Thursday, March 05, 2015

Your First Agent and Sale

James O. Born

Let's spend a couple of posts talking about what it felt like to land your first agent or book sale. I sent out a request to a few friends, and of course the beautiful Patty Smiley trumped us all by not only having a great story, but a photograph from the exact moment she found out she had sold her first book. Since her detail and visual aid would make the rest of us look bad, I'm saving her story for later.

Like most unpublished authors, I waded through a pile of literary agent rejections before I finally landed one. My very first agent, not the one who sold Walking Money, but one who is interested in an earlier novel, was Clyde Taylor at the Curtis Brown literary agency. He was a great guy who I only met in person once. But it was still quite a thrill to have someone interested after so many had shot me down. He was very patient and worked with me for almost a year to get the novel where he wanted it.

I was with some friends in New York City attending one of the many New York Yankees World Series games in the 90s. I hadn't told anyone that I was writing and had no excuse for seeing a literary agent while we were all in Manhattan. After a typical late-night of heavy drinking and a restless night of sleep, I got up hours before any of my friends and traveled to the Curtis Brown offices at the obscenely early hour of nine o'clock. Clyde explained to me the process and the risk of failure over the course of the next hour. It was not deflating in the least. In my mind, at least I had finally made it to a literary agent's office.

Unfortunately, Clyde passed away in 2001.  He was a great guy and a good way to get introduced to the publishing business.

A few years after that an agent called me and was interested in representing Walking Money. From the time of his call to the news that he had sold the novel as part of a two book deal to Neil Nyren at Putnam only about a week had passed. The agent called me at my office, which at the time was in Fort Lauderdale. I can still remember the tremor of excitement in his voice and the wave of relief and joy that I had not wasted the past decade. I couldn't believe it. It took several days to really sink in.

Being ever practical and cautious, I waited to make sure it was a done deal before I told anyone. Even my wife. Her reaction was even better than mine. In a blink of an eye I felt validated and satisfied I had achieved one of my most elusive goals.

Now, twelve years after I got the initial news that my first book had been sold, I will confess that I still get excited with every new contract and opportunity. I'm not saying it's that way for every writer. Some people approach it as purely a business and don't appreciate the opportunity to express themselves creatively. I recognize how much luck played into my circumstances and how it continues to keep me employed. Yes, I work hard, study writing, and try to do right by my publishers, but I'd be an idiot to ignore the role chance played in my opportunity to make a living as a novelist.

This is just my little story to show you the value of not giving up. If I have one regret it's that Clyde Taylor didn't live long enough to see Walking Money placed at Putnam, a company he had worked at early in his career.

Keep writing and understand how lucky you are to have something that interests you so much. I write something every day. Not because I have to, but because I want to.


  1. That is the first in-person agent query I've ever heard of!!! If you weren't so charming, they might have called the police...wait, you ARE the police.

    Getting that first contract with Neil Nyren at Putnam was a very big deal. He's at the top of everybody's "if only" list. I'm in awe.

    Your last sentence explains why you've been so successful. You WANT to write. Onward!

  2. Thanks, Patty. I'll go with the luck.


  3. We make our own luck. You've worked hard to be "lucky."

  4. James, I certainly empathize with your account. However, aren't you rather stating the obvious? Doesn't every writer feel that thrill up the spine when they hear that an agent is going to rep them? That a publisher will turn their creative baby into something real? Wouldn't every one of us like to know the warm glow of knowing that the long investment of time, care and craft is justified, and will perhaps bring something back to the author? I, too, write because I like it. It's a lonesome pursuit but, as an only child, it suits me. Still, I look forward to that first, magnificent, YES.

  5. James O. Born3/06/2015 2:50 PM

    It may be obvious, but it was my personal account. I'm not sure how else to recount it.