"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.
PUTTING THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE
My problem was easy to detect. I was too eager to get my first three chapters of my novel read by an agent. Sending out portions of my work-in-progress was fun to do. I thrived on writing exciting query letters and waiting for agents to affirm me with, “Yes, I’d like to read your manuscript. Sounds fabulous!” While the agents read partials, I frantically wrote, fueled by the hope that my work would be readily accepted. When the rejections came, I wondered why I kept on with this crazy game. Ever since I was six, I wanted to write a novel and have it published. Now in my forties, the desire was still only a desire. When would it become a reality?
After another rejection letter with some personal feedback from a well-known agent, I realized that I had another problem besides the fact that I was querying for an unfinished novel: The main character’s narrative voice was bland; she wasn’t likable. I read a few pages from my novel again and realized I didn’t even like her.
While picking weeds in my yard one summer afternoon, that intriguing narrative voice came to me. Fearful it would disappear with the weeds, I grabbed a pen and paper and sat in the grass to write. Three months later, I had twenty chapters I was proud of and I did what I was accustomed to doing—I sent out a stimulating query letter to an agent I found on agentquery.com. By nightfall the agent asked to see my first three chapters. After she read them, she called to say she wanted the whole manuscript. This was exhilarating, but not the first time over the course of nearly two years that an agent had asked to see it all.
But, of course, there was the problem that my novel wasn't complete to send to her. So I told the agent I was experiencing a family crisis. (Since my husband left us months earlier, I didn’t feel that I’d really lied.) Then I got to work, using every spare hour between single parenting and working a full-time job. Within a month, I’d completed my novel. I sent it to the agent and waited. There were some sleepless nights as I worried how I’d handle the disapproval this time. I’d been rejected by 23 agents. Were there any left?
Two weeks later I received another phone call. It was the agent—Kristin Lindstrom of Lindstrom Literary Management. “Alice, I love it, and I want to represent you!” I was 45 years old, but I shrieked with joy like I did when I was six. At last, I had an agent—and one who believed in me! Finally, my dream had wheels. Within eight weeks, we had a two-book deal with Bethany House. Rain Song was published 20 months later (the wait was grueling) and six months after that, How Sweet It Is made her debut. (More recently, two more novels are under contract with the same publisher, thanks to Kristin!)
The road to getting an agent was more painful than being pelted by hot sand on a windy Carolina beach, mostly due to my eagerness and lack of crafting the best novel I could. I’m impressed by those who do it the right way—finishing the novel first, reveling in plenty of editing, and then contacting potential agents. But I’ve never been good about following directions.
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