Revisions, Rejections, and How I Found My Lit Agent (Part II)
As I continued my agent search I kept writing. I began to see some success in local and regional publications. If there was ever a writer who stuck to the adage “write what you know” it was me. Most of my work was on up and coming bands or acoustic music venues I liked. I did most of them for free or some nominal fee.
A strange thing began to happen. It didn’t take but a couple of articles followed by a full house for the artists to take notice, and others began to ask me to promo their show. I was particular though. I only wrote up the ones I believed in to the fullest. If I said a band was good, I wanted people who came to the show because of my article to realize I wrote the truth.
It wasn’t hard to be enthusiastic about what you loved. One time I did an article on bluegrass gospel legend Paul Williams and someone wrote to say, “Doc, he can’t be that good.”
I sent them his CD, and they wrote back. “You’re right. He is that good!” They’re still a fan.
I wrote CD liner notes for Darin Aldridge (and after they got married Darin and Brooke Aldridge) and promoted other N.C. bands like Balsam Range and the Harris Brothers. It was easy. I knew all readers had to do was hear them once and it would validate my credibility. It never failed.
I decided to try the agent again. I wrote and said I’d landed a few paying gigs. His genre was Southern Lit. I didn’t see how anyone could be much more southern than me. I did a background check on him. One of his big clients had moved to New York and taken up with an agent there. I e-mailed and asked if he had room for one more writer in his stable. He wrote back.
“Here’s a short story that didn’t place in a contest. Rework it.”
I spent all weekend on it and sent it back.
“Hm. Not too bad, but still work to do.” As I look back, I think he was like a basketball scout. Here was some raw inner city kid who could run, shoot, and dribble. But would he take to coaching? Only time would tell.
He sent me another assignment. “Read ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.’ I want an essay on at least three things you learned.”
Now I had hope. He didn’t know it, but my mama was an English teacher. As a kid book reports were a breeze. This was a different league though. In med school if I read it three times it was always good for an “A.” After three reads, I wrote up my report. I waited.
“You have promise. If I see an assignment that fits I might call.”
Months went by. One day he had something come across his desk from a Dr. Therese Zink. It was a call for articles about life as a country doctor.
I can see it now. “Hm. Lets see. Here’s the recipe lady. No, no. My vampire writer is great, but not right for this one. Hey, where is that file on that crazy doctor?”
He called one Friday just before I left the office. “Have something on my desk Monday morning; I’ll consider it.”
I was lucky again. About that time I read an article in JAMA in the ‘Piece of My Mind’ section titled “How My Donkey Saved My Ass.” It was Dr. Zink. She was a nationally recognized medical educator. I figured if she had the guts to write that for a prestigious medical journal I might just be able to connect with her. My wife had a conference that weekend so I holed up in the house, kept Dr. Z’s thoughts in mind, and wrote my own ass off. I e-mailed it first thing Monday morning and went back to the doc gig.
My potential agent wrote back. “I think I can use this. Let’s work on it some.” We did for about a month. After some half dozen revisions he submitted it.
It was my first effort at fictionalized medical truth. As a small town doc, I must write the truth, but I can not write about factual events or invade real people’s privacy in any way. My only condition was that I be allowed to write in that style. Dr. Zink understood and granted permission.
I’ll never forget Dr. Z’s letter. It was a “yes.” She used the word “charming.” The article wound up in the Kent State University Press Country Doctor Compilation due out this fall. My resume was growing.
Still the man was reluctant. I asked if he was my agent now. He said we were just dating, but maybe. He’d seen a lot of one hit wonders.
I recalled the car salesman. (“No might mean maybe”) I found my copy of the check from “The Laurel” and made another copy. I wrote out a check for 15% of the total and mailed it and the documentation to my potential agent. I asked him to give me a buzz.
He called. “What is this?”
“I read where 15% is standard for Lit Agents. It’s your cut. I’m gonna forward you 15% of everything I make as a writer until you send me a letter and tell me you’re not gonna be my agent.”
“Good Lord. I give. Okay, I’ll interview you. When can you come to Tennessee?”
“I’ll be out for IBMA in the fall. I can swing by on either side of that.”
“Very well. Call my secretary and set up a time. We’ll see.”
I still didn’t have an agent but I was close. In my next post I’ll tell you how I got signed.