Thursday, November 20, 2014

Finding an agent for your novel

James O. Born

So last week I started telling you about my path to finding an agent.  Most published authors took a similar path.  We’ll hear from some of them over the next few weeks.  But let me continue my story from last Thursday.  I won't even summarize.  If you missed it just scroll back on the blog a little bit.  As little as Paul posts, it should be just a few inches below this post.  (Sorry Paul, I just felt like throwing you under the bus.)  As I said, I was rejected time after time and it hurt on a number of levels.  Blah, blah, blah.  Most writers have the same story.  We try and try and try.  The difference is that some of us succeed and some of us just give up.  I won't tell you when it's time to give up.  That's a choice each of us has to make on our own.  And, frankly, today there are other options.  Self-publishing on Kindle is certainly an easier route.

I finally did give up on my first novel, and on the advice of one agent, who was intrigued by my stint working undercover on a case involving the Ku Klux Klan, suggested I write a novel related to those experiences.  Once again I set to work on a novel with everything I had.  Although this time I had learned a great deal about writing through trial and error on my first novel and I was finally able to attract more interest.  One agent suggested I use a professional editor he knew to help me improve the novel.  He felt it was close, but still needed work.

After doing my due diligence and ensuring it was not a scam, I hired the professional editor to see if he could offer some insights and make the novel good enough for publication.  After another year of hard work, and with the guidance of the editor, I resubmitted the novel to the agent who agreed to represent me.  That one little bit of acceptance more than made up for all of rejection I had experienced in the years prior.  Now I learned a whole new level of rejection as publisher after publisher turned down the project.  But at least I was getting it in front of actual New York editors.

During this long process, and it lasted at least a year, I started to work on what became my first published novel, Walking Money.  It was based on several experiences I have had in police work, but was still not a true story.  Not in any way, other than the setting and some of the interactions between police.  I can remember making notes on it after one of the Miami riots that our SWAT team was called out to help contain.  Suddenly, I had an idea for an entire story.  What would happen if someone stole a safety deposit box full of cash while every cop in the city is distracted by a major riot?

The only problem was that my new agent was not interested in a different novel if he couldn't sell the first one I had provided.  He wasn't exactly discouraging, he just said he, "Couldn't get into the new novel."  I was discouraged and just let it slide for quite some time.  Finally, sometime in 2003, I spoke to the editor who had help me with the previous novel.  He asked to see the new novel, Walking Money and I decided I had nothing to lose.  I was ready to give up, I should've given up, but for some reason I decided to send him the novel to look at.  At least by now e-mail provided a much more convenient method of delivering manuscripts.

This was probably the most important decision I've made in my publishing career.

Stay tuned next week for the conclusion of my personal odyssey.


  1. This story is as long as some of your novels. Keep it coming, now I'm hooked.

  2. I love this, James O. It's easy to look at successful authors and feel as if they somehow have had it easier than the rest of us. Your post just illustrates how tough it can be. We all have our stories.

  3. James O. Born11/20/2014 1:00 PM

    An aspiring writer once asked me if Elmore Leonard just got me an agent. I was offended and then realized no one understands how the business works. You've got to go out an attack the process armed with the best manuscript you can write. I remember telling Dutch I had an agent and then that we sold the novel. It was one of the most satisfying conversations of my life.

    This blog and the next one that concludes the story were fun to write.

    For the record, my shortest novel, Walking Money was 80,000 words and my longest, Field of Fire 112,000 words.

  4. When I signed with my first agent I asked her if she had agreed to represent me as a favor to the friend who recommended me. She laughed and said: I assure you an agent would never do that. We're not a charity organization. Ha!

  5. Hard work. Re-writing. Perseverance. Blood, sweat, tears. And then you're an overnight success.