Sunday, January 22, 2012

How I got my agent

Yeah, hi. I have big news.

Uh . . . I got an agent.

I am thrilled. DELIGHTED! And I'm just going to tell this story exactly as it happened and anyone who sees their name in here but doesn't want to can just email me and I'll redact it all CIA style and stealth-like.

The story: I pretty much always intended to stay in the niche market where I publish now. Except I got an idea for a story that wouldn't fit there. But it seemed crazy to me to spend eight months writing and polishing a story that might go nowhere versus a story that would definitely be picked up by my current publisher and pay for a fun family vacation or two. But . . . I'd also done four back to back manuscripts in the same genre, and the idea of switching mental gears to try something different . . .

That sounded like a really, really nice break. So I did it. I wrote the story that seemed completely impractical to write. I don't know how many times I heard that what I wanted to do was a hard sale. From agents. And people who know stuff.

It's a contemporary YA story that grew out of a fairy tale I had written in third grade. Think a modern retelling of a fairy tale, but it's a fairy tale only I know. I got to revisit my Louisiana roots, examine post-Katrina New Orleans a bit, indulge in excessive episodes of Hoarders and Project Runway as "research" and then, as my Louisiana grandfather would say, I stirred the whole mess with my finger and voilĂ : a story.

That I liked. No, loved. A lot.

I finished a solid first draft at the beginning of November. I desperately wanted to complete revisions and query agents and beat the post-NaNoWriMo crush, so I sent it to my pickiest (in the best possible sense) beta readers and begged for a one-week turnaround.

I know. Completely unreasonable.

No sooner was it out of my hands than my small press came calling for the final edits on my spring release. It's my third book in that market but it's actually the first manuscript I wrote and it needed tough love. I worked super hard on it for two weeks. The whole time I itched to get back to my national market project (from here on out referred to as NMP) but I had a deadline to meet.

Once I sent my small press revisions back, I turned my attention to my NMP. Two of the four critiques I was waiting on had made their way back to me. I dove in, and OH, it was painful. I felt like I was picking up, examining, judging and weighing every single one of the 88,000 words in it. But after some swearing, consolation chocolate, and obstinacy, I finished that draft. While I waited for the last two beta readers, I got to work crafting a query letter.


I don't want to brag, but I kinda know J. Scott Savage. (That's so not brag-worthy because he's one of the nicest guys EVER and so everyone feels like they're friends with him because he's just a kind man, but I'm going to brag anyway.) I took a workshop in the spring from him about how to write a good hook. When I had the best possible query I could write, I sent it to him with a promise of homemade mint fudge if he could take a look and tell me what he thought. He agreed on the condition of fudge delivery, and offered me some great insights. I ran it by another author friend. (Hi, Heather!)

I tweaked it. I buffed and polished it. I had won a query critique from Lindsey Roth Culli, who works for some top shelf agents. I sent it to her and we went back and forth several times on the fine-tuning. Her advice was SO helpful. I mean, she helped me dial it in down to the teeniest, tiniest words.

By then, a third beta reader had returned her feedback, so I dove into that and made yet MORE changes. And I felt really good about the shape the story was in. And it was now the very end of November. I'd been doing my agent research since October on Query Tracker so I opened up my agent query list and decided to test the query. I sent it out to a selection of agents who wanted queries only to begin with (no sample pages). I had five requests within a day.

So, um, I knew the query was solid.

One of those requests was from one of my top choice agents. I chose her because of a line in her agent bio that read: She is especially drawn to mysteries in mansions, adventures that suspend disbelief, wish-fulfillment premises that linger with what ifs, epic love stories, and settings filled with strong regional flavors.

Since that's pretty much what I had sitting on my laptop, I thought maybe we would be a good fit. Turns out we totally were. For the moment, we'll call her Agent A.

The problem, though, is that I'm an idiot. I hadn't expected the requests to come back nearly as fast as they did. And I had just gotten the last beta read critique back. And it was from my former editor at my small press and she made some pretty valid points. And they were going to take some time. Which I sort of didn't have. And it meant I didn't have a final manuscript for agents who were asking. So for the first time ever in my writing career, I hired a babysitter for the next day, shut myself in my room, and I went to work. I worked all day that day. I worked from the time my husband got home from work the next day until two in the morning. I worked for hours the day after that. And after another twenty hours over three days, I felt like I had it.

It's not that the story was so broken before. But I adjusted two plot elements that meant I needed to check for continuity through the whole rest of the manuscript, and it meant adjusting one minor character's personality. So I had to spend a lot of time thinking about how to do it, then changing a tiny thing in one scene which would set off a domino effect and so on.

But I felt SO good about what I ended up with.

In the middle of all of this, I had continued to query a set number of agents each day. I thought hard about which agents I wanted to query, and I worked to express that in each query letter I wrote by personalizing it and explaining why I was interested in that agent. That took up a lot of that twenty hours, too.

I won't tell you how many I queried, but I will tell you that I was stunned by the number of requests I got for fulls. It was exciting and overwhelming, but I was finally ready to send my crazy baby out. So I did.

I thought with the holidays quickly approaching, I would have a couple of weeks to breathe and then maybe after the New Year, if I were incredibly lucky, I'd have some news.


Another agent, Agent B, emailed me on a Friday. She loved my book, she said. She wanted to represent it, she said. Don't sign with anyone until she talked to me, she said.

You guys, Agent B is amazing. She reps an award-winning (yeah, multiple Newberrys and other beautiful, shiny things) author I adore. And she is gracious and wonderful and NOBODY has a bad word to say about her no matter how hard you scour the interwebz to check. She's just lovely.

So following protocol, I notified the agents who had my full manuscript that I was entertaining an offer of representation. And by the time I heard back from everyone, I had three total offers of representation. Agent A loved it, and Agent C did, too. Agent C was so great to talk to. I really clicked with her and she's with a boutique agency that's got great buzz.

So I had three different choices: a YA specialist at a powerhouse agency to end all powerhouses, a revered agent with her own established boutique agency, or a newer agent at a sexy up and coming boutique agency.

And I liked all of them when we talked. And they each offered something unique and wonderful in an agent relationship.

And I had such a hard choice to make.

So I did what any sane person would do. I panicked.

I sent a hysterical email to a total stranger, Natalie Whipple, because . . . look, this story is long enough. But she said, "Relax. Let me put you in touch with someone who has choosing-from-multiple-agent experience." And she connected me with Renee Collins who OH MY GOSH GAVE ME GREAT ADVICE.

And so I let all three agents know I would take the weekend to make a decision. I already knew who I wanted to go with, but I really wanted to make sure I made the right choice.

I talked it out with my husband. We went to a place where we both love to think and meditate, and we did that. And we read and researched some more. And I thought about what I wanted in an agent relationship. And at the end, I felt like my gut instinct about who would be the best fit for me was right.

So I went with Agent A, which stands for Alyssa Henkin at Trident Media Group. HOORAY!

Guys, she rocks. I'm so happy with this choice and hopefully soon, after I work through my first revision letter from her and we get this project of mine into submission shape, I'll have some news for you about what comes next.

But in the mean time, if you want to follow me on this crazy journey, feel free to click the button in the sidebar that lets you do that.

Did I mention I'm super stoked? Because I can't find any other words to describe this feeling. I'll try a few more: blessed, happy, humbled, relieved, excited, nervous, thrilled, gobsmacked.

And good. Just so, so good.

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