“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.
POOCHES AND QUERIES
I started querying by accident. The closer I got to the end of my manuscript, the more people I told about it – both because I was beginning to believe that I was actually going to finish a novel, and because I wanted to make sure that I did; the more people who knew about it, the more accountable I would be. My friends started telling their friends (dog lovers tend to get really excited about new dog-related fiction) and somewhere in that network, there happened to be a few agents.
Within a couple months of opening my big mouth, I had the manuscript out on submission to three different agents, encouraging responses from a handful of others, and the first installments in my rejection collection. To keep the madness of waiting at bay, I’d drop a few more queries every couple of weeks, working my way down the list of agencies I’d found online. One of those was the Irene Goodman Literary Agency and my query landed on the desk of Barbara Poelle, who asked for a full manuscript.
A WORK, IN PROGRESS
That fall, about six months into my querying process, I went to the Algonkian Pitch and Shop Conference in New York and returned with two requests from major editors. An idea for a new first chapter of my book was started to grow, but I ignored it since my book was already in so many hands. It wasn’t long before one of the editors rejected me. Then I got a rejection from Barbara Poelle. A few requests trickled in on the wake of more rejections. Then Barbara and I got back in touch and discussed my new concept. She liked what she heard and said she’d give it another shot. The other editor rejected me. My revision still wasn’t quite right for Barbara and she rejected me again.
My initial queries were sent out way too soon. I dove in just because someone told me there was a lake, without looking to see what was at the bottom. For over a year and a half, I was caught in the current of submissions – rejection pulling me under, then a wave of referrals and requests throwing me back to the surface. I started a new novel and tried not to give up on the first one. I tried to decode agent responses and constructed a “Dear John” love poem from rejection letter lines.
As I was losing my oldest dog to cancer in late October of last year, I realized what my fictional dog needed to give him new life. Once I got started, it became a line-by-line process, lasting nearly as long as it had taken to write the first draft. But when it was done, I knew it was really done this time.
A THIRD CHANCE WITH BARBARA
There had been a number of agents who, like Barbara Poelle, had given my manuscript serious thought, had lots of praise for my writing, but weren’t able to commit. But Barbara’s response had shown an understanding of my novel, and what I wanted it to be, that the others hadn’t. It didn’t hurt that her career had taken a killer turn in the past year, too. Or that she was known for being absolutely hilarious. So, I sent her an e-mail begging for one more chance.
She read my last draft over the summer and suggested we meet up at the South Carolina Writer’s Conference, as we were both planning to attend. While it was probably safe to assume she didn’t want to meet to serve me a restraining order against future submissions, I didn’t exactly have her answer yet. At the mixer on the first night of the conference, Barbara found me nursing a glass of wine and chatting with a friend. She began by giving me feedback on the manuscript. As hard as I tried to listen, “Is this a revise and rewrite or an offer of representation?” kept running through my mind. But when Barbara Poelle said she had brought a contract with her, it came through loud and clear.
If you had told me up front that I’d spend two and a half years on an emotional bungee cord to eventually land my dream agent, I would have taken up knitting, or geocaching, or anything with attainable goals that could distract me from the need to write. I’m not known for my patience. But luckily, I’m also not known for a lack of stubbornness. So I kept going, and my refusal to give up on my book eventually paid off.