Friday, April 15, 2011

Making Your Literary Agent Cry?

When I started writing novels, I wanted to make people happy. I envisioned readers who stayed up past their bedtime because my story caught their fancy. That motivation gave me all the energy I needed to spend countless hours in front of the computer, writing and editing. It’s still the most important source of my inspiration...happy readers.

My current manuscript, Jihad: The Breath of God, has been accepted by a great New York literary agent named Marisa Corvisiero. When I signed the contract with her, I wondered what would happen next. She sent me a list of hoops to jump through in preparation for developing a presentation package for publishing companies. That’s called a “pitch package.”

Marisa had previously sent my manuscript to two of her subordinate “readers” for their impressions. Both said they could hardly put the book down and gave it a big thumbs-up. I was thrilled with the feedback. Now, all that remained was for Marisa to review the book for final edits before the pitching can begin. A couple weeks went by. I heard nothing. Marisa’s comments on her Facebook page told me she was tied up with lots of agent-related activities. I wondered how she would even find time to read my manuscript with all the demands on her schedule.

A couple questions on the “to-do” list needed answers. During the conversation, Marisa mentioned a few observations about the story. Something was wrong...dreadfully wrong. This was the first time anyone had “read” my story and did not find it compelling. She actually put it down. Warning claxons went off in my head. Is it possible she was having second thoughts about signing me? Why was her experience with the book so vastly different from everybody else?

Last Friday, my private phone line rang in my insurance office. Must be my wife, I thought. Imagine my surprise when it was Marisa...and she was rambling on like a person possessed. She said she was calling from a taxi cab in New York, in between appointments, and just had to tell me that her husband got frustrated with her “last night” because she could not put down my manuscript. I thought, “She finally ‘connected’ with the story.” She said the terrorist attack creeped her out so much that she didn’t want to touch anything in the taxi for fear of contamination. The realism of my terrorist plot hit home with her, as it had with others before her. Little does Marisa know that the next few chapters are even more intense!

My mental alarm bells switched off, but this experience taught me one powerful lesson about the publishing process. Of all the people in the world who are fans of a writer’s work, the number one fan needs to be the literary agent. An agent can’t “like” a story. The agent must LOVE the story to pitch it with enthusiasm and conviction. I can’t wait for Marisa’s next phone call. It will probably be after she reads about a little boy named PJ. Marisa has twin boys about PJ’s age, and that sub-story is a real tear-jerker. I can imagine the call, “You jerk! Why did you do that to PJ?” What can I say? It’s all about making an emotional connection with the reader, especially a literary agent reader. Muahahahaha!


  1. Nobody cares about a manuscript more than the author--not the author's spouse, not the author's best friend, twin brother (or sister), editor and even agent. Okay, maybe a crazed-obsessed fan. Hopefully they have medications for that...

    All that being said, you are so right. An agent representing a work has to be excited about it to have the best chance of finding a manuscript a good home. Because there's a lot of competition out there--many voices vying for attention for the limited publishing slots available.

    I've been privileged to have read version of the story--and it's not good. It's great. It is wonderful to learn that Marisa Corvisiero agrees with me ;) and you!

  2. Dean, Terry recommended your blog to me, and I have to say I'm impressed. I've read through some of your posts and look forward to reading more. Good luck in your writing journey.

  3. Thank you Terry and welcome Cher. I hope I live up to your expectations over time. If I don't, feel free to whack me with a verbal paddle of your choice...I respond well to pain.

  4. LOL As usual Dean Sault delivers. This post is terrific.

    I agree with the comment made here that 'your agent needs to love the work'. Most of us will not represent something that we just 'like'. There are a lot of good writers out there, so finding those that are special is difficult and it takes a lot of hard work. When submitting your work, always make sure that it is the best that you can present and be sure that you offer the Agent or Publisher something that sets you apart! Good luck!


  5. Uh oh...busted. The boss-lady has discovered my hiding place. I'd better watch what I say. Seriously, thanks for dropping in, Marisa.


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