How I Got My Agent—And Book Deal: Writer’s Digest Editor Edition

BY JESSICA STRAWSER, EDITOR OF WRITER’S DIGEST

Here at WD, we’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that our editors are writers too. It’s what helps us connect with and serve our readers and contributors, it’s what drives us to the office with unwavering passion day after day, and it’s also part of what makes our staff feel like a real team. After all, every writer needs a tribe—and we never take for granted how fortunate we are to have a connection to this wonderful community of writers on many levels, both broad-reaching and closer to home.

We like to joke that we have most of the genres covered. Brian Klems (Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl) and Chuck Sambuchino (When Clowns Attack) have found success with their respective nonfiction/humor books. Writer’s Market editor Robert Lee Brewer published a great poetry collection (Solving the World’s Problems) with Press 53. Many of our other staff members, past and present—including our newest addition, Tyler Moss—have placed articles and essays in top-notch markets. (And our former managing editor, Zachary Petit, even has a new WD Book coming out later this month: The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, which I can’t recommend highly enough.)

And me? Well, I dabble in freelance work occasionally, too—last year I had an essay selected for The New York Times Modern Love column—but I’ve been focusing on fiction for years now, writing mostly at night after my kids are in bed. In early 2014, I signed with an agent for my first novel while I was on maternity leave from WD. I’d gotten a revise-and-resubmit request from him the previous year and had completely rewritten the book, from Page 1, using his thoughtful critique as a guide, and was over the moon that he was as pleased with the end result as I was. Everyone here thought this could be it—maybe we’d have a WD staffer on the fiction shelves too!—but a long year and a half stretched by, and the novel never sold.

In the meantime, I’d been following the advice we so often print in Writer’s Digest for writers who are out on submission: I wrote another novel. Several months ago, I got some revision feedback from my agent, but I admit I was struggling with it. I’m not one to shy away from a rewrite, but in this case it just wasn’t resonating. We didn’t share the same vision for the project.

Then, for largely unrelated reasons, and on amicable terms, my agent and I parted ways. I was feeling uncertain as to what to do next. Submit the first novel, which had already been rejected by a short list of editors? Submit the second novel, when my confidence in the project had been shaken? Or submit nothing just yet, and hunker down with either a revision or a completely new project?

I happened to be chatting with Barbara Poelle, who writes the Funny You Should Ask agent advice column in the magazine and wheels and deals at Irene Goodman Literary Agency the other 99% of the time, when she asked about my writing and before I knew it, I was pouring out how stuck I was feeling. I was really just answering her question, not expecting any favors, but Barbara is a soft touch, and knew me just well enough to know I had to be feeling distressed to have brought it up at all.

“I’ll have a look. Maybe I can help,” she said. “Just send me everything. Both books.”

“Oh, you don’t have to–” I began.

“I know. Just give me a month, OK?”

A professional opinion on how I might proceed? Who in their right mind would pass that up? Besides, I wasn’t doing anything other than spinning my wheels anyway. I hadn’t written a word of fiction all summer. Floored by her generosity–but feeling a bit nervous, as I know Barbara is very tell-it-like-it-is and could easily come back with a chipper “On the bright side, at least you have a day job!” response–I did as she asked.

A month later, true to her word, she got back to me. Her response to my first novel was a bit mysterious–all she would do was sing the chorus of “Let It Go.” (This would have been harder to hear if not for the fact that Barbara is actually a surprisingly good singer.) But she said she loved my new one. A lot. Neither of us had thought I was actually submitting to her—at best, I’d hoped for a referral—but in the end, after years of false starts and rejections and sleepless nights surrounded by buzzing baby monitors at the keyboard, I landed my second agent largely by accident. I reassigned her column to someone else so that I was no longer her editor, and just like that, I became her client instead.

Two weeks later, she called again. The ink on our agreement wasn’t even dry, but she had sold the novel in a two-book deal to St. Martin’s Press.

There are a lot of lessons here that I want to share. About perseverance. “Practice novels.” Uncertainty. But we have plenty of time for that.

Making this whole surreal dream seem all the more real, today Publishers Weekly announced that my novel, an upmarket book club book called ALMOST MISSED YOU, is slated for a hardcover release in 2017. And I look forward to sharing my journey here with the WD family of readers as I revise that novel with the talented team at St. Martin’s, prepare for its release, write Book 2 (under contract for the very first time), maintain my post at the helm of Writer’s Digest magazine, and raise my two tiny, super wonderful kids to become two slightly bigger, super wonderful kids.

It’s going to be a wild ride. I hope you’ll come along, and share your own stories along the way. I’m so very grateful for all of your support.


JStrawserHS4-featuredThis post is by Jessica Strawser. Strawser is the chief editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, where she often has the privilege of penning WD Interviews featuring writers she has long admired, including Alice Walker, David Sedaris and Stephen King. Her 15-year career in publishing has also included editing roles at a trio of nonfiction book imprints and even a brief stint in marketing and public relations. She’s also a writer of women’s fiction represented by literary agent Barbara Poelle, and—having first started querying agents for an entirely different, unsold novel back in 2011—is thrilled to be looking ahead to her 2017 debut novel, Almost Missed You, forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two young children. Connect with her on Twitter @JessicaStrawser.


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11 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent—And Book Deal: Writer’s Digest Editor Edition

  1. Leon Adrian

    My Name is Leon Adrian. I will love to share my testimony to all the people in the love site cos i never thought i will have my girlfriend back and she means so much to me..The girl i want to get marry to left me 3 weeks to our weeding for another man..,When i called her she never picked my calls,She deleted me on her Facebook and she changed her Facebook status from married to Single…when i went to her place of work she told her boss she never want to see me..i lost my job as a result of this cos i cant get myself anymore,my life was upside down and everything did not go smooth with my life…I tried all i could do to have her back to all did not work out until i met a Man when i Travel to Africa to execute some business have been developing some years back..I told him my problem and all have passed through in getting her back and how i lost my job…he told me he gonna help me…i don’t believe that in the first place.but he swore he will help me out and he told me the reason why my girlfriend left me and also told me some hidden secrets.i was amazed when i heard that from him..he said he will cast a spell for me and i will see the results in the next couple of days..then i travel back to US the following day and i called him when i got home and he said he’s busy casting those spells and he has bought all the materials needed for the spells,he said am gonna see positive results in the next 2 days that is Thursday…My girlfriend called me at exactly 12:35pm on Thursday and apologies for all she had done ..she said,she never knew what she’s doing and her sudden behavior was not intentional and she promised not to do that again.it was like am dreaming when i heard that from her and when we ended the call,i called the man and told him my wife called and he said i haven’t seen anything yet… he said i will also get my job back in 2 days time..and when its Sunday,they called me at my place of work that i should resume working on Monday and they gonna compensate me for the time limit have spent at home without working..My life is back into shape,i have my girlfriend back and we are happily married now with kids and i have my job back too,This man is really powerful..if we have up to 20 people like him in the world,the world would have been a better place..he has also helped many of my friends to solve many problems and they are all happy now..Am posting this to the forum for anybody that is interested in meeting the man for help.you can mail him on this email; spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com or call him +2349055637784

  2. naismith22

    Hi everyone on on this blog they say experience is the best teacher and i can boldly say that it is a statement of fact. Everyone talking about the blank atm card so i decided to give a trial to a company i saw online and in less than a week it was delivered to me and am able to make a cash withdrawal of at least $5000 in a week. It really works and i got mine from bestatmhack01@gmail.com You should try this out its amazing

  3. dymphna st james

    Congratulations on your book and how cool to have published a Modern Love essay in the NYT! Barbara Poelle sounds like such a good agent for you. I will look forward to reading your book club novel when it is published by St. Martin’s. You persevered and didn’t give up.

    1. Jessica Strawser

      Thanks so much for the kind comment–I look forward to having you as a reader!

      And do keep at it with your own work. You never know when something is going to click.

      1. Jiminy01

        I enjoyed your story, Jessica. I started writing for my teenage grandsons, when their mother (my daughter) took her life 4 years ago. I have written a YA Fantasy titled The Water Door. Its about a family that can dissolve and move into another world through water. I wrote the story to heal my family, and to have fun with my then estranged grandsons. The story has achieved both goals. I am closer to my grandsons than ever, and the family has all lent their voices to the story.
        I will be attending the WD Conference in August, and the Book Baby Independent Authors Conference in November. Congratulations on your success!

  4. KarenDoll

    Hi Jessica,
    LOVE, LOVE,LOVE your story! It’s so inspiring to read and really take in what you’re saying…perseverance isn’t just another spelling challenge, but rather a trait all writer’s should hone and call their own. I started out writing fiction, children’s picture books and poetry, more specifically and opened rejection letter after rejection letter. A blessing in disguise, perhaps? A bug in my ear, perhaps? Then, one day, with a decade plus of homeschooling knowledge at the ready, I just decided to submit an article to Home School Enrichment Magazine. Voila, my freelance career was born and this summer I launched my new column, Creative Homeschooling. I’ve also been writing chicken keeping articles for Backyard Chicken Coops, an Australian based company for almost 2 years now. Thanks to that experience, I recently was invited to pitch ideas to the Guild of Shepherds and Collies where they in turn accepted all 6 pitches. Life is funny and challenging and circumstances can turn on a dime, so I cherish and treasure every single second of the good stuff. Here’s to savoring the good stuff…hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray, Jessica. I look forward to reading your novel and wish I’d known about your NaNoWriMo book chock full of tips when I participated several years ago. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a future participant someday-I know what my Go To book will be!!

    Sincerely,
    Karen Doll

    1. Jessica Strawser

      Hi, Karen,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a kind comment! Your enthusiasm for your own work is contagious, and no doubt will take you far. I made a rule to celebrate every rejection letter, because each one is a reminder that you are putting yourself out there and trying. Think of it as getting the “nos” out of the way so you can get to your “yes.”

      Here’s to many more “yes” days ahead!

      Cheers,
      Jessica

      1. KarenDoll

        Thank you for your encouragement!! I still have all of my “NOs” on a shelf in my office closet. I think about them once in a while. Never thought to celebrate them. Good advice!! I wish you well as your work to bring your book to the final phase!

        Karen

      2. KarenDoll

        Looking at my comment above, I sincerely hope I didn’t appear as if I was boasting! Just thought I’d share my story-rejection isn’t the end, but can be a different beginning!!

        Thanks!

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