Revisions, Rejections, and How I Found My Lit Agent (Part I)

        Over my next few posts I want to share with you the saga of how a country doctor got a book published. It will take several posts. That is as it should be because the road to publication is a long and winding one. This is not to say it wasn’t fun; I enjoyed every bend in the road. But if your gig is instant gratification, don’t start a book. 

        I’m sure one can get published nowadays without an agent, but I’m glad I found one. Without mine I’d a gotten there, but it would be a grade “C” rag. I don’t know if what worked for me will apply for every writer but I found mine the old-fashioned way. I was like a gum shoe detective in a snap brim hat. I just wouldn’t go away.

        Not that it didn’t come in fits and starts. There was the one aspiring agent who was an assistant manager at the Piggly-Wiggly. I didn’t know much about the biz, (still don’t) but he seemed to know even less. A couple of agents turned me down. In one case, I was rejected because they wanted a chick-litty voice. I wasn’t sure what that was, but had a pretty good notion I wasn’t qualified to be in their writer stable.

        Another found my knowledge of pop culture insufficient. I’m sure they were right. I can’t recall the last time I watched a television show all the way through, and the only tabloids I’d seen were in the check out line at the grocery store where I’d stop to get bread and milk on the way home from the hospital. There’s nothing wrong with pop culture, but I’m not an expert in the genre.

        My gig was physician bluegrass fiction, and I had to find someone interested in my line. I couldn’t change into someone else just to get an agent. It’s sorta like getting married. I was lucky to find someone who accepted me for who I was and put up with my peculiar lifestyle. I needed an agent who was interested in what I had to say.

        At the time, my book was in the early stages of development. My first excerpts all bounced, but after the first half-dozen revisions the rejections grew kinder. Usually there were a few sentences I could learn from. One day I got one I liked. It said something like, “This sounds like fun. I’d like to do it, but I’ve lost money every time I’ve gotten involved with fiction lately. Good luck with your project, though.”

        I thought that one was worthy of follow-up. I wrote her and said it was the nicest rejection I’d gotten since high school when I realized the Homecoming Queen only wanted to go out with me so I’d tutor her in Chemistry. (She did good too; made a “B”) Maybe the agent felt sorry for me; I was a nice fellow who at least tried hard. She e-mailed me a few leads. One had gone broke and another had also given up on fiction, but he knew a guy who knew another guy who knew a fellow who was still in the fiction book biz. I e-mailed him.

        “I am no longer taking on new clients.”

        Hm. I remembered one time a car salesman said “no” meant “maybe later.” I tried another angle. I e-mailed again. “Can I call you if I make any money?”

       “Son, if you make money writing fiction, let me know.”

        “Is that a maybe?”

        “Maybe.”

        Then I got a break. I was at a show in Asheville and saw an ad in the paper for an editor. It was Paul Howey. I looked him up and asked him to help me. He reviewed my book, and had a number of very helpful suggestions. (His rates were very reasonable.)

        “Do you think I’ll ever get published?”

        “Patience my boy, patience. One can never know, but I think you have potential.”  

        As it turned out Paul was the editor of the Laurel Magazine of Asheville. One day I got a call from him. “We just lost our music writer. You know the bluegrass beat. Can you write an article on Bluegrass First Class in a week?”

        “Yes sir. Yes sir. Of course. I know the promoter and all the bands, no problem.” All of a sudden it hit me. I was no pro writer. What if I bombed? “Uh, Mr. Howey, I better tell you something. I’ve never written an article for a magazine. Uh, I …uh well, hey I might need some help.”

       He laughed. “Son, that’s why you have an editor. That’s me. You’ll be okay.”

       Man, I was thrilled. I didn’t even ask what it paid. When you consider how rough it was and the work Mr. Howey had to put in to make it publishable, it was beyond fair. (I probably shoulda paid him!) 

        I still remember when the check came in from the Laurel. I shuffled through the bills for the day. The letter from the Laurel was about half-way down the stack. I tossed the other envelopes on my desk and held it up to the light. Sure enough, it looked like a check. It reminded me of the day my acceptance letter came in from medical school years ago. I opened it.

        The check was on this green official looking paper and it was all typed up instead of hand written. The memo read “Payment for bluegrass article/Laurel Magazine of Asheville.” I made two copies, took it down to Johnny’s Jewelry and Pawn to show if off, then cashed in the whole thing in on some music gear I’d had an eye on.

        “Boys, this ain’t like doctor money. It’s like golf gambling or picking money. It’s just different.” They agreed.  

        To give you an idea of time I began to write in 2000, got serious in 2002, and this was around 2007. But I had my start. Somewhere in my files I still have a copy of the check. The way I figured it, if someone had paid me to write, I could now claim to be an author.

        However it was only a start. There was a long journey ahead.

Dr. B

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14 Comments on “Revisions, Rejections, and How I Found My Lit Agent (Part I)”

  1. Billy Says:

    This is the first post you made that got me interested and then you ended it. PART 1. What kind of writing is that? Reminds me of the old weekly serials we had at the movie house when I was a kid. Now you are going to have me checking your blog a couple times a day until I get to the “Rest of the Story”

    Who do you think you are? Paul Harvey or something?

    Anyway it was good.

    • drtombibey Says:

      Billy,

      Now that Paul Harvey was one more interesting man. Every time he spoke I wanted to hear more.

      Part II should come out before the weekend.

      Dr. B

  2. Lua Says:

    Hi Dr. B,
    First of all thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s great encouragement for aspiring writers such as myself and it makes me feel hopeful and I especially agree with you on “couldn’t change into someone else just to get an agent. It’s sorta like getting married. I was lucky to find someone who accepted me for who I was and put up with my peculiar lifestyle. I needed an agent who was interested in what I had to say.”
    I don’t think a writer should change the way she/he is or their writing style just to get an agent. Getting an agent should not be the motive for writing, writing should be the motive for writing. But in today’s competitive industry where writing is considered to be a ‘business’ it is pretty easy to forget that…
    Can’t wait for the second part :)

    • drtombibey Says:

      Lua,

      As the old farmer said, You gotta be what you are or you ain’t what you is.”

      I think as writers we should write what we feel until we find the folks who are interested in what we have to say.

      Dr. B

  3. Levonne Says:

    Thank you Dr. B for this story. Yes, I use to long to be published. And I have been – newspaper articles, a story in an anthology, some professional articles – but not a book! I’ve been earnestly trying for over ten years. I’ve been rejected by 125 agents who did not resonate sufficiently with my childhood memoir. Of course, some of the rejections made my heart sing!

    • drtombibey Says:

      Levonne,

      I think we all have a book in us. Some folks turn ‘em out pretty fast, but for most (like me) the book has to simmmer a while. In my case it was about a decade.

      I tried to learn a little something from each rejection and made some changes from the most informative ones.

      I hope one day someone takes your story and runs with it. I guess all we can do is keep on writing on the chance our work will gather some momentum.

      Right now I feel like a Boy Scout who has tried to start a fire for ten years and just now sees the kindling begin to smolder a bit.

      Dr. B

  4. Anil Says:

    Thank you for sharing part of your story getting published. Like you said the road is long and winding, but I suppose the payoffs are sweeter than any other.

    I just hope paper manages to hold on in the digital age. There’s something unique about paper and about getting published.

    • drtombibey Says:

      Anil,

      I plan a few most posts on the journey and hope I might give other writers insight and hope.

      I agree about paper. Somehow curling up in a beach hammock with a sterile Ipad or Kindle rather than a dog-eared broken spine paper-back just doesn’t give me the same comfort.

      Dr. B


  5. Hey Dr. B,

    Congratulations on finding an agent. That’s just wonderful news. I think you have a certain voice when you write that captures the spirit of a small town, a time that seems simple and real.

    As far as your comment about the ipad. My dad told me, you can’t stop progress. I’ve been in numerous debates about going digital, and I’m all for it. I remember when my kids were born and I was afraid of not having a paper printed photograph. Now it seems everyone only uses digital photography.

    When I see my students who come to school with backpacks that weigh more than an elephant, I think a digital book would make a lot of sense. As long as they still come to school. :)

    Julie

    • drtombibey Says:

      Julie,

      My editor said she could offer suggestions, but no one could ghost write for me ’cause it would stick out like a sore thumb.

      Oh I agree with you on the Ipad thing, but I’m gonna hold onto my books too. I’m afraid the sand at the beach might ruin such a fancy gadget.

      “The Mandolin Case” is due out in about two weeks. Y’all watch for it in Italy.

      Dr. B

  6. christicorbett Says:

    Dr. B,
    Thanks for finding, and commenting on my blog. I’m glad to have found you, and now add me to the list of those who eagerly await the “Part Two” post to finding an agent.

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

  7. drtombibey Says:

    Christi,

    Thanks so much for dropping by. I have said many times I don’t have to find all the people in the world to be happy but I do enjoy connecting with the cool and artistic ones.

    I hope you will visit again. Part II should post in the morning.

    Dr. B


  8. it took 7 years to get published.. you are a dedicated man.. I don’t know if I’d have that much patience. if I don’t get my novels published i’m going to do it myself but in video :) and have fun with it :)

    • drtombibey Says:

      ideagirl,

      Yep, I am both patient and persistent. But I had fun the whole way and agree you should do that also. There is plenty of suffering to go around already.

      As we say in bluegrass, “We ain’t having any fun, but at least we’re making a bunch of money.”

      Dr. B


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