Posted tagged ‘Lit agents’

Why Me and My Agent Get Along

May 30, 2010

        Since I signed me and my agent have gotten along just fine. I told him as long as he didn’t threaten to sue me or shoot me we’d be okay. I wasn’t afraid of constructive criticism. If a patient is scared to tell me they aren’t happy how am I gonna know it ain’t going well?

        He was not one bit shy to tell me a passage didn’t work and the MS began to tighten up.  He led the search for an editor. Together we got it down to three national level players but he refused to choose for me. “You’ve got to pick the one you think will be the best fit. I can’t do it for you.” 

       There were all good, but my heart said Dorrie. It was a good pick. She made my voice stronger, but never strangled it. For all the rewrites, I was always the author. I didn’t want a ghost writer and neither did she. “Besides,” she said. “If I wrote a single phrase it’d stick out like a sore thumb. No one writes like you.” (I guess it was a compliment)

       Together my agent and I began to place  a few articles. He landed some and I got a couple paying gigs too. I have one in “Bluegrass Unlimited” this month 2010 I am extra proud of ’cause it is on some of my N.C. people, Darin and Brooke Aldridge. (it’s in the June 2010 edition page 32 if y’all are dying to read it)

        But here’s why my agent and I get along. As true southerners always do I’ll have to tell you a story to make my point.

        Years ago the pro golf tour was a lot harder than what it is now. Most of the pros had to have a few side gigs to stay afloat. (Sort of like writers.) Bill and his buddy Doug struggled. They missed more than one meal and traveled the back roads on half-bald tires. 

        One New Year’s they made a resolution. They agreed on a percentage ahead of time and vowed to send the other man his cut of the winnings regardless of where they made the money. At the end of the year they’d decide if they were better off together or alone.

        It was easy enough to keep up with official winnings, but that was not how they survived. Sometimes late at night an envelope would slide under Bill’s door in some seedy roadside motel. When he got up the next morning he’d find it and smile. Inside there were always several crumpled up bills, but never a receipt.”Dougie must have played poker last night.”

       Bill did the same. At the end of the year they renewed on a handshake.

       When I signed with my agent, I remembered Bill and Doug. If I found an assignment on my own, I sent my agent his cut whether he knew of the article or not. When I made “official” money and it went through him, he put my share in the mail the next morning. It’s tough for a writer to survive and the agent’s life is no walk in the park either.  At the end of the first year we renewed on a handshake too. We were better off together than alone.

        Bill and Doug never got rich or famous, but they stayed loyal. They’re still friends too. I figure if me and my agent can stay that way in as tough a biz as this writer gig is we’ve done something right.

        Besides, the way I see it, what’s he gonna do? Who’d fire someone in the art world who sends money?

Dr. B


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

May 24, 2010

        I called. The secretary gave my instructions. “Meet him at the caboose behind the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Friday at 2:40.”

        “Why 2:40?”

        “Cause that’s what the boss says.”

        “Yes ma’am.”

        “He’ll be in New York all week. He likes to relax on Friday mornings  and write. 2:40.”

        “Got it.  Where’s the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

        “Can you find Chattanooga?”

        “Yes, ma’am.”

        “If you find Chattanooga you can find the Choo Choo. Can’t miss it.”


        We came in from Nashville early. As we drove along by the river we heard music. Hey, a bluegrass festival.  I thought for a minute.  Must be Three Sisters. I’d read about it. We wandered through downtown and spotted a huge train on top of a hotel. Chattanooga Choo Choo. I stopped at the desk. “Pardon me ma’am, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

        She rolled her eyes. “Yes, sir.”

        “Room for two, non-smoking, Bibey’s the name.”

       She scrolled through her computer. “Yes, sir. Here you are.”

        “Where’s the caboose?”

        “Through that door, go by the gift shop. Follow the tracks. There is a picnic table right beside it.”


        “Are you here to meet the agent?”

        “Yes, ma’am.”

        “He fires most of ’em on the first meeting.”

        “Thanks, I guess.”

        Marfar kissed me bye. “Good luck.”

        “I wish you could come,” I complained.

        “He said come alone. No family.”

        “I’ll call.”

        I found the caboose and the picnic table. 2:38. I sat down. A band struck up in the distance. I checked my watch. 2:40. A gray-haired man in a tweed coat approached. He carried a large briefcase and sat in on the table. It was as battle-scarred as my mandolin case, and the corners were tattered so bad I thought it might break open. Several papers spilled out over the top. He stuck out his hand. “Bibey?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        He studied my features for a minute. “Say you want to be a writer?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Why would you want to do that?”

        “Why not?”

        He smiled. I got a sense he was working hard to try to be aloof. “You still have time to turn back, you know.”

        “It’s too late to turn back now.”

        He laughed. “You hear that band?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “You said you were true bluegrass. Who is it?”

        Dang it, why didn’t I check the line-up? I listened for a moment. Someone broke into a nice fiddle break. Hm. Chattanooga. My mind drifted back to a jam session at John Hartford’s Christmas party years ago. I took a chance. “Hey that sounds like Fletcher Bright.” (Fletcher is a big Chattanooga real estate man; he knows everyone in bluegrass.)

        His smile broke into a broad grin. “Correct.” He pulled my resume out of the briefcase. “Tell me your story.”

        “What kinda word count you gonna give me?”

        “Brief. You’ll have to edit a lot. You use too many words.”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Do you have to call everyone sir?”

        “Yes, sir. Mama taught me that way. All good southern writers love their mama. She was an English teacher.”

        “Go on.”

        “Okay. I’m a doctor. I saw a lot. I read in JAMA years ago where some professor said docs ought to write so people can know what it’s really like to be a doctor. I can’t tell people’s secrets, so it has to be fiction. Everyone’s always told me I should write a book.”

        “That’s what they all say.”

        “Well, I am proven commodity. You got your check, didn’t you?”


        “Do you have a blog?” he asked.

        “What’s a blog?”

        “Where are you from again?”

        “Harvey County.”

        “You have the Internet I presume.”

        “Yes, sir.”

       He looked over his glasses at the resume again. “Get your kids to show you how to set up a blog. Your readers will teach you how to write. If you don’t have one by our next meeting you’re fired.”

        “No tickee no washee?”

        His eyebrows raised. “I suppose.” He reached into the briefcase and retrieved my manuscript. “This isn’t too bad for an amateur. How many revisions have you done?”

        “At least twelve. I have a doctor friend who writes children’s books. He was an English major. And my daughter’s creative writing teacher helped me too. She thinks it has promise. Of course, all she has to compare it to is a bunch of testosterone poisoned teen-aged boys who ain’t got nothing on their mind but trying to get laid.”

        He laughed outloud. “I am sure it would be good for an “A” in Senior English, but this is a different game.”

        “Yes, sir. That’s why I need you.”

        “So how long do you think it will take for you to get there?” he asked.

        “I work off the ten-year plan. It takes ten years to get good at anything, be it doctor, musician, golfer, or writer. I started in 2000. I think we can get there in three more years.”

        He scratched his head. I wasn’t sure he was convinced.

        “I ain’t Twain, but I got no give up in me, sir.”

        “Tell me about loyalty,” he asked.

        “It’s one of the big themes in my book. I don’t just write it; I live it. Same wife, same kids, same nurses, same friends, doctor, dentist, mechanic, and barber. All I need is one agent.”

        “When some people break big they change.”

        “Well for one thing I’m not likely to break big. But if I do I won’t change.” I recalled how he groomed one writer only to have them leave once they found success. “If you’re my agent and someone from New York shows up with a million bucks they gotta give you your 15%.”

        “You been playing the lottery, son?”

        “No, sir. I’m clean. Not even a traffic ticket. Look, its like they told Monroe when he hit the Opry. If you’re gonna leave you gotta fire yourself. If you’re straight with me, I’ll never leave. It don’t matter whether I write in obscurity or it does a little something. I ain’t gonna change. You can count on it. Just ask my wife.”

        “I grew up in Texas. A man’s word is his bond there. Are you willing to shake on it?” He stuck out his hand.

        “Yes, sir.” We shook.

        “I’ll send a contract. It’ll be exactly what I said on the phone. Just don’t tell anyone about this. Every time I sign a new artist if they tell their friends I have to deal with all kinds people who all of a sudden decide they’re gonna be a writer.” 

        “Yes, sir.”

        When the contract came in I sent a copy to my lawyer. He said it was dead on; don’t change a word. It’s a good thing; I had already signed and returned it. We’d already shook hands on it, and I wasn’t gonna go back on my word. I had an agent.

        When I put it in the over night mail at the office the secretary at the time looked at the address. “Hey, Doc. Y’all gonna play Three Sisters out there?

        “They’re thinking about hiring us.”


        “Just don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to jinx it.”

        “Sure.” She drifted down the hall. “Hey Sue, didja hear Dr. B might play Chattanooga next year?”

        Oh well. The writer gig is like a slow motion horse race. I wasn’t ready to run, but they had let me out of the stall to trot around the warm-up ring. One of these years maybe I’d be at the starting gate. I had a notion my trainer knew the biz and wouldn’t settle for anything less.

Dr. B

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

May 20, 2010

        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. 

Dr. B

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

May 17, 2010

        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.

Dr. B