How I Will Get My Agent

I don’t have an agent yet.

I’ve seen a lot of “How I Got My Agent” posts, and many of them result in moans of soul-crushing defeat from myself and my fellow writers. It’s not particularly inspiring to see the story of someone who was in the trenches for three weeks and got an agent, then on sub for three days and got a book deal.

So I wanted to write a post about how I’ve been querying off and on for 16 years, with seven manuscripts of various levels of skill, and how I plan on getting that agent.


No, not spellcheck. Spells.

I created this foolproof spell for getting an agent, and soon I will have all The Calls coming in. You too can land an agent with this Very Easy manipulation of causality and fate.

Here’s the ingredients you’ll need:

A dusty, vanilla scented candle to represent the smell of books.

A miniature book stitched together with thread soaked in your tears, the pages of which are made from your first rejection letter, and the cover being cut from an old library card.

A dried rose petal from the grave of someone you looked up to, who had persistence.

Then you recite a prayer over the ingredients and burn the book and the rose petal in the flame of the candle.


Seriously, though. How I get my agent will be a story of hope, rejection, wavering determination, and luck. When I get a chance to write that post, it’s going to be about how hard I worked, and how much effort it took, and how I constantly wanted to give up–and DID give up a couple times–but always kept writing and improving myself. Because that’s what authors do.

When I started, I thought I was brilliant. My friends all loved my book(s). My fledgling writing group thought my work was A+. And my very first query (sent to Baen publishing, because I didn’t realize I needed an agent) came back after thirteen months with a lovely rejection letter about how they weren’t looking for this kind of book right now, but my characters were relatable, the interpersonal relationships were very natural, and the conflict made sense. They had a few tips for fight scenes, but otherwise they said it was “a really good story.”

Well, I’d make short work of this whole querying thing.


In the 16 years I’ve been trying to “get published” I have learned a lot about my writing, about myself, and about this process. I have a lot more disappointment to go through, but I can share my struggle, dear adventurer, as we are on this journey together.

The first thing I learned, was that I’m not special. I’m a very good writer in a veritable sea of very good writers. That was humbling. That was intimidating. That was a little bit disappointing, but ultimately necessary to build my thicker skin. Lots of people are very good. That won’t get you an agent. As much as we like to think all the published books out there are the works of the best writers, it’s not true. Skill is often a requirement for success, but not a key that will open that door. They’re just the lucky ones.

The next thing I learned, is that I’m not able to edit my own novels. This one took longer to realize. I still fight it to this day, even knowing better. I write GREAT first drafts. My words are polished. But authors have blind spots. When I look back over 16 years of querying and 30 years of writing, I can see the huge jump in quality that happened once I found critique partners that wrote at my own skill level. And once I started LISTENING to them. The quickest way to lose a critique partner is to dismiss or ignore their suggestions.

And then there were the craft books. I thought I knew my shit, mainly because my English and creative writing teachers had always said I had a sense for these things. I picked up my first craft book (which was Stephen King’s On Writing) about halfway through my query journey. It cracked open a little piece of my brain where my muse had been imprisoned. It was like I’d been keeping my muse in a cave, toiling away, chained to a desk, and now there was this whole world of process and knowledge available for me to explore.

I read a whole list of craft books. Every book, no matter how little it resonated with my writing style, taught me something. Learning and trying out these techniques has helped me internalize good habits with my writing. It’s helped me be a better critique partner. And most of all it’s helped me realize that writing really is a craft and not a talent. A talent just happens, but a craft can be improved upon.

But you know all this, right? You came here for the secret to getting an agent, not for a list of rehashed advice on becoming an author.

The secret is a combination of opportunity and serendipity. You create the opportunity, and wait for the serendipity. Some people have really high levels of opportunity–like industry connections, or money, or fame–and they only require a tiny bit of serendipity. Like so little that as long as the bus splashes puddle water in their face, that’s close enough to get them where they need to go.

Other people must fight for every sliver of opportunity. Hundreds of queries, dozens of pitch events or conventions, and endless years of honing their craft. Then they have to just hope the bus of serendipity waits long enough for them to make it to the right bus stop, but it starts pulling away and they have to run after it and make a leap onto 12th street and grab the hand of someone reaching from the window, then be pulled inside where they fall into a panting heap and realize they lost their bus fare so they’re thrown right back out at the next stop. Because serendipity doesn’t give a shit.

The reality is most people miss the bus. But if you stop going to the bus stop, you’ll never get on it. Sometimes I go days, weeks, or months without going to the bus stop. Then I put my running shoes back on, duct tape my bus fare to my arm, and get ready to jump.

I’m right there with you. I’m researching agents, lurking in pitch parties, and taking every rejection like a punch to the chest. (My query group offers pet pictures whenever someone gets a rejection. I feel like I’m watching their pets grow up.)

But I’m there. And being there is how you get an agent. Keep querying. Keep building your craft. Writing is so very personal. That’s your broken soul on the page, and it’s hard to try to sell that to someone and be rejected. It feels like it should be easier than this. But it’s not.

How will I get my agent? Making the opportunities… and being ready to grab that serendipity bus when it rushes by. I’ll meet you there.

The Truth of Fiction

Fiction is, by definition, a lie. We even put disclaimers in the front of our books warning readers that any resemblance to persons or events is completely coincidental and has nothing to do with fate, marketing, or fandom. But there is powerful truth in fiction as well. This truth grows from the reader’s trust in the narrator, and their connection to the characters and story.

The First Truth – Realism in Situation

Your world is pretend. Your characters are pretend. Your plot is pretend. Even contemporary novels based on real places or historical retellings are false because they’ve been fed to your muse and regurgitated into a fictional account. Like a child playing house, they may be using real pots and pans, but it’s still just a lie.


Swearing in Fiction Writing

To $%^* or not to $%^*, that is the question. I’m going to throw out a blanket statement here, and say that every fiction writer worth their ink-stained fingers has learned to step out of their own personality and into another. It’s sort of a prerequisite for being able to write realistic characters. Whether you, as an author, are willing to push those other personalities to their limits, or blush and scribble out the saucy bits to use more polite words, is not something I can discuss without a few psychology textbooks and a bottle of wine. What I can talk about is a tiny bit of realism that helps to create amazing characters.

When was the last time you said a swearword? Was it today? I bet it was this week at least. How many do you say in a day? In a week? Ok, this could get a little out of hand for some of us. Here’s another question: When was the last time one of your characters said a swearword? Think about it if you need to. You can pause this reading and start it again when you’re ready to continue.

This is where I put a short admission. Not every character needs to swear. Admittedly you’re only seeing snapshots of their lives, and it’s absolutely conceivable they do all their swearing off page… But would they?


Writing Anti-Heroes

What makes a character an asshole?

When you think of asshole characters, do you picture villains? The bad guys can be bastards, that’s for sure, and even when they try to be good they usually have bastardly reasons. There are many assholish qualities people will recognize: rude, selfish, inconsiderate, two-faced, liar, inappropriate, uncaring. But are these qualities that should only be shown by villains?

Some of the most loved characters of historical and modern literature (and other media) have been assholes to some degree. Some of these characters are just assholes on occasion, while others are living it 24/7.


In the Face of Rejection

The hardest thing I’ll do today is set down this rejection and find the courage to write.

The rejection is unique this time. It’s on a postcard mailed in an envelope. It is, of course, a form letter… but the name of my book was written with a blue pen by a real person. Even I think it’s pathetic how the thought of a real person taking the time to write the name of my book on a postcard would be a point of cheer. But it is.


Stereotypes In Writing – Why They’re Ok

I’m a writer.

I’m also a reader.

I’ve had people tell me I should write my female characters stronger, or my male characters more rounded.

Thanks for your opinion, but I will write them how they are.

As a reader, I don’t want all the stories I read to be politically correct. I don’t want all the females to be strong and independent. I don’t want all the men to be good guys. I don’t want all the villains to be bad guys. I don’t want there to be an equal distribution of male/female main characters.

Stories are full of stereotypes for a reason. We reach people by showing them a familiar world, then helping them see it in a deeper way. I want to see stereotypes in what I read.


Social World – Personal Marketing

The world is becoming increasing small and digital. If you’re reading this blog, you already know that, because you’re interested in online tools for writing, rather than just the typewriter or word processor in a corner of the house. But while everyone seems closer and more intimate now (read as: in-your-face, everywhere) your personal world is expanding at a breakneck pace.

Social media… yes I know those are dirty words… has allowed fans access into the personal lives of their favorite authors. It’s allowed them to “follow” their idols and publicly “like” the work they do. There’s always been the belief, half-jokingly, that tools like twitter and facebook are socially acceptable methods of stalking for fans. It’s absolutely true. Twitter allows me to stalk my favorite authors. (cough Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss cough)

The really interesting thing about it, though, is they didn’t used to be my favorite authors…


A Cover Is Worth A Thousand Sales

You’ve written your masterpiece. It’s a shining example of literature, a dance of phrases and metaphors. Your readers will cheer and sob, rage and giggle, and at the end they will close the book with a sigh of regret that the story is over.

If they ever read it.

How can you get readers to pick up your book?


NaNoWriMo a-go-go!

This year I have decided, for the first time, to participate in NaNoWriMo. For anyone that’s not familiar with this event, you can look here:

This decision was partly motivated by the fact that I don’t have any freelance work at the moment, partly by the desire to do more writing, and partly by the need to “cleanse my palette”… so to speak. I figure that a writing sprint like this, on a totally new project, will help clear out all the cobwebs that accumulate as I cycle through my stories making edits and tweaking scenes.

I’m also writing in the sci-fi genre instead of the fantasy genre for this. I have done a little bit with sci-fi, but I’ve always enjoyed writing fantasy more, so that’s what the lion’s share of my work is. This will let me flex my space muscles a little bit and expand my portfolio.

I must say, it’s now the 10th of November and the event has been challenging. I think I’m standing at nearly 17k words. It’s both frustrating and very gratifying to work on this project. I’ve got the ever-so-familiar “this writing is crap, how can I have believed I could do this” doubts, but I’m pushing through them.

My main motivation for this story is to write something my son will want to read. Usually he turns down my stories because he doesn’t like “those kinds of books”. This time I asked him what I should write about. He said “space monkeys” and I said “wha?”. So I’m writing a story about space. The “monkeys” are a little… metaphorical… but there you have it. Hopefully he’ll enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it.

Voice In a Silent Medium

Every piece of writing, from fiction novels to web content, has a voice. A professional writer will be able to recognize and manipulate this voice to suit a purpose. That purpose varies widely depending on the application of the writing required.

For instance, a fiction novel may use an epic voice to tell a story about adventure or tragedy, something that harkens to the days of long ago and kindles the flame of passion and danger in the reader. A poem may use an angry voice to incite the reader, or a voice of sadness to make them share the writer’s sorrow. A non-fiction paper, such as a thesis, will use an educated voice to lend authority to the words.

It’s often natural for a writer in those mediums to find the correct voice. We read a lot of those types of works, and we will naturally tend to a similar voice when trying our own hand at it. Many very successful writers are noteworthy for breaking these tendencies. A new type of voice for an old genre can make it unique and interesting.

What is more difficult to work with, is the voice of content writing and advertising.