How I Got My Agent: S. Jane Gari

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring S. Jane Gari, author of the memoir LOSING THE DOLLHOUSE. 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.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 1.42.18 PMS. Jane Gari lives in Elgin, South Carolina with her husband and daughter.
Three adapted chapters from her memoir, LOSING THE DOLLHOUSE, have
been published, and all three were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has
also co-written Flush This Book, a collection of humorous essays. (Jane is a
firm believer that balance brings sanity.  While writing a serious memoir that
recounts family drama and betrayal, she made time to pen some light-hearted
potty humor.  Even Shakespeare and Chaucer indulged in low-brow jokes. 
Without a good laugh now and then we’d all need to be institutionalized.)
Find her on Twitter.

Inspiration

When I was four years old, I convinced half the kids in my neighborhood that a shark lived in the pond behind my house.  I assumed they knew I was just spinning a yarn to pass the time as we chucked rocks in the water.  Apparently one of the kids who listened to my tale suffered from shark nightmares, and a curt conversation between our mothers resulted in a stern lecture imploring me to curb my habitual storytelling.  I promised to knock it off, but I was secretly proud.  My fiction had made an impression.

Storytelling was addictive.  As I got older, however, I also learned to craft compelling narratives grounded in reality.

The idea for my memoir, Losing the Dollhouse, came to me while I was packing up my apartment in the weeks leading up to my wedding.  Packing, for a nomadic person like me, has always been a kind of evaluation and editing process.  Five years later, I sat down to write the book in “boxes” instead of traditional chapters.  The contents of each “box” spark memories.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)

Procrastination

Being published was this romanticized ideal in my mind.  I sought it out long before my manuscript was ready.  I would spend an embarrassing amount of time on AgentQuery.com (a great resource, by the way, once you’re actually ready to query).  Scrolling through the names of agents seeking memoir was my favorite time suck.  It even outranked Facebook.  The only pastime that eventually overtook agent-trolling was browsing the websites of literary agencies that would lead me to my glorious future as a published author.

In short, I was procrastinating.  My memoir needed an overhaul.  The rejections I received were clear evidence.  So I stopped sending out queries and quit AgentQuery cold turkey.  I started attending more writers’ conferences and got serious about giving and receiving critique. Belonging to a network of writers who support each other and hold each other accountable is invaluable.

 

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Realization

Once I cared more about my craft, and spent less time fantasizing about being published “one day,” the journey got real.  I entered writing contests and won.  I pitched agents at conferences and listened to their criticism.  I revised my manuscript.  I revised my query letter.  Then I revised them again.  After having several agents request the full manuscript and then pass on it, I felt dejected.  I chastised myself for not buckling down sooner—for not duct-taping myself to the chair in front of a computer whose only functioning program was Microsoft Word with not even the faint whiff of a Wifi connection for miles around.

I finally left the pity party and focused.  The agents who had shone genuine interest in the manuscript were kind enough to give their honest opinion of what worked in the memoir and what didn’t.  I applied the agents’ commentary that resonated with me.  I enlisted the help of writer friends and beta readers whom I trusted.  The manuscript finally felt cohesive.

Representation

At the South Carolina Writers Workshop conference in October of 2012, I booked several pitch appointments.  Michelle Johnson was warm and receptive.  We had a conversation about my book, and then we just talked about writing.  She’s a writer herself, and there was an instant connection.  She got it.  She knows what it’s like on both sides of the fence.   When she asked me what else I had in the works, I told her about the novel I’m currently writing.  She listened intently and asked probing questions.  Everything about her was sincere.
When Michelle called to offer representation, I was at my local coffee shop working on my novel.  Diving into the next project while you’re shopping a finished one is crucial.  It keeps your creative momentum where it needs to be—on writing.  If your craft is the primary focus of your energy in the journey toward publication, then you’ll make progress.

(See a list of writing conferences where agents will be.)

Michelle’s approach is the perfect balance of candor and professionalism, and I felt immediately that I could trust her with my work.  She spoke passionately about the memoir, and my gut told me to say yes.  Losing the Dollhouse is finally being shopped around to the Big 6.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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