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I was climbing Haleakala in Maui, when a bunch of us got stuck in one of the narrow passageways and … just kidding.
I wish this were how I got my agent—in some rare, exotic way that will make for a great icebreaker at stuffy dinner parties. I wish we had bonded during a harrowing event, during which I sold her on an unread manuscript, and she signed me on the spot.
Instead, I got my agent the old-fashioned way, by much less romantic means, far from any volcanoes on the Pacific Coast. I sent her a query letter, and an assistant replied on her behalf.
This guest post is by Julie Shepard. Shepard has an English degree from the University of Florida and a teaching degree in Middle Grades English.
She lives by the beautiful beaches of South Florida. ROSIE GIRL is her debut novel.
Now, that’s actually the best part of the story. The assistant. Because if writers (especially unpublished ones) are anything, we’re paranoid—filled with fear that our hard-earned work will be stolen from pages still soggy from blood, sweat, and tears. So the reply email was not from the agent, but from someone else whose name I didn’t recognize. I Googled her hoping to find “I am the assistant to Literary Agent X” somewhere in a corner of the Internet. But no.
All I found was tangential information: she was a writer, a reader, a blogger, someone like that. This was good. At least she was a legitimate part of the writing community. But without finding a direct link to the agent, I was still leery. I hesitated, waiting a little over an hour to respond (which is an hour longer than I would have normally waited to send back requested material to an agent). And honestly, I was nervous for days that I had just sent my entire manuscript—my baby!—to a complete stranger who was going to call my book her own and make a zillion dollars off it.
If Ilana Masad—assistant literary agent extraordinaire—is reading this, she’s laughing and calling me a dope. But back then, until I heard from her boss, Leigh Feldman, I was a wreck. Two weeks later, I did. The three of us had a conference call, during which I was offered representation. That was April 2015.
As I write this, it’s May 2017. My debut young adult novel, Rosie Girl, comes out with Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers in July. This wouldn’t have been possible had I not trusted the validity of an assistant’s request and the power she had to push my manuscript through the gate.
I’ve heard grumblings from some writers, claiming if they’re not contacted directly by an agent, their chances of ending up on the agent’s desk are slimmer. I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Literary assistants are the true gatekeepers. If anything, hearing from the assistant increases your chances of winning over their boss, who now has the endorsement of someone’s opinion they value.
So next time you get a request from an assistant, consider it a gift. I’m really glad I opened mine!
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