How I Got My Agent: Barry Lyga

"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we'll talk specifics. Barry Lyga is the author of nine books, including his newest, Goth Girl Rising (Jan. 2011), a YA book that Booklist said “has a forceful voice that will stay with readers.” His breakout book, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (2007) got a starred review from School Library Journal.
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"How I Got My Agent" is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. 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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we'll talk specifics.

Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Stepanie won.)

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Barry Lyga is the author of nine books, including
his newest, Goth Girl Rising (Jan. 2011), a YA book
that Booklist said "has a forceful voice that will
stay with readers." His breakout book,
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
(2007) got a starred review from School Library
Journal. See his website here.

PURE, DUMB LUCK

I sometimes tell the story of how I got my agent as a way of illustrating the role that pure, dumb luck can play in the publishing process. Most aspiring authors (including yours truly as of roughly six years ago) tend to focus on the nuts and bolts of the agent hunt: Poring over sales reports, scouring novel acknowledgments, creating databases of genre preferences, client successes, and so on. But sometimes none of that means anything at all and reality just smacks you in the face. Or, in my case, rips a nerve out of place.

In the summer of 2004, I was diagnosed with a misplaced ulnar nerve, which had been causing alternating bouts of total numbness and unreal pain from my shoulder to my fingertips. I was scheduled for surgery at the beginning of October, with the caveat that for four to six weeks after the surgery, I wouldn’t be allowed to life anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

At the time, I was scheduled to attend the World Fantasy Conference, where I had dreams of meeting an editor or an agent interested in an adult horror novel of mine. But the conference fell within the recovery period and there was no way I could travel. So — at the insistence of my good friend and fellow YA author Robin Brande — I changed my travel plans to attend a writers conference in January 2005, when I would be fully recovered. It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t have much of a choice at this point.

MEETING KATHY AT A CONFERENCE

By the time January rolled around, I was ready to start shopping a newer manuscript — my first stab at YA, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. I set up some agent and editor pitch sessions and went off to the conference. On Day One, things went pretty well. I met with two editors, both of whom saw the first chapter of the book and wanted to see the whole thing. I also met with an agent who was interested in seeing more.

Day Two started with a shock — I won an Editor’s Choice Award at the conference! Suddenly everyone was talking about me and my book. A very strange feeling! I had one more pitch session scheduled for later in the day, so in the meantime, I attended some more classes. One of them was an overview of the author/agent relationship, conducted by agent Kathy Anderson. During the talk, Robin leaned over to me and said, “I bet you’d get along really well with her.” I agreed, and as soon as the session let out, I went off to see if I could somehow wrangle an appointment with her.

Sadly, I had no luck, so I set off to my final pitch session of the conference … which happened to be with Kathy Anderson. That’s right — when I had signed up for the conference months ago, I’d scheduled an appointment with Kathy and then completely forgotten about it. Best of all, when she saw me walk into the room, she read my name badge and said, “Oh, good, it’s you! I’ve been trying to find you! The editors told me I just have to see your manuscript. Do you have some time to talk later?”

“Actually, I’m your next appointment,” I told her. She looked down at her appointment sheet and then laughed. We spoke briefly, I promised to send her the manuscript as soon as I got home, and that was it.

THE SIGNING

A couple of weeks later, she offered to represent me. I had another offer on the table, but I ultimately decided to go with Kathy. Six months after that, she sold The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl as the first book in a two-book deal, and my career as a novelist began.

There is no doubt that talent and perseverance play a huge role in achieving the dream of publishing your work. But as I hope my little tale illustrates, luck has a part, too! So whenever people ask me how to land an agent, I always grin and start with, “Well, first, you should have surgery on your arm…”

For more on the role of luck in publishing, check out my blog entries on the “Path to Publication”:
The Path to Publication (Part 1)

The Path to Publication (Part 2)
The Path to Publication (Part 3)
The Path to Publication (Part 4)
The Path to Publication (Part 5)
The Path to Publication (Part 6)

Barry is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Stepanie won.)

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