Monday, January 31, 2011

It Was a Good Day.

The Short Version

Today, I signed with literary agent Ann Rittenberg of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency! I've really enjoyed getting to know Ann in the past few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to working with her in the future. She represents a number of great writers, including Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River - one of my favorite books of all time. I'm incredibly excited about working with Ann. My heart has stopped several times in the last few days. Hopefully, more good stuff will follow in this new chapter of my writing career. If you'd like the full story of how this came to be, keep reading.

The Long Version

I've written this long version because I've always loved reading "Getting an Agent" stories, and I hope that people will enjoy my tale as well.

In 2003, I read Mystic River, Lehane's crime novel about three childhood friends, their pasts tied to a terrible crime, who reconnect as adults when a tragedy befalls one of them. If you haven't read it, I won't spoil even a little bit of this astonishing novel, and you should read it immediately. Lehane's writing and storytelling are masterful. It's one of the books I think about when I think about the quality of my own writing. At the time I read it, I was working on my second manuscript (which, truth be told, was a complete re-write of my first disastrous manuscript), and it made me realize how far I had to go before I'd have something ready to publish, let alone something in the same ZIP code as Mystic River. Along with Stephen King's The Stand, Mystic River quickly became one of my two favorite books.


On the day before Thanksgiving 2010, I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote the So You Want to Write A Novel video. Within a few days, it had gone viral among writers, literary agents and editors (and yes, I'll be honest, I was hoping for such a response to the video). In early December, I discovered that Ann's agency had posted the video to its Facebook page. I'd heard of the agency before and had noted that Dennis Lehane was one of its clients. Quite frankly, because the video was being shared so often in early December, it was dumb luck that I came across this particular posting at all. An hour earlier or later, I might have missed it in my search feed. I immediately clicked Like on the page, and I was able to thank the agency in the comments for posting the video.

A few days later, Ann sent me a message through Facebook, telling me that she and her colleagues had enjoyed the video. I was thrilled. You writers out there will understand -- when you're a writer trying to make a name for yourself, any attention from an agent or editor -- especially unsolicited (and positive) attention -- is like writers' heroin. I told her a little bit about myself, I told her about the Law School video, and I told her about how much I liked Dennis Lehane's work (by now having read nearly all of it). She invited me to contact her after the New Year. In the meantime, a few other agents had contacted me about the Writing video as well, some to compliment it, and a few to invite me to submit to them in the future. 

Now each time I heard from an agent about the video, there was a tiny voice of optimism (one I typically keep locked away in the darkest recesses of my brain like it's a vial of weaponized smallpox at the CDC labs) that started screaming, "They like you. They totally want to represent you even though you haven't sent a query or a proposal. It's going to be like Sh*t My Dad Says!" But my rational, normally pessimistic self kept reminding me that having agents compliment the video was one thing -- having one want to sign me on the strength of the videos and this blog was something else entirely.  

A few more e-mails with Ann followed after the New Year, and then, a phone call. As the weeks went by, my discussions with Ann seemed to be getting more serious, more concrete. And although I was really enjoying getting to know her, I was getting increasingly nervous because this sort of discussion is totally alien to what a fiction writer is trained to expect when dealing with agents.

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, and late last week, I asked her if the time had come (or was approaching) for me to make a decision about working with her. I know agents are plenty busy with dealing with their own clients, and I was starting to worry about encroaching on too much of her (and these other agents') time. I then held my breath. 

And then, last Thursday afternoon, via e-mail, Ann offered to represent me as I take the next step in my writing career. I read the e-mail on my phone about a thousand times, making sure I hadn't misread it. We arranged a telephone call for today. I told my wife and shared the news with the rest of my family. As any writer with two small children would do, we celebrated with a dinner at Red Robin.

After a weekend to get my thoughts together and to let a couple of other agents who had also expressed some heightened interest in me know about the offer, I had a lovely conversation with Ann earlier today. The conversation left no doubt that she was the right person to help guide my career going forward, and I happily agreed to sign with her.  

Yeah. Me. And Dennis Lehane. He's written a few New York Times bestsellers. I've read a few New York Times bestsellers. And he's one of many talented writers that her agency represents, including a few whose work I've enjoyed checking out over the last few days. 

So this is how my time as an unagented writer came to an end. I am incredibly excited to get this opportunity, as it's something I've been working toward for almost ten years, from my first shitty manuscript, through a couple of short stories published in online magazines, through the constant self-doubt, the sickening feeling that I would never get a chance to make a run at publication, through the writing of the animated videos that changed my life.

Honestly, I'm also a little nervous, because while life as an unagented writer can be tough, it was something I was used to. It was routine. It was familiar. Rejection becomes a part of your life's background, part of the daily noise. Being agented is something I'm not familiar with, and so I'm incredibly grateful to have Ann in that role. In this business, you need someone who believes in your work, and I'm fortunate enough to have found someone who does just that. Ann is the kind of champion all writers dream of having behind them. And I know that I'll have to work even harder than I ever have to take advantage of the opportunity I've been given and ensure that Ann's faith in me was well-placed.

Many of you have been with me since the first post here last June. Others have found me along the way. I'm thrilled to have all of you along for this ride, and I am excited to see what happens next. Thanks for all your support, comments, shares, forwards, and just sticking with me in general. And a thank you to the mad geniuses at Xtranormal, whose brilliant website helped make all this possible, and to the iPhone4 vs. HTC Evo video writers, because their movie was what gave me the idea to write the Law School video in the first place.

Let's get it on like Donkey Kong!


  1. Congratulations! I too love reading writers' agent stories, so thanks for sharing. I'm still chuckling over your description of optimism--so true! Can't let that get out and cause a plague. :)

    Congrats again.

  2. Congratulations to you! I was feeling down because a story of mine wasn't accepted to an anthology, but this definitely cheered me up.

  3. Congratulations, Dave. It's a credit to your hard work, persistence and talent.

  4. Congratulations! Sending good wishes and thoughts of future best sellers your way!

  5. @Donna -- thanks -and glad you liked my optimism joke. I liked that one too.

    @ Rachel -- glad it cheered you up!

    @John -- thanks buddy. thanks for sticking with me all this way.

    @Melissa - thanks! I am ready to receive and capture all wishes for future bestsellers for future use.

  6. David - Glad I came across this post of yours. Congrats, good sir. One journey ends...another begins. (An email containing some thoughts of mine will be coming your way in a few days...or sooner. Or later.)

  7. Don't these agents do background checks? I mean, what about all those times we ... I mean, you ... well, never mind. Congrats, my friend. Time for the world to see some Kazzle-dazzle.

  8. First time commenter on your blog, but congrats!! Looking forward to seeing what's to come. I'll be sure to continue to admire/be inspired.

  9. @Eileen O. and Buffy -- thanks! it's been an exciting week.

  10. Many congrats, David! I know Ann, and you're in good hands. Tell her Tracy Crow from Eckerd College says hi! Keep us posted on all the forthcoming great news.

  11. @Tracy -- thanks very much. And you know Ann -- what a small world... i will definitely let her know.

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  13. (I'll try again; sorry for the delete)
    Hi! I followed you home from Paul Joseph's blog. Big congrats to you in your representation! Woo! The next very important step. Life will never be the same. LOL

  14. Congratulations, David! Came over from Paul's blog.

  15. Wow, this was like reading my own personal biography. Well, except the part about getting an agent. Or the part about making an awesome video that went viral in the writing/publishing community. Or the part about...maybe I jumped the gun on that whole "my own personal biography" bit.
    Anyways, just wanted to say excellent post and congratulations on this milestone, and I wish you many more to come.
    (And Paul sent me over - he's very pushy, that one.)

  16. Major congrats. Fantastic story. And it's just about how you got an agent. Can't wait for the book!

    I'm another from Paul's blog.

  17. Thanks to all of you who've come over from Paul's blog. I thought he did a great job promoting my story.

  18. Hi! I know this is late but CONGRATULATIONS!! I just discovered Anne Rittenberg's site five minutes ago by Googling "literary agents who represent crime". If you don't mind my asking, does the agency take Young Adult crime? I studied the site & saw Lehane, too, so I knew they handled crime. But then she said no "genre fiction" and it wasn't clear what they DID accept there. I love the site though! It was just a little unclear for me, though. Do you write crime, too?