How I Got My Agent: Shelli Johannes-Wells

“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.

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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

This installment of “How I Got
My Agent” is by Shelli Johannes-Wells.
Shelli recently wrote her first novels
for children and her agent is trying
to sell her books.

EARLY ROADBLOCKS

I had never written a day in my life unless you consider my nutrition essay that won an Elementary state competition. Somehow, I don’t think that counts. Even though I was doing business writing and spent 18 years in marketing, I never dreamed of being a fiction writer until I got pregnant with my first child. When I had my daughter in 2004, I took five months off. One day, I got an idea and started writing during her naps and late at night. Soon, I queried with my first draft (a big no-no, right?). I did a mass mailing without researching anyone! (another big no-no!) and rightfully received more than 100 form letter rejections from agents/editors. However, my manuscript ended up at acquisition meetings at two different houses. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it.

I got frustrated and threw in the pen. Shelved my manuscript and turned off the computer. I mean, who was I kidding? I can’t be a writer when I have never taken a creative writing class. Who did I think I was? I went back to working in marketing but something was missing now. In late 2006, I got pregnant with my son (do you see a trend?). I got another idea and started writing again. This time, I got more serious and joined SCBWI. For many personal reasons, I couldn’t finish it. In the meantime, I wrote a tween non-fiction book that went to acquisitions at a huge brand name house but also didn’t made it. I was so frustrated, I gave up again.

March 2008: I went to a conference where I actually talked to people and met Jessica Dehart. She and I started an informal critique group! This fabulous group of writers helped me finish the book and in 6 months it was ready for submission.

MAYBE – JUST MAYBE

Oct 2008: I queried a few agents. An agent replied, saying she liked my voice and setting, but hated the plot. More personal rejections followed saying the same thing. I sent out another round and waited. To prevent myself from going crazy, I needed to keep busy so I started my marketing blog to help other authors better market their book. I also began another book. I immersed myself in the industry and learned as much as I could. I did interviews with editors and agents and began building a platform. (My marketing blog got 40,000 hits in nine months!)

One of my blogger friends e-mailed me after seeing my blurbs and recommended her agent. This was so sweet because she had never met me; she just liked my writing. I sent my manuscript to her agent. A few weeks later, I got a promising letter saying, she ” loved my characters, voice, and setting, but absolutely hated the plot.” Same comment! The huge difference in this rejection was that at the bottom she said “if you revise it, I might be inclined to review it again.

Might?!

That was all I needed. A chance. Some hope. Since I had already gotten similar feedback, I decided to revise.  I dove in and spent the next few months reoutlining and totally redoing my book. I changed the premise, rethought the plot, and reWrote (not revised!) about 70,000 words – all because of that one chance No guarantee, just a shot!

SUCCESS WITH ALYSSA

In April of 2009, I sent the agent my revised book. While I waited, I went against all advice and re-queried (another no-no!) the few agents who had sent me personal rejections (my current agent was one of these lucky few 🙂  I asked if I could resubmit and I outlined all the changes I had made. I also pitched the new book I was working on. (which again, is a no-no!) Lucky for me, they’d forgotten the “rules.” Within a couple days, they all e-mailed me requesting not only my revised book, but also the first 50 pages of the new book I was working on.

Within a few weeks, I got an e-mail from the agent “who might review my book again,” saying she wanted to speak with me on the phone. That sent off a series of crazy events. She scheduled a call and offered me representation. I loved her and almost accepted her offer straight out but a writer friend told me to let the other agents know first. So I did. Then I got a barrage of emails requesting to speak with me on the  phone! I ended up interviewing several agents about offers of representation. Somehow, I was suddenly in a position where several agents wanted me! And now, I got to choose. What? That really happens?

A few days later, I chose Alyssa Eisner Henkin from Trident Media Group. Why? Because she had passion for my work. She had a very specific plan for both of the books she read, and we clicked. Being the optimistic pessimist that I am, I needed someone who was positive, and passionate. My tween angel book is just now going out on submission to some key editors. Having Alyssa by my side has been wonderful and worth the long journey. My advice is keep going. One day I was a frustrated writer and the next I woke up to multiple offers of representation. And you know what? When I got up that morning, I had no idea That Day was going to be The Day.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent: Shelli Johannes-Wells

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Shelli, Thanks for sharing your story. It was very inspirational. I will remember it and hope I can have a similar experience when I finish my revisions and start querying.

  2. Debra Schubert

    Shelli, Thanks so much for letting us in on your writing journey. My background is also in marketing, not writing, so I could totally relate. Your words of encouragement are priceless. Thank you and best of luck on your road to publication! 😉

  3. Peggy Abrahams

    Thanks for this encouraging account – heartening for unpublished writers slogging away in the attic – and a reminder that success doesn’t happen without talent, persistence and the willingness to refine and revise.

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