Got a new agent story in from Cameron McClure at the Donald Maass Agency, aka Book Cannibal.
Shadow of the Raven by David Sundstrand wasn’t the first book I sold, but it was the first book I went on submission with. As a new agent, going on submission with your first project is simultaneously thrilling and demoralizing. You don’t know many editors (at least not that many editors who can actually buy books from you – all those editorial assistants you met at Happy Hour aren’t always helpful) so inevitably, you end up making some cold calls. I tried to channel that summer I spent selling Cutco – if I can sell a knife, I call sell a book! – but those tips were useless. The truth is, as an agent, all you’ve got is your list and your reputation. I once read that the most important thing in publishing is your memory. List, reputation, memory: none of these help a new agent. For a new agent, enthusiasm is key.
David was also the first client I took on. I found him in the slush pile when I was working as an assistant for Curtis Brown. David had queried my old boss because she represents Tony Hillerman, and Tony Hillerman had read his book and given him a nice blurb. Also, Shadow is similar to his books in many ways – it’s a mystery set in the Southwest (the Mojave Desert, to be exact), has a protagonist who's part Native American, and is written with such a strong sense of atmosphere that the setting is almost a character too. I read the book and thought it had a lot of potential, but couldn't get my old boss very excited about it. She was (and undoubtedly still is) extremely busy, and past the point in her career where she needs to take chances on first time authors. Nevertheless, I kept encouraging David, and I remember this being a rather frustrating time for both of us: he kept waiting and waiting, pacing a “trail of tears” back and forth from his mail box, and I was antsy as all hell to begin taking on clients.
Right before I left Curtis Brown for the Donald Maass Literary Agency, I called David to let him know, and he asked if he could submit the novel to me there. He did, and after some editorial work I signed him up and began submitting the book to editors. I'm a stubborn person, and this trait has served me well as an agent. Despite lukewarm responses, I firmly believed that given a chance, Shadow of the Raven (then saddled with the unfortunate title The Last Jackalope) would be embraced by readers. I had some close calls, but it took nearly a year before I received an offer from Thomas Dunne Books. The book was just published in February, and while it's too soon to tell how the novel is doing, the positive reviews have been very encouraging, as have the turn-out and book sales resulting from David's regional book tour.
We all hear a lot of stories about these huge multi-million dollar book deals - or at the very least, deals for high six figures. Obviously, this isn’t one of those stories. Most writers don’t get to name their price, or choose between six warring publishers, or buy a summer home with their signing payment. Most begin modestly, and with a lot of talent, even more hard work, and a little bit of luck, get bigger and bigger. And frankly, I find just as much inspiration in their stories.