Thursday, May 10, 2012

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How I Got My Agent: Beatriz Williams

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. 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 and we’ll talk specifics.

Beatriz Williams‘s first novel, OVERSEAS, is out May 10, 2012
from Putnam. In a starred review,
Publishers Weekly said
of the novel, “This is a delicious story about the ultimate
romantic fantasy.” She lives in Connecticut with her husband
and four children.

Ours was a whirlwind courtship. I found her online, after a thorough study of available matches, because I liked her background and the capable intelligence radiating from her photograph. From the moment we sat down for coffee in a bustling Le Pain Quotidien in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, I knew she was The One.
Lover? Spouse? No, my literary agent.
Now, we all know the author-agent relationship is a business partnership. Publishing can be a brutal industry, and we’re playing for money, here, for real stakes. Throw in the mushroom cloud of ebooks, the magnetic pole-switch of self-publishing, the Babel of social media, and the process of finding literary representation requires a harder head than ever before.
Still, at the heart of all this, we have a book: a thing of subjective value, an object of emotion. You want an agent to fall in love with your book, and to find you an editor who falls in love with your book. You want passion behind your representation, and so you want an agent who gets your book, who gets you, and therefore finding an agent will never be quite as objective a quest as finding a lawyer or an accountant.
When I finished Overseas, after a couple of fatally flawed first efforts, I knew I finally had a salable manuscript. A sweeping love story with a compelling hook — a First World War infantry officer follows the woman he loves across time to contemporary Manhattan — Overseas had all the elements of a strong romance, with the scope and structure to interest readers of mainstream fiction as well. This was my big chance. I didn’t want just any agent to take on my manuscript, I wanted The One.
I researched with care. I wanted a young agent, still building a client list, with a well-regarded agency behind her. I wanted someone who was romance-friendly, but not limited to genre fiction. Less objectively, I wanted someone with drive and curiosity, someone intelligent and vibrant and full of ideas. In today’s tangled marketplace, a background in law was a decided plus.
After scouring online resources and written directories, I came up with a list of four agents, with Alexandra Machinist (then of the Linda Chester Literary Agency, now of Janklow & Nesbit) at the tip-top. I sent out email queries on Thursday, and within 24 hours, two agents had replied with requests for the full manuscript. Alexandra was one of them. “By the way,” she added, at the end of the email, “did you know I grew up in your hometown?” I didn’t, but I took it as a good omen.
I sent her the full manuscript, which she promised to take with her on the airplane to a weekend conference in Los Angeles. It was a three-day weekend; Monday was Yom Kippur. On Tuesday, while I was unbuckling my one-year-old from her car seat, I noticed a voice mail on my cell phone. The area code was 212. My hands began to shake as I pressed the buttons. “This is Alexandra Machinist,” the recording ran. “I just finished Overseas, and I love it.”

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent edition online at a discount.

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