“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Julie Lawson Timmer, author of FIVE DAYS LEFT. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
GIVEAWAY: Julie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: dymphna st james won.)
Julie Lawson Timmer grew up in Ontario and earned a bachelor’s degree from
McMaster University before heading south of the border. She has a law degree
from Southern Methodist University and works as in-house legal counsel in
Michigan. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and children. Her first novel
is FIVE DAYS LEFT (Putnam; September 9, 2014), book club fiction that was
praised by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist , and Library Journal.
It didn’t start out well
My journey to landing a literary agent was one of premature querying and bad decisions, followed by months of course correction and, ultimately, the alignment of the stars and a great deal of luck.
In the summer of 2011, I finished a first draft of the manuscript that ultimately became Five Days Left. It was terrible, and far too lengthy, but I pitched it at a writers’ conference anyway. Of course I didn’t get an agent, but I acquired a terrific group of writing friends and some solid advice about writing, revising and querying. I also received enough encouraging feedback about my writing that I drove home with a renewed sense of determination.
After the conference, I gutted and rewrote the manuscript, and started querying. I received a few requests for partials and fulls, but mostly, I received form rejections or heard crickets. In the spring of 2012, though, I received a revise & resubmit request (an “R&R”) from an agent who took the time to speak with me on the phone about the changes she thought the book needed. When my first revision didn’t work, she gave me another R&R, which means she read ultimately the book three times–so incredibly generous! She ultimately passed, but because of her, I had a much more polished manuscript for my next round of querying, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
It was time to move on
By the end of the summer of 2012, I had sent close to 100 queries and hadn’t landed an agent, so in August, I announced to my husband Dan that FDL would be my “practice novel.” I was shelving it and moving on. I had written another book, and I started preparing to query it.
Over the following few weeks, rejections from outstanding FDL queries would trickle in and I’d laugh–I was over it anyway, I told myself, so those rejections no longer stung. So, when I got an R&R from Victoria Sanders, an agent at the top of my “dream list,” I told Dan that I wasn’t even going to respond Victoria’s email, let alone do another revision. (I’m not sure I’ve ever told Victoria this story. Let’s hope she finds it amusing!)
Thankfully, Dan urged me to sleep on it, and of course by the next morning, I realized I wasn’t “over” FDL at all, and in fact, because it was inspired by the loss of a friend, I was still as determined to see it published as I’d ever been. I had simply been query weary, and while in some cases, that might be a sign that it’s time to shelve a book, I realized I wasn’t at that point with FDL. And, there was also the point Dan was hoping I’d reach: who in their right mind ignores an R&R from a terrific agent? I spent yet another six months doing yet another gut-and-rewrite.
The stars align
At the end of January 2013, I sent the revision to Victoria. Five days later, she called to offer representation. Twenty-one days after that, she sold it, at auction, to Amy Einhorn.
So, it was a long, slow, two-year slog uphill and then Bam!–everything happened so quickly it made my head spin.
My usual answer to “How did you land your agent?” is, “The stars aligned and I got lucky.” When pressed, and for the sake of aspiring authors seeking direction, I elaborate: I attended a writers’ conference and made friends who offered untold amounts of advice and support. I signed up for manuscript evaluations by conference instructors, and submitted my work to online contests–the positive feedback was invaluable. I queried widely and revised my query often. I said yes to R&Rs, and ended up with an increasingly-refined manuscript.
And also: the stars aligned and I got lucky.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Anna Olswanger puts out a call for new queries and submissions.
- 5 Easy Steps to Conquer the Heartache of Rejection.
- Why a Writer Can’t Listen to All the Feedback They Receive.
- Writing steampunk? Hear the story of how author Richard Preston got his agent.
- How to Write a Novel in 22 Easy Steps.
- Writing sports nonfiction? Agent Brian Wood specializes in this area.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
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