Thursday, December 13, 2012

Secret Agents: How I Solved the Mystery of Representation

By Erec Stebbins

Sometimes, it can feel like Mission Impossible.

My book was formatted on CreateSpace, and my Smashwords formatting was done.  I even had a hokey cover I put together with Photoshop.  

But I felt crushed.  The novel I had believed in and completed remained unread and unloved in the unbridgeable void between the lands of Literary Agents and Debut Authors.  One of the few to respond to my queries actually flamed me, going so far as to disparage the morals of my characters!  I took minimal solace in that I would at least get copies to my friends and family.  

This was two years ago, before the Great Ebook Explosion (GEE!) of 2012. Before Amanda Hocking. Before fifty lamp-shades of soft-porn. No agent meant No Hope. The nascent technology meant at least I didn't have to pay a vanity press.

Getting an agent these days may be debated more than it once was, but as in any complicated business, it is the rare bird that has the skills and time, the connections and savvy, to do it all by his or her one-sies. The ebook revolution is in fact leading to a diversification and proliferation of agents.  So, assuming you want one, what should you do?

I can only give you a single datum, my own aggressive, nerdy, and ultimately successful journey. I was totally green. I had zero connection to writers, publishers, or agents. I didn't know of ITW or AgentFest. I didn't know to look for them.  

I had begun this journey by following the antiquated protocols in guide-books for writers: look up agents that share your interests, follow their submission procedures to a "T" (not a "U" or a "V"), and mail them what they wanted with a SASE ("self addressed stamped envelope" for you of the digital-only generation: it's like email during high net traffic, only slower).  It felt like getting an audience with the Pope.  Petition, young padawan, then wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

When those petitions are either not returned or returned negative, rethink, retry, expand.  The guides were less clear at this stage what to do.  But the process recommended could be measured in geologic time.

After a year of this, I had had enough.  It wasn't working for me, and I'm someone who seeks to make things happen for him, not wait for them to happen to him (which can be good and bad).  

So, I decided to take the fight, or rather, the book, to the agents.  I wrote some scripts to grab emails from agency websites, online agent database webpages, writer message boards, etc. and compile them into a long list.  I got hundreds.  Soon, thousands.  

Many would have no interest or experience with my genre - I didn't care.  If 90% of the agents couldn't bother to respond to my query (that's a fact, ma'am), then I wouldn't bother to limit my queries.

I worked up the best letter I could, included sample chapters pasted at the end (whether they wanted that or not).  I sent thousands of emails out querying my global thriller to children's book agents, romance agents, non-fiction agents, cookbook author reps, you name it.  I even sent some to mystery-thriller agents!  It was a high-information-content, polite and polished carpet-bombing.

And it worked.

Over the course of the next year, several agencies asked for the manuscript.  One agency I likely would not have contacted via the Slow Tortoise Approach was especially keen on the book.  So, a big shout out to Sara and Stephen Camilli for believing as much as I did in The Ragnarök Conspiracy.

What's the moral of the story?  I have no idea.  I'm a scientist by day, and I know anecdotes are the stuff of pseudoscience.  I broke most of the rules and perhaps got lucky despite that. Adopt and adapt my ways at your own risk!

Or perhaps, the rules would have killed my embryonic writing career.  Perhaps, in the cold war like atmosphere of unknown authorhood, spying out the territory, employing the gadgets that you have, can lead to an espionage adventure where you can find those operatives that can open the doors that you need opened.

I actually believe that the moral is persistence, the route less important.  As Churchill emphasized, "Never give in — never, never, never, never!" 

If you hold to that, you'll find your path, and that secret agent.

Author bio
Erec Stebbins is a biomedical researcher in New York who writes political and international thrillers. His debut novel, The Ragnarök Conspiracy, was born of intense feelings and the conflicts engendered by the attacks of September 11. He is in the process of writing a series of thrillers that explore our uneasy bargain between security and liberty. 

Book synopsis of The Ragnarök Conspiracy

The Ragnarök Conspiracy a 2012 thriller by Erec Stebbins about a Western terrorist organization bent on instigating a global war to further its political goals.  A group of FBI and CIA agents work together to uncover and stop their plot.  The novel "turns the traditional terrorist thriller on its head" (Allan Leverone) and has been compared to "a Michael Bay movie written by Aaron Sorkin" (Chris Brookmyre).  The Library Journal encouraged readers to "Fortify your shelf of Armageddon thrillers with this promising newcomer."

Connect with Erec Stebbins

1 comment:

Angela Ackerman said...

Quite a journey, but the takeaway is to never give up. Woot!