"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the
exact road people took that landed them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. 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.
Judy Winter is a national speaker, advocate,
and the author of Breakthrough Parenting for
Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar
of Expectations. She is the recipient of the 2006
Chief Everything Officer Award (CEO) in Community
Outreach from AOL and Dove, and the 2002
Exceptional Parent Award from the Michigan
Federated Chapters of the Council for Exceptional
A NEW GUIDE FOR ALL
Flashback to 1990, when my son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, an event that left both our lives in jeopardy. Physically recovered, I faced the daunting task of raising a child with a physical disability. Determined to focus on my son’s potential, as I had with his then six-year-old sister, Jenna, I searched for a great parenting guide and came up empty handed. Books were medical or filled with outdated statistics and scary images. There was no humor, no hope, and little reason to get out of bed—not good enough for my son.
I decided to write a new guide, and promised my son that everything we did to ensure his best life, we’d share with other families to benefit their children, too. Our parenting guide would include success stories, valuable resources and a humorous take on the absurdity of daily demands. It took sixteen years to realize that vision.
THE FIRST CONFERENCE IN HAWAII
I began to share my own challenges through essays and feature work that highlighted the lives of those with special needs. My challenges were great; the rewards were greater. I interviewed dozens of people facing special needs. I wrote personal essays/features for the Lansing State Journal, Michigan Department of Education (MDE), and Writer’s Digest. With determination and a strong work ethic, I created industry buzz and a writer’s platform.
I knew the odds of getting an agent and book deal were dismal, but I wasn’t focused on statistics. I wanted to change children’s lives and never doubted my work’s value. It took eight months to write my proposal, complete with a copy of Michael Larsen’s bible, How to Write a Book Proposal. I attended the 2003 Maui Writers Conference, absorbed the tropical blend of humidity, celebrity speakers, and love for words proclaimed by other writers. I spent the required $$ to pitch agents, fueled by my greatest muse, my son.
Michael Larsen and other agents expressed interest. Some talked representation once I’d returned home. But I believed the intense realities of 24/7 parenting would prevent me from fulfilling new-author demands and shelved the project. Then the darkest moment befell me. My son passed away unexpectedly in 2003. Devastated, I thought I would never write again.
HONORING MY SON
The 2004 Maui Writers Conference was fast approaching and though my flight was booked, I told my husband I wasn’t going. His reply? “If you don’t go, you’ll never finish Eric’s story.” I headed for paradise armed with a perfected pitch, research about which agents to woo, and an impressive media kit. I walked around, bereaved, but with great purpose and enough pit-bull determination required to impact needed change and honor my son.
In an early general session with agents, I met Catherine Fowler of Redwood Agency. I immediately liked her. I had skipped time at the beach to hone my pitch, and it worked. All agents pitched expressed interest, but Catherine requested an immediate copy of my proposal and signed me before we left Maui. On the mainland, we prepped the proposal to send to top publishers. Five major publishers expressed serious interest and I signed with Jossey-Bass in November 2004. In the months that followed, I opened a deep vein of grief and let words spill onto the page. Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations was published in March 2006. My success story was twenty years in the making.
I believe the successful agent/author dance is the result of top-notch professionalism. Stay humble and say thanks. Hold your head high and deliver what you promise. Hone your skills, network, and ditch the diva attitude. Observe the world around you. Don’t fully trust spell check. Be passionate about your work. Follow these tips—and you might snag yourself a great agent, too.