One might wonder what literary agents have in common with Bazooka Joe, if anything, but after you’ve read this piece you will understand completely. When I was a boy I loved to chew gum and other than the gum that came with my baseball card purchases, which smelled good, but tasted like wax, Bazooka Joe was my favorite. Not necessarily because Bazooka Joe gum tasted the best, but because it also came with a comic strip and even better; if you collected a million wrappers you could send them in for a prize. After chewing a million packs of Bazooka Joe I had a sore jaw, but I also had a million wrappers. With the help of my mom I sent the wrappers with a letter to an address far away, in the hope of receiving a camera in return. The camera was an accessory I felt I needed to round out my secret agent/spy get up. In those days, secret agent shows were all the rage on television; The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible, and Get Smart just a few.
From the day I mailed the wrappers I drove the mailman and my mother nuts asking, “Did my package come?” Day in and day out I waited for my camera to arrive and day in and day out, “Did my package come?”. Finally after a number of weeks the package arrived. When I opened it, I have to say I was disappointed; the camera was a plastic replica of a real one and didn’t work at all. “What did you think kid, you send in a bunch of bubble gum wrappers and you get a real camera?” Anyway, I suppose it fit in well with all the other make-believe: make-believe bullets flying out of the end of our fingers playing cowboys and Indians, riding on make-believe horses (broomsticks worked well) while playing cowboys and Indians, make-believe doctor/patient, teacher/student, make-believe trucks and cars in the grass in our backyard; we had active imaginations then.
Today I still have an active imagination. I imagine myself as a bestselling author. When I decided to write my memoirs (Little Heathens and Always a Little Heathen), I went the non-traditional publishing route; what is today referred to as “partnership publishing,” and for those two books I think I made the right decision. With my third book, The Boat, I decided to go the traditional route. Because I don’t have a single contact within the mainline publishing business, I knew I would need some help. That’s where literary agents come in. Their job is to pitch my book as something the publishing company can make a profit on; for a cut of course. My job is to write the book, done, and then pitch it to the literary agent, and their specifications on how to do that are well established. You send them a query letter, one page only, with the hook, synopsis, and biography and usually a few pages of the manuscript. And then you hope and pray, and wait and wait for someone to get back to you. Kind of like Bazooka Joe and the bubble gum wrappers. Here’s a sample query letter for The Boat:
Attn. (Literary Agent),
At age fifteen, Alec shares his dream of building The Boat and sailing to Aruba with his two best friends, Robbie and Jason, but what he doesn’t count on are his sexy, heroin addicted girlfriend, the local drug czar and his enforcer and two miscreant sons, and a mysterious fire at the barn where he’s building his boat; all of them hell-bent on stopping him from realizing that dream.
It’s the night of high school graduation and The Boat is finished and Alec is anxious to get on the road, but he and his close friends have unfinished business out at the Winston compound; they intend to burn Old Man Puff’s heroin factory to the ground. By the time they’ve finished, they have not only burned down the heroin filled garage, but as they exit town on their way to Florida, they leave four dead bodies in their wake. Before Alec reaches Aruba, there will be two more.
The Boat is a tragic coming of age story that will keep you reading its 84000 words until you find out what happens to good friends Alec, Jason, and Robbie and why Cassie, Dougie, Charlie, and the Winston family are no longer a part of their lives.
I am the author of Little Heathens and Always a Little Heathen from Tate Publishing. The Boat is a novel that sets up well for a sequel, if there is an appetite for it, which I’ve initially titled Find Robbie and whose story-line is currently rattling around in my mind. Thank you for your consideration.
So today, instead of bugging my mom or the mailman (mailperson?), I look at my g-mail inbox daily, hoping to see a response; even a mere rejection notice. Even if I get that lousy plastic camera as a response, I have to say that I enjoy my writing much more than I did chewing those one million sticks of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.