Agent #20 – Not Alone

One of the writer-related newsletters I subscribe to is put out by a guy who runs an online guide to literary agents. It comes in the form of a daily email and usually includes things like interviews with agents about how they came to be in that line of work, and newly-published authors and how they managed to get their agent. It can be especially comforting to people like me to read how an unpublished author beat the odds and attracted the attention of a literary agent.

But the story of the author featured in today’s email was especially encouraging. She had…
– never written a novel, short story, poem, essay or article
– no idea how to get published
– didn’t know any writers or anyone who aspired to become one
– no idea that there were such things as writer’s conferences or critique groups
– didn’t know what agents did
– didn’t know how to approach them

And even more amazingly, she hadn’t really read that many books in her life. She was brought up in some crazy apocalyptic religious cult which took the view that education was a waste of time and so forbade access to school, books, music and television. (And you just think about that the next time you want to complain that your childhood sucked.)

So basically this woman knew nothing but the desire to write a novel and proceeded to write it the only way she knew how: one word at a time. Eventually she got the novel as good as she could get it by which time she’d researched how to approach agents. She had two versions of her query letter. They were each completely different from one another and she couldn’t decide which one was better so she alternated letters and agents and eventually got offers from two agents: each one had received one of the versions. Yada yada yada…her book came out this week and it’s in the Top 200 on – an amazing accomplishment by anyone’s standards.

And an inspiring one for people like me as I continue this process of finding a literary agent to represent me. That process continued today with agent #20.

This agent is from San Francisco. I know…I know…they’re not in New York but their list of authors is quite impressive. The writers represented by this agency have won the NY Times Editors Choice award, been a ‘Times of London’ #1 Bestseller, included in Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten Nonfiction Books of the Year, won the American Book Award, and several have garnered a Kirkus starred review. The title of one of their books is, “Holy Shit! A History of Swearing” so you know they’ve got a sense of humor. Plus not only do they list “Historical fiction” in their areas of interest, but they list it twice which I’ve chosen to see as an emphasis, rather than an oversight. So they become agent #20



Oh well, that was a complete waste of time and effort. I’m still getting used to my new email program for my new so-called professional looking account. AFTER I sent off this query, I took a look at it just to make sure that it was okay. <insert wince here> It was NOT okay. This agency wants a query letter, a one-page synopsis, and the first 2 chapters which is easy enough because I have that all ready and simply copy and paste it into the body of my query email.

Yeah, well, it’s not that simple. For some strange techno-babble-reason clear only to dorks, geeks and computer programmers with minimal social skills, this email program couldn’t cope with certain punctuation, namely quotation marks, colons, and dashes. Whenever it came across one of those–which was a lot–it replaced it with a question mark. So my query has arrived into their in-box peppered with inexplicable question marks.

I’ve since figured out that one of the settings in my email program is called “Charset” — ‘character setting’…??? The default is Western (ISO-8859-1) which seems a dumb setting if it can’t bloody well cope with quotation marks, colons, and dashes. But there is a 2nd English setting: Western (ISO-8859-15) Apparently that extra 5 at the end makes all the difference in the world because after much fiddling around, I’ve discovered that Western (ISO-8859-15) CAN cope with quotation marks, colons, and dashes.

So I re-sent my query with an apology for the screw-up but seeing as how these people are looking for ANY reason to say no, I don’t like my chances. Am I holding my breath that I’ll be hearing back from these people? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…no.

Onto #21. Is it time for a cocktail?

About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author of a series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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