July Theme: My YES Moment Landing an Agent (John Claude Bemis)

There have been many exciting moments in my career as a writer, but the one that stands out the most was when I met my agents, Josh and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. In the spring of 2006, I felt my novel The Nine Pound Hammer was ready for submission. Having heard how tough it was for unagented writers to get a publishing deal, I began the grueling search for an agent. That process is a whole other story-- and one worth telling another time. After extensive research, I had my list of dream agents. And at the top was Adams Literary.

They handled many fantasy adventure authors. They had an interest in “discovering Southern voices in children’s book writing.” They represented an amazing array of talent. The catch was (at the time) they would only take submissions from authors they had met in person. Dang. I thought I was going to have to move down the list. But then I saw that Tracey was speaking at a SCBWI conference in North Carolina, where I live. Here was my chance. I registered for the conference.

Now if you’ve been through the submission process, you know there are rules to follow. Break those rules and you might ruin your chances. According to standard operating procedure, the first step is to send a query letter asking if the agent will consider reading your manuscript. So my plan was to introduce myself at the conference, follow up with the query after the conference, and hope for the best.

My wife had a different take…

She suggested I send them an introductory email saying that I was looking forward to meeting them at the conference. There was nothing about this in my research on the submission process. There were rules! You had to follow the rules. Be too pushy or make one misstep and you might blow it. But as she pointed out, they’re just people. I was hesitant, but I gave it a shot. Here’s what my email said:

Dear Ms. Adams,

I am familiar with Adams Literary and your work with Margaret Peterson Haddix and Jenny Nimmo (and as a J.M. Barrie fan, I am eagerly anticipating Ms. McCaughrean’s Peter Pan in Scarlet!). With Adams Literary’s move to Charlotte, I have been excited to learn of your interest in discovering and developing authors who reflect the voices of the New South.

I will be attending the SCBWI conference this weekend in Durham, and I look forward to hearing your sessions. The weekend looks to be both informative and inspiring. After the conference, I would like to send you a query regarding my completed Young Adult fantasy novel based on Southern folklore.

Warmest regards,

John Bemis

I quickly got a reply from Tracey thanking me for the email and saying she looked forward to meeting me as well. At the conference, I hadn’t had a chance to meet them yet when I attended Tracey’s presentation on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Submitting to Agents.” She was talking about all the bizarre approaches people take: sending glam photos, filling envelopes with glitter, sending bottle of champagne, etc. Then she asked if John Bemis was in the audience. Face burning that I was about to become an embarrassing example of a "don't", I raised my hand. Tracey read my email aloud. I was cringing. Heads were turning to locate me. She then said that this was how to do it. Be polite. Be brief and professional. And be yourself, a normal person without gimmicks.

Later we got to meet officially. I submitted my manuscript to them. And a few months later, I got the call that they wanted to represent me. Who knows how critical that introductory email was, but what I realized was that we began our relationship on the right note. I believe I showed myself as assertive but also easy to work with, and they showed me they were responsive and friendly.

While my writing career has had the rollercoaster ups and downs many authors experience, my agents have always been there as caring supporters. They have my best interests at heart. Nothing in my journey as a writer has been as critical as meeting Josh and Tracey at that conference.


As I gear up for August release of THE WHITE CITY, the third and final book in my Clockwork Dark trilogy, I’m doing giveaways. If you want a chance to win a copy of either The Nine Pound Hammer, The Wolf Tree, or an advance copy of The White City (winner's choice), make a comment here under my post by Monday, July 11th. The winner will be selected at random on Tuesday morning and announced here on Smack Dab as well as on my website www.johnclaudebemis.com. To be considered you must be a follower of Smack Dab In The Middle and a resident of the United States or Canada.


  1. I really enjoyed your two novels. I am waiting for the third to come out. Thank you for your story on how you found an agent. I , myself am researching agents so your story helps. I have a fantasy children's story waiting to be publish. Maybe I will one day have a great story to tell like yourself.

  2. I just bought The Nine Pound Hammer and Wolf Tree for my library this spring. They are on my summer reading list and I hope to get to them soon!

  3. >> as a J.M. Barrie fan, I am eagerly anticipating...

    ...I wonder if he wound up disappointed. Despite its status as 'official' sequel, that book has a bunch of fact-checking mistakes as compared to Barrie's original stories. How can an official sequel have errors? That's just plain disrespectful. :/

    There is a novel that's faithful to Barrie. It's even based on his own idea for more adventure! Click!

    I also recommend another spin on Pan. It's a "What if?" tale that charts a new course for it all, while staying anchored in Barrie's core themes and mythology. Click!

    Hope you like them!

  4. synchronicity: Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary has my MG humorous steampunk book now. (there's a long story behind that submission, one best left for another time)

    i hope you've kept listening to that wise, wise wife of yours.

    -- Tom

  5. Thank you! I appreciate all the comments and suggestions.

  6. John, that email could serve as a model for conference newbies! May I quote it in my SCBWI-Midsouth session in September? I'll use your name or not, as you prefer.

  7. What an excellent story! I particularly loved the moment when Tracy called on you and you didn't know what to expect. I'm so happy it turned out so well.

  8. Tracy, by all means, please feel free to use it. If you're doing a session on those sorts of correspondences, I'd be happy to share others with you (query emails, follow-ups, etc). You can email me at john@johnclaudebemis.com.

  9. Thanks, Naomi! I was glad it turned out well too. Sometimes it's worth a little gamble.

  10. Congratulations, JANA! You were randomly selected from the other Smack Dab followers who posted a comment.

    Please email me at john@johnclaudebemis.com to make arrangements to receive your signed copy of one of the Clockwork Dark books. Sounds like you already have the 1st two, so if you'd like an advance copy of The White City, it's yours. Hope you enjoy them all!

    Thanks to everyone who participated!! And thanks for following Smack Dab.


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