When I got engaged to the man who’s now my husband, the first question friends asked was: “How did he propose?” Now that I have a book in bookstores, the first question folks ask is: “How did you get your agent?”
My story of getting an agent is one of incredible good luck and unexpected tragedy.
The most important thing I did was refine my manuscript until it was in the best possible shape I could manage. That took a while. I’m a federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C., so my day job is pretty intense. I wrote in the mornings before work. After two years of pre-dawn writing (and re-writing), I was satisfied that my novel, Law of Attraction, was a compelling story of love and violence in the nation’s capital.
At that point, I knew I needed an agent. One how-to book suggested contacting everyone in the publishing industry with whom you have the slightest connection. I understood that I’d probably send out 1000 letters and get 999 rejections. I was prepared. I bought reams of paper for query letters. I created a spreadsheet for rejections. I had several bottles of booze ready.
Before I sent out query letters, I thought about any personal connections and networks I had. I knew some folks in theater and children’s books; I sought their advice. I made a mental list of people I didn’t actually know, but with whom I had something in common.
Along those lines, I’d recently read a charming novel called The Opposite of Love, by Julie Buxbaum. Julie had graduated from Harvard Law School a few years after I did, although we’d never met. I shot her an email, and – to my surprised delight – she emailed back, then called me. Julie was kind and generous with her time. She said her agent might be interested in my manuscript.
Julie’s agent, Elaine Koster, was something of a legend in the publishing industry, credited with “discovering” Stephen King and pulling The Kite Runner out of a slush pile. I sent Elaine my manuscript, glad that it was truly ready to be judged. A week later, Elaine called. She said she loved Law of Attraction and wanted to represent me. I couldn’t believe my luck! It was one of the happiest moments in my life.
Elaine and her colleague, Stephanie Lehmann, suggested some changes to Law of Attraction. It was amazing to have professional hands help craft the story. Then Elaine sold my book to Touchstone Books an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I was over the moon.
That was one of the last deals Elaine ever made. She died this summer, after a decades-long, secret battle with breast cancer.
I was devastated. Elaine had been an advocate, a teacher and a friend. After her memorial service, I went home and cracked open one of the bottles of booze I hadn’t needed to use for rejection letters. I used it, instead, to give a solitary toast to the agent who launched my career but didn’t get to see my novel hit the bookshelves.
After Elaine died, I felt very much at sea. I called an author whose novels I’d loved since I was in college. Earlier that year, Barbara Delinsky had given me some heartfelt advice about balancing writing with mommying and working. Now I asked her what to do in this situation. Barbara is a wise and generous advisor. She offered to put me in touch with her agent, Amy Berkower, the renowned president of Writers House. When Amy eventually offered to represent me, I felt like a guy who’d been paddling in a life raft, who was pulled aboard the Queen Elizabeth and handed a winning lottery ticket.
Law of Attraction was published this October. So far, so good! I hope that in some cozy, book-lined office in the sky, Elaine Koster is smiling approvingly at the numbers on BookScan.