If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a writer who has yet to sell a book to an established trade publisher (and quite probably suffered a number of rejections), in which case you have definitely come to the right website.
I am unique among agents in three ways: I opened my agency for the specific purpose of representing unknown first time writers; my background is different from all other agents; and the way I market a writer’s book has never been done by any other agent.
The vast majority of successful, well known agents started out as interns at a major New York publisher, worked their way up to assistant editor, then editor, and left to join a literary agency where many ended up forming their own agencies.
My background is in writing and marketing. My first novel AMERICAN BEAUTIES sold to Bantam and my second WINNERS AND LOSERS to Putnam/Jove, making the LA Times bestseller list its first week in print.
As a writer myself, I feel a special rapport with writers. I know what it’s like to write a book: how much work is involved, how many dreams rest on it, how your heart beats faster when you send out the query letter to agents, what it feels like when the rejections pour in.
Before turning to writing, I had a career in advertising with agencies in Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles where I served as VP Media Director for N.W. Ayer. In the early nineties I sold my house in Malibu and moved to La Jolla where I conducted weekly writer workshops and gave seminars at The Learning Annex. In l998 I opened my agency.
From the beginning, I sought out talented writers who had been rejected by every other agent they’d contacted because their mss desperately needed editing. In those early days, I did editing so extensive (every page from the first to the last) that other agents thought I was crazy. I never charged a penny for the work, either.
That’s the first thing that makes me unique. The second is the way I market. Most agents contact 8 to 10 editors and if all reject the book, the agent drops the book and the author. There are a few agents who keep fighting the good fight to 20, 30 or even 40 editors. I have sold many books after receiving 60, 75, 90, 127 and in two extreme cases 167 and 213 rejections. In those two cases, I kept fighting for their books for three years.
The third difference between myself and other agents is that I open my marketing to the writers. Most writers are left in the dark when an agent takes on their book. They may get a brief note or two about what house has been contacted but that’s about it..
I copy my writers on every pitch letter I send to an editor so they see both what I wrote about their book and who the editor and publisher are. Then I forward to them every response I receive back from these editors. During the marketing process, they see exactly what’s happening every day.
Like the majority of agents, I seek books in genres that appeal to me personally.
I am looking for scientists with groundbreaking books that are as engaging and entertaining as they are revelatory. New York publishers are hungry for these books and I’ve been enjoying great success in selling them. The author must have outstanding credentials along with, hopefully, media exposure. I sell these books on the basis of a proposal which makes life easy for the author and I send them sample proposals to use as a guide.
Of equal interest to me are nonfiction books in the areas of history, biography, politics, the military and current events, but the author must be an established authority on their particular subject. .
What is red hot these days are edgy, trendy, literary YA/Teen books. I am eagerly seeking gifted authors for these books. I recently sold one for $200,000. Of course that’s unusual but there is still very good money for these books.
My passion is great literary fiction for the adult market. Fiction by unknown authors is almost impossible to sell these days but if the novel is truly brilliant, it will sell if its agent is dedicated.
A recent example is TRAIN TO TRIESTE by Dominica Radulescu which I sweated to place for almost 3 years, suffering through 167 rejections. Out of the blue, Robin Desser at Knopf called me on a Saturday night to tell me she loved it! The following Monday she took it straight to Sonny Mehta and made a preemptive offer just under 6 figures in which I kept foreign rights. I then sold it in a heated UK auction to Doubleday, with HarperCollins the runner-up, and translation rights have been grabbed up by Italy, Germany, France, Holland, Serbia, Israel, Romania and Greece with current interest from Poland and Hungary. Audio rights have been sold for 5 figures. and there’s Hollywood interest.
I do not want any romance novels, science fiction, fantasy, inspirational, religious, paranormal, erotic. Actually, there are so many genres I don’t want that it’s better to say what I do want. The four above are the major ones. As a rule, I no longer take mysteries, thrillers or historical novels because publishers won’t buy them from unknown authors.
Personally, I don’t care for historical novels; yet one of the greatest novels I ever represented, one I was passionately in love with , was an historical novel ---MEMOIR OF A DWARF IN THE SUN KING’S COURT.
Also, I love mysteries and thrillers but I’ve found them just too hard to sell. It would have to be extraordinary for me to consider.
I have not mentioned memoirs here because publishers are basically only interested in ones by celebrities or famous public figures. They do not care about your life story.
However, there are exceptions and, in truth, I love memoirs that are not about celebrities or international figures. But they must be outstanding and the best way to explain what I mean about outstanding is to show you the opening pages of some I represent.
The author below had never written anything in her life before this memoir and is a housewife with no credentials of any kind. Making things even more impossible is that a memoir by a celebrity, a Playboy model, had recently sold a memoir about her autistic son. Based on that background, she had zero chance of ever getting an agent, much less a publisher. But the passion and power that leaped out of the opening pages sold me on her memoir and I then sold it.
“I see the backs of his legs kicking up in the air as he runs screeching through the empty hallway of the church. He stops and turns around. There is fear and terror in his eyes, like a wild animal being chased by a predator. He whips his head back and forth as he dashes down the narrow hall. His stubby, two-year old legs trip over one another, causing him to fall, and his head strikes the hard floor with such force that the sound echoes through the corridor. Then he springs to his feet and continues charging around the corner, oblivious to any pain. I finally catch up to him, scooping him up to cradle him in my arms. But he madly fights my grip with his adrenaline-packed strength and wriggles free, bursting around the corner and easily outrunning me in my dress and high heels.
Approaching a young man standing against the wall with his hands jammed in his pockets, my son Clay grabs the stranger’s pant legs and yanks with desperation. He looks up at him and screams as if to say, “Help me.” The man stares at the small boy in confusion while Clay beats on his legs. Finally, he bends down and gathers him into his arms. Clay burrows his head into his shoulder.
I meet up with them, my chest heaving, bending down with outstretched arms. “Clay, come with me. Come on…come to Mom.”
He looks at me, but his eyes seem to look right through me. The blood pumps in my chest. Questions hammer my mind as loud and hard as the rhythm of my heartbeat. I try to make sense of what is happening. A two-year old clings to his mother, not some stranger. I don’t understand. Why is he running from me? Why is he so out-of-control? And why doesn’t he call me Mom anymore? He acts like he doesn’t even know who I am.
I pry his digging fingers from the man’s shoulders and unwrap his arms and legs, embracing him in a firm grasp so he can’t escape. “I’m sorry,” I mutter to the man, then leave the church and scurry through the parking lot, my toddler clenched tightly to my chest. The sides of the earth fold in on me with unbearable pressure. I swipe my forehead on my sleeve to absorb the damp sweat beads. Those nagging feelings…they are becoming stronger, louder…steadily pulsating.
There is something terribly wrong with my son.”
The following was written by a 15 year old girl.
Being homeless wasn’t about not having a roof over my head, or not having a bed. It was about being thrown away by my family, about not having a place in society. The living, scraping by, sleeping on the hard, sometimes wet ground, not eating enough was uncomfortable and frustrating, but that’s not the worst part about not having a fixed home. You realize how un-necessary you are, how expendable and in-the-way you are. As a vagabond you are not only below the lowest class in society, but a burden to the rest of the country. It feels like if you were to die tomorrow, it wouldn’t even matter that you were alive today. So you fight. Fight to live, fight to matter, fight to care.
This memoir was written by a teenager who enlisted in the army at age l7 and was deployed to Iraq.
Only after we have been completely destroyed can we begin to find ourselves.
They took your clothes and gave you camouflage. To hide you. To hide who you are, who you were. They took your hair. All of you, convicts in camouflage green jumpsuits. They took your designer shoes. They gave you combat boots (to be shined every night, private). They took your sunglasses. And your frayed baseball cap. They took your half a pack of chewing gum. And the television, the recliner, the coffee maker, your CD player, the deck of cards, your cell phone, the beer, the lunch mommy packed you.
You are not one. You are no one.
They took it all. They stripped you of every luxury, everything you’ve ever convinced yourself to be a necessity. They took who you were and flattened it, everything you thought you knew about it. They took it away and only left you with the skin on your back, with the hair on your chinny-chin-chin. Then they gave you a razor blade and told you to shave it.
Even in the shower, a place where there were at least tattoos and scars and birthmarks, everyone wore the same shower shoes. Black flip flops. Black like combat boots. Black like the sports car you no longer drove.
Friends back home were sitting in college classrooms. They were reading textbooks in the library, getting drunk in their dorm rooms. This was their big life experience. This was their heroic quest into adulthood. They were “finding themselves”. They washed down cold pizza with Coors Light. They explored the glories of sexual “maturity”. They waited tables at Applebees trying to make an extra buck, delivered pizzas for Dominoes, “worked through college” like their parents weren’t paying for it. This was their big life experience.
I’d like to see them live without their name-brand khakis. Or the trendy pajama pants with hot pink, arrogant words, like SEXY and SPOILED, written on the ass. I’d like to see them work for something other than an extra buck. I’d like to see them live outside of their push-button lives; their microwaved Ramen noodle lives; their beer pong and Jell-o shot, working through college, roughing-it-with-the-‘93-Escort-until-I-graduate-and-save-enough-money-for-a-new-car lives. For one minute, I’d like to see them take all that big life experience and give it up.
Just let go.
Get all the hair cut off their head like dogs at the pound. Sit in a chair and watch in the mirror as their identities float to the ground. Watch as the barber sweeps it up, puts it in the trash. Right where it fucking belongs. The hair of a hundred other recruits, a hundred other identities, mixing and blending until it’s all the same.
We’re all the same.
Sacrifice. And I don’t mean wait fucking tables. Really sacrifice. Your time, yourself, your future. And don’t bitch. I don’t care that a party of six just stiffed you on their $113 bill. You probably deserved it. And even if you didn’t, I don’t care. And don’t think for a minute you can step out the back door, next to the dishwasher, and “take five”. Have a cigarette and complain to your co-workers like they a give a shit. I don’t. There are no cigarettes or “taking five” in basic training.
And not because the Army sucks. It’s not because we’re weak minded and fall easily into taking orders. It’s not because we’re tough and “Hooah, Hooah” and all that clichéd bullshit. It’s because taking five in a combat zone can get you fucking killed. End your miserable little existence like you end your cigarettes. Push you, crush you, in an ashtray and smother your face until your head cracks open. Brown leaves and ash.
That’s all we are.
We’re all the same.
This is basic combat training. Basic training for war. For 2003, fuckin’-A desert, urban warfare. The new age combat. You’re here, man, and you are no different than any other rotting piece of compost in army fatigues. Brown leaves and ash. Suck it up, sally, and quit complaining. Mommy ain’t here. We don’t believe in pity, because your enemies don’t believe in pity.
If you meant that oath, you’ll tough it out. You’ll be tired and hungry and you’ll smell like a foot. But guess what, cupcake, that oath is your fucking life now. Literally, figuratively, every kind of -ly you can think of. Honor it. Sacrifice your freedom to find out what freedom means. Then you’ll see why it’s worth fighting for.
Give me that hair.
Give me those shoes.
Give me your cell phone you can’t live without.
Give me your I-pod and that laptop computer.
Your sovereignty and your independence.
It’s mine now.
Only after we have been completely destroyed can we begin to find ourselves.
Look around and think of how much this all means to you. This ground, this place you call a home. This space and time given to you for free. These people you call countrymen. These people who will ask you why you joined the army in a time of war like you’re fuckin’ bat-shit crazy. Like you’re a fucking clown in a circus, like your sacrifices mean precisely jack shit.
Smell the way it feels to lose it all, to lose your free will. The drill sergeants will tell you when to train, when to push, and when to pull. When to laugh (never) and when to cry (don’t even think about it). They will tell you how to walk and how to talk, how to sit and how to eat and when to shower and when to shit.
You want to say something? You better stand at the position of attention and request permission to speak, princess. And hope he doesn’t rip your bloody head off for taking time out of his busy day.
The opposite of freedom. Duty is your freedom now, hero. What’s it smell like?
Smell how much it hurts. Smell how willing you’ve become to sacrifice for it. Godforsaken, selfless, nothing-matters-less-than-my-well-being sacrifice. “I serve the country” is tattooed right across your fucking forehead. Right across your bleeding gums. Every time you smile or snarl. You show them. College textbooks and wet t-shirts? This is carbine rifles and mud sodden fatigues. The all warrior circus. You’re a snarling clown with spiked teeth and bleeding gums. You smell like rotten war paint. You smell like…
So your countrymen can continue to live free. People who can’t even begin to realize how lucky they are to have been born here. It’s all for them. Sacrifice so they can bask in the freedom you don’t have.
It smells like basic combat training.
The following was written by a Catholic Priest
When I first met Anne Francis she was a young nun doing her thesis, in Ireland. She was very beautiful, but since I was a priest --and still, really, a Catholic boy-- I did not want to have much to do with her, because as any Catholic boy knew, you should not get too close to beautiful nuns
She was working on a story, a very Irish one, in which a young widow is to bury her husband, the old Weaver, who has just died. The girl does not know where to bury him, for he has the right to be buried in an ancient grave-yard called The Meadow of the Dead, but no one can remember, no one knows where to bury the Weaver.
You can speculate on what the Weaver stands for; perhaps she is burying the Past. But there are also two handsome young grave-diggers, waiting, as she makes up her mind. They are twins, who look exactly the same, yet one, somehow, is different. There is a custom in old Ireland, that when a person is borne down by unassailable grief, someone takes them by the arm, and steps with them across the mouth of the open grave. We are not surprised at the end, after the proper place to put the Weaver has been found, that it is one of the two grave-diggers who takes her by the arm, and steps with her, across the mouth of the open grave.
I tried to help her, this beautiful young nun. We both looked at the story. We did not know it, but we might just as well have had in front of us the story of our own lives.
I did not need to be told about the Meadow of the Dead. Ireland for me was The Land of Loneliness, and as for grave-diggers, you might truthfully say that, until I met her, what I was engaged in was busily digging my own grave.
And as far as that part about the twins goes, well, all men look alike, really. It is on the inside that we differ. In order to love somebody, you have to discover what is inside yourself, first; you must learn to love yourself before you can love someone else. The reason that she does not appear early in this story is simply because I had to spend a long time finding myself, first, before I could discover her.
Today we see priests in court, we see their faces looking up as they wait to be sentenced for molesting altar boys. It is not unknown for priests to be murdered in jail by other inmates, who wait to kill them. Bishops, wearing gold crosses on purple vests, are toppled from their thrones, after years of cover-up. The people see their parish church shuttered, and closed down.
It is almost impossible for anyone now to conceive of a world long ago in which bright boys studied Latin to become priests, made a gift to God of their young years, and forced themselves to look the other way when they saw pretty girls, while the girls, in that same world, often the most beautiful ones, were on the way to disappearing behind a black veil. It was a lot to give up.
This is the story of my journey out of that world of childhood; the journey from what I grew up believing to what I believe now. Perhaps life is all a journey out of childhood, for all of us, and we will be leaving childhood for as long as we live.
Agents are inundated with travel memoirs with 99.9% of them rejected by publishers. This author presented something very special and her book JAPANLAND was won at auction.
I turned 21 in the Peace Corps, on a remote island in the Philippines. I was celebrating a rather forlorn birthday in my squatter’s village when a card arrived. It was from my brother. The picture on the front showed a young woman laboring up a mountain to reach an unshaven guru sitting on its pointy top. My brother had blacked out the caption and written in his own. “Still looking for the meaning of life, huh?” It was an annoyingly perceptive comment from a guy who knew from the age of thirteen that was going to be CEO of a biotech company. My career history looked more like the scurrying tracks of a plover being chased by the waves at high-tide.
After the Peace Corps I donned a gray suit and joined a consulting firm, then eventually started my own company. I got engaged. I filled our apartment with African violets and coffee table books of exotic cultures in unreachable places. We broke up. I sold my company. I put on my backpack, mothballed the suits, and left. For the next eight years I traveled the world with a video camera, looking for the meaning of life. In a Quechua hut somewhere on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Among the Vietnamese Sea Gypsies anchored in forgotten caves on Halong Bay. In the intricate Hindu battle scenes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Eventually I found myself living in a hotel-like warren of twelve hundred identical apartments in Washington DC and casually dating a divorce lawyer who was casually dating at least three other women. Several nights a week I worked out at the local judo club. I had finally made it to that proverbial mountaintop – I had authored two books and was post-producing a documentary series I’d shot in South America for National Geographic. And I was miserable. The politics, the tiny cubicles bathed in fluorescent light, the eight-year wait for a coveted underground parking spot all made me question if this was really where I wanted to be. And yet – I’d already blown through a half dozen careers, tried virtually every sport from ballroom dancing to paragliding, learned six languages and forgotten three, and dabbled in almost every art from flower arranging to improvisational theatre. I approached relationships the same way I did a midwinter swim in an icy fjord – great expectations, wholehearted plunge, determined misery, and exit screaming. I knew if there was a problem, it wasn’t the system. It was me.
But there was one thing in my life that I had stuck with -- judo. I’d taken it up as soon after I returned from the Peace Corps and studied it doggedly through the next twelve years. It had lasted longer than any boyfriend, longer than all of my New Year’s resolution. Judo didn’t come easily to me. It cost me years of hard, grueling practice, and frustration the likes of which I’d never felt before. I quit more times than I could count. Sometimes for a month. Sometimes a week, or even just the length of a single round while I sat on the sidelines and blinked back tears at the thought of stepping back onto the mat. It wasn’t the brief moments of success that convinced me to try again. It was something… else. The discipline. The patience – something I sorely lacked. Most of my instructors were Japanese, and they imbued in their teachings a sense of utter dedication to perfecting a profoundly difficult art. They seemed to infuse the most routine tasks with an almost ethereal calm and inner strength. Their judo, it seemed, came as much from their culture as it did from their training. You couldn’t truly master the sport until you had mastered the philosophy behind it.
And so I began to study the traditions and culture of Japan. The spiritual peace the Japanese seemed to find in simple objects and the contemplation of nature. Their willingness to sacrifice their own needs for the common good. It was utterly alien to me, and I was fascinated. What could induce a monk to spend seven hours a day staring at a wall, year after year? Or a geisha, who spent a lifetime learning the elegance of a single gesture serving tea.
Focus. Harmony. Wa. I wasn’t even sure exactly what wa was, but I wanted some. There was a catch. These were not concepts that you could get by cracking open a fortune cookie. You had to study them, to dedicate yourself heart and soul to the process. You had to close off all exits, seal the back doors. You couldn’t just take a class and then get home in time to catch your favorite sitcom. You had to go to Japan, immerse yourself in the country. You had to become Japanese. It would take at least a year, maybe more. And it would come at considerable cost. I had spent most of the past decade working my way to the top – could I afford to throw it all away on another quest to discover the meaning of life? I was thirty-six and starting to think about settling down and maybe even having a family. My body wasn’t too happy about the idea, either. It didn’t bounce off the mats quite as well as it had when I was twenty-five. After a hard workout I’d wake up stiff and shuffling, and injuries weren’t healing the way they used to. And Japan wasn’t known for either soft mats or soft instructors.
Examined in the light of day, the idea seemed…well, insane. So I ran it by a few people in an offhand way, ready to distance myself from it at the first sign of scoffing.
A lifelong friend – a man who had lived in Japan for 28 years, married a Japanese woman and raised three children there – didn’t mince any words.
“The only way you’ll ever become a part of the culture,” he told me, “is if you were born in a Japanese village to Japanese parents”.
My old Asian studies professor was somewhat more optimistic. “No problem,” he said. “Just study Japanese etiquette for the next thirty years, speak through a ventriloquist, and wear a paper bag over your head.”
“You?” scoffed an old hand gliding buddy who knew me all too well. “Ha!”
I finally had coffee with an art collector who had spent thirty years studying antique woodblock cuttings and building his dream house on a remote island in the Japanese Inland Sea. He heard me out, then sat in silence for a few minutes. “What does everyone else say?” he asked.
Not optimistic, I conceded.
“But you’re going to do it anyway?
“Then,” he said slowly, “you are not Japanese.”