How I Got My Literary Agent: Suzanne Van Rooyen

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Suzanne Van Rooyen, author of I HEART ROBOT. 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.

 

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Suzanne Van Rooyen is a tattooed storyteller and peanut butter addict from
South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests
nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music,
Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters.
When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers
and entertains her shiba inu, Lego. Her books include
Obscura Burning,
The Other Me, and the forthcoming I Heart Robot (2015) from Month9Books.
Suzanne is rep’d by Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Literary Agency.
Connect with her on Twitter.

I am an accidental author. I didn’t grow up dreaming of writing books, of seeing my books on the shelf at a local book store or of winning literary awards. What I really wanted was to be an astronaut, but I sucked at physics. Having always enjoyed penning short stories, I got sucked into the world of novel writing via NaNoWriMo in 2010. By January 2011 I had a finished manuscript I didn’t hate and toyed with the idea of getting it published, knowing nothing about the publishing world. Accepting a contract with a small press and going through the motions of editing and marketing for that first book was a baptism by fire and taught me everything I didn’t know I didn’t know about the publishing world.

Another finished novel, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest and a third novel contracted with a small press later, I realized I wanted and needed and agent. In August 2012, I signed with US-based Jordy Albert, no mean feat considering I live in Finland, but it definitely wasn’t an easy task making it out of the slushpile.

(How to pitch a self-published book to an agent.)

In November 2011, I started writing a story about a fallen angel. The first novel attempt resulted in a story that was just lacking something, lacking some human connection and straddling the divide between YA and adult. I regrouped, brainstormed and in a writing frenzy that lasted less than three weeks, I rewrote the 80k novel shaping it into what became Daughter of the Nether. This YA story I entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition and never expected to get past the query stage. I ended up being a semi-finalist! My book, in the top 1% of entries! That gave me the confidence I needed to finally query the book.

I queried in batches, tailoring queries to the specific agent and Jordy was amongst the first twenty queries I sent out. Within a few weeks she asked for a partial (and I did an unashamed happy dance) that turned into a request for the full (I was far too giddy with nervous excitement to do anything as co-ordinated as a happy dance by this stage). A few weeks later, I received an email asking for a revise and resubmit according to her editorial letter – this was a sobering situation. There were clearly issues in my book, but this agent had taken the time to write me an editorial letter so there must be something redeemable about said book. Jordy’s suggestions were spot-on and, upon revision, I couldn’t believe how many little inconsistencies had slipped through.

I revised, I resubmitted and I waited. The waiting is the worst part. Of course in those 4 months, I had queried widely and received several other requests for fulls, and some fantastic feedback from others agents as well, and a bucket load of rejections. Almost exactly four months after querying Jordy, I received an offer of representation. It felt like winning the lottery and there was apoplectic happy dancing after I read and reread the email to make sure I wasn’t imagining it all, and then it didn’t feel like winning the lottery. While it did have something to do with luck, it had a heck of a lot more to do with hard work and perseverance.

(If you want to sell more books, get more blog readers. Here are 7 tips on doing just that.)

Almost two years down the road, that first book lies discarded and severely rejected on my computer. Daughter of the Nether never sold for various reasons, but that didn’t deter Jordy or me from the ultimate goal. I kept writing and with Jordy’s expert advice and critique, we landed a deal with Month9Books for my YA science fiction novel, I Heart Robot, due out in March 2015.

Landing an agent really is only the first step toward publication, if you want to go the traditional publishing route. Signing with an agent is the beginning of the hard work, not the end of it, and is in no way a guarantee of six-figure deals and movie adaptations. However, having an agent is about more than having the keys to the publishing kingdom. My agent is a little bit editor, a little bit critic, a little bit fangirl and a lot cheerleader, encouraging me to write not only a good book, but the best book I can, and that’s why I love having an agent and why having the right agent for you is so important!


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