Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ta-Dah!!! A New Series of Posts on Bent on Books

I'm pleased to announce a new series of posts on BENT ON BOOKS: I've asked my clients to weigh in on the topic of "How I Sold My First Book" or "How I Found My Agent." We're kicking it off with a post by the truly lovely and talented Ellyn Bache, a relatively new client of mine who had published a number of books by the time she knocked on my door (and boy, was I happy to answer it!).

Ellyn's book The Art of Saying Goodbye will publish at the beginning of June. It's a beautiful book about a group of women in a wealthy suburban neighborhood and what happens when they're confronted with tragedy. For me it passed that magical litmus test: made me laugh, made me cry. I signed Ellyn up right away and I am lucky to have her. The book has already received some wonderful pre-pub reviews:

From Booklist: "Sweet, profound, sweeping in its themes yet detailed in its nuances, Bache’s latest explores the layers of friendship involved in facing serious illness and buried secrets."

And PW: "A moving, gratifying, and inspiring reminder to live life to its fullest and demonstrate love in every possible way to friends and family."

I'll stop talking now, but I do want to say this about Ellyn's post. What I think it shows is that there are plenty of really good agents out there, but for some of you the challenge is not finding a "good" agent--it's finding the right agent for you. If you're not published, or un-agented, this may seem like a very academic exercise, but after twenty years in the biz I can pretty much guarantee you that this will become an issue at some point in almost every writer's career.

And now, over to Ellyn:

HOW I GOT (THE RIGHT) AGENT. AT LAST. IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING.

This story has a happy ending, but it’s a bit of a cautionary tale, too.

Part of the reason I write is because it scares me silly to deal face-to-face with bosses, editors, agents, anyone in power.

Even with trusted friends, I’m not a great conversationalist. I rarely win an argument. I can’t tell a joke. When someone makes me uncomfortable, I babble. Writing feels safer because it lets me edit what I want to say.

In the early days, I was comforted by the fact that manuscripts were submitted and returned by mail. No one could see if I burst into tears after a humiliating rejection. There was a (to me) critical and essential privacy in this. I wasn’t being judged by the way I looked or how well I could think on my feet. I was being judged solely on the writing.

My first agent came to me through the recommendation of one of his clients (still the best way to get an agent, in my opinion). He sold my first novel, Safe Passage, and helped broker the deal that made it into a movie starring Susan Sarandon. We talked on the phone so many times before we met that I didn’t feel intimidated. If I babbled during our first face-to-face, he pretended not to notice. We stayed in touch for years.

But then he was gone, and it was the era of writers’ conferences – hundreds of them, always with agents and editors to pitch to, as well as writers like me who gave the craft seminars. The agents tended to stick together (or so it seemed to me), more anxious to talk to each other than to not-yet-published wannabes or not-yet-famous staff, except during scheduled appointments..

Was I going to sit across the table from one of them and give my two-minute pitch?

Not a chance.

But one day at lunch I sat next to a man so pleasant and unthreatening that I didn’t realize he was an agent until halfway through the meal. Disarmed, I shed my anxieties and phobias long enough to tell him about my work. A few weeks later, I became his client.

He was a nice man, but as it turned out, not a very good agent for me.

I write complex women’s fiction. He sold mostly romances. If I’d done a little research, I would have known that. Instead of following my own advice to judge by the work and not the personality, I’d formed a binding relationship with someone I trusted simply because he was easy to talk to.

From the beginning, we weren’t a good match. The sales he made for me weren’t what I was looking for. I stuck it out longer than I should have because it was easier than a personal confrontation. Finally, I put my current project in a drawer and said I had nothing to show him.

The only one who got hurt by this was me.

So there I was, agent-less, with a finished book sitting in a drawer, when I began hearing about Jenny Bent. She’d made good sales for several writers I knew, including my friend Donna, who invited her to be on a panel about writing effective first pages. On the program, Jenny was articulate and intelligent, and clearly knew exactly what she wanted. Donna urged me to introduce myself to her. But when she finished speaking, she was surrounded. No wonder. She was capable, tough, hugely in demand, exactly the kind of agent I wanted. I fled.

Donna had seen my cloistered novel and pronounced it ready for market. “You should query Jenny,” she insisted. “You don’t have to face her in person. What are you afraid of? All you have to do is send an email.”

Bullied into it, I did.

Jenny was every bit as tough-minded as I’d imagined – but tough in the gentlest way. She made lots of suggestions. They always struck me as thoughtful, helpful, right. She spent hours thinking up just the right title for the novel. She seemed, truly, to care about it. Months later, after I’d made the changes we agreed on, she sold THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE to HarperCollins in less than a week.

I finally met Jenny in person on a trip to New York for the terrifying task of being introduced to my editor. It was a warm, rainy day. My hair had frizzed into its distinctly un-suave natural state, a kinky bubble around my head. Jenny arrived looking sleek in a khaki raincoat, her short blonde hair elegantly cut, elegantly tidy. She seemed not to notice my disarray. As we walked together into the massive HarperCollins building, I realized how much having the right agent at my side was taking the pressure off.

Even so, I was nervous enough to fear I’d jabber aimlessly when we got upstairs – and as memory serves, I did.

They published my book anyway.

Imagine that.

Ellyn's website is: http://ellynbache.com/

22 comments:

  1. I'm glad you found the right agent for you, Ellyn. I'm in the same happy position with my agent, Natasha Kern. I don't know how authors manage without representation they trust. I'm such a noodle I can't advocate for myself.

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  2. I'm glad you found the right agent, too. I'm with you on the face-to-face aspect. If I was great at pitching/dealing with people, I wouldn't have developed a writing talent! lol
    I hope someday to be where you are.

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  3. Love this story. I think it resonates with all writers. Especially the burst into tears part. If we didn't put our whole souls into the books then why expect others to want to read them? But life moves in interesting ways, huh? How wonderful that things seem to be working out.
    Thanks for the guest post Ellyn and for the great blog, Jenny.

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  4. Oh, LOVE this. Terrific idea.

    And the cover for the book is gorgeous. Congrats, on all accounts, to ye both. :)

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  5. Congrats to all who have found an ally in their agent. Me, I am without ally and as usual, in my typical stubborn fashion, have found my own way alone. My first book was published by me as a test- were the agents right? Was it unwanted? Almost six months later, almost a thousand sales later, I guess it wasn't. Better yet, I've opened a small pub house of my own, Staccato Publishing, to help some other offbeat authors who don't have an ally. To gain a friend, be one. Right?

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  6. Great post idea. Also what a great story and thank you for sharing it. I am so glad you found the right agent.

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  7. LOVE it! Working on my own!

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  8. Kudos, Ellyn, for holding out and finding the agent of your heart. And I mean that. There are a thousand agents out there, and if you have some degree of talent and tenacity, you will no doubt attract the attention of a few. But even more important than finding the one you have things in common with or who is easy to talk to, is finding the one who GETS your work--the very heart of it--and knows how to help you edit and sell it.

    Congratulations on your new book! And may you and your literary soulmate share many successes in the years to come. :)

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  9. Ellyn, thanks for these honest words. You write from your heart, and that's beautiful. Both of you are fortunate to have found each other. I hear it's all about the match. You underscored that for me. Am looking forward to your book.

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  10. Jenny always has the best blogs. :)

    Some of the agents I really like the most are, I feel, not the right agents for me. Our tastes are simply too dissimilar; some don't even represent my genre at all. But I can still learn something from them through their blogs and Twitter tips -- and get some great book recs in the process!

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  11. Thanks for sharing this Ellyn. Its really nice to hear happy endings sometimes, especially when, us "not-yet-published wannabes" are learning step-by-step to learn and move on through the process. Sometimes that small injection of positive light can be exactly the motivation needed.

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  12. What a great idea for a series! Thank you, Ellyn, for your honesty, and thank you, Jenny, for putting this together!

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  13. Thanks for sharing, Ellyn. Looking forward to your book.

    I was agent orphaned after the very reputable agency let go of my agent and forgot to tell me while I worked on a re-write. I was completely disheartened.

    A friend gave my ms to an indie publisher who loved it. Agentless, I went with that tiny press. My first novel, Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys has now sold around 6000 copies. Not Amanda Hocking figures but not shabby, either.

    I will be looking for a 'great fit' new agent for my next ms.

    Best,

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  14. The first agent I met in person was Nathan Bransford. I shook his hand, nodded, smiled, said nice to meet you, and then ran as quickly as I could when he got that "well are you going to pitch to me or not" look.

    This was exciting to read Ellyn. Thanks for sharing your journey :)

    ......dhole

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  15. Thank you for sharing your journey. It's an inspiration to us who are still in the trenches.

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  16. So good to hear from another writer who does not relish the schmooze side of writing. Since my first long work is a screenplay, I am in agony over the marketing end of that world. Eek. I am a novelist at heart and going to return to the literary world. Hollywood makes me a bit nuts.

    I am amazoning your book now. Best of luck on your partnership with a strong, confident agent. May you get many works out to us.

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  17. I loved this story and I look forward to reading more! Thank you for sharing!
    Mary Staller

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  18. I loved reading this! So positive!

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  19. How great! Thanks for sharing this inspiring story; I love hearing these journeys (especially just having signed, myself). Wow, selling w/in two weeks! You two must have some great revision magic going on. Big congrats to you both! :o)

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  20. I love success stories! It is like reading birth stories in Ina Mae Gaskin's book when I was pregnant. There is always potential for beautiful things to happen!

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  21. I just got rejected by an agent who so enthused over my query sent on a Sunday night that Monday morning she requested the complete MS for an exclusive which, WOW, I sent immediately. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, right? After the MS had been out of circulation for three months, she rejected it, and my third grade teacher Mrs. Blather who decades ago complained I wasn’t measuring up to my potential leapt to mind. She must have been right after all, said I to my dormant left brain; I should forget about licking my wounds and take that job selling shoes. But now, thanks to your post, well, I didn’t like my left brain anyway.

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  22. I just got rejected by an agent who so enthused over my query sent on a Sunday night that Monday morning she requested the complete MS for an exclusive which, WOW, I sent immediately. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, right? After the MS had been out of circulation for three months, she rejected it, and my third grade teacher Mrs. Blather who decades ago complained I wasn’t measuring up to my potential leapt to mind. She must have been right after all, said I to my dormant left brain; I should forget about licking my wounds and take that job selling shoes. But now, thanks to your post, well, I didn’t like my left brain anyway.

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