Guest Post by Norma Watkins
MCWC Board Member and 2011 Presenter
Norma Watkins is the author of the award-winning memoir The Last Resort. She has a Ph.D. in English and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, which she teaches at Mendocino College’s Coast Campus.
The first time I tried to find an agent, I had turned my Ph.D. dissertation into a novel. I asked a friend in Miami to give me the name of his agent and sent off my manuscript. One day at the office, the phone call you dream about—the agent saying she loved the book. I wanted to throw up my hands and run screaming out the door. “Good-by forever, desk jockeys. I’m off to be a writer.”
Fortunately, I did not flee my day job. My agent sent the book off to one publisher, who didn’t like it, and said she said she didn’t want to over-expose me by sending it to others. Then she decided to quit the agent business and become a writer herself.
Agent number two, also recommended by a friend, said yes, she liked my work and would take me on, but it wasn’t my turn. I needed to wait my turn. I waited eleven months and she sent the book out to four publishers. When they turned me down, she billed me $200 for copies and said it wasn’t my turn anymore. I would need to get back in line, and did I want to write a cookbook instead. Good-by agent #2.
I tried the agent-finding method recommended in Poets & Writers: join Publishers Marketplace; identify agents who have sold books similar to yours; send out multiple query letters. I did that. I did it over and over, sending out forty, eighty, a hundred queries. No luck.
The emotions I ran through over those years.
My present agent was already a friend. He represented writers who wrote about politics and war and didn’t take what he called “women’s books.” But he agreed to make an exception. The memoir (enough people had died to change my “fiction” to truth) was finally published in 2011.
Don’t give up, but the operative word in my tale is “friend." Go to a Writers Conference and make a friend of the agent—which means listening, accepting, revising, and most of all, staying in touch.
I would love to hear how any you out there found an agent, lost an agent, loves an agent or wants to murder one. Names may be withheld.
Norma’s Writing Regimen: I've taken Ann Patchett's advice—to set a time to write and stick to it. Aristotle said we are what we do. I get up every morning at 5 a.m. and write for two hours. It takes (according to the infamous web) 66 days to form a habit—something you do without thinking. This early morning writing has become my habit and I've finished the draft of a new novel (to join the other three in my drawer?). Working title: When We Were One, about two girls, raised as orphans on a farm in Missouri, and sent away after high school. How they find their way in the world and return to discover the secret of their birth. Like all my books, it’s about women finding their power.