“How I Got My Agent” is a new 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.
This installment of “How I Got
My Agent” is by Katharina Gerlach,
who writes fantasy and historical
novels for all ages, both in
English and German.
I’m German, and over here it is still not essential to have an agent to represent you. Many publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts and answer in due time. So it comes without surprise that I had never heard of agents when I planned to submit my first publishable novel in the summer of 2003.
In books like the Deutsches Jahrbuch für Autoren und Autorinnen (ISBN 978-3866710641) and on websites (Uschtrin and Autorenforum) I found the addresses of publishers, agents and competitions – including submission information, preferred genres and other valuable information. They also provided articles about the publishing industry worrying about the growing influence of agents but they recommended having one nonetheless. At a seminar, I got to know Andreas Eschbach (German sci-fi author) and he recommended the use of an agent, too. I decided that I needed one since I wanted a career and not just one published book.
THE WRONG AGENT
I submitted my historical novel Engels Freiheit (Ann Angel’s Freedom) to several agents and was thrilled to receive a contract by one who had not only been well established but who lived close by as well. He seemed enthusiastic, and we had a long talk in his house. After that, I waited patiently for the responses of the publishers. Sometimes, I sent e-mails that he answered with details about what some of his contacts had said about the book. He never contacted me on his own, though.
One day in early spring 2004, I got a phone call from an editor at one of the bigger publishing houses who offered me a contract if I would agree to some minor revisions. I was in seventh heaven and began rewriting immediately.
When I was finished, I called my agent, only to discover that the editor in question had left the publisher for one that did not do historical novels. I asked the agent to submit the manuscript again and he promised to do that. After six months without any reaction – neither good nor bad although I tried to contact him – I turned to the Internet for more information on my agent. I soon found some of his clients who where also complaining about his lack of results. On the other hand, he was a legitimate agent who hadn’t charged me any money. It was a hard decision but I canceled my agent contract, feeling as if I were giving up on a dream.
THE RIGHT AGENT
Meanwhile, I finished two more manuscripts and found out that although I loved writing historical novels, I far more enjoyed writing fantasy. I polished my best fantasy novel and looked for an agent again in 2007. This time, I was far more selective. Using the book and websites mentioned above, I studied many agents but also their clients and I talked to other authors. Finally, I discovered one that represented the genres I loved: fantasy, science fiction and historical novels. I knew this was the right agency for me. Since queries are not typical protocol in Germany, I polished my synopsis and sample pages and approached the agent. She requested for the full manuscript; then she “read, dismissed, and read it again” (her own words). Although she liked it a lot, she knew she couldn’t place it, and so she rejected it reluctantly. I sent her my next novel as soon as it was finished in 2008 and she offered to represent me. Already, we’ve got several publishing offers to consider.
TRYING THE U.S. OF AMERICA
I grew up bilingual and it was inevitable that one day, a project would refuse to be written in German. That happened with my current project, Thicker Than Water. Educated by my experiences, I searched the Internet and was amazed at the sheer number of blogs (like this GLA blog) and websites with this kind of information.
I carefully compiled a list of agents I wanted to contact. That was when I began learning about queries and how they differ from the way Germans ask their agents for representation (with synopsis and sample pages) – a concept entirely new to me. I admit that it took me more time to write a decent one-page query letter than I needed to write a ten-page short story but I believe that thorough planning will result in finding the one agent compatible with me.