How I Got My Literary Agent: Julie Lawson Timmer

“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 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.)


five-days-left-novel-cover     julie-lawson-timmer-author-writer

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.

(Looking to attend a writers’ conference? Start here.)

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.

(Tips on how to find more agents who seek your genre/category.)

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.

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11 thoughts on “How I Got My Literary Agent: Julie Lawson Timmer

  1. khadijahnm

    Thank you for sharing. It is encouraging for those of us who are ‘pre-published’ to know there is sometimes light at the end of this process.

    Also, thank you for including some of the mundane details. I had never heard of an “R&R” and was not aware that you had several months to submit them to agents that show interest in your work.

    From one canadienne to another.

    Merci Beaucoup.

  2. Alisha Rohde

    Thank you for telling us the detailed (more than “stars aligned”) version! This is very encouraging. I’m relatively early in the research-and-query process, but have had agent nibbles at conferences. Now I think it’s time to be even more targeted with my queries, but I appreciate the idea of being “query weary.” I have been focused on the next work as I send the first one out and I find it a little tricky to invest creative energy in both at once.

    FDL sounds fascinating–can’t wait to check it out!

  3. dymphna st james

    Your testimonial is very encouraging. I have completed the first draft of a novel and my instructor told me she thought it was good. But good is not good enough to get a traditional published so I am revising and working with a development editor, hopefully I can take good to excellent with a rewrite. You should feel proud of yourself and all your hard work. I love book club books and am making a note to check this book out at my local library.

  4. Mrs. Write

    I love keeping up with this blog! It is so encouraging to read these success stories, not just for celebrating the progress of others, but to build the courage to put yourself out there and tackle rejection. Congrats on your book!

  5. AndrewLark

    I also finished my “finished” my first novel and I’m currently working with an editor. I’m just beginning this process and I know it’s going to be a long slog. My work is not ready for submission to agents yet, but I’ll keep plugging along. Thank you for telling your story.

  6. DanielR

    Julie-Thanks for your insights. It’s always great to hear win a new author eventually wins the battle, gets an agent, and better yet, a publishing contract. All the best for much success!

  7. Biosleuth

    I appreciate the blatant honesty & humor of this article about Julie’s experience in finding an agent. You have to be ready to wait and listen to all the feedback you get. Her “long-road” experience ended in victory and I’m sure the many revisions helped her become a better writer (even though it was a painful process). Thanks for sharing the hard realisms of writing and encouraging all who are still “in-process”. Now I’ll be watching for that next book and am anxious to pick up a copy of FDL.


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