told my wife one night, “Here’s the story, I’m gonna give this one more shot. I’ll pick one of the top agencies in New York. I’ll pick one of their stud agents. And then I’m sending a query on how well the book has done.” And she told me to go for it…
(Read 10 Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters.)
…Which brings me full circle back to my agent, Dan Lazar. If I would have contacted him FIRST, it would have saved me a lot of time and heartache. He was the perfect champion for my book. But how was I to know which agent of the thousands out there was the one? You don’t know. You just have to take chances. I wouldn’t change the way things turned out because it left me with a sense of accomplishment, a confidence that maybe now I was good enough to keep plowing on. I was finally ready. Dan and I did a four-month re-write, and then he sold my novel, now titled A White Wind Blew, to Sourcebooks in January 2012. It was a long road, but one I’m glad I traveled. My first hardcover novel will hit the stores in March 2013.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Word Count For Novels and Books Explained.
- Agent Jessica Regel of Jean V. Naggar Literary Seeks New Clients.
- Debut Author Interview: Elizabeth Laban (Young Adult Writer and Success Story).
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- How to Work With a Freelance Editor.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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