Fishing For That Agent, Part Deux

So there I was at my inaugural writers conference back in 2011, sitting in the audience at Sleuthfest gathering in Florida, waiting for a panel to begin. I’d met John Gilstrap the day before and we closed down the bar (the first of many…and I mean many bars), and was sucking down a large coffee to absorb some kind of food for the brain.

Another swallow of scalding coffee. It was some kind of flavored stuff, but that didn’t matter, because I’d scalded my tastebuds with the first sip, so the black liquid was essentially flavorless.

Panelists drifted up to the front and took their seats. A gentleman on the front row opened a tripod and attached a video camera (yeah, it was ten years ago). I watched with interest as he dug out a stack of notebooks and settled himself in for the event.

The room filled. The panel on finding an agent began. I wondered why I was there. I’d just met my new agent, the one John said I needed to fire, so I didn’t need to be in there, but I couldn’t help myself.

I wanted to hear what Miss Lily had to say (of course that’s not her name, but I have to call her something). She was a presence in the bar the night before and people gathered around as she held court, but I was too green to join in, so I figured that she’d have plenty to say in that session.

The moderator barely had enough time to welcome everyone when the back door opened and a tardy Miss Lily blew in and made an entrance.

How do I say this delicately…humm.

Somewhere around six feet tall, she had a mane of dark hair, and wore oversize, comfortable clothes that were accessorized by lots of concealing scarves and big earrings. She came down the aisle like an expressive train.

Miss Lily took control of the conversation, and fielded dozens of questions as the hour progressed. I had a hundred questions, but the session recessed, leaving me reeling and feeling as if I’d been drinking from a firehose. With John’s previous recommendation about putting Starter Agent in a shallow grave, I was already wondering if I’d made a mistake.

I was in over my head.

The next panel didn’t interest met, and since I it was around two in the afternoon there in Florida, I wanted to absorb a little sunshine. The hotel had apparently learned their lesson and the bar was open. Taking my drink, I found a shaded table beside the swimming pool and settled in to ponder this new career.

That’s when Miss Lily blew through the doors and into my serene world. Cigarette and highball glass in one hand, and a cell phone in the other, she paced the pool, sending out great puffs of smoke and talking somewhere around AC/DC decibels.

She noticed that I was near the deep end of the pool, and established her territory near the shallow water. After ten minutes, and half a dozen cigarettes, she ended the call and shot me a look.

I gave her a smile in return.

She took a table several yards away and lit another.

I waved. “You can join me if you like.”

“No, thanks. I’m smoking.”

“The wind is in your direction. It won’t bother me.”

The Hairy Eyeball. “No, thanks.”

“Look, I know you’re an agent. Heard you inside a few minutes ago, but I won’t pitch to you. I already have an agent. I’d just like to talk about the business for a little while and get to know people. I’m on a learning curve since I recently sold my first manuscript. Come on. Sit down.”

A beat.

A second beat.

A third beat, and she gathered up a pack of toonies, cell phone, and a purse big enough to hold a case of beer. “All right.”

She joined me and noted my hat that was resting crown down on the table. “You a cowboy? You write westerns?”

“I’ve cowboyed some. I’m from Texas, but I don’t write westerns.”

We introduced ourselves and she lit another. “So what do you want to know?”

“So much I’m not sure where to begin.”

We talked for the next forty-five minutes or so, about writing and her end of the business. She told me how to write a query letter, though I didn’t need that particular bit of info, then we drifted on to our lives and exchanged brief histories.

My glass was empty, and so was hers, when conversation kinda dried up. “I need another drink.” I stood. “Can I get you one?”

“Sure.” She opened her purse.

“I’ll get it.”

“No. Men don’t buy me drinks, and especially writers.”

“Like I said, I’m from Texas. I’ll get it.”

Half expecting her not to be there when I returned, I crossed the patio. “Here you go.”

She took the glass and peered at me over the rim. “So, what’s your manuscript about?”

“It’s a historical mystery.”

“Tell me about it.”


Now, in the shade of an oak fifty years earlier, my Old Man taught me how to fish. Sitting by a lazy creek, he cast a bright top water lure. “Bass like things that are big and flashy. The idea is to throw your lure out into a likely looking place and watch it splash down. Be patient. Let the ripples expand and disappear until the lure is still.”

I’d unconsciously pitched out a big, flashy lure to Miss Lily. “Can’t tell you about my book.”

“Why not?”

“I said I wouldn’t pitch to you.”


The Old Man’s lure drifted slowly with the current. The rings expanded and disappeared. He shifted the chew in his cheek. “Then you give that lure a twitch. If nothing happens, give it a second twitch a few seconds later.

If you’re lucky, the water will explode when that big ol’ bass blows up from underneath.


“Who’s your agent?”

I told Miss Lily.

“I’ve never heard of her. You should get someone with more experience.”

“Someone’s already told me that.”

“They’re right. Get someone in New York. Like me. So what’s your book about again?”


The bass that had been eyeing the Old Man’s lure launched itself toward the surface. The water exploded and it grabbed the lure. “Then you set the hook!” He yanked on the rod and the fish was his.


It was at that moment that understanding dawned on me in Florida that day. I’d pitched out a lure, and Miss Lily couldn’t stand it. She wanted it, and struck. But unlike fishing, I wouldn’t set the hook.

“Said I wouldn’t pitch to you. I keep my word to people. I was raised by folks and grandparents who borrowed money from the bank on a handshake. That sense of honor reaches into many corners.”

She frowned, not understanding. “I’d consider representing you. If you write like you speak, I can market that voice.”

“I’m honored. And two or three months ago, we’d get serious about this, but I’ve signed with someone else. You understand.”

She didn’t. Miss Lilly spent the next two days working on me, trying to get me to pitch my manuscript. I was polite, but turned her down, the same way I’ve done it in the years since. Every time I run into her at a conference, we talk and she invariably asks me to send her something if my current agent and I part ways.

So, like I said in my post a couple of weeks ago, do your research, talk to agents if and when the opportunity presents itself, but don’t come roaring in with pitches in inopportune places. Go to the bar, or the pool, or anywhere we gather and meet those agents. Talk to them. Get to know them. They’re hammered on a daily basis by hopeful writers. Be restrained, but have that pitch polished and shiny and ready when they ask.

Then throw out that lure and give it a twitch.




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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

22 thoughts on “Fishing For That Agent, Part Deux

  1. What a story, Rev. Thanks for sharing. And for those who haven’t had the pleasure…Rev’s books are even better than his posts. Everything around you disappears except for what is happening on the printed page.

    • Terry, thanks a lot for such a wonderful comment. I always hope to entertain and take folks away for a little while. If they grin or laugh, then that’s a bonus. Hope you have a great day! Hope those clouds are gone from your horizon.

  2. Great story, Rev. Loved it.

    How to Fish for an Agent.

    Make it their idea. That works in many areas of human interaction. And that withholding of information? Isn’t that what we call suspense?

    I hope you’ll keep the stories coming! Have a great weekend!

  3. Another great post, Rev. I could see that lure getting tastier and tastier with every description of “Miss Lily.” Don’t ever tell an alpha personality like that what they “need.” Tell them what they can’t have. Heh heh. Reverse psychology at its finest.

    And you’re absolutely right, Joe! I bought Rev’s first four books as a birthday gift for my 90-year-old voracious-reader father. Of course I snuck a look for myself before wrapping them up. It was SO hard to give them away! I hope he reads them quickly.

    • What a wonderful endorsement! I’m glad the story entertained and am honored that you bought them for your daddy. I sincerely hope he found some merit in my work. Thanks so much for buying my books, and let me know what you think when he’s finished.

  4. Great story. Sage advice. Thank you for sharing. I find the thought of looking for an agent intimidating. This post and your previous one were helpful.

    FYI, two weeks ago Monday I was dead man walking at work because of you—stayed up til 2AM to finish Hawke’s Prey. That rollercoaster never even slowed on the uphills. It was worth every second of lost sleep. Thanks for the ride.

    • That’s so much for the endorsement of Hawke’s Prey! That’s exactly what I was striving for, that never ending coaster ride to the end. It always makes a writer’s heart sing to hear how our work impacts the reader.

      Hope my experiences in finding an agent will help you in the future. Good luck!

  5. “If you write like you speak, I can market that voice.” You have voice, Rev. Great voice. Well over your limit, I’d say.

    Little story about agents and voice. I once had an agent – not a big name agent by any means – send me an email asking if I was represented. This was after my first “real” book, and she’d somehow heard of me – I think through my blog. I’d done the newbie 30-agent/30-rejection trip by then and gave up on that system but I thought I’d give it another go. So I sent her the ms for my first book and, about two months later, she wrote back with a pass but she said I had a “really great voice” and that “if I wrote it, she’d read it” and to send her my current WIP when done. I did. She wrote back with a snotty, snotty note about “How dare I bypass her submission guidelines and contact her directly”. I just Googled her and see she’s no longer in business.

    • There’s a fine how-de-doo-doo. I’m thinking the “agent” was bipolar or maybe taken suddenly drunk. Nice to know who you’re dealing with before you get stuck with them.

      The 30-30 trip rings a bell. I’m three shy of a 60-60*.

      * including silent sams. But I’m not discouraged at all. No siree sob! Er, Bob.

    • When an agent “cold calls” the best practice is to RUN. I had an agent message me on LinkedIn. It’s a tacky move to message a writer on social media, but I checked her out anyway. Turns out, she had multiple lawsuits pending. She also had lots of sales to Big 5 publishers. Confusing, right? So, I dug deeper…

      Apparently, at one time she was a well-respected agent who went out on her own, working out of her swanky apartment. Although she could sell books, she also started a side biz of editing services for writers. And of course, every queried MS needed her services. A short while later is when she first got sued, then she withheld royalties (probably to pay lawyers) and more and more lawsuits piled up.

    • Most authors have an agent story for sure. My old granddaddy once said, “Folks are strange people.” I had to scratch my head over that when I was a kid, but now I know what he meant.

      Good luck, and keep writing. Thanks for responding!

  6. I love this story, Rev. I really felt like I was there. Like Garry said above, your great voice shines through. Voice is so crucial to bringing a reader into your writing. With your writing here, I feel like I’m sitting beside you by the pool, and later, next to you in the conference room, while Miss Lily makes a grand, late entrance to the panel.

    I especially loved the way you told the story of how your old man taught you how to set a lure, and how you showed your 2011 self unconsciously doing the same for the literary agent. I’m not surprised you stuck to your guns on not pitching to her, you are definitely a person of principle, something many of us still strive to be, but it shines through clearly in your actions.

    Thanks for sharing your gift of storytelling again with us here at KZB. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thanks for writing, Dale! I didn’t understand what Voice was for a long time. It just didn’t register in my mind, until the day I started writing the way I speak, and think. That’s when it kicked in.

      Thanks for your kind words and support! I hope to sit with you one day and trade stories.

  7. That might be the best advice I’ve ever read about finding an agent. Love your style, Rev. I really do. Wishing you an amazing weekend!

  8. I’m curious what other writers think of the practice of Agent A marketing paid writing courses to his clients. I bounced it off Agent B, and she said she was fine with it, and had done the same thing. (She was also fine with listing genres she didn’t actually represent, at a paid meet-the-agent event, as part of a writers’ conference.) In my opinion, marketing courses is a conflict of interest for an agent. It almost guarantees he/she won’t treat all clients the same, but will tend to divert contracts to clients who pay for courses, consciously or otherwise.

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