by Guest Blogger Raymond White

So, how do you get an agent and get published?

My co-author, Duane Lindsay, and I, Raymond White, cringed at the idea of more query letters. We probably hated the thought of writing them and mailing them as much as agents and editors hate getting them. Those folks are simply buried by the volume of queries they receive and we viewed that as a problem because, since they didn’t know us personally, and we hadn’t been recommended to them by anyone they knew, how in the world could we distinguish ourselves from the crowd?

Looked like we needed some contacts--insiders who could help us get in the door. While we were mulling this around, it came to our attention that Dave Barry was auctioning off a guitar to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. According to the blurb on his website he’d get the guitar autographed by members of The Rock Bottom Remainders--a band who bills themselves as the world’s worst rock band and whose members consist of famous, best selling authors. Stephen King, Greg Iles, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Carl Hiaasen, Amy Tan, Kathi Kamen-Goldmark (founder of the band), Dave Barry and his brother “Harpman” Sam, Mitch Albom and lots of others who perform occasionally. Dave also said he’d do anything the winning bidder wanted so long as it didn’t involve underage sheep. Hmmm.

The thought process went something like this. Duane used to be a professional musician--and a very good one. What if we bid higher than anyone else and won the guitar? Then what if we asked Dave to make good on his promise by allowing Duane to perform with the Remainders at their next gig--The Miami Book Fair? He’d get to meet lots of famous writers and possibly become friends with them and maybe they could help us advance our writing careers.

That settled it. We were going to buy that guitar, no matter what. About that time I had the idea that to sweeten the pot, we’d donate the guitar back to Dave so he could auction it off again and raise even more money for Katrina victims. How cool was that?
Duanewithrockbottomremaindersshar_3Okay, two months later, Duane played the Miami Book Fair gig with the Remainders and met them and went to dinner with them and hung out with them and...nothing. He simply couldn’t bring himself to tell them he was an aspiring writer who needed some help to get his foot in the door. He couldn’t be that pushy or that rude. (Hi! I love your books and I want to meet you just so I can use you to my advantage. Well, hell, no wonder he balked. He genuinely liked them and felt he needed to get to know them better before he started asking personal favors.)

So, where did that leave us? Oh, yeah, we needed an agent.

But wait! While hanging out with the Remainders, Duane realized they were truly some of the nicest people around. And while at dinner he struck up a conversation with Luis Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and other works of literature and he happened to ask Luis how he first got published.

Luis’s answer was that when he received a letter from a publisher asking him why they should publish his book he sent back a one sentence reply, “Because God wants you to.” They did.
We stopped and stared at each other, struck by the same idea. Everything clicked and suddenly we were asking each other why hadn’t anyone ever collected these stories into a book? I mean, if you want to know something ask an expert and who better to ask about getting published than a bunch of famous authors? Right? We started pacing around the room volleying ideas back and forth like tennis players.

The reasoning went like this. If Luis had such a great story to tell, didn’t other writers? I’d heard Clive Cussler tell his tale of how he cleverly conned his way into getting published, and I loved it. I’d heard Stephen Coonts crack up an entire writer’s convention with his incredible story. My God! We should write a book about these fun, amusing, inspiring and entertaining stories and while we’re at it we’ll include our own story as well. Furthermore, researching the book will give us a legitimate excuse to contact all these authors, build relationships with them and--wait a minute--this is such a great idea we probably won’t even need their help to get an agent.

Thus was born, How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell How In Their Own Words. So, we had this great concept, now we needed a great title. We brainstormed that and came up with the working title, Thinking Outside the Books: How Famous Authors Got Published and How You Can Too.

Now all we had to do was. . .get . . .an. . .agent. Sigh.

Okay...next idea: The Graphic Query Presentation

While brainstorming the answer to how best to present our “How Famous Authors Got Published” idea to an agent one of us said something about how a picture was worth a thousand words and the graphic query presentation was born.

ThinkingoutsidethebookscovergifThe concept? We only had a page or two to convince an agent our book was extraordinary and compelling. Why do that in prose--especially since you have to use the bulk of your letter to SELL your book to the agent--when you can use a picture to convey the idea with impact!
A few days later we had a colorful picture that demonstrated what our book was about far better than words alone ever could. (See attached graphic) We also had a well crafted query letter and a proposal to back up the graphics.

We were on a roll.

We were ready to mail things out.

But. . .to whom?

We could spend days and weeks and months carefully researching literary agencies to see which ones would be the best match for our new non-fiction book - you know - find out that agent “A” likes to drink Chanel No. 5 and uses Earl Grey tea as a deodorant. Discover that agent “B” loves to skydive nude while listening to Wagnerian Opera. And, oh, yeah, both represent fiction and non-fiction.

Or we could say to hell with that and shotgun broadcast our graphic query proposal to the lot of them.

Fine. Let’s do that. The one’s who like it will respond. The others, who cares?

Did you know there are more than 600 literary agencies--not agents, agencies--in the United States? Well, there are. (You can download that list from us for free at our website at www.HowIGotPublished.com as soon as we get it loaded on there—probably by the end of September. In the meantime you can go to the website and email me for the list and I’ll send it to you as an MS Access spreadsheet.)
Did you know it takes someone who doesn’t know how to use MS Access three days to enter all that data in useable form? This, after he’s spent four days on the internet simply finding all those names and addresses and email addresses.

We didn’t know either, but we found out. We kept at it and finally that fateful day came when we blasted 475 email-style graphic query presentations out into the ether and snail mailed 130 others to agents who didn’t accept email queries.

Now all we could do was wait for a response. Heavy sigh. Back when we were sending out standard queries responses took weeks...months...sometimes we never heard back. This time we didn’t have to wait so long.

Twenty minutes after we sent the emails a lovely woman from California called to say how cool she thought our book idea was and to request our full proposal. That started the snowball rolling. By the end of the day five more agents had called. That’s right. Agents. Calling us.

Thirty-eight more had emailed us back asking for our proposal.

Whoa. We’d finally figured out how to get agents interested and we ended up with fourteen who actually wanted to represent the book.

That left us with a whole new problem. How do you choose between that many agents who want to represent your book when none of them are from William Morris or any other big name agencies? We went to Writer’s Market and Jeff Hermann’s Guide to Literary Agents and started researching them. We talked to several on the phone and asked them one question, “What is your plan for marketing our non-fiction and fiction books?” All told, it was a completely delightful problem to have.

By the end of the week we’d selected an agent. Now that agent, picked because he represented both nonfiction AND fiction and had a good plan and was excited about our book, orphaned us when his agency went Christian. But we got another, who also represented both fiction and non-fiction and who suffered a personal tragedy and quit. Orphaned again.
Third time’s the charm right? It certainly was for us. This time we went with the marvelous Rita Rosenkrantz, who specializes in nonfiction, and who knew exactly to whom to market our book (F&W Publishing—the folks who bring us Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market) and HOW I GOT PUBLISHED is arriving in bookstores even as you read these words.

Never give up. Never. Never. NEVER!

Visit Ray (and Duane) at www.HowIGotPublished.com

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