“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.
(Aug. 2010, Athaneum) as well as The Reminder
and Genesis Alpha. She lives in Reykjavik, Iceland
with her family. She has a website and a blog at
An American friend told me that my method of getting published would be called “carpet bombing.” What a strange phrase. I worried it had something to do with incontinent dogs but Wikipedia helpfully told me carpet bombing was “the large scale bombing of large targets … usually by dropping many unguided bombs.” Yep. Pretty accurate.
I knew I wanted to write books for young readers. So I started on some pretty random stories. One was a children’s fantasy about a boy who is sent into exile. Another one was a futuristic children’s book about brothers in a post-apocalyptic world. The third one was fantasy for teens about a young priestess who is banished from her village. The fourth one was about a girl who is imprisoned for a horrible crime. And the fifth one was a first person realistic novel about a boy who believes his father is an anonymous Nobel Prize winner.
I wrote beginnings. Five of them. Some in first person, some in third person; some in the past tense, others in the present tense, because, well, I just didn’t know what was best. Diversity is the spice of insecurity.
IMMEDIATE QUERIER’S REGRET
I managed to find 20 publishers (or rather, most of them were imprints of the same few publishers, a fact I was only vaguely aware of) that did accept unsolicited queries or partials for children’s books. And I decided to just send stuff to all of them. (Yes, I realize there is a special hell for people like me.) My theory was that this would tell me if my writing was any good and whether there was any point in continuing to write. I had already received positive feedback on some of my beginnings through www.critiquecircle.com but I wasn’t sure what that told me. The publishers would be the true test! If nobody wanted to see any of my stories, they obviously weren’t any good and I wouldn’t waste my time completing them. And if I would get requests for some of the stories or for one of them, maybe that would tell me what kind of stories I should be writing and where to focus my writing.
So, I sent a query, synopsis and a partial to each of my five manuscripts to four publishers or imprints—a total of twenty mails. On the way home I beat my head against several light poles, in utter angst over having sent my babies so prematurely out into the world. The good news was I got my first request by email after only five days from a major publishing house. The bad news was I hadn’t written the story yet! (Cue hyperventilation.) Not even close. I only had the first 30 pages.
So I started hitting the keys in that cozy state of mind called “last minute panic.” The next few months replies trickled into my mailbox. In the end, each of the five stories had received exactly one request for the full manuscript and exactly four standard rejection letters. I wasn’t sure what this told me. But by that time I had finished the first novel. I sent it to the publisher that had requested it.
And then I started looking for an agent.
TIME TO TARGET AGENTS
I had wised up at last—violent encounters with light poles do that to you—and when I started to look for an agent, I was sure not to carpet-bomb them. I researched carefully and found a select few that I thought would make an excellent choice. I mailed them a query and a synopsis, email or snailmail depending on their preference, and asked if they’d like to see more. George Nicholson at Sterling Lord Literistic replied immediately, read the full manuscript—and to my utter amazement he took me on a few days later.
George sold Nobel Genes to Simon & Schuster soon after. It was finally published last month. Since then I’ve written three more first-person YA novels, Genesis Alpha and The Reminder which have already been published—yes, ahead of this one; publishing moves in mysterious ways—and a fourth one which I should be revising as we speak.
The other four partial manuscripts I sent out? I never finished them. They’re still sitting in a dusty folder on my computer. I bet the four editors who requested them are still holding their breaths.
make your prose sizzle, check out
The Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass.