“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
EARLY COLD DAYS
Back in the dark, cold days of 2003, I was a writer-in-waiting with lots of ideas but little to show for my dreams. I’d sold a story to Spider Magazine, but it hadn’t appeared. I’d met a few agents, but none were interested in what I had to show them. And my novel then in progress—my first novel, born out of my love for a place (Yellowstone National Park) and empathy with a tragic event (a girl who has lost her mother)—was not hitting the marks.
Then the clouds parted, briefly. I sold a nonfiction piece to Highlights Magazine. I received a contract for a short nonfiction book I then wrote for Free Spirit Publishing. And I met an agent at an SCBWI conference, and she wanted to see my novel. Oh, I sat on pins and needles, waiting for her response. I liked her (which I think is a crucial part of the author/agent relationship) and I respected her (ditto) and several of her clients were good friends of mine. Alas, she was gracious, but she said no. My novel “was missing something,” she said, in a short but detailed letter. She suggested several novels I should read to see what works, and she thought mine needed depth, a twist, a subplot—just something. Her letter was enough to make me think: I have a foundation, and I’ll rewrite with her comments in mind.
MEETING WITH AN EDITOR
I set to work, reading what she suggested, studying, critiquing, revising (over and over), attending conferences. And here comes the plot twist in my story. For it was at an SCBWI conference about six months after this agent’s rejection that my stars aligned. At the time (Fall 2006) I was the Regional Advisor (RA) for the Brazos Valley region of SCBWI in Texas. The San Antonio region had a scheduled conference in which they were offering one-on-one critiques with a number of editors, and about three weeks before the conference, as a courtesy, the RA there let me know there was room for me to attend. It was spur-of-the-moment, and I said yes—but, sadly, there were no critiques left. Ah, well.
A week before the conference, she e-mailed again. There’d been a cancellation; would I like a critique? If so, I had to e-mail her 10 pages by 6 p.m. Since it was already noon, I returned with 10 pages of my novel, not even proofread—just the pages I had ready on the spot.
At the conference, I discovered that I was to be critiqued by Alyssa Eisner Henkin, senior editor at Simon and Schuster. Just before my critique and during her presentation, she announced that she was leaving S&S before the end of 2006 to become an agent with Trident Media Group.
I was so nervous before our interview that I don’t remember much about the conference. But I do remember what happened when I walked into the room, where Alyssa was waiting for me: She was all smiles, terribly enthusiastic, truly excited about my novel. She wanted to know everything about it: what inspired the idea; whether the novel was ready; where I was in my career. She wanted to see the entire manuscript after she joined Trident in early December. I liked her at once. She was smart and upbeat, she would be hands-on with my work. She was my dream agent.
IF THE SECOND HALF IS AS GOOD AS THE FIRST, WE HAVE A DEAL
I went home from the conference both elated and in despair. I’d begun my deep revision, but was only a third of the way through. I had only a month in which to complete the novel if I were to submit it shortly after Alyssa arrived in her new office. I queried my published friends, and the consensus was clear: Submit what you have. Don’t delay; she’ll fill her roster. Seize the moment—and I did. Four days after Alyssa settled into her new job, I sent her half the novel and told her I would have the second half completed by mid-January.
Alyssa called me three days before Christmas to ask if she could represent me, based on what she’d read and the expectation that I could deliver the rest of the manuscript in January. I said yes, I delivered the novel, and I signed with her in January, 2007. It was a match made in heaven, and it grew from persistence, hard work, and a lot of lucky breaks. Dreams do come true.
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