Thursday, May 26, 2011

From spreadsheet to book deal--#2 in the series of How I Found My Agent

This post is from my lovely and incredibly talented client Lori Roy, whose first novel BENT ROAD published in April. I love stories like this one because once again it disproves the notion of "overnight" success--Lori had been writing for 12 years before we decided to work together to sell her book. I didn't know about a lot of the things that were happening behind the scenes until I read this: I love how Lori approached the process with such determination and organization!

And yes, I did tell Lori her query letter wasn't very good! In retrospect, I probably could have been a little more tactful, but it's further proof that writing a great book and writing a good query letter are two completely different skill sets. Asking for the first ten pages as part of my query guidelines is my way of looking beyond a query letter that might not adequately represent the genius of the book that is being pitched.

Now, over to Lori:

April 16, 2009 5:06 a.m.

From: Lori Roy

To: Jenny Bent

Query – Bent Road

I attack the querying process with a spreadsheet. It’s seven columns wide, several rows long and must be printed on legal paper. The names of literary agents run down the side of the spreadsheet and the columns are labeled name, address, genre, email, snail mail, submission guidelines, miscellaneous. I approach my queries as I approached the audit workpapers I prepared when I was a tax accountant. I label my spreadsheets, tick and tie addresses I have confirmed, highlight my research with a yellow marker. I wore blue suits and pantyhose in my accountant days. Now I wear Levis with holes in the knees, but I can still format a nice spreadsheet.

After all my research and all my organization—each printout three-hole punched and stored in a two inch binder—it is a connection who helps me land an agent. I met her four years earlier at a writers’ conference. She lives in Sweden. We’ll call her the Swede. She emails with news that Jenny Bent has recently started her own agency and is accepting submissions. The Swede has followed Jenny’s career for years. You should give her a try, the Swede says. I scan my spreadsheet, and there she is. Jenny Bent. I check her submission guidelines, attach the first ten pages of BENT ROAD, my query letter and press send. Jenny is the ninth agent I query.

April 19th, 2009 8:52 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

Could you please send the entire manuscript for BENT ROAD?

I read all the blogs, so I know I have a few currents to navigate. Two partials of BENT ROAD are currently with other agents. I believe in common courtesy, and while my insecurities make it difficult for me to believe the other agents will care, I email them that I have had a request for my full manuscript. They respond promptly with their appreciation. My first instinct upon receiving this request from Jenny is to press reply, attach and send, but I resist. Instead, I stay up most of the next two nights to read and re-read my manuscript. The second time through, I read it out loud. I’m hoarse by the time I email it to Jenny on April 21, 2009.

May 4, 2009 9:26 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

I loved reading this book. Could we set up a time to talk tomorrow? Do let me know.

I’m still wearing my PJs when I read this email at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of May 5th. I run upstairs to tell Husband who is sipping his first cup of coffee. She wants to talk tomorrow, I say to Husband, and then turn and run back to my computer. The email was sent the night before, which means she wants to talk today.

I email the Swede to share the news. I email another friend for advice on what to ask an agent. Again, I’ve read all the blogs. I know what a writer is supposed to ask, but because I’ve highlighted my research, labeled my workpapers, three-hole punched my printouts, I already know the answers to those standard questions. The smartest thing I did when setting out to find an agent—I only queried the agents I would be privileged to work with.

We trade a few emails throughout the day, Jenny and I. I send my phone number and times when I’m available, which is any time because it would take a crowbar and a book of matches to pry me away from the phone. She emails that she is having a crazy day and won’t be able to call until tonight. In the mean time…

May 5, 2009 11:29 a.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

…So as not to keep you in suspense, I am calling to offer representation.

I’ve been writing for almost twelve years by the time I open this email. I’ve collected countless rejection letters from literary journals—really they were rejection slips of paper. I’ve attended several writers’ conferences, lectures and readings. I’ve read books on writing, studied with gifted teachers, met great friends. I’ve struggled to understand the four fallacies, humbled myself to the concept of plot and beaten the adverbs out of my vocabulary. I’ve spent hours sitting at a desk, ashamed that I’m wasting my time. I’ve written badly, very badly. I’ve written two other novels that hide on the lowest shelves in my office. I’ve spent a year and a half writing BENT ROAD. I can’t say how many drafts I’ve been through. I lost track after the sixth. I’ve read it out loud so many times, looking for and listening for the clunkers, that the manuscript induces nausea. And there it is in a single line in a single email. Representation.

The phone rings in the early evening. Husband answers it. He calls the person on the other end Ms. Bent and hands me the phone. To avoid the chaos in my house, I take the call on the deck. In front of me lies my list of questions. I ask none of them, because when the moment arises, they all seem ridiculous. I already know who Jenny represents. I know how long she’s been an agent, where she’s worked, and because of blogs and online interviews, I have a good idea of her personality and work ethic. I know she will represent me and my book with professionalism, enthusiasm and perseverance. When the phone call ends, I am represented by Jenny Bent.

June 11, 2009 12:29 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy


I start this day blow drying my hair while crying hysterically. Husband asks me what’s wrong. It’s auction day for BENT ROAD, and I fear the auctioning block will turn into a chopping block. I’m afraid no one will show up for the auction and that BENT ROAD will be unsold at day’s end. I fear I’ll have to show the determination and belief that so many other authors have had to muster. I fear I won’t have it. “It’ll be a good day,” Husband says.

I’m at work—a part-time tax gig—when I receive this email from Jenny. CALL ME. I make up an excuse to leave the office for a few minutes. I write fiction. It isn’t hard to come up with something. I know it’s best that I not make the call while driving. Instead, I pull into the parking lot at Haslam’s Book Store. (Almost two years later, I will hold my first book signing at this store.) Jenny picks up on the other end immediately. We have an offer, she says. The auction continues throughout the day. I go back to the office. Don’t get much done. I pick up Daughter from tennis practice. She’s hungry, so we stop at the drive-through at Checkers. Husband brings homes roses. The family takes me to dinner. By Monday morning, the deal is done. Bent Road by Lori Roy is sold by Jenny Bent to Dutton Senior Editor Denise Roy. (No relation.)

June 16, 2009 3:59 p.m.

From: Denise Roy (Senior Editor – Dutton/ Penguin)

To: Lori Roy


Denise emails me her contact information, and we get acquainted over the phone. We laugh about the coincidence that has brought our three names together under this book deal. We discuss revisions. She sends me notes. A writer friend offers me advice. You don’t have to make all the changes your editor suggests, he says. But she’s always right, I say. Denise and I work our way through two rounds of revisions. I don’t appreciate how wildly insecure I am until I experience the revision process. Denise is aware long before me. She is kind and tempered with her suggestions. She is always right.

Three months after the auction, the contract is final. Jenny handles the negotiations, informing me along the way. She looks out for my best interest, while I would give away the deed to my house. I cower in the corner, watch through my tightly knit fingers. I exhale when the ink is dry.

October 27, 2009 10:21 a.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

MS Accepted ….Hooray

The revisions are done and the manuscript is accepted just in time for my visit to New York. I am reading a Harlan Coben novel when I begin my descent into LaGuardia. I see the Statue of Liberty, look down on the Coben novel—also published by Dutton—and feel a bit queasy. It occurs to me that people will read my book, too.

I meet Jenny for lunch—a cute little restaurant in Soho. We talk kids, next book ideas and about my query letter that she tells me wasn’t very good. She soothes my ego by reminding me that I’ll never have to write one again. Jenny leaves me in the lobby at 375 Hudson Street—Dutton’s corporate offices. Denise and I find another Soho restaurant and we toast BENT ROAD with a cabernet.

At year’s end, the copyedited manuscript is delivered. Copyeditor catches my dangling modifiers and suggests I use sit instead of set. In April 2010, I secure my domain name. I’m a website now. The proofreader has a few questions for me in May, and on May 26, my baby gets a face when Monica Benalcazar distills 368 pages into a beautiful, haunting, perfect image.

October 27, 2010 3:29 p.m.

From: Ava Kavyani (Publicist—Dutton/Penguin)

To: Lori Roy

Hello from Publicity

I’m blogging every week, have a facebook page and dabble in Twitter. I’m not as good at this as others, so I watch and learn and try to spend my time wisely. Many things are happening on behalf of BENT ROAD within the halls of the Dutton/Penguin offices. I only work with a handful of people and ask them to thank the folks I won’t ever meet through an email or phone call.

It’s a rainy Sunday morning in December when I find my first review. I’m googling myself and there it is. Kirkus—a starred review. I cause a thud when I jump out of bed. Husband comes running. I check again. And again. Yes, a starred review. Other reviews will follow—The Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, AP, People Magazine, St. Pete Times, The Sun Sentinel. I am working the concession stand at Son’s baseball game when I pick up another email from Ava. BENT ROAD launches in two weeks. Marilyn Stasio will be reviewing it for the New York Times, Ava writes. Why are you crying, Daughter asks as she makes change for the Gatorade she just sold. “It’s Marilyn Stasio,” I say. “It’s the New York Times.”

March 31, 2011

It’s publication day for BENT ROAD. I start my day being interviewed by the Tampa Tribune. Husband sends flowers. They’re waiting for me at the coffee shop where I meet the journalist. I spend the rest of the day at home. We’re under a severe weather warning. The windows are leaking. I stuff towels in the sills.

My first signing is well attended. We sell all but a few copies. There are more signings. I arrive thirty minutes early at each one. At my first reading, a photographer perches on the floor about three feet in front of me, and as I read, his camera goes click, click, click. Shoulders back, I tell myself. Chin high. Breathe. Don’t read too quickly. Click, click, click.

There will be more book events in the future. I have a few book festivals planned, a few more in the works. I’ll continue to blog and tweet and facebook. I’ll meet with my writing group and skype with my writing friends. I’ll continue to read great writers and study with great teachers. And now that I find myself with a book sitting on the shelves of many book stores, I am quite certain of the most important thing a writer can do after selling a book. Write the next book and when that is done, write the next.

Lori's website is Follow her on twitter: @Loriroyauthor.

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:


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:

Monday, May 9, 2011