How I Got My Agent: Barry Lyga

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. 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.

Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Stepanie won.)


Barry Lyga is the author of nine books, including
his newest, Goth Girl Rising (Jan. 2011), a YA book
that Booklist said “has a forceful voice that will
stay with readers.” His breakout book,
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
(2007) got a starred review from School Library
Journal. See his website here.



I sometimes tell the story of how I got my agent as a way of illustrating the role that pure, dumb luck can play in the publishing process. Most aspiring authors (including yours truly as of roughly six years ago) tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of the agent hunt: Poring over sales reports, scouring novel acknowledgments, creating databases of genre preferences, client successes, and so on. But sometimes none of that means anything at all and reality just smacks you in the face. Or, in my case, rips a nerve out of place.

In the summer of 2004, I was diagnosed with a misplaced ulnar nerve, which had been causing alternating bouts of total numbness and unreal pain from my shoulder to my fingertips. I was scheduled for surgery at the beginning of October, with the caveat that for four to six weeks after the surgery, I wouldn’t be allowed to life anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

At the time, I was scheduled to attend the World Fantasy Conference, where I had dreams of meeting an editor or an agent interested in an adult horror novel of mine. But the conference fell within the recovery period and there was no way I could travel. So — at the insistence of my good friend and fellow YA author Robin Brande — I changed my travel plans to attend a writers conference in January 2005, when I would be fully recovered. It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t have much of a choice at this point.


By the time January rolled around, I was ready to start shopping a newer manuscript — my first stab at YA, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. I set up some agent and editor pitch sessions and went off to the conference. On Day One, things went pretty well. I met with two editors, both of whom saw the first chapter of the book and wanted to see the whole thing. I also met with an agent who was interested in seeing more.

Day Two started with a shock — I won an Editor’s Choice Award at the conference! Suddenly everyone was talking about me and my book. A very strange feeling! I had one more pitch session scheduled for later in the day, so in the meantime, I attended some more classes. One of them was an overview of the author/agent relationship, conducted by agent Kathy Anderson. During the talk, Robin leaned over to me and said, “I bet you’d get along really well with her.” I agreed, and as soon as the session let out, I went off to see if I could somehow wrangle an appointment with her.

Sadly, I had no luck, so I set off to my final pitch session of the conference … which happened to be with Kathy Anderson. That’s right — when I had signed up for the conference months ago, I’d scheduled an appointment with Kathy and then completely forgotten about it. Best of all, when she saw me walk into the room, she read my name badge and said, “Oh, good, it’s you! I’ve been trying to find you! The editors told me I just have to see your manuscript. Do you have some time to talk later?”

“Actually, I’m your next appointment,” I told her. She looked down at her appointment sheet and then laughed. We spoke briefly, I promised to send her the manuscript as soon as I got home, and that was it.


A couple of weeks later, she offered to represent me. I had another offer on the table, but I ultimately decided to go with Kathy. Six months after that, she sold The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl as the first book in a two-book deal, and my career as a novelist began.

There is no doubt that talent and perseverance play a huge role in achieving the dream of publishing your work. But as I hope my little tale illustrates, luck has a part, too! So whenever people ask me how to land an agent, I always grin and start with, “Well, first, you should have surgery on your arm…”

For more on the role of luck in publishing, check out my blog entries on the “Path to Publication”:
The Path to Publication (Part 1)

The Path to Publication (Part 2)
The Path to Publication (Part 3)
The Path to Publication (Part 4)
The Path to Publication (Part 5)
The Path to Publication (Part 6)

Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Stepanie won.)

The 2011 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 
offers more than 650 listings for publishers,
magazines, agents, art reps and more.




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23 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Barry Lyga

  1. Kirkus MacGowan

    Thanks for the response, I like the way you view fate, I prefer to believe that we have more control as well. Just yesterday my mother reminded me of the stories I would write as a child, I couldn’t get enough. Now 25 years later I’m doing it again. Maybe I’ll be blazing down my own path soon!

  2. Nikki

    It’s somewhat amazing how many published and well-represented authors attribute gaining their representation to "luck." I believe in it, but it’s hard to work towards. Perhaps a mantra should be "I am lucky!" I’m sure it’s a dual process, hard work and luck. Tenacity and luck. Positivity and luck.

    I’m happy so many people are lucky and I’m pleased I’m lucky too!

  3. Barry Lyga

    Hi, Ashley,

    I’m sure this will generate some ire towards me, but… I never had to use my pitch. Since I was already a "known quantity" by the time I sat down with Kathy (she said to me, "All of the editors are talking about your book"), our pitch session really just became a "getting to know each other" session. Truthfully, I don’t even remember what my pitch was.

    My advice with pitches is this: Less is more. Be relaxed. Don’t rattle off a memorized script. Let your personality shine. Speak in the voice of your book. And don’t monopolize the time! Let the editor or agent ask questions — questions are good! Questions mean they’re interested…

    Good luck!


  4. Ashley

    This was very inspiring. In your opinion how important was the pitch that you developed for the agents? How long did you work on it?
    Thank you,

  5. Heather Schick

    You have a fantastic story about finding your agent. It’s truly mystical how things work out no matter how much planning or research we do. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.

    Happy Writing,


  6. Barry Lyga

    Hey, everyone! Thanks for the comments and congratulations. I hope my little story helps in some way.

    As to the fate vs. coincidence debate… Well, I’m not a great believer in fate, but I do believe in what Joseph Campbell described when he discussed "following your bliss." In a nutshell: When you figure out what you’re meant to do and pursue it zealously, the world will sort help blaze a path for you. I certainly feel like that happened to and for me all those years ago!


  7. Kirkus MacGowan

    Great story Barry, fate or coincidence? If you believe in fate, it makes you wonder if there is some unknown reason for you to be writing. Maybe it will put you in another right place at the right time, to help someone else out, to give them ambition to finish their own novel, or to help them cross the street. Regardless of the how or why, congratulations!

  8. Joy N. Hensley

    What a great story! I just got offered representation today and hope to be on the road to publication soon! Congrats! And, being a reformed Goth Girl myself, I’m really hoping I win a copy of this book. It’d be nice to relive my glory days!

  9. Gina

    I receive these posts via email and usually I get sorely discouraged because I’m not very farmilar with the author’s work (most likely because the author works within the confines of adult lit- whereas I specialize in YA, being a teen myself). So, when I saw "Barry Lyga" as the subject line, I squealed with excitement because your work is inspiring and great and amazing!!! "Boy Toy" was mind-blowing and life-changing and "Fan Boy and Goth Girl" was unique and fantastic! Your success story inspired me immensely. Thanks and congrats!

  10. Ariella

    I read this story (in less detail) in the early bLogs about the road to publishing. Barry, you and all your blogs are so helpful! I’ve researched a lot about publishing and finding agents, but it’s always looked so grim. I know you’re not saying anything about it being easy, but your story still gives me hope that all is not lost. It basically gives me the courage to press on, and the motivation to keep writing when I feel like giving up.

    So, thanks. *cheesy tear-wipe*

    However, I will not feel so hopeful as far as your advice is concerned if I ever get locked in the laundry room with an ocelot. Just sayin’.

  11. Elizabeth MacKinney

    Thanks for sharing your story, Barry. In a world where getting an agent is not always easy, it’s really nice to hear about someone for whom the pieces just fell into place easily, resulting in a solid working relationship. As a picture book writer, the chances of getting an agent are very slim, even if they do like what I do, which has happened. Good for you! <applause>

    : ) B

  12. Sampa

    Total congrats in order. Very exciting. I think if you ask anyone in the creative media world they will tell you different ways that they met their agent and got a book deal, or a movie deal. I met an agent at ICM through a colleage of mine. As a reporter, I got that agent’s client on TV and in radio. Years later, I asked her to review my work. She accepted. But rejected the work. However, without that colleague being repped by ICM, I never would have even had the opportunity. ICM does not take unsolicited work.

    This piece also made me wonder if going to these conferences to meet agents is all that important. Is it a must? Im thinking it’s not. You meet an agent, who has met a hundred people all pitching their new vampire book and after a while, its kind of a blur. Like reality email. Instead of just hitting delete to faceless person, you just say, okay, good stuff, here is my card…and get deleted later.

    The good news here is that he won an editors choice. So what this really means is that he won a competition, and was in the right place at the right time. If that only meant he woudl sell a million copies…

    Good luck and definitely congrats! Its more than Ive done. The writer should be proud. Love the title Fanboy and Goth Girl. Should be a Disney made for TV movie on the Dis Channel!

  13. Pam Harris

    Great story! At one of my MFA residencies last year, a classmate recommended his novel Boy Toy to me. I read the sample on Amazon and almost weeped when I couldn’t read the rest! (I was stuck in a snow storm in England so I couldn’t run out to the store and just buy the whole copy). He’s definitely a great writer! 🙂

  14. Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

    Does it have to be surgery on the ARM? I’ve got a sore knee…

    Seriously, this is a great story of serendipity, with the twist of being a really great writer who wins a "Best of Show" award at the show and has the room abuzzing. I doubt anyone could have resisted that one-two punch.


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