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How I Got My Agent: Holly LeCraw

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, How I Got My Agent Columns.

“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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

Holly is excited to give away a free copy of her novel 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. (Update: Karen won.)


Holly LeCraw was born in Atlanta and grew
up working in her father’s beloved institution of
a bookstore, Oxford Books. Her first novel,
The Swimming Pool, was a Kirkus Top Debut
of 2010 and was named a “Best Book of
Summer” by The Daily Beast and Good
Morning
America. She is at work on her second novel,
which will also be published by Doubleday.
See her website here.

 

A NEAR-MISS, THEN A WHOLE BUNCH OF MISSES

I first began querying agents when I was 41 years old and had been writing seriously for more than 15 years. I’m not counting my first, abortive drawer novel (there should be some compound German noun for that), for which I sent two queries and then saw the light, or lack thereof.

I believed in The Swimming Pool as I had never believed in the drawer-novel. Still, I was terrified. When I finally got my braves up, I began with my ace in the hole: an agent whose big-deal client, or one of them, was a close friend, and had actually read my manuscript.  She asked for a full immediately, and two weeks later wrote me a dream of an e-mail. I was enormously talented. My writing was elegant. The book, nearly perfect.

And she didn’t take it.

Friends offered condolences, but I was energized: I wasn’t crazy; someone important thought I could write. And I had gotten a near-miss! On my first pass! After that, there were a lot more.

“WHO ARE THESE AGENTS, REALLY?”

I subscribed to Publishers’ Marketplace, made a folder on each agent, noting their authors, any connection I might have to them, no matter how tenuous. (I hated asking for referrals, but it turned out to be good practice for other teeth-gritting later on—self-promotion, soliciting blurbs.) No website, however, would tell me what I really wanted to know: Who were these people, really? Who was bitchy, generous, flighty, encouraging? Who would take the best care of me and my book? All I had was instinct.

I would send out six or eight queries, carefully tailored, and then sit back and wait. I knew I should be relentless, but I found each round draining. Some were rejected immediately, with the “not currently accepting submissions” angle. There were a few more substantive e-mails, and also some rejection phone calls, which struck me as odd until I realized these agents were on the fence. If I, say, promised my firstborn, or a top-to-bottom revision, one might take me on. But, in point of fact, the manuscript did not need a lot of revision. It wasn’t stubbornness; I just knew. So I kept looking.

However, gradually that confidence was ground down to nil. I’d begun querying in April; by August—when publishing comes to a standstill—I had sent out three or four dozen. People said not to take rejection personally, but how was that possible? I decided to stop querying, so as not to use up agents, and in the fall somehow revise once more. By now I was deeply afraid that I’d been wrong, after all, about this book, and my ability.

ONE OFFER SPAWNS MULTIPLE OFFERS

Then, on vacation, I got a phone call. The agent was lovely. She understood the book, had good ideas for where to send it. I attempted some intelligent questions, resisted the urge to holler “yes!” and told her I would get back to her soon. In shock, I got off the phone and then, almost as an afterthought, e-mailed the agents who still had fulls—and for the hell of it e-mailed everyone else too, all those places where my queries had disappeared into the ether.

This raised several agents, some on vacation themselves. One called with an offer. I liked her as well. Meanwhile, Henry Dunow of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner, a desperate, midnight pie-in-the-sky query to whom I had no connection whatsoever, wanted 10 pages, then 50, then the whole thing.  Then he called.“Who are you?” he cried. “Where did you come from?” I stuttered and babbled. He said, “I would give my eyeteeth to represent this book.”

Still attempting cool professionalism, I told him I would seriously consider it and got off the phone. I hemmed and hawed, talked to my husband, some friends. Then I realized that all along I’d been trying to go with my gut, and if ever there was a time to take my own advice, it was now. When I called Henry back, he said, “I’m jumping up and down!” Just think how he’d pitch editors!

More agents emerged from the woodwork, but I told them no. Henry talked me through a quick revision (he is a fabulous editor himself), and then submitted the book. By the next week we had serious interest, it went to auction, and I ended up with a two-book deal with Doubleday.

Writing is all about instinct, but the agent search was the first time my instinct had to intersect with the demands of the marketplace. It was hard to not beg those early agents to take me, hard to believe I was allowed to query legendary agents, and very hard to keep going. But: Never give up.  Trust your gut. And don’t count out August.

Holly is excited to give away a free copy of her novel 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.
(Update: Karen won.)

If you’re confused as to what a
synopsis
should look like, seek
out the formatting
guidebook Formatting & Submitting
Your Manuscript, 3rd Ed.

 

 

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23 Responses to How I Got My Agent: Holly LeCraw

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Very inspiring! Looking forward to reading your book.

    Elizabeth

    Eh? What? Huh?
    http://www.ehwhathuh.com

  2. Kat says:

    Thank you for this post – in the face of adversity, it’s nearly impossible to remember that tenacity often pays off. I’m glad it did for you!

  3. Jen says:

    Wow, this is incredibly inspiring! I found it through twitter and am so glad I followed the link. Your story gives me hope and perfectly describes what I’m going through right now. Best wishes!

  4. Charlene says:

    Inspiring story for those of us writing and waiting. Thank you for writing this and sharing here. Looking forward to reading your novel.

  5. Valerie Norris says:

    The dream call! The agent loved your book, "got" your book! How wonderful! So glad the dream has come true for you. Best wishes on your continued success.

  6. Vivi Barnes says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Holly. It’s nice to read about people who’ve struggled themselves and eventually end up as a success story.

  7. Can’t wait to read your book. Thanks for sharing your agent story.

  8. Holly LeCraw says:

    Thank you everyone for these wonderful comments! Finding an agent is such a daunting proc-ess. Try to remember though it’s just one step, albeit a huge one. And it’s true: no one thinks ahead of time about the possibility of having to choose among agents. Such an idea seems al-most hubristic. But it’s good to be at least a little prepared, because you will have to be clear-eyed about who you are and what you want. And it’s really hard not to take the first one who comes along–but I have heard too many horror stories about people who did full revisions for agents who then, in the end, didn’t sign them. So get your ms. as close to perfect as you possibly can, and then trust it. Best of luck to all of you! (And keep commenting–six more days for the giveaway!)

  9. What a wonderful post. Proof, indeed, that you should never give up.

  10. Of Course, I am referring to the code of letters and/or numbers one must copy and send in at the end of most any submissions, everywhere. This code sifts out robots and is a security function. I understand the need for this measure. Only this time, I cannot seem to pass my code copies through, for the first time since I’ve been using my PC. This is obviously a problem with this site’s hardware malfunctioning. What to do? I’ve entered at least six times! Please repair this problem. Robert Terrance Mullane Thank you!

  11. I have been doing exactly what you ask. It’s simple and clear! I cannot understand why we are having difficulty? I see the capital letters quite clearly, please. I am a human being, not a robot. I’ve been a subscriber to this magazine for years, which has just run out recently. I am hoping to renew it soon! What is wrong, here? Really.

  12. Hello Holly, I have not read your book yet, but I sure would like the chance. I liked your story of struggling to get published, and was amazed that a young woman whose Father owns such a fine bookstore as Oxford,(and with, a connection), would have to argie and bargie for an agent like the rest of us!;-) I have been to Oxford books when I lived in Atlanta and I loved the place! I could have stayed there all evening, for the store had that ‘down home’ feeling to it with old oak floors, crammed shelves, and lots of aisles to wander..! It was 1992 but to me, just like yesterday.
    My own literary life story is too much for this space. In short, I fought my first 36 years to get my M.A. from Boston College; then, to complete my best idea of what a true-life novel should be. It was finished on Labor Day, past. In the interim I’ve been moving to, and unpacking at, a better family home for us! JACKY BOY is indeed a true story about real people told in two diary voices, and a narrator. The central theme is two working-class lovers trying to start a life in 1960s America, against many strange odds. Its ‘novel’ quality comes from the non-fiction novels by: Capote, Hemingway, and Mailer. These voices alternate back & forth with: real action sequences, dialogue, dreamscapes, many themes, and multi-layered textures; which editors, profs, and others across the world seem to love! They call it a page-turner! I love it, too! Right now, I am seeking an experienced New York agent. Wish Me Grace as I Wish the Same for You! Kind Regards, Robert P.S.(I mailed 100 copies of Chapter 1 to editors,et al)

  13. June says:

    The Swimming Pool is an incredible story. I was so honored when Holly included my review on her website. I enjoyed learning of her publishing journey and it’s very encouraging. I’m looking forward to her next literary endeavor!

    june AT writingisablessing dot com

  14. J. P. Blair says:

    Dear Holly….
    Thanks so much for sharing your story! It was very inspiring to me. I’m just in the editing process of my first romance novel. I’ve had a passion for writing since I was a child, and now in my forties, finally got the nerve to go for it! I’ll admit however, that the whole idea of the agent search is extremely intimidating to say the least. After reading your story, I’ve found some solace in knowing what I may experience. Thank you again, and all the best to you in your journey!

  15. Suzanne Veillette says:

    First, let me say CONGRADS!!! Your story is just what the doc ordered for us fledgling writers…there is HOPE for us all!! Your determination, pure grit, and tenacity is an inspiration. And you did this all while maintaining a household. Thank you for sharing your journey, and best wishes for continued success! Can’t wait to read "The Swimming Pool". Love the cover!!

    Suzanne

  16. Giora says:

    Your story is an inspiration to all of us who send and send queries. I was impressed that you made folders for agents, and ofcourse that you didn’t give up. Good luck with your second book. Best wishes from Canada, Giora.

  17. Larry says:

    I love how you turned the tables. From anonymous indifference to ravenous interest, that must have felt very gratifying. Agents do seem to be competitive and hate nothing more than to have to admit that they missed out on [insert title of big, famous book here]. Why shouldn’t a writer with an amazing manuscript use that to find the agent who will best represent them? Good luck, Holly!

  18. Susan Wider says:

    Thank you. I just printed a copy of your posting. I already know I will be re-reading it regularly for solace.

  19. What a great story. So many writers settle when agent shopping because they know how hard it is to land an agent and are afraid the one offer they get will be their last. And, I suppose, that could be the case. However, you have proved that it’s important to trust your gut. Congrats!

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://www.lynnettelabelle.com
    http://www.labelleseditorialservices.com

  20. Thanks for your article; any help in finding an agent for my book is priceless!

  21. Kristan says:

    Hah. Love that last bit about August. B/c yes, it’s an infamous month. But at the end of the day, it’s just another page on the calendar.

    Great story, congrats on finding someone so passionate about your work, and thank you for sharing your experience!

  22. Lynn Rush says:

    Fantastic story. Love this!! Enjoy the journey!

  23. Thank you, Holly, for sharing this. I’m about at the point where the confidence I felt from having a dozen requests for pages and some very kind words from a few agents has dwindled in the face of so many near misses. It’s so hard to keep going when you get to that point, but I’m still trudging along, forcing myself to work on new material and still revising the old. It’s always nice to hear from authors who have made it through the process and come out successful! Best of luck on your next novel.

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