Saturday, January 8, 2011

This is my agent, Brian Peterson.

When we first met, I was a stay-at-home mom writing for magazines. I also had a first novel stored on a floppy disk.

Yeah, it was awhile ago.

But let me back up. Before I met Brian, a highly respected writer who runs with America's best literary crowd, offered to send my novel to her agent in New York City.

Her literary agent was a woman known as Dr. No. The woman could make or break a writer's career with one word. Usually that word was. . . No.

But the word that came back to me was Maybe.

We like the book. We think it has potential. But you'll need to change the main character from a Christian to an alcoholic. 

I smacked myself on the forehead -- why didn't I think of that?!  Faith in God. Self-destruction. Yes! They are totally equivalent!

The literary agent went on to say that I needed to remove every passage in which Raleigh Harmon, forensic geologist and Christian, reveals her belief that the Earth was created by God and that the people who live here didn't evolve from pond scum. (Well, most of them didn't. I had serious questions about the literary agent.)

After reading the agent's letter, several friends begged me to keep my mouth shut. "Just do what the agent asks," they told me. "You need people like this to get published."

My reply was succinct.

"Thank you for your time," I wrote. "You should get out of New York City. Fast."

There was no further correspondence.

Writer Lee Knapp heard of my travails. She had just published her terrific book of essays, "Grace in the First Person." I didn't know Lee well but she said to me, "I have an agent. He's a super nice guy. His mission statement is to help other people reach their goals. Do you want to send your manuscript to him?"

Several weeks later Brian Peterson and I had dinner. We laughed -- a lot-- and talked about writing and later I sent him the manuscript. He sold it to Baker publishing. "The Stones Cry Out" went on to win a Christy Award for best first novel. The rest, as they say, is hard work.

To this day Brian Peterson remains my great friend. He's among the most honest people I've ever met. And this picture of him seems particularly appropriate.

Over the years, without goading, he made sure I didn't stop or stand still. He opened doors to new opportunities, new vistas. And he never lost his cool, even during turbulence.

Okay, once.

Once, during a really nasty battle over a manuscript, Brian called somebody "a manipulator." That's about as low as the guy can go.

When people ask me what to look for in an agent, I say, Look for somebody you can really talk to. Somebody who will hold you accountable. Somebody honest.

But don't forget to look for somebody who stays in your corner, cheering you on -- making sure you never stop or stand still.

And then all you'll want to say to them is, Thank you.

Thank you.


  1. That is an awesome story and a huge encouragement to aspiring writers. It can be a struggle to strike the balance between being malleable, willing to learn from the experts, but also being true to our personal beliefs and values.

    Thanks for sharing how you won that struggle in one instance.

    PS--Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of "The Mountains Bow Down! :-)

  2. Abigail, that's a key point. We don't want to be thick-headed or hard-hearted, but we do need to stick to principles. Thanks for pointing that out.

    PS Mountains in March....!

  3. I agree with Abigail. Thank you for sharing your experience with the writing/publishing industry, and thank you for choosing Biblical correctness over political correctness. I have fallen in love with Raleigh and am thankful to have discovered your books. Have already pre-ordered The Mountains Bow Down and can't wait for March to get here. Personally, I am hoping Raleigh and Jack fall in love :-) Can't wait to find out if I get my wish!

  4. Melinda, that's so nice to hear, thank you.
    As for Raleigh and Jack....I can't wait to hear what you say about their relationship after Mountains! Be sure to let me know!

  5.'re such a tease. Ok, ok, I'll wait until March to find out. And I won't read the last chapter first either :-)

  6. Right there with you, Melinda. Loved tango between Raleigh and Jack in the last book.

    Sigh...March is so far away.... :-)