How I got a literary agent - An interview with author, Charles Heaton Allen
firstwriter.com – Sunday January 20, 2013
Charles Heaton Allen recently acquired a literary agent using firstwriter.com's database of literary agents. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.
fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Charles, and congratulations on having found an agent! Tell us a little about the book you placed with them.
CHA: The book which attracted the agent's attention is titled Johnny June's "Stuff".
fw: What made you start writing it?
CHA: An elderly friend asked me to look at his notebook of 55 "episodes" of events he lived as a part of a crime ring in Little Rock, Arkansas in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He said, "I think most of my fellow 'bad guys' are either deceased or too old to 'do much about it'. I think this stuff could make a pretty good novel and/or movie, Mr Allen. Will you write it?"
fw: Wow! How did you go about turning all that material into a novel?
CHA: I read his 55 "episodes" for about three months, but couldn't think of a plotline which could weave at least many of his episodes into a novel. Finally an idea came to my mind and I was able to write the novel in about five months.
fw: Did you have experience of writing novels already?
CHA: This is my 19th book (10th novel). Ace Rivals – a WWII/Korean Conflict air combat novel – won an award from the Austin (Texas) Writers' League. It was published by a semi-vanity publisher. Buggy, Spanky, & Beef Stories – four lads have nine adventures in western Texas. Whooboy! Was published by a semi-vanity publisher. Snow Stackers – a Christian oriented sci-fi novel – was published by an electronic venue out of New Zealand. Seperately Together – a Civil War trilogy of three novels – is presently being published in print and audio forms by a semi-vanity publisher. I have yet to receive a royalty check for any of them. The only money I get is from my own signings I've held locally... and that would be about 2,000 books sold over a span of 17 years. That is why I searched for a professional agent.
fw: You didn't want to go down the vanity or semi-vanity path again, then?
CHA: I sought a professional agent for Johnny June's "Stuff" because I won't contract with any type vanity publisher again and because I think that novel is of enough quality that an agent should be able to gain a contract for it.
fw: Did your publishing history have any bearing on your agent signing you, do you think?
CHA: It was not important to this agent. He was interested in Johnny June's "Stuff"... but is now interested in representing some of my other unpublished works, as well.
fw: What method did you use to find your agent?
CHA: I found him via firstwriter.com. That's the only place I tried to find one. I was rejected by at least twenty others before this gentleman responded favourably. I was rejected by many more than that regarding my previous 18 books before sending the first query about Johnny June's "Stuff".
fw: What were the features of firstwriter.com that you found particularly helpful?
CHA: I'm glad that a contacted agency is coloured over (shaded) after I contact them. This saves time and repetition, of course. To have an agency's complete website available is also great!
fw: Once you'd identified agencies to approach, what form did that approach take?
CHA: I simply wrote a short query via email describing Johnny June's "Stuff". firstwriter.com allowed me to find the agency's email address and even lets searching writers know if an agency won't accept an email. I ignore those agencies.
fw: You say you were rejected by about twenty agencies before you were accepted. Did it take a long time to work through all those rejections?
CHA: I'd say I waited at least two weeks before deciding they weren't interested. Some let me know that fact quite soon... and nicely. The agent I signed with responded within six hours of me hitting "send" on my computer to him.
fw: And which agency was it that signed you in the end?
CHA: Travis Bell, of The Seven Bridges Group.
fw: And why do you think he went for it?
CHA: He's interested in the novel's concept and in our first telephone conversation... which is how he contacted me... we "hit it off" very well on a personal basis. He's originally from Mississippi, so a story based in Arkansas seems to interest him. Mostly, he likes the story itself, though.
fw: So what's it like having an agent?
CHA: It's merely emails back and forth and a couple of phone chats. Many of the emails are of "personal things" as we get to know one another. He's in California, so I don't know if I'll ever actually meet him.
fw: Do you have any tips for other writers trying to get published?
CHA: I suggest they write at least three books and vanity publish at least one of them. That way they will actually believe they really are a writer! I think an author has to have pages in a binding of his own work to hold and read again and again to keep motivated and confident.
fw: What are your plans for the future?
CHA: I'm trying to write Hiding Johnny June. It's slow going at this time, but I'm hopeful. This agent has represented me only a short time. Nothing has happened, so far. Maybe it never will, but I feel better knowing my agent is trying and has confidence in my work(s). That fact motivates me, of course.
fw: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us, Charles, and the best of luck with all your future endeavours!