How I Got My Agent: Amy Reed

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Amy Reed, author of the novel CLEAN. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at and we’ll talk specifics.

Amy is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.


Amy Reed is the author of the edgy YA novels BEAUTIFUL (2009)
and CLEAN (2011), both published by Simon Pulse. Visit her website
and find her on Facebook and Twitter.



One of the most important things I learned in my MFA program, besides how to be a better writer, was how to become a published writer–specifically, how to find an agent. The best piece of advice I got from my professors was to only query agents who have a record of representing work like yours. It’s a waste of time to blindly query random agents you know nothing about.

Do your research. Find the agents who represent your favorite authors. Look in the Acknowledgments of your favorite books and see who the author thanks. Then do more research. Look on the agents’ websites to see what exactly they want in a query. Some only want a one-page synopsis. Some want a detailed bio. Some want the first ten pages. Some want queries via snail mail, some only electronically. Some aren’t accepting queries at all. Do not expect to send the same letter or packet to every agent you query. Most likely, it will be different for every single one of them.

(What are overused openings in fantasy, sci-fi, romance and crime novels?)


This is the advice I followed when I began my agent search about four years ago. I had a very polished draft of my first YA novel BEAUTIFUL (that’s another thing–only query when you have a very polished final draft;  agents are not going to waste their time on an unknown writer’s rough draft or incomplete manuscript). I did my research and drafted queries to around a dozen agents I researched thoroughly. I revised them over and over until I knew they were perfect. I sent them out and held my breath. Then the responses started trickling in. I received a few polite declines, but I also received a surprising amount of requests for full and partial manuscripts. I was thrilled! I sent them out and held my breath again.

I should mention here that I was querying agents who represented my favorite adult novels. At the time, I didn’t even know the young adult genre existed, let alone that my book was YA. So I was devastated as the declines trickled in with phrases like “This is strong, but not quite what I represent.” I began to get discouraged.

(Find more young adult literary agents.)

Then something happened that I could not have prepared for. All the research and organization in the world can’t beat plain old luck and being in the right place at the right time. I received a letter in the mail from someone calling himself an agent, saying he read my short story “Under the Wall” in Fiction Magazine, and did I happen to be working on a book-length work, and would I be interested in sending it to him. At first I thought it was a scam. (There are A LOT of scam agents out there who will charge you money for “representation.” Be careful!). So I looked this guy up. And he was legit. Very legit. He represented one of my very favorite authors, a Pulitzer-Prize winner. And yes, I happened to have a book-length work. And it happened to be based on the short story he liked so much.

So I sent him my manuscript and held my breath yet again. I thought this was it. This was my big break. But the response I finally received said this: “This is great, but I don’t represent YA. However, I think this is exactly what’s hot right now and you’ll have no problem finding representation when you query agents who specialize in YA.” I was heartbroken. And I had no idea what he was talking about.

(Learn about pitching your novel to an agent at a writers’ conference.)


Then I got back to work. I started researching this “YA” thing he was talking about, and I found a whole new world full of books similar to the one I had written. I discovered who the best writers in contemporary YA were. I read some of their novels. That agent was right: my book was definitely YA. So I repeated what I had done before. I found the right agents to query, those who were specifically looking for contemporary and/or gritty YA. I queried two. They both requested full manuscripts within a week. My agent Amy Tipton of Signature Literary [formerly of FinePrint Literary Management] offered representation within another week. Within another two weeks, we had offers from two publishers. I chose Simon Pulse. The rest is history.

Amy is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.



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25 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Amy Reed

  1. Clay

    Thanks for sharing. The journey is similar to a lot of writers I chatted with recently. The exception being the writers are still researching and querying. What I like about this post is that she had a well written book. There is a lot of good writing out there, but to get representation you do need to be great.

  2. rosecasanova

    Thanks for this. I’m having the same issue. I’m not really sure what genre my book falls into. I guess I’ll figure it out once I start the process of looking for an agent.

  3. Anna

    Thanks for all the advice!
    I’ve been writing a fantasy book and I wasn’t really sure what the exact genre was until my friend told me it seemed like a Young Adult fiction! 🙂
    You learn something new everyday.

  4. Matt_Betts

    Wow. That had to be odd to get called out of the blue like that and not have it work out. It actually happened to a friend of mine as well. An agent saw his work in a publication and wanted to know if he had a novel in progress, but it ended up not working out. It is all in the timing I guess! Great post!

  5. LD23

    It is interested just how much the world of writing is completely unknown to most people, especially the wannabe published writers.

    I never knew you could query an agent. This blog was helpful, thanks.

    If you have a spare minute I would love if you would check out my blog, I post a lot of my writing there.

  6. aaronwriter

    Good info however, maybe you guys, or Amy herself, can answer a question for me.

    What exactly constitutes EDGY or GRITTY YA fiction? Can detailed drug use be explained and still be considered edgy YA? Cursing, violence, that kind of stuff. If it’s part of the story, can a novel still be edgy YA or does that send it in to the adult fiction world?

    Any help would be great. Thanks!

  7. Tim

    Hi Amy — Great job — your homework and diligence definitely paid off. I think I got my genre correct and queried the right agents; so far received one request for additional materials (am holding my breath and crossing all fingers and toes right now), but also received a number of polite (form letter) denials…and yes, those are disheartening…like finding a stain on every shirt you try on — first one, no problem, second one, kind of annoying; by the time you try on the fifth stained shirt, you’re ready to jump out the window!

    Ha! Nice to hear about the agent that read the short story — I have a couple for the WD competitions etc. and have wondered if that sort of thing was a possibility. Nice to hear it is and it worked for you!

    Congratulations on your publications and success. You’ve obviously worked very hard and are doing the right things right. Best of luck on future endeavors.

  8. Author2b911

    Hi! Hope I commented fast enough! What is your email address Ms. Reed? I am new to the publishing game and was wondering if you could offer me any other advice or help? Thanks and best regards,

    Anna 17

  9. DonnaJean

    Had to figure out what YA was, I think I am writing for PS (Preschool.. is that the abbreviation??) My search for how to find an agent brought me to your page. But my question is: How do you know from reading the acknowledgements that the author is referring to his/her agent unless it says so? Already found a scam publishing company once so dont want to go THAT route again! Thank you for the advice.

  10. serena423

    I had a very similar experience, in not knowing I was writing YA until an agent pointed it out. When she explained to me why that was, it made perfect sense, and I said a big ol’ “duh” for not realizing that myself!


  11. Happy Writer

    What a thoughtful piece. Thanks so much! My daughter is a tween heading rapidly into YA novels. I’m sure she’d love your book. I’ll let her know you’re out there. Best of luck.

  12. Colin

    This is what happened to me–apart from the finding an agent and getting published bit… but hopefully soon! I wrote my novel the way I wanted to write it, and only later discovered that it was YA! Thanks for the article, Amy.


    Hi, Amy 🙂
    I’ve been at this a long time, and all I can hope for is a happy ending (or beginning, for that matter) like yours!
    Can’t wait to read your book –

  14. happygirl

    Talk about timing! I found this post while researching to see if querying for agents during the late-revision stage was a good idea. Hearing that you had two mss requests within a week of emailing has convinced me to finish ALL revisions before querying.

    Thanks for including so many useful details in your account.


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