Garth Stein’s account of meeting his agent, Jeff Kleinman. Both will present at the Kauai Writers Conference. Jeff will also offer a master class on craft from the perspective of an agent.
I started writing The Art of Racing in the Rain during the summer of 2006 and by Thanksgiving I had finished the first draft. I sent it off to my agent and a couple of weeks later, he called me. I know specifically when it was – it was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – because it was sort of a big deal.
I was going to Whole Foods to buy my organic turkey because nothing’s too good for my in-laws, who were coming from New York for the holiday for the first time. I go into the store and my phone rings. It’s my agent. And I think, “Man, this is perfect timing. It’s right before Thanksgiving. He’s going to tell me how brilliant I am, I’m going to be able to share that with my in-laws and they’ll be like, ‘Not only are you rocking it with our lovely daughter and our perfect grandchildren but you’re also a really good writer.’”
So I sat on the bench outside Whole Foods and I said, “Hey, man, what do you think?” And he said, “It’s narrated by a dog.” And I paused and said, “I knew that. I wrote it.” And he said, “No one’s going to read a book narrated by a dog. No one’s going to buy a book narrated by a dog. No publisher’s going to publish a book narrated by a dog. It’s not even narrated by a dog. It’s narrated by an author pretending to be a dog.” To which I replied, “Victor Hugo wasn’t a hunchback.”
Anyway, he went on and on – at length – about what a disaster this was and what a waste of time and what was I thinking – and on and on and on – and I’m ruining my career and taking him down with me. He said, “Just do me a favor and throw it away and write me something I can sell.”
I don’t know – it was the holiday season and all, and these two words came into my head – no, not those two words – and I said them to him. I said, “You’re fired.” So I fired my agent. And I went into Whole Foods and the butcher handed me my turkey and I asked him, “Would you read a book narrated by a dog?” And he said, “Is it good?”
And that’s the right answer.
So right after Thanksgiving, I started sending the book out to agents and they all said the exact same thing. Everyone said no and I was really at the point of giving up.
Then I went to a fundraiser for King County Library System. I was at the author dinner and we were all introducing ourselves. I said, “Hi, I’m Garth, and I’ve got this book that I think is really good but it’s narrated by a dog and no one will even touch it.”
Layne Maheu, this other author sitting across the table, looks up and says, “Hey, you should talk to my agent. He sold my book and it’s narrated by a crow.”
This is a true story.
He wrote a book, The Song of the Crow, about a crow stowing away on Noah’s Ark. So I sent his agent my book on Monday and he called me on Wednesday and left me a voicemail which I kept for 120 days, which is the maximum you can keep it. I kept it because he was crying and he said, “I love this dog and I love this book, and you have to let me represent it.”
A few weeks later, he sold it at auction and it ended up being on The New York Times Bestseller list for 158 weeks.
If you really believe in something, you have to just keep going for it. You have to persevere.