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How to Not Get a Literary Agent

January 30, 2012 By: Category: Greatest Hits, Publishing

At the end of 2010 I decided I would write one story every day in 2011 and post them on a website called, appropriately enough, The Story of the Day. At the end of the year, I figured, I’d have enough material to put together a really entertaining book. By that time, word of my project would have spread across the Internetoverse. I would be feted as the next so-and-so (is it Mike Birbiglia now? Is that who we like?) and literary agents would be crawling all over each other to sign me up, like maggots on a tasty piece of rotten banana.

As so often happens with projects that are started for all the wrong reasons, this one flamed out rather quickly. It wasn’t an abject failure … I followed through in January and February, fell off a little in March, and then totally went to pot in the months after that. By June I’d posted 86 stories. That’s not a bad total, and some of those stories are pretty darn entertaining. But it’s still a far cry from 365, which is how many days there are in a year (in case you’re one of those people who doesn’t know about time and math).

The project wasn’t a complete waste of time, because out of it came a series I consider one of my finest creations – Professor Blowjob and the Storm-Fighters of Courage. (You can read the series for yourself starting right here.) Prof. Blowjob embodies everything I enjoy about writing – ridiculous characters, absurd situations, juvenile humor, and gloriously awkward turns of phrase. It is most certainly not for everyone. But the people it is for, it is so, so for. And those people are, in my opinion, a criminally underserved market of readers.

A few months ago, I decided I would try to get Professor Blowjob published. It isn’t a complete manuscript yet, mind you, but I figured enough of the saga was there that I could at least find an agent who’d be willing to say, “I like the roll of your spliff, son … let’s keep in touch.” Sure, I could have published it myself, on account of how I own a publishing company. But let’s be honest … Awkward does not have two dimes to rub together. And daddy needs to get paid. So: commence the agent search.

I’ve never spent much time pursuing a literary agent, even though I’ve written and published a lot of books and stories and have a fan in Turkey, which are the three major requirements listed on most literary agents’ websites. I figured I would start by sending out blind submissions and then narrow the list down when the responses came flooding in — a very reasonable strategy.

After combing through the first list of agencies I found in a Google search, I settled on about 40 different agencies. I found the person at each agency who handled books or authors I admired, and sent that person the following introductory email:

Subject: The next Sophie’s Choice, probably

Professor Blowjob and the Storm Fighters of Courage is a story of friends and how they come together to learn about life and murder bad guys. It starts with a simple question: where is Professor Blowjob? It quickly answers that question and moves on to other issues that are far more important than that. It’s a roller coaster ride of things that are important and exciting and brand new ideas that no one has ever heard before. In short, it is a book about life and the people who are living it.

Led by legendary renegade maverick special operative Sargent Pat Hardy, the Storm Fighters of Courage take adventure by the balls and ride it like a giant poodle all the way into Action Land. You might think you’ve read about adventures before, but you’ve never seen adventure like this. Every page of Professor Blowjob and the Storm Fighters of Courage is soaked in death-defying testosterone and nail-biting fury. After you read it, you’ll probably have to take a cold shower to get rid of all your hard-ons – that’s how death-defying this action is.

The story of the book is about a bad guy named Mark Hazzard who fucking wrecks shit left and right. He has an electronic leg and he used to date Jacky Minx who also dated Sargent Hardy and he took Hardy’s sperm and made a frozen baby out of it and all that stuff. So he’s really got Hardy by the balls. How will Hardy get out of this mess? He’ll have to rely on his friends, the Storm Fighters of Courage! They are: Beans, the marksman and naïve youngster with a tale to tell and a love of eating pizza. Lady Midnight, the demolitions expert and seductress. John Nightnight, the hand-to-hand king. Snog-Dog, the sky sorcerer. And of course, Professor Blowjob, the polymath. Together, they will get in so much adventure you can’t stand it!

Professor Blowjob and the Storm Fighters of Courage is real. It’s the most important novel of this generation or any other and it has been prelisted by the New York Times as the #1 bestseller of the future. People who have read it in its final form have used words like “good” and “quite good.” Do you want to be left out in the cold with this important work of fiction? You shouldn’t! Next stop: FUN!

And then I sat back and waited. And waited.

Out of 40 submissions, I received approximately 5 responses. Only one of those responses was from a human being. The guy who represented the author of Marley and Me wrote to say, “Let’s pretend this never happened.” I give him credit; that’s pretty funny. It’s almost as funny as Marley and Me is terrible.

The other responses were all form rejections. To those people I responded thusly:

Dear Emailer,

Please accept my sincere apology for the formulaic nature of this email response. I receive a tremendous amount of form letters and I am unfortunately unable to respond to each one individually. Although I am unable to respond in depth at this time, I appreciate the facsimile of human communication and I wish you the best of luck in your future rejection efforts.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey Dinsmore

I still hold out hope that I’ll be able to complete the Professor Blowjob saga someday. And I still would love to do my part in creating a marketplace for gonzo fiction. There are a few people out there, like the excellent Jon Konrath, who are working in a similar milieu and doing a wonderful job of helping to get this kind of work out into the world. It would be great if Awkward were a part of some kind of movement. But I don’t even know if Awkward is Awkward anymore. Like I said, daddy’s got to get paid.

Mostly, though, I just wish I could find a literary agent with a sense of humor.

Update: When talking about the people in the literary world who are on the side of the good guys, I should have mentioned my friend Joshua Citrak’s site Slouch. Great writer, excellent site, NO BULLSHIT.

10 Comments to “How to Not Get a Literary Agent”


  1. As a former intern for a literary agent, I feel like you should know that most of the unsolicited submissions are read by the intern who is 19, has no say about anything, and actually wanted to intern at, like, a magazine or a record company or something at least a little bit cool. They do not have a sense of humor and they are probably scared of blowjobs.
    I took the train to the city twice a week, read manuscripts for seven hours, and then took the train home. The agent never looked at a single thing I passed on. But I did get to read a pitch for a self help book written by an Eagle Scout in his 40s who lived with his mom. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I did not request and then steal that manuscript.

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    • That was actually sort of part of the plan … I fantasized that the 19 year old interns might get a kick out of my cover letter and pass it around among themselves and the big head honcho agent would come over and be like, “what are you buffoons snickering about? Professor Blowjob? I’m intrigued …”

      It was not a well-conceived plan, admittedly.

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  2. joshua citrak says:

    this is classic, jeffrey!

    for slouch, we get tons of unsolicited requests to review books which read much like your query, expect minus the attention to punctuation and coherence. i’ve often thought about just publishing them word for word, but i also worry that people don’t have a sense of humor. so for now, i’m sitting on them.

    the literary world is one stuffed full of stiff shit, my friend, that’s for sure. but there are places for this, keep at it.

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    • The best short story we ever got at CP was called “A Surprise from Behind.” It was about a gentleman who received a surprise … from … well.

      I should have mentioned Slouch, too! You’e fighting the good fight, Mr. Citrak … I’ll update!

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