How I got a literary agent - An interview with author, Eric Houghton
firstwriter.com – Sunday November 27, 2011
Eric Houghton recently secured a deal with a literary agency as a result of searching firstwriter.com's database of over 850 literary agents. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.
fw: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Eric, and congratulations on your deal. Tell us a little about your book.
EH: My book, Boozehound! Breaking a 30-Year Obsession, is a memoir in two parts, really. It begins with my wild, final weekend of drink and drugs, when all the lies were discovered and I was forced to seek help. I end up at Carrier Clinic in New Jersey, and I am amazed to find myself alive upon waking up that first sober morning in April 2010. The rest of the book alternates between my drinking life and my seven-day stint at Carrier.
fw: What made you decide to turn your experiences into a book?
EH: While at Carrier, I could not believe all the things that were happening to me, and in quick succession. I had two amazing and wacky roommates, and there were plenty of other colourful characters there, as well. I began taking copious notes, and was able to see a "Cuckoos Nest" sort of slant right from the get-go. The ideas for a book were planted almost immediately.
fw: How did you go about writing it?
EH: At the end of the summer in 2010, when I was only a few months sober, I was going back to work, and I had to fill up my days in a positive way, lest I start returning to the old ways of waking up and setting off to the liquor store. I figured a couple hours of writing every morning would be an ideal way of getting the day off to a positive start. This proved to be the case – and more. The consistency of a daily writing regimen was the key to success for me in this venture – indeed with any big plan going on in my life. It took me six solid months, and the completed draft of 100,000 words was completed in that time.
fw: Had you done any writing before?
EH: I write a weekly summer column for a newspaper in my hometown of Long Beach Island, New Jersey. This is called Clammer's Diary, and is autobiographical, based on my days growing up at the Jersey Shore clamming and enjoying the wild summer life there. I also wrote another memoir, The Diets of Tom Patterson, unpublished, back in 2001.
fw: How important do you think having such a writing history is when trying to secure a literary agent?
EH: Well that depends of course. I am published every week in the summer, but this is my first crack in the big-time. Certainly agents would want to work with someone who has had success in the past, I would think. Being unknown as I am, getting an agent or getting published must be one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. I can only say that I was persistent, even a bit pushy perhaps, but I saw in my agent a person who was helpful and forthright with me, even when she was rejecting me. I had some other leads and kept her in the loop, and she finally took pity on me, and gave me a second look. I will forever be grateful to her.
fw: And how did you go about finding agents to approach?
EH: I used firstwriter.com from the start, identifiying dozens of agents and publishers, honing my query and other supporting material and contacting the specific person or company with exactly what they wanted.
fw: How did you submit your work?
EH: Almost exclusively by email. I did call a few agents, and basically got cussed out, as this is considered a gross technical foul in the literary world.
fw: Were there any particular features of firstwriter.com that helped you find success?
EH: The daily new contacts sent via email were extremely helpful, as were the reviews of each agency and publisher. It made the process of contacting with the correct materials quite simple.
fw: Did you do research on what form your submission should take?
EH: Yes, I read a few books and they were helpful in fine-tuning my query and synopsis, etc. Again, I sent out ONLY what the agents or publishers wanted. One thing was made clear to me: don't send manuscripts or anything that they don't ask for, lest they all end up in the circular file (which 95% of do anyway!).
fw: How long did it take you to secure your agent?
EH: It took me six months to write Boozehound! and seven to secure an agent. I contacted well over 100. Hopefully, together we can go ahead with a strong platform and find a publisher willing to take a risk on an unknown drunk from Jersey.
fw: I guess you must have received a lot of rejections.
EH: I got nothing but rejections and worse. By worse I mean I was totally ignored by the majority of agents and publishers. Of the approximately 150 agents and publishers I contacted, only about 50 bothered even to reply, and most were canned, auto-responses. I took it all in stride, cursed and wallowed around in a morass of self-pity. But, I didn't drink over it, and kept plugging away. And yes, they were courteous and polite WHEN they responded. It's amazing, but I actually started looking forward to being rejected. Strange, huh?
fw: What do you think was the reason you succeeded in securing this agent? Why are you a good match?
EH: I was persistent, as I said, and she saw something, I guess, that perhaps gave her the impression that this thing actually could be published. It is all new, so this match question cannot be answered yet.
fw: How have things changed, now that you have an agent?
EH: It feels great, like this little dream of mine can actually come to pass. I'm sure it's no different from any writer when they secure an agent. It validates what we've been working towards, and quite possibly could mean we are on our way. But, I know there is plenty of work ahead, and that's just fine with me.
fw: What advice would you give to other writers?
EH: Keep trying, keep looking and writing and sending exactly what they ask for. Don't give up, and don't call the agents, for God's sake.
fw: What are your plans for the future?
EH: Like I said, this is all new. I just sent my signed contract in yesterday, so I am just buckling up for the long ride. I hope to eventually write about my first year in sobriety. Should be a decent sequel: Son of Boozehound! Whattya tink?
fw: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Eric, and best of luck with your book!
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