The Highly Unlikely Way I Acquired a Literary Agent by David Oppegaard @DavidOppegaard

I met David Oppegaard at the MN Writers Workshop where he shared a super interesting story about how he landed his literary agent several years back. I thought it would be a good, encouraging piece to share for those who feel like giving up. He’s a pretty cool guy with stuff to say, plus Stan Lee endorsed one of his books.

Okay, I always begin this story with a cautionary note-this is indeed how I came to acquire my literary agent, and it’s an interesting story, but nobody should ever take this as direct advice on how to go about acquiring an agent of their own. This story is more of a publishing curio than anything directly instructional.

So. Back around 2003, I started sending out query letters—they were mostly still letters back then, not website forms or emails—to a slew of literary agents, seeking representation for a novel called Knocking Over the Fishbowl. I did some research, wrote a short but sweet query letter, and sent out forty queries in one massive mailing barrage. Then I sat back and watched the “no thank you” form letters roll in, one after the other, until (I thought) I’d gotten all forty of them back.

But then…I received an email one day via my Hotmail account. It was from an agent named Jonathan Lyons at Curtis Brown, Ltd., in New York City. I’d sent a query letter to his predecessor, apparently, who was no longer with Curtis Brown, but Jonathan had read it and was actually interested in reading a sample of the novel (yes, I’d been picked off a query letter slush pile, amazing piece of good luck #1 in this story). Overjoyed, I quickly sent of a three chapter sample to Jonathan.

A few months later, Jonathan contacted me again and said he wanted to read the whole novel. So I sent him the novel, all a-tingle with expectation as I worked at my day job and went to grad school at night. A few additional months later, Jonathan wrote to say he really liked the book, but wasn’t totally in love with it, and couldn’t represent a work he wasn’t totally passionate about. Crushed, I said thank you for your consideration and soldiered on, querying a new batch of agents.

Cut to the following summer, where I attended a week-long writing workshop through my MFA program and received some very helpful editing notes on Fishbowl from the program’s director, Mary Rockcastle, who read my book as a personal side favor (amazing piece of good luck #2). I took her notes to heart and rewrote the novel entirely, improving it a good deal.

Eventually I got close to signing with a different agent, who pulled out at the last second for reasons I didn’t understand. Crushed anew, I thought back to Jonathan at Curtis Brown and how kind his notes on the book had been. Still a naïve publishing newbie, and more than a little desperate, I wrote him a new email stating that I’d rewritten Fishbowl with help from professional writers and asked if he’d be willing to read it again. Jonathan, to my amazement, said yes.

Let that sink in a moment.

A busy literary agent agreed to reread a novel he’d already turned down (amazing piece of good luck #3). This is not the kind of event that happens every day, if ever. This is the sort of luck you want on your side if you’re out walking in a lightning storm, or headed to the casino.

And, on top of this stunning luck, Jonathan loved the rewrite (!) and agreed to take me on as a client. That was back in 2004 and we’ve worked together ever since, even though Fishbowl never sold (our first sale wasn’t until my fifth novel, The Suicide Collectors, which itself made the rounds of some fifty some editors over the course of a year before finally selling to St. Martin’s Press).

Like I said earlier, this story is more of a curio than advice I’d give to anyone seeking representation in 2018. Jonathan’s generosity toward me really was beyond any reasonable expectation. If there’s any tangible takeaways from my story, I’d point out that I remained professional throughout our prolonged email conversation, kept writing and rewriting while I waited for the various replies, and showed a little gumption. You really never do know what will happen if you keep putting yourself out there, again and again.

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Will I Lose my Reviews If I Self Publish After Getting my Rights Back?

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The contract for one of my traditionally published books is coming due in a little over two months. This is a scenario that comes up often but we rarely think about… what happens when my publishing contract expires? As a strategist (according to my personality profile) it makes sense that I’d want to be prepared for what comes next.

Authors typically have four choices in this scenario.

  1. Unpublish the book and let it go out of print. This is a terrible option, unless the book was awful and you want to forget it ever happened and leave the writing world behind.
  2. Renew your contract with the publisher. This assumes you would like that option and also that they’d want to keep your book active. That is not always the case for a variety of different reasons. If you choose this option, you may or may not be able to renegotiate for a better deal (or they may ask for concessions as well.)
  3. Switch to a new publisher. It never hurts to shop around, I suppose. A new publishing house might be what you need for increased success or market presence. This may sound easy, but if your book did not have a strong performance or if you haven’t done anything to grow your platform and improve your books appeal since launching with the previous publisher it may be hard any that are willing to republish.
  4. Self/Indie Publish. This is the option I want to talk about today. Basically, you are following the regular Indie path with the book at this point.

Since my book has a decent number of positive reviews and a pretty good rank I would hate to lose that all. Reviews are absolutely necessary to moving a book and discovery by readers. In fact, I’ve worked my rear off and invested cash money in advertising, giveaways, and author events just so I could my book out there and garner those reviews so that it will help snowball future sales and reviews. It would be heart-wrenching to lose all of that.

I contacted customer service at Createspace to ask about the process. They assured me that after creating the new title in their system as a self-published author, he or she can contact them and make a request to link the previous version with the new one.

“[We can] link the Amazon detail pages provided that you do not change the content, title name or the author. When we link the Amazon detail pages those reviews would then be displayed for the book published with us meaning you don’t have to lose the old reviews.”

That’s great news and makes option #4 pretty appealing to anyone who wants to keep their book alive and available (even if you are going dark for an extended period of time—it at least keeps the title available to the public.) It also means that your publisher cannot hold your reviews hostage, meaning they can’t threaten you with the insinuation that you will lose all your hard-earned reviews if you don’t choose to continue publishing with them; this may be a tactic of the more shady/scammy publishers (and there are many out there,) whose model is meant to profit from the author rather than the sale of books in distribution… for them, author retention is key since they primarily make money from the writers and fewer writes=fewer sources of revenue. One other thing it helps is for when writers discover their publisher went out of business. This does happen from time to time and usually means option #3 is virtually impossible unless they granted some sort of legal release to the authors. With the publisher defunct, you can still self-publish the title and link the old and new version to retain your market presence and customer base.

Follow this blog and check out next week’s article where I’ll talk about other aspects of shifting a book from a publishing house to an Indie title.

Review: The Wizards of Central Park West

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Arjay Lewis’s new urban fantasy hits all the marks for the genre.

Lewis’s story of wizards disguised as homeless people of New York centers mostly around Central Park which may be hiding more secrets than anyone in the real world understands.  Police detective Eddie Berman is working a murder case and winds up with a staff made of magical wood tracing back to Eden. Continue reading Review: The Wizards of Central Park West

State of Writing

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I did it… all caught up from last week. So far, Hoods of the Red Order is at about 18,000 words with 8 completed chapters after 4 weeks of writing.

Those numbers feel slow for me. Then again, I’m intentionally writing at this pace (plus i know that I tend to speed up in the last quarter of a book.) I should be about half done after next week, shooting for 40,000 words on each rough draft which will probably expand up to 50k during revisions and addition of a prologue and epilogue that ties into one larger story that intertwines with the final book. Work has also felt busy with lots of new stuff going on, plus we’ve been hammered with 4 blizzards in the last several weeks and I’ve had lots of funerals recently, so if it would stop snowing and if people would stop dieing, that’d be swell.

Two more chapters for the upcoming week would make me happy. I think I might slow down my pace for the year, too… I could do 5-6 books this year, but I’ve had so many great short fiction ideas, I might take some time to work on a few of those in between this massive story arc.

Important Questions to Answer Before Pubishing

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A while back I published an article the 13 Point Roadmap to Becoming an Indie which is not necessarily the perfect place to begin. The first question writers ask should be “do I want to go the traditional route (major publishing house requiring agented submissions,) or will I entertain/or only pursue an Indie route?” If the answer if the latter, then the 13 point roadmap is the path once you’re ready to begin the journey. The former is a completely different pit of misery (dilly dilly,) and much has been written about it (in a nutshell, you need an agent in order to query publishers and those agents have their own submissions process. Be prepared to hear “no” and get countless form rejections. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times and Gone With the Wind was almost twice that… and the traditional publishing world has only gotten more difficult to break into in the 75+years since those.) Continue reading Important Questions to Answer Before Pubishing

Review: Snow City

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I really want to like Snow City by G.A. Kathryns, but had a few problems with it that kept me from fully engaging. There are bright spots, but also some murk that overshadowed  them. I apologize if this review sounds overly harsh, it’s not intended as a hit piece, but shed light on some of the errors we can make as authors if we haven’t dialed in our focus. Continue reading Review: Snow City

State of Writing

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I didn’t quite hit my two chapter mark this last week, but my weekend had something to do with that. It was St. Patricks day which is a pretty busy weekend for bagpipers. I drove through four states and piped in two of em, staying very busy… plus my job during the week.

Still, I managed to get almost my two chapters this week (plus sketch out rough notes on a novella and rough in an outline for a future nonfiction book.) I should make up for it this week and get in my two chapters plus the thousand words or so still to go from last week.

Evolution and the Changing Nature of Indie Publishing

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One reason that I encourage people to follow my blog, along with those of other, active writers, is because of how much and how frequently the publishing world changes. Case in point: Createspace and Kindle. In the last 6 months or so, significant changes have happened with more potentially on the way… Continue reading Evolution and the Changing Nature of Indie Publishing

Review: Looking for Dei

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David A. Willson’s Looking For Dei is a wonderful new YA novel.  It is listed under YA Fantasy and Urban Fantasy… I’m not sure that it quite fits either of those molds. It also isn’t quite an apocalyptic dystopia, but there are minor elements of all those genres, making modern teen readers feel right at home with the themes.

The story follows a few different POVs but mainly focuses on Nara and Mykel; Nara has a mysterious heritage and Mykel, her friend can empathize with her because of a birth defect. Looking for Dei evoked the same kinds of feeling that I get when watching the televised Shanara Chronicles. For the most part it’s good, but it’s also sometimes soooo YA slanted. But like I said: good. The story also evokes some themes of Madeleine L’Engle that I enjoy (themes of good vs evil and some very positive tropes that border on allegory in many respects.) Continue reading Review: Looking for Dei