“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.
I started planning my YA novel, Royal Rose, in the summer of 2006. It was my third novel (nothing ever happened with the first two) and I managed to write a few chapters before attending the SCBWI NY conference. I’d brought along ten pages of Rose to be critiqued.
My first critique session was with an up-and-coming agent, and she really liked my work. She gave me some pointers, asked a bunch of questions, then asked if it was done yet. When I told her no, she said she’d love to read it when it was. I was thrilled! When I got home, I buckled down to write this story … but it didn’t go so well.
Rose was so far out of my comfort zone that I had no idea what I was doing. Plus, I was so emotionally invested in this story that I was mentally exhausted after each writing session. It sometimes took days to recover. As a result, it was a year before I had a completed draft. When I sent a query to the agent who’d critiqued it, she said she remembered me (!) and still liked the story – BUT, she was swamped with YA, and didn’t have the time to take on anything new. She referred me to a few other agents and wished me well.
I queried those agents and got a partial request from one of them. I sent it, and she replied back with a revision request, saying the story was weak in certain areas of the craft of writing. At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about. I’d thought my story was strong in those areas. But she was the professional, not me, so it was worth at least some research. It took months to figure out where my storytelling was lacking, but, lo and behold, she was right. I revised the manuscript and sent it to her. She said my changes were better, but not strong enough. I did more research. More reading. LOTS of work. Then I rewrote the whole thing.
I sent it back to her, confident I’d done what she’d asked. And she said I had – BUT (again with the but), she didn’t feel confident that she could make my manuscript stand out with what she knew of the YA Contemporary market at that time, with that particular project. So she passed. On one hand, I was devastated because I’d worked so hard, and it had never occurred to me that she’d say no when I’d done what she’d asked. But on the other, I admired that she knew her limits and didn’t take me on out of some weird obligation. In all honesty, I ended up getting more out of the exchange than she did, and I’m very glad for her insights.
PHASE TWO AND SUCCESS
Even though it felt like it at the time, I was not back at square one. I had a much stronger manuscript and a much better understanding of craft. Plus, I’d proven to myself that I could work my tail off instead of give up. I could definitely bring that to the negotiating table of other agents. I started researching agents through online websites then sent off my query letters. I got a solid request rate, but no offers. The rejections rolled in, and as they piled up it was hard to keep going. I wondered if there was something really wrong with my story, but no one had either the time or the guts to tell me. Regardless, I wasn’t going to give up. I loved Rose too much to set it aside. So I took what feedback I got, did more research, and still had that same request rate. I told myself that I would find someone who loved Rose as much as I did.
And I did. Two, actually.
I got a phone call from fabulous Agent #1, saying she loved Rose and wanted to discuss representation if I was willing to make some revisions. She wasn’t asking for an overhaul, but it wasn’t minor, either. And, it made sense. But I was about to leave for an amusement park when she called, and I didn’t want to make any rash decisions, so I asked if I we could talk the next day. She said that was fine, and I floated out the front door. Right after that, I got an e-mail from fabulous Agent #2, asking to schedule a phone call to talk. My brain pretty much imploded. Apparently, I can handle only so much good news in one day.
Over the next few days, I spoke with both agents and both offered me representation. It was obvious that I’d be lucky to work with either one. I ended up going with fabulous Agent #2: Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Literary Agency. Not only because of her years of experience in this industry, but also because we really hit it off on the phone. I can’t say enough how excited I am to be working with her, and already have my sleeves rolled up, anticipating the hard work to come. Which I wouldn’t miss for the world!