William Manchee


My First Literary Agent

by William Manchee

It was a year or so after I started writing that I discovered that you needed a good agent to get placed with a major publisher, so I began my search for an agent. I sent query letters to hundreds of agents asking them to look at my new book, In Search of A Virgin, and waited, and waited, and waited. Then several months later the rejections started coming in one by one until there were only a very few left unanswered. I was about to give up hope and on the verge of falling into a deep depression, when a big fat letter showed up from the Aardvark Literary Agency of Absarokee, Montana. The letter started out, Dear Mr. Manchee, I have read your most extraordinary book and would love to represent you. Now, you may wonder what a literary agent is doing way out here in Montana. Well, that's a good question and the answer is, with today's technology I can sit in my study overlooking the majestic Yellowstone Mountains and still be as close as a phone call or fax to all the big publishing houses in New York City. He went on to say that he had inherited the literary agency from his father who had taught him all the subtle nuances of the business.

Also contained in the envelope were testimonials from numerous other authors who the agency had supposedly represented in the past and a proposed contract. Well, after receiving 98 rejections I was, of course, elated that someone thought my novel was "Extraordinary," so I read the contract proposal eagerly. My spirits sank quickly when I read that he wanted $1800 to do some polishing of the novel and that it would take 1 year for him to get the polishing done.

Part of me said, "throw the letter in the trash," but another part of me said "well, maybe it does need work and this guy can get it in shape." After checking around, I found that editors often did charge $1,800 to edit a novel, so I started getting used to that idea, but there was no way in hell I could wait one year for it to get done. I'd go nuts. So, I wrote Mr. Broome back and told him I'd pay the money but he only six months to do the work. He agreed and I had an agent.

A few days later I sent him the manuscript and the money and waited. Six months later he still hadn't finished the job or presented the novel to a single publisher. So I wrote him a letter inquiring about his progress. He replied promptly and said he was so swamped with work that he hadn't quite finished yet, but he was close. Two months later I got the finished manuscript back in the mail. I read it eagerly and scratched my head, because I really couldn't see he had changed all that much. But I was too busy to compare, line by line, the old with the new so I told him to just get on with the submissions to publishers. He said he would. Well, months went by and I heard nothing so I called him this time. His secretary answered and put me through. He was cordial, positive and said he had sent a query letter out. I said, "One query letter?" He replied, "Yes, I usually submit a work to only one publisher at a time. I suggested that might be a slow way to do it, but he assured me that's the way his father had taught him and he’d been very successful.

About a year later I decided to go to the Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Assn Spring Trade Show in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. One reason I wanted to go there was for the opportunity to go visit the Sherwood Broome Literary agency. After the show was over my wife and I got in our car a started the 150 mile journey to Absarokee, Montana. The town didn't show up on the map, so I called Mr. Broome for directions. It was a long drive through rain and show. The snow was so bad at one point we weren't sure we were going to get through some of the high passes along the way. When we got to Columbus, Montana, I took highway 78 south to Absarokee and turned back west on a narrow mountain road that led up toward majestic Mt. Douglas. After traveling for thirty minutes I didn't see that road we were supposed to turn onto, so I stopped at a tavern and asked to use the phone. I got Mr. Broome on the line and he told me to keep on going another couple miles and stop at a gas station—he'd meet me there. By this time we were climbing higher and higher into the mountains. We kept driving and driving and thought we must have passed the gas station but kept on going. We were about to turn around when we spotted a gas station up ahead. When we pulled in, sure enough a smiling Mr. Broome was there to greet us.

He had a nice four wheel drive Jeep Cherokee and we followed down a dirt road. I was expecting to come up to a magnificent mountain lodge looking over Mt. Douglas, but instead he turned down a narrow gravel road that took us across a small stream. I held my breath as the water got deeper and deeper. Finally we pulled up over the riverbank and drove down into a trailer park. After following him a half-mile through the mobile homes we came upon a big doublewide with sign proudly mounted above the door that read. "Sherwood Broome Literary Agency."

Needless to say, The Sherwood Broome Agency never placed my novel. So, finding an agent itself isn't good enough, you need to find a "good and reputable" agent, and watch out for predators.