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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
How To Get An Agent
One question many aspiring writers ask me is, “How do I get an agent?” This seems like a strange question to me. However, I always like to err on the side of being helpful, and so I have decided to devote this month’s column to sharing a few suggestions for writers looking to “get” an agent.
Here is something you can try: Call an agent on the phone and tell him or her that you are Stephen King. If you are a woman, try to make your voice sound like a man’s. If you are a man, try to make your voice sound like you are wearing glasses. Explain to the agent that you are looking for new representation and that you want to meet in a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. Ask the agent to wear a big, floppy hat so you will be able to recognize him or her. Then go to the restaurant and watch the agent sit there in a floppy hat as he or she slowly realizes that Stephen King probably isn’t going to show up. Just when it looks like the agent can’t get anymore embarrassed, jump out from behind one of the restaurant’s ferns wearing a Stephen King mask and hit the agent in the face with a pie. BAM! You got that agent. You got that agent good.
Again, I want to reiterate that I don’t really understand why so many writers are out to get literary agents. In my experience, agents are all lovely, diligent people who only want the best for their clients. And yet, lots of writers are apparently determined to give them a hard time. I’m finally starting to understand why I always see Andrew Wylie crying in Bryant Park.
But while I might not agree with other writers’ temptation to be mean to agents, I also don’t feel that I am in a position to judge it. If the writers I encounter have animosity toward literary agents, I think the best thing is probably just for them to work their feelings out organically through a little harmless torment. That’s why below I have included a few more pranks you can try if you are a writer looking to get one over on an agent:
-Accept an agent’s offer of representation. Wait till your manuscript is out on submission, and then admit to your agent that it’s just a word for word copy of Don Delilo’s Libra.
-Steal the agent’s diary, and then every Thursday for a year have a cookie cake delivered to his or her office with a new, embarrassing diary passage written on it in frosting.
-Change his or her out of office reply so it says something to the effect of: “I am out of the office with limited access to email because I am currently on tour with my ska band, Boogie Phillips and The Not Too Busy For Brunch Bunch.”
-Put a kangaroo in his or her apartment. At first the agent will think, “How cute, a kangaroo!” But what he or she won’t know is that, thanks to you, the kangaroo is on angel dust and is looking to box.
-Tell the agent that there is a new phone app that is able to determine whether or not a person is gullible. When the agent hands you his or her smartphone so you can help download the app and explain how it works, take the phone and drop it into a bucket of bleach.
There you have it. Those are some fun, practical ideas that will help you get an agent’s goat. I do hope writers will put them to use as they see fit, but I also hope that they can eventually let go of their hostility toward agents. Because the simple fact of the matter is that most literary agents are incredibly hardworking and underappreciated. They have to spend long hours shut up in their offices, reading query letter after query letter, manuscript after manuscript. They are forced to sit through arduous lunches with book editors, who are all hopelessly deranged. Even worse, they have to deal with us writers… the most abusive, self-obsessed, and ridiculous creatures to ever besmirch God’s good earth. That‘s why when you see literary agents on the street they always look haggard, with their eyes bloodshot and stacks of manuscripts clutched desperately to their chests. It’s as if they are only getting 15% of life. So while I would never look down on another writer’s desire to be mean to agents, I would suggest considering the possibility that it might be better just to leave them be. Especially if the agent in question is wearing a floppy hat and is covered in pie. Somebody already got that one.