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The Order of Oddfish


Secrets of Story Episode 39: How Do You Get An Agent?

February 3, 2023

The Secrets of Story podcast is back with new episodes! I realize I’ve skipped episodes 37 and 38—don’t worry, I’ll post about those later. For now, let’s dig into Episode 39: “How Do You Get An Agent?” Listen to it here:

Many people who listen to the podcast are writers, so in this episode, Matt Bird and I talk about the burning question most writers have when starting out: How does one get represented? Matt and I love our current agents, but for both of us it was a long and winding road getting repped. You’ll find lots of helpful hints for the unagented!

In this episode, I recommend two websites for finding agents: and I’m sure there are other websites, but those are the ones I used and know about.

Also in this episode, we talk about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing. I don’t know much about that, but I do know someone who really took the plunge: Bill Shunn. I heartily recommend his excellent memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, which is all about his time as a Mormon missionary and the history of the LDS church. You can find that book here (I truly love it). You can also check out Bill’s exhaustive and realistic blog posts about the ups and downs of self-publishing here.

(Speaking of self-publishing, back when Matt considered self-publishing The Secrets of Story, he made various covers for it with different titles. To put it gently: when it comes to graphic design, Matt makes a great storytelling guru. You can see his somewhat embarrassing book covers here.)

In this episode, I also mention my first published short story, “The Lam of Hal Hamburger,” which was published in 2004 in the Chicago Reader. You can find the short story here. There was art by Paul Hornschemeier (who did the cover art for the paperback of The Order of Odd-Fish) that was included in the print edition of the Reader but is no longer on the Reader website, so I’m posting it here! Isn’t it great?

My agent nowadays is the fantastic John Cusick of Folio Literary. In this episode, I mention the harrowing experience of getting dropped by my former agent Tina Wexler (now Dubois) . . . and how, coincidentally, at just the same time, my neighbor Mary Winn Heider secured Tina as an agent! (Another coincidence: a few days after recording this episode, Tina got back in touch with me to let me know she is leaving the publishing world and switching careers to early elementary education.)

Anyway, you should really read Mary Winn’s books The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy and The Mortification of Fovea Munson, which is being made into a theatrical adaptation with composer Justin Huertas, opening March 2023 at the Kennedy Center! Yowza! Mary Winn also wrote the picture book The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas and the upcoming Stupendous Switcheroo series with graphic novelist Chad Sell.

Another thing we mention in the episode was how I got my agent by constant cold-querying, with hundreds of rejections . . . and Matt, by contrast, got his agent by effortlessly glomming on to his wife’s agent! Matt’s wife is of course the super-influential blogger and podcaster Betsy Bird, who is the author of picture books, a middle-grade book, and nonfiction books about children’s literature for adults. A true powerhouse! I met Matt through Betsy, and she has been so good to me. Learn more about Betsy’s various projects here. In this episode, Matt and I mention about her “controversial” appearance on the cover of School Library Journal a few years ago, where she and a few other children’s librarians are pictured holding what looks like alcoholic drinks (Quelle horreur) Anyway, here’s the infamous cover! Betsy’s the one seated in the middle.

It was through my young adult fantasy novel The Order of Odd-Fish that I met Betsy, and how I got my first agent. In this episode, Matt and I promise that I will share my query letter that got me representation for that book—we explain what a “query letter” is in more detail in the episode, but a “query letter” is essentially a short introductory message that you send to a prospective agent that describes you and the manuscript you wish for them to represent. So anyway, here it is, the query letter that started it all. (And if you’re intrigued by this explanation of The Order of Odd-Fish, why not buy it?)

Dear [Agent Name],

I have recently completed a young adult fantasy called The Order of Odd-Fish. I would like to submit it for your consideration.

Jo Larouche is a thirteen-year-old girl who, up until now, has spent her life taking care of her erratic Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily is an elderly ex-Hollywood starlet with a past so murky she’s not even sure how she came to be raising Jo. They live alone in Aunt Lily’s decaying mansion in the Californian desert. Jo doesn’t know anything about her real parents, or where she is from; the only clue is a note Aunt Lily found with her, a note that said she was a “dangerous baby.”

Jo and Aunt Lily’s quiet life is interrupted by some unexpected houseguests – an obese ex-KGB agent and a snobbish cockroach – who bring Jo and Aunt Lily to Eldritch City, where Aunt Lily had once been a knight in the Order of Odd-Fish. Jo’s parents had also been knights of the Odd-Fish. But they were killed, and Eldritch City was nearly destroyed, in the conflagration surrounding Jo’s strange and violent birth.

A cult called the Silent Sisters had claimed Jo was their reincarnated queen, a world-destroying goddess called the All-Devouring Mother. The Silent Sisters’ attempts to spirit away the newborn Jo led to a battle that almost demolished Eldritch City. Even today the name of Jo’s family, and the incident of Jo’s birth, is only spoken of in fearful whispers. Nobody in Eldritch City has ever seen Jo, but almost everyone believes that she is a supernatural monster. So Jo must remain incognito in Eldritch City, for if anyone other than her closest protectors knew her real identity, they would turn against her just as they had thirteen years ago.

Following in her parents’ footsteps, Jo becomes Aunt Lily’s squire in the Order of Odd-Fish. There are many orders of knights in Eldritch City, each with its own traditions and mission; the mission of the Order of Odd-Fish is to research the appendix to a great encyclopedia. This appendix aims to chronicle dubious and untrustworthy knowledge that is not reliable enough to include in the official encyclopedia. Each knight in the Order of Odd-Fish has his or her own dubious scholarly specialty, such as Useless Weaponry, or Unusual Smells, or Dithering. The knights cooperate in their research and live communally in a lodge with their adolescent squires, who are knights-in-training.

Jo explores Eldritch City’s raucous neighborhoods, makes new friends and enemies, and learns more about her scandalous parents and why her own birth almost caused the destruction of the city. But Jo’s faith in her new friends, and their trust in her, is tested when her real identity is exposed. And Jo is put to the ultimate trial when she confronts her true nature, which is frighteningly close to what the Silent Sisters had claimed.

My previous publishing credits include “The Lam of Hal Hamburger,” a 14,000-word short story that was featured on the front page of the December 31, 2004 fiction issue of the Chicago Reader.

The Order of Odd-Fish is 130,000 words long. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,


And one last thing. We mention in this episode that my new novel, Bride of the Tornado, is coming out in August! It’s already available for pre-order, which you should do through my favorite independent Chicago bookstore, Exile in Bookville. I’ll do a proper post about it later, but for now, check out this snazzy cover!

Va-va-voom, eh? More about Bride of the Tornado soon!