How I got a literary agent - An interview with author, Robert W. Morgan
firstwriter.com – Saturday September 29, 2007
In 2006, Robert W. Morgan acquired an agent using firstwriter.com's database of literary agencies. Eighteen months on, he's repeated the same success by placing his latest work with another agent, again found through firstwriter.com. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.
fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us again, Robert. Tell us a little about your latest work.
RWM: The first one out of the box is The Soul Snatchers – a nonfiction work. SS is based upon several true-life experiences that became a search that literally took me half way around the world. The driving theme had its seeds planted while as a younger man I went trekking alone among the mountains of western Washington State – Mason County to be precise. While half-heartedly hunting bear, (I used any excuse to escape my shipmates after a nine-month cruise in the Pacific Theatre; our ship was in a Bremerton dry-dock for some repairs) I encountered a large anthropoid that supposedly does not exist. Some white folks call it Bigfoot; the West coast Natives call it Sasquatch; it has many names. In time I learned enough to refer to them as giant people – yes, people – who live in the wilderness. No, that's not wistful thinking; that came about slowly and they earned it the hard way.
When we met, I don't recall which of us appeared the most astonished, but I would bet on myself. Hell, I was a kid from a steel town in Ohio; what did I know about this living legend the Native Americans accept as reality yet most white folks continue to deny because it doesn't quite fit into their preconceived concepts of what the world should contain. After all, they maintain, Man stands alone (according to our self-created pyramid of who and what are best of all) because Man alone stands. Oh, really?
Well, that stand-erect fellow I bumped into had not read our books and did not know he shouldn't exist. There he stood erect on two legs, the hand I saw had an opposing thumb, he had buttocks – no Pongidae (ape) have those – and his eyes were far from dumb. Moreover, the expressions that crossed his face from being startled to being cautious to interest indicated he was just as amazed as I at our encounter except, I might guess, he didn't have that sudden bodily urge to... oh, never mind.
Anyway, the most noticeable difference between us was size; he was huge and I got more itty-bitty with each heartbeat and my 30-30 Marlin rifle shrank in my hands to the size of a Redd Ryder BB gun. He also was covered head-to-toe with long dark-brown body hair (it glinted a clean reddish in the sunlight), and the fact that he was stark naked and I was bundled up further accentuated our differences. He was one with nature and I was an obvious intruder who lived not with it but in spite of it.
In any case, once our mutual astonishment wore off and we stopped staring, I scrambled down toward where my car was parked – seemed like 100 miles – and my retreat made so much noise that I couldn't have heard any that he may have made no matter what he did.
Being a city kid, I stopped at the first public telephone I came across to call a local law enforcement agency to report an "escaped circus gorilla!" ( I had to compare it to something, right?) Well, sir, they acted as if they intended to send an ambulance out with some men in little white coats, so I exited stage left. Arriving back on board the USS Princeton, I briefly attempted to share my experiences with my shipmates. Bad idea. So, I filed the experience away on that long list we all have called "one of these days I'm gonna..."
Well, sir, that day didn't come for several long years. After college I was recruited into the FAA and became responsible for the certification, repair, and maintenance to the entire computer complex at the Washington DC ARTCC. Not fitting in well as a mindless guv'mint automaton, I resigned after 7 years service to do lots of things I always wanted to do because that damned internal clock kept going tick-tock in my brain.
One of the first things I did was to test the efficacy of that computer program I had designed to help select the most likely places that such a wild hominid could survive in modern America. I had fed in and cross-indexed the primary factors of Indian legends, pioneer reports, modern reports, and then had chosen areas that remained comparatively wild and ecologically probable to support and conceal such an entity. Then I launched what became known as The American Yeti Expeditions (seewww.trueseekers.org and also tune in to our weekly internet radio show) that magically became subject material for a feature-length docudrama The Search For Bigfoot (I find that term overly simplistic).
Soon my work became featured in the Smithsonian Series Monsters: Myth or Mystery? and I became a guest on the Tom Snyder Show, Montel Williams, Larry King, Art Bell, etc. and was featured in the National Wildlife Magazine. (It was claimed to be the most requested reprint in their history.)
The Sunday supplement Parade also helped spread the news, too, and I shook my head in wonder when (picture and all) I got splattered across the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Frankly, that had to be the most inaccurate report ever written on this subject. They had sent a spanking new cub reporter who had been born and raised in NYC and the only time he'd been "in the woods" was in Central Park! I recall groaning aloud when I picked him up at the Hilton Hotel in Canton, Ohio. He looked like a mannequin for Eddie Bauer... and he had no clue as to what I was showing him. For instance, atop a windswept hillock outside the village of Minerva we found a cluster of maple leaves that had obviously been placed – placed! – atop an oak sapling at a juncture of two faint paths. Past observations had told me those paths were being used by those whom I had come to call the Forest Giant People – and all the maple trees in sight were at the base of that hill. It would have taken a damned tornado to blow them that far uphill... but my cub reporter stared blankly while I attempted to explain that it was probably a marker from one FG family to another to say "we went thataway!" His article proved it that this was lost on him... Not to worry. He no longer covers such things. Instead, he has been assigned to the Congressional beat in Washington, DC.
In time I was invited to lecture at the University of Miami, The Museum of Science, Barry College, Kent State, Santa Monica College, etc. Darned if I didn't have fun and, apparently, so did the audiences. By this time I had recruited a Science Advisory Board of 17 men and women, most of whom had their PHDs in a variety of complementary sciences, but, and after several treks into the mountains of Washington, the deserts of Arizona and the wilds of the Florida Everglades, I discovered more about the self-imposed limitations of my fellow humans than I did about my subject. I also noted that I received much more valuable insight from Native Americans... why? They didn't have the white folks' religiously-imposed demands that Man was so damned special. Instead, my Native American associates did not mind acknowledging that we humans were in a sense the lesser when compared to animal life when it comes to living with as opposed to in spite of Mother Nature. After all, in most cases humans must wear the skins and hairs and plant fibres and foul feathers to survive winters; we have to cook much of our food, and, without self-made fires, we were duck soup! In short, I learned more from the older Native Americans than I did from science – why? Because most science is supported by public tax dollars and much of that comes from folks who would object to having the underpins to their faiths questioned and perhaps altered by their own contributions.
My Native American mentors included Ciye Nino Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache; Round Bear, a Seminole/Miccosukee, and others who asked that they not be named. However, what they shared with me opened my mind to the limitations our various religions have found convenient to (a) reassure us how very special we are (despite being in large part the only UNbalancing creature in nature, and (b) constantly pick our pockets for tithings, and (c) assure us that we only have but one life so we should do a little good here and there but go ahead, exploit the earth, rape her, pillage her – what the hell, so long as you follow some religious concept all will be forgiven you (remembering your church in your will is a surefire free pass into heaven, right?).
I admit to being baffled by these conundrums until I met a refugee Tibetan lama in Moscow who opened all three of my eyes. He reinforced my emerging understanding as to who we are as human beings, why we are, where we came from, where we are going – and how to best get there. His warnings echoed what I had been told before: "Beware of those who would snatch at your soul for their own gain..." Those entities look like humans, act like humans, and walk and talk and grin like them but... they are not human as we would define it.
Thus was born my work, The Soul Snatchers. Is it meant to convert anyone? No, no, hell, no. I am merely sharing the little that I have learned with those who, like me, simply want to know truth.
fw: So, once you'd gathered all these experiences and ideas, how did you go about formulating them into a book?
RWM: Worked on it slowly, I felt that I had to live it and test it before I shared it.
fw: But this isn't your first attempt at writing, is it?
RWM: Not really. I've done paramilitary manuals and wrote a lot of anti-Castro propaganda for Colonel Frank Sturgis (yeah, yeah, the Watergate guy) for an anti-Castro Cuban group, and Stephanne Dennis is currently shopping that work. It is a series of true stories that give a separate view and some rather startling revelations about what really-really happened at the Bay of Pigs, and why JFK (Saint Jack my foot!) permitted and encouraged the assassination of America's strongest ally against Castro, Rafael Trujillo. It also explains Frank's opinion of why JFK was assassinated (he was accused of it along with Howard Hunt) and he makes it crystal clear without myth or rancor – and a heretofore unpublished account of Jack Ruby's involvement in it all.
Frank also revealed a startlingly different reason and rationale why Teddy Kennedy "forgot" to report the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick – and Sturgis also knew the truth behind the Clinton's attempt to recruit and blackmail retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman as their Intelligence Czar and the outrageously embarrassing event that cancelled that nomination in a heartbeat.
As a man, Frank Sturgis was greatly misunderstood; however, I worked closely with him for several years and came to understand why he died so suddenly. It was not as natural a death as was claimed. I know because I damned near went with him.
My new literary agent, Stephanne Dennis, is one of the most unusual folks I have met in that industry. She read Soul Snatchers – and sold it within a month to a west coast publisher. She didn't blink when I also sent her my proposal about Frank Sturgis and my involvement through him with the anti-Castro Cuban movement. Nor did she balk when I delivered a third nonfiction proposal to my 100% verified undercover work as a civilian with the DEA and FBI. How did I get involved with that? Some idiot drug dealer made the stupid mistake of peddling his poison on my daughter's playground. I tracked him down and we had a chat in the only language he understood. The last I saw of him he was swimming a race with some alligators.
I then did what any parent should do (in my opinion). I wanted to nail not the street corner dealer; I wanted his boss, his supplier and his supplier, too. I wanted to nail every single SOB who would dare to sell drugs to our children. And, thanks to Frank Sturgis and advice from his pal Eddie Egan (the retired NYC detective who broke The French Connection) and my old pal and author Oscar Fraley (The Untouchables) I managed to penetrate the connection in Florida that was bringing dope into the Mafia pipeline out of Cuba. I grabbed that string and in time managed to follow it out of Meyer Lansky's Florida to its controlling source in Tucson, Arizona. It ended at the door of the capo de tutti capi Joseph Bonanno. That's when I called in the Big Guns of the DEA and the FBI. I am proud and pleased that I materially contributed to assist in their recovery of over $500 million from the Mafia... sounds wild, huh? (Sopranos, my foot! This time the good guys won – for real!) Interestingly, my co-authors to this work back up every word; they are the two federal agents who were my handlers over those years. They are offering their own chapters to describe certain things that at that time I had not known. (And I am glad! I would have had to wear diapers to keep my seat clean.) Suffice it to say it went to Rome and was a contributing factor to the "mysterious" suicide of a one-time Vatican banker.
Lessee, in between all that I managed to sell a few screenplays and concepts to keep the lights on. I wrote, produced, directed commercials and a small exploitation film (The Night Daniel Died/Bloodstalkers). Stuff like that. I am currently writing that film's sequel which I will direct in 2008.
Oh, only this past week Stephanne arranged the option to one of my feature film screenplays for a purportedly $30 million budget – it's based on a true event – (a friend of mine ran what became a $400 million marathon to help save his nation from starvation, but that same ungrateful nation's communist regime literally erased his name from their history because the money was American!) Stephanne has stirred the pots of interest on that one, too.
fw: How important do you think your previous work was in securing your current agent?
RWM: Probably quite high; however, after shopping around I found it well nigh impossible to get past ho-hum readers who have a poor grasp of history and its importance.
fw: Were you ever tempted to try and sell your work yourself, or did you always go through an agent?
RWM: No, I did the looky-loo approach at first, but with little success. It was a waste of time – however, those who did respond on a more timely basis were found through your service. Frankly – and I am not one to pat popos – your service is an invaluable tool. I can't over stress the importance of the role it played. I am grateful!
fw: Thank you for the compliment! We're glad you found it so useful. Had you tried any other methods of securing an agent in the past?
RWM: In years passed I had been represented by Walter Kohner of the famous Kohner Agency in LA and also Lew Sherrill, but they are long retired. So I used firstwriter.com – and to great success! While it's true that several ho-hum agents are still responding to my query after a six month lag, I had four agencies that you list respond almost by return email. Two of them became bewildered by my plethora of works so they were not for me (stick to cook books, guys). One lovely lady was very interested in certain works but frightened by the tough stuff. We got along fine until a personal tragedy put her on an indefinite hold; she will remain a friend, though.
However, The Author's Literary Agency of Chattanooga, TN, not only responded quickly but intelligently and with enthusiasm. It became a fusion of talents and personalities between us from the get-go. Stephanne Dennis wowed me by reading and understanding my material. Within scant weeks she had successfully negotiated a WGA-guided option contract for a feature-length motion picture with a proposed $30 million budget and is currently shopping its nonfiction book proposal. She has also sold the book Soul Snatchers to a west coast publisher. That's all within the past two months! I have now placed in her hands three screenplays and four more book proposals (as described hereinabove) and I am confident she will place every single one. She is professional but lively and, for me, a delight to work with. Moreover, she has no fear.
fw: How did you go about approaching the agencies you found on firstwriter.com?
RWM: I shot out emails that were condensed and to the point. I didn't waste their time "telling" them how good I was (ho-hum!); instead, I described the work and identified its market and offered more upon request.
fw: Did you get a lot of rejections? How did you deal with them?
RWM: I am still getting rejections from queries I sent out months ago. Good – and bye-bye to them! Who wants an agent who is that bloody lethargic or so veddy-veddy busy with soooo many other clients? How did I deal with it? What's to deal? I said "Next!"
fw: And what makes the agent you secured a good match for you?
RWM: We are both blunt and to the point but always with a smile. Stephanne has expertise I lack totally – she is charming and witty while I am blunt and abrasive – and I appreciate the mesh.
fw: How is your agent going about promoting your work? Are you constantly being dragged off to high-powered meetings in New York?
RWM: I am too busy with the current work she has already sold to worry about what she is doing now. She has me booked up for 6–9 months already. As for the high-powered meetings, that's up to her. I am best kept in a closet with one leg chained down. I not only bark, I have been known to bite.
fw: Do you have any tips for other writers trying to find an agent?
RWM: Be brief and be honest and don't waste their valuable heartbeats reading rah-rah about how good you think you are. The proof is in the doing.
fw: And what are you planning on next?
RWM: I have no less than 14 wholly-owned literary projects outlined; several have accompanying screenplays completed. They run the gamut from kids to young adult to adult; I am not genre exclusive. I have two huge films for Canada so if there are any Canadian producers who want to win Oscars, give us a shout.
In addition, I am forming a production company for those smaller projects that I wish to produce and/or direct.
fw: Thank you for your time, Robert – and best of luck with everything!