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?”
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.