How I Got My Agent: Kerri Majors

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Kerri Majors, author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

(What writing credentials will impress an agent or editor?) 

 

this-is-not-a-writing-manual-book    kerri-majors-author-writer

Kerri Majors is the author of This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for
the Young Writer in the Real World (Writer’s Digest Books, July 2013).
She is also the Editor and Founder of YARN, the Young Adult Review
Network, an online literary journal of YA short stories, essays, and poetry,
which won an Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation.
Kerri’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Guernica
and Poets and Writers. She has an MFA from Columbia, and lives in
Massachusetts with her husband, Mike, and their daughter. You can
find out more about her at www.kerrimajors.com. Find her on Twitter.

INTERNING FOR AN AGENCY

Once I finished the third draft of my mystery novel, I was ready to start looking for an agent. I opened a file that listed agents I’d discovered one way or another; then I started researching them more thoroughly, adding some to the “Send To” list and discarding others.

But I was really holding out hope for one agent in particular: Ann Rittenberg.

When I was fresh out of college and living in Brooklyn while writing my first novel, I interned for Ann at her home office, mainly reading the slush and sending rejections. In the process, I saw that I was not cut out to become an agent myself, but more importantly, Ann became a mentor to me. She doled out no-nonsense advice about publishing, and she left the door open for me to submit my own work to her when I was ready.

Some months after my internship, I was ready to show her my first novel. I was disappointed by her reaction, which boiled down to: “You have potential, but you still need to work on your craft.” She was right, though.

Years later, I sent her a romance novel. She agreed to read the first part of that book, too, and in retrospect, I realize what a big show of faith that was, since romances weren’t usually her thing. She read my pages and politely declined, but suggested I try three colleagues instead. It still didn’t work out, but the experience kept me in touch with Ann.

TRYING AGAIN WITH A MYSTERY NOVEL

After all that history, when it came to the mystery novel, I figured This Was It. Ann represented many mystery writers, including some highly acclaimed and best-selling authors, and I wanted on her list.

She actually called me on the phone when she got my query letter to tell me how excited she was to read the book, and how my synopsis really “spoke to” her. I danced a jig in my office after that phone call.

A little while after I sent her the manuscript, I saw a big, fat, book-sized package in my mailbox with Ann’s agency mailing label on it. This was not good.

I tore open the mailer and read the letter that covered the rubber-banded pages of my novel. She was still enthused about the book and gave me a few ego-boosting compliments on the main character, the prose, and the story. Then she gave me some concise and wise suggestions with an invitation to call her if I wanted to discuss it in more detail.

Whew. There was still hope!

I called her the next day and took notes as she spoke. Everything she said made perfect sense to me, and I could tell she wanted to read it again once I’d revised it.

Sure, I was disappointed that she didn’t offer to represent me before I did the revisions. But still, this was a much more solid lead than any I’d gotten so far. As the months had gone by, I’d collected quite a nice stack of rejection letters from other agents. So I revised the book and then sent it back to her full of hope and, I admit, tentative confidence.

Then a month ticked by. And another. And then another four.

(Never open your novel with a dream — here’s why.)

I HAD GIVEN UP ON THE BOOK, WHEN…

Meanwhile I wrote a whole other book — a young adult novel this time, partly because the new story was burning a hole in my brain and partly because it was the best possible distraction from my disappointment about all the rejections of the mystery. I had almost given up on the mystery when I got a call one August morning from Ann.

You can imagine what my heart did in my chest. She wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t good news! Right?

I listened as she apologized for how long it had taken her to get back to me, though she had excellent reasons, the most germane being that everyone in her office had read and loved my book, including their summer intern, and her associate Penn Whaling, who had really loved the book and really wanted to represent it.

!!!!

Would I be interested in Penn representing me? Ann oozed praise about Penn, saying she was a very smart young woman and the best reader she knew. She said Penn knew the kinds of editors who would be most interested in my novel, and she thought Penn would be the best fit for me.

Was I interested?

“That sounds great, Ann! Definitely tell Penn to call me.” I think I just barely kept the tears of joy and relief out of my voice.

I had just enough time to run screaming to my husband with the good news, and for us to do a little happy dance together in the hall, before Penn called to tell me how excited she was to get down to business.

It’s been a long road for me and Penn to a book contract for This Is Not a Writing Manual, which comes out this summer. The economic meltdown of 2008 didn’t help sell the mystery, which was about a Gatsby-esque tycoon. But let me just tell you how grateful I am that she has been so loyal and so prepared for all the twists and turns I’ve thrown at her over the years. She initially signed on for a mystery, but she gamely got excited about that YA novel, as well as TINAWM. I feel lucky to have an agent who looks at the total package of me as a writer and editor of YARN, and wants to support that career.

 

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