Dan Conaway, Literary Agent (part 2)

by Susan Henderson on November 5, 2008

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with the incomparable Dan Conaway, a literary agent with Writers House, and more importantly, my confidence-building, book-saving, wicked genius agent. Today we’re going to focus on his background as an editor; his period of anonymous blogging; and his understanding of what writers go through when they write, edit, and try to sell their books. I hope you’ll leave comments because it’s good for agents and writers to hear from each other! (And if you missed Part 1 of my interview, just click here.)

Don’t forget: Dan is not seeking new clients at this time, so please don’t send him your manuscripts. Simply use the information he’s so generously sharing, and chat with him in the comments section, if you like.

You’ve been both an agent and an editor (working for Putnam, HarperCollins, Polygram, HBO, etc). I imagine that gives you a unique perspective on the business.

Hmmm…I’m not sure. I’m not great with grand theories and such, to be honest—in fact, in some ways I think I consciously try not to think too much about “The Business” in broad prognosticating strokes, because if I did I might be discouraged. Since I don’t, I’m not discouraged—I keep my head down and work with writers I love and hope that, over time, the cream will rise. But cream never rises untended, and that’s I guess what I’ve always felt was my real strength, as an editor and as agent—that I’ll stump hard for mine. I’m a good advocate; I try like hell to do the little things, on the theory that, sometimes, they really do add up. Do they really? Is that BookSense nomination, for instance, really worth the energy it took to write personal letters to 35 booksellers, and to get those booksellers to read the book, and to remind them of the nomination deadline, and so on? (Especially when, in my experience—which has included more BookSense nominations than I can begin to count—it probably sells an extra 12 copies?) I honestly can’t say whether, in the aggregate, that sort of thing pays off—but what’s the alternative? If you really love your books and your writers, it makes doing the necessary spadework palatable. (If you don’t, that work will never get done.) So we do it, and with distinction—and sometimes lightning strikes.

But did lightning strike because of the extra effort? Yeah—maybe—who the hell knows? Cuz far more typically you put in the same crazy effort, you do everything right, you get great blurbs and a great package and you have a congenial and photogenic author and a fantastic book and a real marketing push, there’s no detail that goes unattended, but in the end lightning doesn’t strike. So I guess that’s the one thing I can say for sure about this business: who the hell knows?

I want to talk to you about the anonymous blogging you did while you were an executive editor. Busy as you must have been, what made you start that blog?

What’s interesting about BookAngst 101 is that I didn’t start it to have a conversation with writers—it was a conversation with people like me, in publishing, that I was looking for. I was working at HarperCollins, where I had a fantastic list of authors—Kevin Baker, Peter Nichols, Kim Ponders, Richard Bausch, Michael Gruber—and had some quite terrific successes there; yet I never felt like any publication had ever gone as well as it could have. I was always disappointed, always felt like more could and should have been done. Was it that I didn’t personally have enough institutional muscle to leverage the full array of marketing resources on behalf of my authors? Was it that I had higher expectations for my books than my employer did? Was it that I fundamentally misunderstood the way the publishing engine works? Could it be that I was just stupid, or insufficiently experienced—that there might be other tricks that I hadn’t learned yet?

So BookAngst started out as a way to have that conversation with other editors, other publishing types. And some of those editors and agents and other insiders participated, to a degree, but it was naïve of me to imagine that there’d be any sharing of tradecraft. I did try to offer up some “research” of sorts, but everybody (myself included) knew that being too forthcoming about specific practices and outcomes could put them in professional jeopardy. What emerged instead was a more general dialogue about the book trade.

What did you discover from the people who left comments on your blog?

The biggest surprise for me personally was how Mad Max Perkins emerged as a kind of emissary to the world of writers on behalf of the world of editors, cuz that absolutely wasn’t my intention. But I’d be lying to suggest that I didn’t cotton to the role. I was just a hardworking editor, and the way people responded to me as Mad Max, the way they seemed to appreciate how I worked, what I cared about, what my frustrations were—well, I got a lot of love, and it was deeply reassuring. Profoundly so. Reminded me that what I was doing mattered.

More broadly, my sense is that the writers (published and not) who read BookAngst 101 realized that publishing is populated (at least partly) by people who give a shit, who love good writing, who want to champion authors. Obviously some people focused on the negative, on the gloomy and dispiriting details that emerged on the blog, because there’s plenty about the business that’s hard, and we talked about those things a lot. But I’d guess that an equal number came away encouraged by it, came away with a sense that, despite the lamented corporatization of the business, there’s still heart and passion at the core. That the people who work in it still believe in—and are motivated by—discovery.

One problem with being an anonymous blogger, I suppose, is that you might be invited to speak on a panel at a prestigious conference. Tell me a story about going in costume to BEA. (And I’m talking a good story, like where you got dressed, and what the reception was like, and any close calls.)

Shortly after I launched, I was approached by a reporter at Crain’s New York who said he was working on a piece about BookAngst 101 and would I be willing to speak with him. He said he’d respect my anonymity but that he wanted to know why I was doing it. I started imagining all kinds of ways a reporter might have to identify a caller, that I’d be outed, or say something monumentally stupid, and I’d get fired—the usual paranoid crap. I finally ran across the street from my office and called him from a payphone—it’s silly in retrospect, what I was doing was no big deal, but at the time it didn’t seem that way. Or maybe I just wanted to imagine myself as a character in All the President’s Men. He was very nice, and of course I was so careful not to say anything controversial that I failed to say anything interesting either.


M.J. Rose asked me to be on the BEA panel, along with Michael Cader and Robert Gray. I agreed, then forgot about it, then left HarperCollins for a new job at Putnam. Ironically the BEA appearance was on the second or third day after starting my new job; by then enough people knew who I was that I decided I’d better come clean with my new boss, Ivan Held. He was amused… Anyway, I showed up at the Javitz Center, then went into the bathroom and changed into an elaborate costume I’d rented. But I’d miscalculated where the panel was held, so I emerge from the bathroom wearing this ridiculous old-man-Merlin outfit, a full mask, robe, pointy dunce-cap, a cane for effect… and then had to walk the entire length of the Javitz Center, feeling as silly as can be. People were laughing and pointing—they probably figured it was some sort of Harry Potter promotion. I got into character, hobbling along on my cane, greeting people in a high, nasally witch’s cackle—”Hello, my Pretty! Enjoying the fair?” It was fun.

My experience of the panel itself was probably a lot the way newly-published writers feel when they arrive at their very first reading. I don’t know what I expected, but it turns out that the world wasn’t remotely excited about witnessing the one public appearance of Max the Mighty Mouse. There were about seven people there, a couple of whom were simply waiting around from the previous session while the batteries in their motorized wheelchairs finished recharging.

Why, by the way, did you feel you had to blog anonymously? And why did you stop blogging?

The official reason I blogged anonymously was because I was afraid I’d get fired if I didn’t… and ultimately my anonymity allowed me (and some of the people who contributed “data” to the site) to be more honest without fear of repercussions. But also, I had no idea what I was doing, I decided to do it, named it, launched it all in the span of a couple of hours, totally impulsively, and there was a pretty good chance that I was going to sound like a complete idiot. Either outcome—getting fired, or revealing the emptiness of my head publicly—seemed a bad career move. So it made sense to have a little cover. And anonymity allowed me to invent Mad Max Perkins. And—let’s be honest—could there be a cooler moniker for a publishing guy?

So why did you make the move from editor to agent?

I made the switch principally because I have four kids, and I needed to be certain that I wasn’t vulnerable to the corporate axe as I skulked into my 50s. The calculus was simply this: for a long time I’d had this paranoia that I’d get sacked when I turned 52, 53—no way of knowing whether it would have happened, and at Putnam I had a good run of success, some bestsellers and so on—so who knows? But I never saw myself as publisher material, as an editor-in-chief—I’m a really slow reader, for one thing—and since I have triplet daughters who might all be heading off to college when I’m 52 (an age that had been long highlighted on my career calendar), I realized that would be a shitty year to get fired. I had a close relationship with Simon Lipskar and the folks at Writers House—Simon and I always joked that I’d come work for him when I eventually got fired… Then I started thinking differently about the joke itself, and realized, why wait? My fundamental affinities have always been with my authors anyway, and watching how Simon worked with his made me confident that my skill set would translate nicely. And it has. I loved being an editor, but the truth is I’m still an editor, fundamentally. I just don’t write the flap copy anymore.

Seems like, with the various hats you’ve worn (agent, editor, blogger), you have a real appreciation for the difficulties writers go through in searching for an agent, editing a manuscript, and finding a publisher.

I do. Some writers I’ve encountered along the way may disagree, of course—but if you were to ask me why I do what I do, I’d say it’s principally because of the writers themselves. To sit in a room by yourself and make shit up out of nothing, I can’t think of anything harder, especially when you consider how many hours, days, months a writer must sit in that room, alone, without any way of knowing for certain that the work is coming together in the way it must. To work, day after day, in the face of so much uncertainty—I’m talking now just about the creative process; add to that the nightmarish vulnerability that most writers experience on the business front, the difficulties of building a sustainable career as a writer—it’s miraculous that anybody can ever finish anything. I really can’t think of a harder job, because you can go months, even years without the sort of ordinary affirmations that a working joe like me encounters as a matter of course. As an editor, as an agent, hell, even when I was the King of Junk Mail for W.W. Norton, creating direct mail advertising for college textbooks, if you’re any good at your work, generally there are lots of ways in which you’ll be reminded, on a daily basis, that you are, indeed, good at your work. And that makes it quite a bit easier to keep putting one foot in front of another, you know?

Anything you’d you like writers to understand about agents’ struggles?

The thing I struggle the most with is not being able to give my clients the feedback they want as quickly as they want it. It’s not that their wanting it is unreasonable—but I have a lot of clients, and work does seem to land in big clumps, and sometimes there’s no way around the fact that it’s going to take time for me to get to it. For the most part I manage it by being as clear as I possibly can about the amount of work on my plate at a particular time, and how long it’s likely to be before I’m going to be able to begin the work. If I can’t even start reading your manuscript for two weeks, and you know that, then (theoretically, anyway) your anxiety level for those first two weeks of silence might be lower, since the only thing (in that case) that silence means is that I haven’t started reading yet.

And tell me why you’re in this line of work.

Writers tend to be pretty interesting people. Thoughtful, generous (except when they’re not), and fucked up in all the best ways. And not stingy in expressing their appreciation, either—when I do good work, my authors tell me so, and with great conviction. And the things they make, these books—well, I’ve been blessed, because I get to participate in making them, participate sometimes in really substantial ways. And so at the end of the day, at the end of the year, at the end of my life, there will be shelves and shelves of books I had a hand in bringing into this world. What could be better than that?

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathalie November 5, 2008 at 2:34 am

And it seems indeed a lovely profession or this. Thank you.


kategray November 5, 2008 at 8:12 am

It’s nice to see what an agent can be. I’ve hit a point where I’m at a loss of how to get even to a point of having one! After the webook vote, I was given some vaguely quasi-helpful direction by the staff as to why they didn’t end up choosing what I’d written. Basically, it amounted to needing to edit. And so, I was back where I’d started; knowing that I need to edit, but having no earthly idea how to do so. Nor do I seem to be able to formulate a query letter for this book. So, I’ve decided to shelve it, and start over, but at the end of the day, it’s still there; a little devil on my shoulder who’s bashing me.

I should have asked when Susan was looking for questions, “How does the completely uninitiated writer come up with a query letter that sells?” I have no idea. Not to make excuses either, but I have no way of going to conferences or workshops right now. I’ve read books, participated in online workshopping, tried to get into anything that seemed remotely helpful…but I’m still sitting here. I do have one nagging theory about why all my initial queries may have been brushed off (I used my real last name, you see, which is one I share with another author, and it’s not a common name, either), but I don’t even know that for sure. I’m lingering somewhere between despair and surrender, I suppose.


Amy_Nathan November 5, 2008 at 8:29 am

Besides “who the hell knows” I think a thread here for writers to see is that it all takes dedication and perseverance. So many give up after querying a few agents – thinking that’s the end of that. With the climate of publishing today and so many negative, this-is-going-to-be-tougher-than-ever-folks posts that are plastered all over the blogosphere, I can’t help but think and say that authors write good books, agents take them on, editors acquire them and publishers publish them every single day. So why not you – why not me? I guess backing down from an uphill battle is not my m.o. And it’s the straightforward posts like these that are refreshing, not discouraging. Who knows what book anyone will pick up tomorrow?


jodyreale November 5, 2008 at 11:49 am

Dan, thanks for coming, and for revealing part of the “agent mystique.” Three questions:

1. If a writer has a small independent press on the line for publishing a book, does she want/need an agent to close the deal? Really? Seriously? Are you sure?
2. Let’s say I get a very nice, personalized rejection from an agent who says he isn’t the right person for my project. Is it committing heresy to ask him for a referral to someone else who might want it? (What’s the worst that could happen, right?)
3. (This one you’ve probably heard a million times.) Let’s say that I want to print some of my works into a little book using one of those cheap online book publishers. Let’s say that maybe I even go so far as to assign an ISBN to it, or not, but I do it just because I think it would make me happy. Maybe I give some away as gifts, or send them to tiny little libraries. Maybe I keep one in my bathroom or what have you. Does this hurt my chances of selling the same work later to a “real publisher?”
3.1 Does Agnes ever blog, too?

Again, thanks.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 11:56 am

Hey, everyone. I know folks will be checking in slowly today because we were all up late with the historic night we had. I’m finding my emotions are all over the place – bursting into tears of joy, needing some sort of emotional catharsis or closure that’s no longer here now that the huge Chicago crowd has dispersed, feeling so damn happy and hopeful, and yet it’s hard to change gears from the sense of nervous waiting and the worry and the constant checking of political blogs. I guess it’s a little like the joy of delivering a healthy newborn, and then being hit by post-partum depression.

Some photos that mean a lot to me:


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Do writers generally have agents in France or Italy? Curious what your experience is, Nathalie.


jodyreale November 5, 2008 at 12:02 pm

It’s really something, isn’t it? Of course, I already knew this was going to happen because my daughter’s preschool elected Obama yesterday, right before nap time, so I’ve had some time to decompress. (You’ll also be glad to know that her class passed 3 new amendments: 1. Singing will be allowed at the lunch table; 2. There will be a helper of the week award; 3. There will be 2 tape stories played before nap.)


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Limbo is the hardest place to be.

Dan may disagree with me here, but I’ll throw out my opinion. Being a good novel writer and a good query writer are completely different things. It’s like the reclusive artist versus the ad executive. My feeling is you want to say as little as you can in the query and hope they move promptly to the first amazing page of the manuscript. I’d see if you can boil the action and the excitement of your book into a single sentence: Amputee princess saves kingdom with her phantom limb and finds love in the process. Author has been published in these ten okay places and won third place at a swimming meet. And then they’ve read only 2 or 3 sentences, and can move on to page 1 of your manuscript, where you’ve actually got talent.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Persistence is the single quality I find in common with the successful writers I know.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Great questions!


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 12:13 pm

That is the cutest thing about singing at the lunch table.


Nathalie November 5, 2008 at 12:26 pm

I don’t think they do. At least in France they used not to (and my guess would be that Italians are more or less the same). You just sent your manuscript (the whole of it too) to publishers and wait. This is probably an effect of the lesser volume of works produced allowing editing houses to do the reading themselves.
I think agents are really something for professional writers (i.e. people who tend to churn out books on a regular basis like once a year or so), more to take care of their public appearances than anything else.
Not sure how it is now, I have been out of the country since 1992.


Joe November 5, 2008 at 12:33 pm

We were at our local Obama HQ till 2am so I’m beat. No one wanted to leave.

It’ll take me some time to sort out all my feelings. Post-partum for sure Susan. Drained. But I also feel like we have lifted a yoke that has been around our necks since the founding of this nation. Whether we can solve all the challenges facing us is very nearly irrelevant. What really matters is that last night I think we decided to reject fear.

On a personal level I feel the dark knot that lodged in my gut seven years ago beginning to unravel.


mariaschneider November 5, 2008 at 12:48 pm

I adored this interview, especially the bit about Dan and the crush he had on his wife-to-be. Thanks for a great read Dan and Susan!


Amy_Nathan November 5, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Just a note, kategray. There are scads of sites and blogs out there with examples of fabulous query letters. There are even samples of bad ones. You don’t have to pay, you just have to search. The internet has amazing information and it might show you that with some tenacity and time…you can right a great query. Good luck.


Aurelio November 5, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Dan, when you said that you left editing for a more secure career as a book agent, I flashed on that line in “Auntie Mame,” right after the stock market crash, when Mame’s good friend Vera Charles advises, “Mame, you need to get into something steady… like acting.” Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe a career as an agent is more dependable than an editing job with a large publishing firm, but I’ll take your word for it.

A question: I’m curious how much consideration is being given by publishers and agents regarding the internet and the changing universe of literature. Obama’s victory seems to me an indication of politics finally discovering the power of this new medium. The book world has more or less fought rather than embraced the vast potential the internet offers, but it seems to me the net could provide the same mass-marketing and ease of access that it has for Obama in this election, if exploited properly.

And yes, writers have blogs, ALL of them seem to, but this is not what I’m talking about. What strikes me is, the internet could be use to blow open the doors on things like the concept of broad genre books to micro-genre books. As an example: there are on-line clubs, groups, chat rooms, etc. for every possible micro-specific topic imaginable. It seems there is not a topic one can come up with that doesn’t have a huge following on the net somewhere. So, why not use the net more cleverly to attract very specific audiences for specific books? Rather than setting up general sites, which seems to be the norm right now, the internet can virally connect books to exactly the right readers. Indeed, I could foresee a future where books literally sell themselves simply by virtue of their actual content.

I’m rambling, but just as TV commercials dramatically changed product marketing, the internet could change book marketing. I don’t really see it happening yet, in fact, I sense a lot of resistance instead. I see little exploitation of the net for books beyond writer’s blogs and margin ads with Amazon links.


Amy_Nathan November 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Susan, are you in Chicago? I’m in the ‘burbs. It was amazing to see the city as the backdrop for history.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 1:21 pm
DConaway November 5, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Sue’s right–keep it as short as possible, and get right to the sample, cuz that’s what it’s really all about. If it were me–and this may not be what Miss Snark would recommend, so follow her advice over mine–I’d always include a page or two, the first couple of pages of the manuscript, along with the query letter.


DConaway November 5, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Hi, Jody–
1. Yes/no/maybe. But in my opinion? Yes, for the reasons I mentioned in the first part of the interview. 2. For me personally, if I had any ideas about such a referral, I’d have mentioned it in my rejection. But as you say: what’s the worst that could happen? 3. Lots of self-published books do get resold. For me personally–being totally honest here–I tend to attach a negative prejudice when a self-published book is submitted to me. Can’t say why, but I do.


DConaway November 5, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I’m sure you’re right about this–more can be done, no doubt about it. And in general everybody WANTS to use the net more cleverly; and to a limited degree, publishers are trying harder in this regard, to varying degrees of success Bu my honest feeling is that individual authors are typically going to be the ones best suited to exploring/exploiting those possibilities themselves, mostly because they have the best motivation to do so.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 3:03 pm

from Mark Halperin,

Obama-Biden Transition Announcement

President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden Today Announced its Leadership For the Transition of Administrations

Chicago — For the past several months, a board of advisors has been informally planning for a possible presidential transition. Among the many projects undertaken by the transition board have been detailed analyses of previous transition efforts, policy statements made during the campaign, and the workings of federal government agencies, and priority positions that must be filled by the incoming administration.

With Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s election, this planning process will be now be formally organized as the Obama-Biden Transition Project, a 501(c)(4) organization to ensure a smooth transition from one administration to the next. The work of this entity will be overseen by three co-chairs: John Podesta, Valerie Jarrett, and Pete Rouse.

The co-chairs will be assisted by an advisory board comprised of individuals with significant private and public sector experience: Carol Browner, William Daley, Christopher Edley, Michael Froman, Julius Genachowski, Donald Gips, Governor Janet Napolitano, Federico Peña, Susan Rice, Sonal Shah, Mark Gitenstein, and Ted Kaufman. Gitenstein and Kaufman will serve as co-chairs of Vice President-elect Biden’s transition team.

Supervising the day-to-day activities of the transition will be:

Transition Senior Staff:
Chris Lu – Executive Director
Dan Pfeiffer – Communications Director
Stephanie Cutter – Chief Spokesperson
Cassandra Butts – General Counsel
Jim Messina – Personnel Director
Patrick Gaspard – Associate Personnel Director
Christine Varney – Personnel Counsel
Melody Barnes – Co-Director of Agency Review
Lisa Brown – Co-Director of Agency Review
Phil Schiliro – Director of Congressional Relations
Michael Strautmanis – Director of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs
Katy Kale – Director of Operations
Brad Kiley – Director of Operations

The phone number for the transition headquarters is 202-540-3000. The official website for the transition is and it will be live later today.


kategray November 5, 2008 at 3:44 pm

I honestly have always wanted to be an author like him – one who has had a huge amount of control over his work, but is also deeply passionate about many other things. I’m saddened at his passing, but amazed by his life.


kategray November 5, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Every time I come here, I end up with a blog idea of my own…I should credit you at the end of every one.


marilynpeake November 5, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Hi, Dan,

Your interview today meant so much to me. Thank you! I especially loved that you understand, really seem to get, how difficult it is for a writer to create a novel out of thin air in a lonely room for months, sometimes years, seemingly without end. That’s the experience in a nutshell, balanced by the sheer joy of creation and using words to breathe life onto a blank page.

I’m delighted that the subject of small press came up in the Q & A. I find myself with a real dilemma, and am not sure what to do. I have quite a few books published by a wonderful small publishing house, have won many awards including three Finalist Awards and a Silver Award in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. Recently, a TV Producer who had another children’s television show make # 1 in its time slot, approached me about including my children’s fantasy adventure novels in her new TV show pilot. Earlier, those novels began selling quickly, libraries began requesting them, and I started receiving emails from across the United States telling me that children were writing book reports about the novels. Then, suddenly, the distribution channels were bought up by another company, and it became impossible to even fill library requests for the books. If the TV show becomes a reality, I would love to be able to sell my books in bookstores. I wonder: Do I need an agent? And is it even possible to get an agent for this type of situation? I would really appreciate your advice.

At the present time, I’m writing an adult science fiction novel for which I’m planning to seek representation by a literary agent.


DConaway November 5, 2008 at 8:48 pm

If you’re able to get an agent, you should get an agent. And if your books are going to be featured in a t.v. show, this might be the right time for an agent to help you find a new publisher, one without the distribution problems you describe. (So that I’m clear: the t.v. show isn’t based on your books; rather your books will be shown there, featured visually, something like that?)


jodyreale November 5, 2008 at 8:57 pm

I now realize, and it’s cracking me up a fair amount, all the bargaining I’ve been doing about whether I need an agent or not, as if it’s some horrible thing. I think the most important thing I’ve learned here is, “If you’re able to get an agent, you should get an agent.” And it only took me two days to learn it. Yay me.


marilynpeake November 5, 2008 at 9:20 pm

Hi, Dan,

Thank you very much for your advice. That’s correct about how my book series will be included in the TV show. The novels will be featured in both the pilot and in certain episodes if the show is picked up. The show will feature a variety of children’s books. The TV Show Producer has already had a puppet made of one of my main characters, a magical dolphin who carries a boy on his back to an ancient city beneath the ocean, and her cameraman has begun working with the puppet. Also, I should mention that an executive who works at a movie studio in Hollywood has read some of my adult short stories and is now marketing them as part of a TV show pilot in both Hollywood and “Bollywood”/India. I would like to be represented by a literary agent as I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope without a net. Can you recommend a literary agency that might represent these varied projects? I don’t know if I should ask this here, but does your agency represent an author with multiple projects like these?


marilynpeake November 5, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I was so sad to hear about this today. I love Crichton’s work!


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Remember you can always link your blog when you have a new post.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Hey, Joe!

Feeling about like you’ve described here. (Just ran out to get the special golden dollars the tooth fairy gives out… and that helps with the post-partum feeling, somehow.)


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 9:55 pm

I’m not, but I’ll be there for AWP this year.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 9:56 pm

Yeah, I loved that story, too. I owe you a note, Maria. I’ll catch up by tomorrow.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Unrelated, but what’s the status with Prop 8 at this point, and what about folks who already got married?


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 10:03 pm

When someone gets how hard you work – the struggle involved in the whole process of creating something, taking feedback, re-creating it – you can push yourself so much further. It’s a tremendous feeling of support.


SusanHenderson November 5, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Took me way longer, but I have such a stubborn streak about trying to do everything on my own.


marilynpeake November 5, 2008 at 10:30 pm

It must be wonderful, Susan, to be working with Dan as your agent. What is it like to have a book about to be published by a big publishing house? I’m guessing you must be exhilarated. 🙂 Are you working on another project right now? I’m writing an adult science fiction novel…alone, in a room, typing away, pulling out my hair…maybe you know the routine?


Ric November 6, 2008 at 8:35 am

As long as we’re doing political stuff, my blog entry got picked up by the local newspaper as a letter to the editor.

here it is – along with the link – though the paper comes out later today and it isn’t on the web site yet.

And so it begins…

November 5 9am 48 degrees – a perfect Indian Summer day, going up to 70, clear blue Michigan sky, Glorious.

My two youngest sons came yesterday and we went to the Township Hall and voted together. First time for the youngest, second for the other who was mightily disappointed when his guy didn’t win in 2004. They headed back to college early where I got calls from the youngest who was enjoying the night of celebration on campus. Other child was headed to Chicago to be part of the celebration in Grant’s Park – haven’t heard whether he went or not.

Turnout in my little corner of the world was just shy of 80% – phenomenal.

Wife went to sleep – she had an early call this morning. So, it was just me and the cat at eleven when the word came. I was watching CNN and lost it when Roland Martin burst into tears of joy and David Gergen was having trouble keeping it together.

And then, Obama came out to speak.

There are few times – far too few – when I am so proud of my country, proud to be an American, proud of my fellow citizens. Last night was one of them.

I’ve been through a lot – protesting the VietNam War, fighting against the draft, recessions, inflation, struggling to keep it all together. Once during the Reagan years, I stood for the National Anthem at a baseball game and felt that collective spirit in the crowd – it was suddenly all right to be proud of our country again, proud to be American.

I am there again. And the hope it brings in this time of uncertainty and struggle is so very comforting. Not just for me, but for my four children who all took the time and made the effort to vote yesterday. Who now believe in the system and believe – Yes, we can.

Yes, we can.


Aurelio November 6, 2008 at 9:55 am

Prop 8 passed, meaning that the CA constitution was amended to define marriage as “one man and one woman.” A strict interpretation might mean married people can’t even own a dog.

It is unclear what will happen with those of us already married. Since you can’t have a retroactive law, the assumption is we will remain so, but this is driven by nasty prejudice, after all, so I assume it all depends on just how nasty the Mormons and Fundies are allowed to be. And, to have some gay people legally married and now rule that other gay couples cannot marry seems pretty undeniably discriminatory. It’s basically a big messy piece of crap these nut-jobs managed to create by scaring people into thinking we want to turn their kiddies gay.

‘Cause it was so much fun being gays kids ourselves that we want everyone to feel the joy.

What it most likely succeeds in doing is throwing it back into the courts forever (who already ruled in our favor, BTW) and giving tons of work to lawyers. I doubt it will stand, in the long run, because it is so obviously discriminatory, and would open the door to all sorts of equally stupid discriminatory laws if they let it stand.

There are a couple of different court challenges already filed, but while America looked past its racial prejudice and voted for Obama, gay people are still fair game. I just find it sad that so many people went along with this, and especially sad that, as gays overwhelmingly helped elect Obama, 70% of African-Americans here in CA supported gay discrimination, pretty much assuring Prop 8’s passage.

We’ve been together for 27 years, got legally married in August, so we’re “married,” whether or not anyone else recognizes that.


Aurelio November 6, 2008 at 10:12 am

This is the first time I’ve heard anyone suggest inserting a couple of pages of the book in the with the query. Is this pretty common, Dan? It makes perfect sense, so I hope it is/becomes the norm. It always surprises me how distant the actual manuscript remains during the “romancing” process. Every agent and publisher I’ve heard or read about say “it’s about the writing,” but it seems more about first impressions and catchy queries before the writing even enters into it.

Which reminds me, I need to schedule cosmetic surgery before I start selling my new one. If they can make me look more like George Clooney I’ll have a much better shot.


Kimberly November 6, 2008 at 10:28 am

‘Cause it was so much fun being gays kids ourselves that we want everyone to feel the joy.

Oh dear – there I go, laughing out loud again.

On a day when I should have felt nothing but joy and exhilaration, I just wanted to punch anyone who voted “Yes on 8”.

How does California’s Commonlaw marriage work? Does it only applies to “One Man, One Woman?” ‘Cause in my books – staying together 27 years is a feat few can manage, let alone the measly 7 years it takes for Commonlaw to kick in.

And I know that this has been said elsewhere, but seriously, I think hetero’s staggering abuse of marriage (think Britney Spears) and the constantly climbing divorce rate has done so much more to offend the “sanctity of marriage” than gay marriage possibly could. It’s us heteros who have truly mucked it up.


Kimberly November 6, 2008 at 10:35 am

I’d always include a page or two, the first couple of pages of the manuscript, along with the query letter.

What a brilliant idea!

As I understand it, this is not how it happens in the film-lit world, but I’m so stealing it anyway. My general take on doing things that scare me is: They’re already NOT doing what I’m asking them to do, so what do I have to lose?

I’ll try it and report back with the difference in script requests.

Thanks, Dan!


Kimberly November 6, 2008 at 10:37 am

Oh Ric, ‘Glorious’ is a perfect word.

Thanks for sharing this.

Yes We DID!


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 12:54 pm

If you decide to forego the agent and try it on your own in France, let me introduce you to a friend I have out there first. He can guide you through that do-it-yourself process.


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Yeah, definitely report back!


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Yeah, honestly, I was shocked when the vote was so close because I thought it was just some weird fringe group opposing gay marriage. I’m really sorry it passed. Seems

—Mr. H. just came home early with flowers. 🙂 Now I have to see where I was…


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I don’t even know what to say about this whole thing, it makes me so mad. It’s hateful and unconstitutional. Because right now, it’s perfectly fine to have marriage between people who don’t love each other, people who abuse each other, people who don’t want or can’t have children. All of the various ways one might define marriage have already been broken. But the idea of two people who’ve been together and in love for 27 years…

I’m sorry. I’m very sure it will be overturned, but I’m sorry something so dumb and hateful got passed.

I hope Chuck brings you flowers today.


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 1:27 pm

I have pulled out a lot of hair, and that’s only the beginning. Tell you what, I will blog the entire process of this book sometime very soon.


SusanHenderson November 6, 2008 at 1:30 pm

That’s really lovely, Ric. And hasn’t it been fascinating to watch to transformation of David Gergen this election cycle?


marilynpeake November 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm

That’s really beautiful, Ric. Very moving. I’ve noticed increased civility in people lately, much more calm and greater optimism, despite all the troubles our country still faces. Somehow, right now, it seems like everything will be O.K. There is hope. Maybe we can roll up our sleeves and make this world a better place. Yes, we can.


marilynpeake November 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm

That would be fantastic, Susan! I would love to read that!


jessicaK November 7, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Dan’s Mad Max was such a revelation and career turning point for me—and stupendous fun! Finally, finally, finally someone inside the publishing world took a chance and pulled aside the black curtain. He let me and so many others see that the Wizard of Publishing OZ is just a person, a rather bumbling one at that, who wants to go home like the rest of us.

Thanks, again, Dan.

Great interview, Susan.

Jessica Keener


SusanHenderson November 7, 2008 at 7:20 pm

It was a powerful and refreshing blog. Hope folks who haven’t seen it check it out:

(Hi Jess!)


DConaway November 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Thanks, Jessica–and I’m going to assume that “bumbling” refers to somebody other than me? 😉


DConaway November 8, 2008 at 9:23 am

I can’t say how common it is, but when somebody sends a query that way to me, and it’s no more than a page or two, I never don’t look at the sample.  I definitely recommend it–can’t hurt, in my view.


jessicaK November 8, 2008 at 5:50 pm


Of course!

Jessica Keener


SusanHenderson November 8, 2008 at 6:17 pm

What Jessica says is so true – what a really great surprise Mad Max was because he was HUMAN. You start to get the idea editors and publishers are all 8 feet tall robots and no longer care about anything but those money-making cookbooks and how-to books and Paris Hilton thoughts of the day. And here was this person who really cared about his writers and their books and felt frustration about the system, etc. It helped a lot of us trust the system again, broken as it is, because we saw it had a beating heart.


Carolyn_Burns_Bass November 8, 2008 at 11:43 pm

This comment says it all: “To work, day after day, in the face of so much uncertainty—I’m talking now just about the creative process; add to that the nightmarish vulnerability that most writers experience on the business front, the difficulties of building a sustainable career as a writer—it’s miraculous that anybody can ever finish anything. I really can’t think of a harder job, because you can go months, even years without the sort of ordinary affirmations that a working joe like me encounters as a matter of course. As an editor, as an agent, hell, even when I was the King of Junk Mail for W.W. Norton, creating direct mail advertising for college textbooks, if you’re any good at your work, generally there are lots of ways in which you’ll be reminded, on a daily basis, that you are, indeed, good at your work. And that makes it quite a bit easier to keep putting one foot in front of another, you know?”

You are someone who gets it. No wonder your writerly wife fell in love with you.


SusanHenderson December 14, 2008 at 9:29 pm

This is an especially good article on agents:


lydiafrenzel May 19, 2009 at 10:49 am

Wonderful interview. Getting the right agent is top priority, just after excellent story telling. Writers House appears to be a breath of fresh air. Query letters are on their way.
My husband and I love to write and have 6 novels- 3 in epic adventure; 3 in industrial espionage, and 1 non-fiction- the adventures of a Rotary District Governor. They are either fully edited or where we ourselves are re-editing. Four years ago, an agent loved the industrial espionage- he couldn’t put them down, but he kept asking for more volumes and more money for editing. We finally abandoned him because we couldn’t get concrete responses of where he was sending the queries. Two years ago, another agent fell in love with the epic adventure; the presentation was fresh. She is also an editor, primarily with a Christian publisher, workshop presenter, professor of writing, and a published author. She did wonderful professional editing. However, just recently said she was putting her literary agency on hold to edit and teach full time. So now we are back to square one, looking for an agent.


SusanHenderson May 20, 2009 at 8:46 am

Thanks, Lydia. Good luck finding an agent and getting those books in the hands of readers!


Valerie Dentel September 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm

I began working out of necessity at the young age of 14. I became a single mother at 20. I attended Ball State, worked up to 3 jobs & raised my son on my own. So, I felt extremely lucky when I landed a job with an automaker. I dropped out of college & began a career which would include every facet of manufacturing a vehicle. I married a wonderful man & had 2 additional boys. I have enjoyed a good life. I am now in my 40’s and my boys are 25, 15 & 10. I have been a working mother my whole life. Part of who I am was lost & I am at a point in my life now to find that part, that creative me that was placed aside due to the necessities of life. I am now attempting to write my first mid-grade fiction book & I want to thank you Dan for your insight & honesty.


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