How I Landed A Literary Agent & What You Can Learn From it: Monica Ropal

The story of meeting my agent, Barbara Poelle, takes place over an afternoon webinar -- and it changed my life forever. Here's how a webinar helped me land my agents (and, eventually, a book deal).
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Second only to “How did you meet your husband?” the question I get asked most about serendipitous meetings is “How did you meet your agent?”

Unlike that fateful nighttime meeting of my spouse, the story of meeting Barbara Poelle (For more on Barbara, click here) takes place over an afternoon webinar, for which, Barbara assured us, pants were “optional”. Let me take you back to a Spring afternoon gone by that (at least in my mind) will live in infamy.

This guest post is by Monica Ropal. Ropal lives in friendly St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three children—whom she lovingly refers to as her three-ring circus. In addition to writing and playing ringmaster, Monica also works as a hospice nurse. Her debut Young Adult novel When You Leave released in April 2015.You can visit her online at monicaropal.com or on Twitter @MonicaYAWriting.

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I was in midst of a submission stream. Knee-deep in the request and rejection game—memories of which make even the strongest writer shudder in remembrance.

I’d drafted, revised, revised, hooked up with a critique partner (Hi Kip!) at the Vermont College workshop with Sarah Aronson and revised more. I had done a paid critique with KL Going (seriously, check these writers out if you are in the market for manuscript help) and had a well-polished (and re-polished) query ready to go at all times. I had been running a great request-rejection ratio through the fall, and even managed to turn some likeminded agent comments into a revision mid winter. But as snow began to melt, my query plan plateaued. The waiting game on some slow-turnaround fulls had me restless and wondering what my next step should be.

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

Feeling itchy for a class that would help me better position my YA mystery, but not wanting to get tangled in something expensive or lengthy, I chose a Writer’s Digest Webinar. Reasonable fee, two hours with an agent, and also feedback on my query letter. “From Cozy to Carnage.” To be honest, I didn’t know much about Barbara, other than Janet “the Query Shark” Reid refers to her as “slithery”. At the time, Irene Goodman website didn’t even list Barbara as representing, or rather seeking, YA. In truth, it seems that Barbara was quietly, stealthily, building a team of formidable YA authors ready to take over on the world.

What I remember about the webinar is that I learned not only about the market and marketing mysteries but learned LIVE about Barbara, much more than what I could only glimpse at with googling interviews. Barbara has a formidable personality. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s smart-funny, and it makes you want to impress her. And lucky me, because I was one of three query letters read aloud, for praise rather than punishment, and received a shiny full request. Earning that validation from a tough nut like Barbara was like getting the “yes” from Simon Cowell. No way she’s doing it to be nice, which makes the praise that much sweeter.

Here’s the actual query below:

Dear Ms. Barbara Poelle,

I am seeking representation for my 55,000 word young adult novel WHEN YOU LEAVE

WHEN YOU LEAVE is the story of a high school sophomore, Cass, who must solve the murder of her secret boyfriend, Cooper, after one of her best friends is arrested for the crime. For Cass, getting by just under the social radar at St. Bernadette's (her new school) is how she likes it. But when Cooper is killed, Cass must sort out the lies of his friends and hers, who Cooper really was, and what Cass and Cooper had together.

I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. In addition to SCBWI conferences, I have also taken writing classes online and at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have attended writing workshops in Big Sur, California, and at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

WHEN YOU LEAVE has gone through a full manuscript critique with KL Going and I have submitting it to Claudia Gabel of Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins following her request during our critique session at the Vermont College workshop. (No response yet).

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please find the first page pasted below.

Sincerely,

Monica Ropal

After time with my full, Barbara soon contacted me for a pre-arranged, heart stopping, phone call (I vaguely remember screaming and running around my house when she requested it via email). Her astute comments ranged from general “Great voice, fab plot” to complimentary “I fucking love Mattie” to specific plot points to expand, and by expand I mean, “Add 20,000 words.”)I settled into an R&R based on her suggestions and wrote my proverbial ass off for the next six weeks. (“No. Mommy cannot play with you right now. How does July sound, Sweet Pea?”)

[Did you know there are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass? Read about them here.]

Then, after reviewing the results, I’m not saying she offered representation while ON MATERNITY LEAVE, but she totally offered representation WHILE ON MATERNITY LEAVE. Of course, I said YES! Then cue rock star moment when I took the call after the offer of sale was complete with Marlo Scrimizzi at Running Press while literally in a parent conference. “Excuse me, I need to take this, it’s my agent. My book just sold.”)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

I love being part of Team Poelle. I may or may not be planning that tattoo for my next Mojito outing. (Where’s my promised date at Nye’s, B?!)

Like paths to true love, stories of meeting your agent are varied and plenty. But whether through slush or conference, twitter contest or webinar sans pants, make sure that you are ready to impress and serendipity will find you.

OnDemand Webinar
Let literary agents Barbara Poelle and Holly Root
pull back the curtain and show you exactly what goes on when an agent
reads your query in SLUSH PILE SHOWDOWN:
HOW TO MAKE YOUR SUBMISSION STAND OUT.
Download it now

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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