How I Found My Secret Agent Man
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a reader named Jeff. He asked how I came about finding an agent, and I promised him I would post on the subject. I told him in my reply I thought most of was just plain old good luck, but I’d write up what I knew. Jeff writes a pithy blog, and has self-published a book that did well. I suspect he will get lucky one day too. I hope this post helps him, and also any other writer who hopes to develop a business relationship with an agent.
You all know the old adage. To get published, you have to have an agent, but to get an agent you have to be published. I first got interested in writing to try and help some friends. A bluegrass band I knew had a new CD out and wanted some promo material. I wrote up some copy for them to use if they thought it would help. They liked it and used in as national ad. After that a fellow e-mailed me to ask to do some CD reviews for his magazine. Suddenly I was published.
I began to query agents. Like everyone, I got turned down by a bunch of them. I send a couple out to famous agents and my only objective was to acquire a rejection letter. Part of my pitch was gonna be “I have been rejected by some of the best agents in New York.” They complied with my wishes.
One said they wanted a writer of romantic fiction with a chick-litty voice. My wife got a nice chuckle out of that one. She said I was a good husband, but that transformation was not gonna happen in this lifetime.
All I knew was medicine and bluegrass music and much of what I had seen in the doctoring business couldn’t be printed. I stuck with what I knew and got a few articles on music events placed in our local paper. An aspiring agent read those and contacted me. We worked together for a while. He said he had been a English teacher at one time, and now his day job was assistant manager at a local grocery store. He didn’t get anything placed for me. When he sent me a contract that had a rider for a monthly reading fee, I let him go.
I continued the search. The rejection letters began to take on a more personal response. One lady wrote and thought ‘The Mandolin Case’ sounded like a fun project, but she had lost so bad on her last fiction venture she was afraid to take a chance. She referred me to a regional publisher. They were receptive, but also on the verge of bankruptcy, and didn’t have the resources to make it happen. They recommended an agent they knew, but he was getting out of the business. He knew a man who specialized in my kind of work. He gave me that man’s name. I e-mailed him.
“My name is Tommy Bibey. I write physician bluegrass fiction.”
I can’t say he was impressed, but at least he was intrigued. I had a few funny e-mails that floated around on the Internet, and at least some web presence with comments on the music scene in a variety of forums. If you are the only one of anything on the Internet, you deserve at least a second look. He wrote me back.
“Do you have a blog?” he asked.
“What’s a blog?” I didn’t know a blogroll from an eggroll. I am sure he knew he had his work cut out for him.
“Send me some samples.”
It wasn’t an instant yes. He read a few essays, then sent some passages to edit. He liked what I did, but realized I needed refinement. He recommended I study ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.’ I sent him a second round of essays. He called.
“Did you read the book I recommended?”
“Uh well, uh …no Sir, I mean I meant to get it, but I have been busy and uh…”
“Hell, Bibey, that’s like a kid saying he’s been out playing baseball and forgot to do his homework. Don’t send me anything else until you read it. Nothing. After you read the book, write me an essay on three things you learned. After that we’ll talk again.”
I read it, and then e-mailed an apology with the essay. “If I don’t listen to what you say it ain’t no different than a patient coming to me, not filling the prescription, and then complaining they did not get well. I won’t do it again.”
He wrote back. “I think you might be ready for the teacher. By George, you are going to make a writer yet.”
One day a request came across his desk. Kent State University wanted some articles on life as a country Doctor for a compilation. He wanted me to give it a whirl. “Don’t get your hopes up son, but if you get published here, I think your stock will go up.”
They liked my article. It will come out in the spring of 2010 in Dr. Therese Zink’s ‘Country Doctor Compilation.’ Later I noticed Dr. Zink had placed an article in JAMA. I read her essay and commented on it. Later she has me write up a summary essay for the compilation and it will be published also.
As Lee Trevino would say, “The more I practiced, the luckier I got.” I was on vacation in Asheville. I picked up a local magazine and a classified ad caught my eye. A newspaper man named Paul Howey advertised for his editorial services. I contacted him and had him edit several chapters of my manuscript. His fee was very reasonable, but more important he had some stylistic pointers which I have held onto to this day. Overall, even though my work was that of an amateur he liked my style and thought I had potential.
As it turned out Mr. Howey was the editor a of a magazine called the Laurel of Asheville. He knew of my interest in bluegrass music. (Hard to miss, huh?) Months later, his regular music writer was moving on, and the Laurel had decided to subcontract out their music beat to several writers who each had a special interest in different styles of music. Bluegrass First Class was coming up and Mr. Howey needed an article. He thought of me, and e-mailed to ask if I could fill in with a piece to promo the show. I’d been to every one of them and knew Milton Harkey, the promoter, so it was a natural.
It was a proud day when I got that first check. I made a copy and sent my agent 15% of the take. He called.
“What is this check, Bibey?”
“I got an article placed in the Laurel of Ashevllle.”
“Damn. I didn’t even know about it.”
“Well Boss, I figure if you get a check in the mail for 15% of what you don’t know about then we’re joined at the hip. I think in the business they say it attaches you to the project.
“Bibey, you are a sneaky rascal, but O.K. I give.”
He sent me a contract. I sent my intellectual property rights lawyer a copy, and he had no objections to it. I had an agent.
I’ve held off and not released his name. At this time he is in active negotiations with Publishers. The way I figure it, if the project is a success, he deserves a lot of the credit. If it is not, I don’t want him to have any of the blame. Besides, I think even if it wound up self-published and didn’t sell all that much, it has already been a success beyond my wildest dreams. After all, if it weren’t for all this how would I have met all you guys? And y’all would have missed out on knowing Indie and Mason Marley. That would have been a shame. Everyone deserves a chance to know them.
But for the most part, though, I have to I go back to what I told Jeff from the get-go. Most of all I was lucky. As a kid, my mom took me to libraries and ball games. No one could have tended to a wild boy better than she did. From the day I met my wife to the day when she gave me those two children, right from when I set foot down at Sandhills U., and the first time I saw a mandolin or picked up a pen; right from the start I have been a lucky man. Always have been. My daughter says some things never change and I am one of them. She always tells me the truth so it must be so. Most of it was good luck. I’ve always had more than my share.
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