How I Got My Literary Agent: Susan Blumberg-Kason

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the memoir GOOD CHINESE WIFE. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Susan 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. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.33.19 PMSusan Blumberg-Kason is a freelance journalist in Chicago. Her work has
appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, TimeOut Chicago, Journal of the
American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. She lives
in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children. Her memoir (Sourcebooks,
July 2014) is GOOD CHINESE WIFE: A LOVE AFFAIR WITH CHINA GONE WRONG.
Kirkus says of the book, “An American freelance journalist’s painful account of how
a hasty marriage to a Chinese man turned her life upside down…it is the author’s
courage to face her mistakes that makes the book worthwhile.”
Connect with her on Twitter

 

I STARTED QUERYING 6 YEARS AGO

Six years ago I started querying agents for Good Chinese Wife, a memoir about my tumultuous first marriage to a man from central China. A writer friend advised me to complete fifty polished pages of my memoir and a nonfiction book proposal before querying agents. That was all I would need, he said, because that’s how agents sold nonfiction.

So I started querying with fifty pages and a proposal. For every ten letters I sent, I would receive about two requests for a few chapters, four rejections, and no replies for the others. It might not sound very promising, but it gave me hope. I couldn’t help but marvel that two agents wanted to read my story!

After repeating this process a few times to no avail, I started to worry that my sample chapters weren’t up to snuff. I also realized I really didn’t know how to write a memoir. Each chapter seemed like a stand-alone story, which wasn’t a bad thing. But I knew the chapters didn’t flow together. So I enlisted the help of one of several independent editors over the next two years.

(How should you discuss a book’s series potential in a query letter?)

THE FIRST BITE FROM AN AGENT

One agent found my query in her slush pile and wrote back an encouraging and enthusiastic reply. And she requested my full manuscript! I didn’t have the full, but sent her my proposal, sample chapters, and some other writing clips. She seemed like the dream agent: young, eager to build her list, and she had lived in China during the very time I was in Hong Kong.

She didn’t sign me, but said she would be happy to read more if I completed the manuscript so she could see it in its entirety. I spent the next nine months writing and revising. I continued to work with an independent editor. And I stopped querying other agents. But when I eventually contacted this agent with my full manuscript, I received no reply. It took me a couple of months to figure out that she had moved agencies. Although I felt like a stalker tracking her down, she still seemed enthusiastic about my story.

But after nine more months and as many follow-up e-mails, I decided to move on. I polished my query letter and waited until just after New Year’s Day of 2012 to start querying again.

Right away I started to receive more requests than ever for fulls and partials. One day in mid-January, I read an interview with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency on The Guide to Literary Agents Blog. I saw that she was looking for memoir and that she enjoyed one of my favorite books (Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella). So I queried her and didn’t think about it again until two nights later when Carrie requested my full manuscript.

(Would your story make a great movie? Here are 7 tips on writing a film script.)

SUCCESS WITH CARRIE

The following afternoon, Carrie e-mailed me to say that she was enjoying my manuscript and wanted me to let her know if another agent offered representation before she finished reading. I replied that I would definitely do that. And I mentioned that half a dozen agents were reading either a partial or the full. This was the furthest I’d gotten with an agent, but I didn’t allow myself to read too much into Carrie’s e-mails in case she decided to take a pass.

I didn’t hear from her the next day, but by the middle of the following day, she e-mailed to offer representation! It was almost four years to the date when I first started querying agents!

Although I still had to hear from other agents, my gut instinct told me to go with Carrie and not look back. Publishing is a lot like dating. If someone calls on Tuesday for a Saturday night date, that’s much more promising than the person who calls Saturday morning for a date that very evening. I wanted an agent who loved my story just as much as I did. And Carrie showed that way more than anyone else.

Carrie turned out to be every bit the dream agent I first envisioned when I started querying agents all those years ago. As it turned out, she had also spent time in China and had studied Mandarin. Carrie helped me with revisions, cheered me on during our submission rounds (which took another year), and found me a fabulous editor in Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks. When I write in my acknowledgements in Good Chinese Wife that my life wouldn’t be the same without Carrie, I mean every word and then some. I hope my story will show other writers that patience, hard word, and perseverance really do pay off in the end.

GIVEAWAY: Susan 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. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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3 thoughts on “How I Got My Literary Agent: Susan Blumberg-Kason

  1. docdonna

    Thank you for sharing this great testimony. Confirmation that persistence is key – slow and steady wins the race! It was also great to read that Stephanie Bowen became your editor. I met her at a pitch conference, she was very receptive to all of the attendees! Again, kudos on your book. http://www.donnadoctora.com

  2. JanelleFila

    I agree that this is a great example of the benefits of perseverance and hard work. It sucks to think that it might take six years to get agented, but at the same time it makes my most recent rejection seem less consequential. Thanks so much for sharing! Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

  3. simeon

    That’s a great agent-finding story to hear. Many of these posts share stories where by some coincidence or unique circumstances, the author and agent came together. But this is an example of simply writing, rewriting, querying and polishing, and it leading to where you want to go. Congrats.

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