Posted by: annemartinfletcher | November 10, 2009

Getting an Agent—Rules and Breaking Them

[This is the fifth article in my series on Getting a First Book Published]

Award-winning, multi-book  author and teacher Diana Abu-Jaber delighted conferees at the Janes’ Stories Press Foundation/ Florida Literary Arts Council “Other Words” Writing Conference this past November weekend.  Lucky me moderated our session on “Getting into Print II” and introduced Abu-Jaber as the conference’s featured speaker at the evening reading.  Our session  included a light-hearted exchange on how to find a literary agent.

I started off by outlining all the rules I have learned for approaching literary agents.  One of these “rules” is to target your query to an agent who represents the  types of books that you are writing.  I repeated advice that a fledgling author should make a list of fifty target agents.  “Don’t just turn to Jeff Herman’s guide to literary agents and write down the first fifty names,” I cautioned.  “Make sure that the agents you choose to query actually like and represent your type of book.  …Diana, can you tell us how you got your first agent?”

“Well,” Ms. Abu-Jaber smiled both sheepishly and mischievously.  “At the time, I was so new to writing that all I knew is a friend told me I had to get an agent.  I opened the directory of literary agents and saw a name that I thought sounded like the person would be really nice.  I mailed a collection of short stories to Eric Ashford just because I liked his name.”

Mr. Ashford wrote back that he loved Diana’s writing style, but that short stories are nearly impossible to sell.  He asked her to submit to him again when she had a novel.  Several years later, she contacted him with the manuscript for Arabian Jazz.  He sold the novel and the rest is history.  Mr. Ashford is now retired.

I could make the trite comment that Diana’s experience acquiring her first agent is the exception that proves the rule.  Instead, I will just add that luck–or in this case, intuition–and talent are still the best formula for success!

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