Monday, April 22, 2013

NINJA STUFF: How I Met my Agent (Part Two)

THIS WEEK IN NINJA-ING: Things are going to be slowing down a bit from here on out. I'm taking a short break from Book of the Week reviews, which means I'm also taking a break from author interviews. Why?

I've got a great idea for a new book and it's time for me to roll up my sleeves  And I've only got until the end of the year to finish it as that's when a little ninja is due to enter our lives (more to follow, I'm sure). This month we're moving and I've got a conference to attend all while taking on new responsibilities at my day job.

My priorities are shifting a bit, but don't you worry, Esteemed Reader. I'll still be here and I've still got some great interviews to share. We're just going to have to value quality over quantity and do more with fewer posts:)

Wednesday we're discussing Chapter 10 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Thursday we'll be joined by a surprise literary agent

Last time on Ninja Stuff: I revealed my literary agent is none other than Dr. Uwe Stender after he revealed it two weeks before in his guest post:) And I discussed what makes our "marriage" a great professional relationship in hopes of helping you think of who you might want to be your agent, Esteemed Reader.

And now, the thrilling conclusion...

Marriage is an extremely odd metaphor for the relationship between I and Dr. Uwe Stender. But as I said last week, marriage is the most commonly used metaphor for the writer/agent relationship and it's not entirely off base.

Today I'm going to tell you how I met my agent and the only similar experience to compare it to I can think of is meeting Mrs. Ninja. And after all, as I've entrusted Uwe with the submission of my writing, the only person I trust with a bigger piece of my heart is my wife. 

And make no mistake: I write with my whole heart. Every time a manuscript of mine goes on submission, it's like sending a child into the world, and Uwe is the only one I trust with the care of my heart's children.

The Ninja loves the ladies and I also like literary agents--that's why I continue to interview them every week even though I've already got my dream agent. I want you to find your dream agent, Esteemed Reader, because it's so awesome. These days the Ninja frequently stays home on a Friday night and plays 3DS instead of heading out to the clubs to meet the ladies and I write only one query for my newest manuscript, but it wasn't always the case. I used to be like all you loveless singles out there:)

Most of the advice I would give to a writer seeking literary representation is the same sort of advice I would give to someone seeking a marriage partner. You aren't going to find a partner playing 3DS at home (that comes later). You have to get out there, and the same is true for finding a literary agent. You can learn a lot about agents online through sites like this one, and even better yet, Literary Rambles. But ideally, you want to meet agents in person.

Don't tell me you can't. The Ninja lives in Nowhere, Indiana, and next month I'll be attending a conference with our old friends Linda Pratt and Kathi Apelt (I'll be writing more about it soon enough). I met Joanna Volpe at a conference here in Nowhere, Indiana years ago when she'd just become an agent and I'd just started this blog and we've been friends since (and she's given me some invaluable advice). Mary Kole has discussed my manuscript with me in person here in Nowhere, Indiana, as have Suzie Townsend and Amy Boggs

A good portion of the interviews I've amassed here are the result of meeting people at conferences. If you take nothing else from this post, take this: get out of your writing area and meet others. Agents and writers go to these conferences to meet other writers--be one of those writers they meet. And don't be this guy.

Uwe Stender was not the first or the only agent to offer me representation. I'm no Roald Dahl, however much I may want to be, but I've been at my craft for years and I've worked hard to create sell-able manuscripts. Put in your time, Esteemed Reader, learn your craft, and you'll get there, probably faster than I did. 

Fight through the initial bumps and eventually the "Dear Author" rejections become personal notes, some even offering revision suggestions (gold). I nearly cried when I got a personal note from an editor at Esquire telling me "I loved your story, but it's far too dirty for us." I didn't always write Middle Grade:)

Before I met Mrs. Ninja, I kissed some other girls (shocking, I know), and I proposed marriage to another (one of Mrs. Ninja's favorite stories). That lady went on to live a life very, very different than mine and I'm grateful every time I have occasion to think of her (not often) that we broke it off because I hadn't met Mrs Ninja. I didn't even know what love was until I met the right one. The first time Mrs. Ninja and I went out together, we didn't want to separate because when it's right, you can feel that rightness as an invisible force like gravity or magnetism. 

There was an agent I nearly signed with I've since come to be glad I didn't. The publishing world is a very small place and stories travel. Another agent seemed like the perfect fit as her stated "ideal story" was more or less my manuscript and I was certain we were meant to be... until I read lengthy articles she'd written on her love of my life-long enemy, Ayn Rand (Nooooo!!!!! Damn you, Rand!!!!). 

I met Uwe Stender at the Midwest Writer's Conference. It's by far one of my favorite memories because a lot of great stuff happened that weekend, like me hanging out with Marcus Sakey and Candace Fleming, two very awesome writers. The first night of the conference, during a meet-the-professionals session, I spotted Uwe Stender sitting alone at a table. It never ceases to amaze me how timid so many writers are and I never understand why so many come to conferences and then spend the weekend talking to the people they came with--why not just stay home and save money?

So I sat with Uwe. At the time, he wasn't looking for middle grade or young adult, and he told me that, so I relaxed. He was a rejection before I queried, but I still wanted to get him to face the 7 Questions. He showed me his email inbox and the queries he received--even rejecting a couple as we were talking! I learned more about the publishing world in that one conversation than I'd ever learned by reading books or blogs. And because I wasn't using my questions as a segue to my manuscript (don't act like you haven't done it), I was able to have an honest conversation.

Uwe and I laughed a lot and when I went home that night I remember telling Mrs. Ninja it was too bad that nice guy Uwe Stender wasn't looking for middle grade as he was my favorite person at the conference. Over the next two days of the conference I sat in on Uwe's sessions and talked with him more, never about me so much as about books and publishing. But I was focused on chatting with the agents looking for middle grade. I even remember being annoyed when he came over to talk with me as I was chatting up another agent and ham-handedly segueing to my brilliant writing. I think you call that book block:)

At the end of the conference, Uwe and I shook hands and I told him I hoped I'd see him at another conference because I just wanted to be his friend. He's a cool dude and refreshingly honest and direct. He told me to go ahead and send him a query and I figured "why not?" I got my interview for the blog and moved on to seeking other agents.

A short time later I got the rejection I anticipated, but you should always, always read the entire rejection. Uwe had written how much he liked the book, but wanted some important revisions I later made. At the end of his rejection, Uwe asked if I had any other projects, which I took to be a huge compliment. And Esteemed Reader, I always have other projects so I sent him one. 

In the meantime, the local economy tanked and the company I worked for decided to start firing employees for trumped up reasons rather than holding an honest lay-off. I watched all my friends get fired and then they came for me. The very day I had to come home and tell Mrs. Ninja I was going to have to quit to avoid being fired, I had an email from Uwe I nearly deleted without reading as I was in no mood for a rejection.

I so admire hard-line thinking like that of Richard Dawkins, Esteemed Reader, but I've seen too many strange signs and wonders in this short life of mine not to believe in something greater lurking behind the veil. Sooner or later I'll tell you about the others, but Uwe's email that day and phone call the next day helped me maintain sanity and gave me my biggest win when I most needed it. 

Uwe was more excited about my writing than I was at the time and our conversation the afternoon after the morning I'd left my office with a box of my personal belongings was surreal. Imagine, if you will, the deepest, most German voice ever saying to you "I love your story about the little girl. It made me cry." I had to put the phone down briefly to laugh. 

I've had other people say nice things about my writing before (it keeps me going), but I'd never heard someone so enthusiastic and excited about it. Uwe convinced me I would never find a greater ally for my work. More, I felt another version of that invisible "force of rightness" I don't feel often, but never ignore when I do (I seriously need to monitor my flakiness before I end up with magic crystals and chicken's blood in my writing area), and I made my decision to break off talks with other agents and sign with Uwe. 

How I wish I could tell you I signed with my agent and lived happily ever after, but it doesn't work like that. Having an agent doesn't stop editors rejecting you. But having Uwe in my corner has got me some amazing opportunities. And after a particularly close call, Uwe was more upset then I was and I felt I had to cheer him up:) Keep an eye on this blog, Esteemed Reader. Sooner or later you'll see a link appear to where you can buy my book. I believe that because Uwe Stender believes it and I believe in Uwe Stender.

And that's where we'll leave it. I hope you dug this story and maybe even found it useful. If not, I'll have another literary agent here for you on Thursday:)


  1. This is a moving tribute to your agent. Sigh. I hope to find my perfect match someday too. I'll be heading to my first out-of-region conference next month when I go to the Backspace Writers Conference in NYC. I'm looking forward to it, and since I don't know anyone who's going, I'll have to mingle if I want to talk to anybody.

    1. Thanks Kim. Best of luck at the conference. Going alone is the best as it forces you to put yourself out there. I'll never understand writers who pay money to go talk to the people they came with--they could've stayed home and talked for free:)

  2. Awesome that you've been able to meet a lot of agents at conferences. We don't have many come to Michigan conferences.

    Loved the story on how you got your agent. It was very inspiring. And can't wait to hear more news about little ninja. So excited for you!

  3. I envy you all. We don't have conferences in India, actually we don't even have agents, we have to approach publishing houses directly. Loved your story about how you got your agent. A dream come true.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.