"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.
OFF TO KANSAS CITY
You’ve probably heard the story of the aspiring writer who cornered the unsuspecting agent in a conference bathroom and passed her manuscript under the door of the stall. Arguably the most celebrated moment in the history of how-not-to-get-an-agent. You should also not pass your manuscript to an agent in an elevator, in the buffet line or during their keynote speech. But is all casual contact taboo? Is there a way to use a chance meeting to your advantage? Sure, as long as you do it right.
I met my agent, Erin Murphy, in an elevator. I was in the process of writing my first novel and was starting to research agents (in hindsight, I recommend actually finishing your book first). Erin was at the top of my list and I heard she was speaking at a weekend conference in Kansas City. Although I live in Northern California, I needed a weekend away and had enough frequent flyer miles, so although I really didn’t know anyone in Kansas City, I went.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
I saw Erin speak at the conference that first day and it only cemented the fact that I wanted to work with her. She’s editorial, knowledgeable about the business, has great contacts and a fantastic client list. All good. But I had nothing to show her and no reason to talk to her, so I spent the whole day in seminars and talking to other writers. I figured that I’d just take my experience home with me, finish the book and query her when I was ready. And then I got my chance.
Early on the last morning, I was riding the elevator down to the hotel lobby when Erin stepped aboard on her way to speak at a seminar. My mind was racing as the floors flashed by—this was my big chance! What the heck do I do with it? I started with the brilliant “Good morning.” She smiled and said "Good morning" back. She yawned and said that she was tired and I mentioned that I’d stayed up late, too, talking to some of the other conference attendees. Then I glanced at her and said, “Luckily, I just have to sit there and listen. Unfortunately, you have to go and be brilliant again.” That broke the ice and she laughed. Erin glanced down at my outfit and admired the trouser jeans I’d bought special for the trip. I told her where to get them, we chatted for a few seconds and that was it. The elevator reached the lobby and we went our separate ways. My palms were sweaty as I replayed the conversation in my head, knowing that there was so much more I could have done to make a better impression. At least I hadn’t blown it ... had I?
Fast forward a few months, and my manuscript was polished and ready. I’d read everything I could about query letters, and decided to take a chance with mine. I opened with, “Dear Erin, We met briefly at the Missouri Writer’s Guild conference—I am the tall gal with the striped hair and the fabulous not-jeans from J.Jill. I know that you are not accepting unsolicited submissions and I know that you are not looking for any new clients. I also know that I want you to be my agent.” After a short wait that I spent holding my breath, Erin e-mailed that she did indeed remember me and invited me to send her my manuscript. I’m pleased to say that my novel Dirty Little Secrets came out from Walker books on February 2 and I look forward to a long and prosperous partnership with Erin.
If you find yourself in an elevator with your dream agent, resist the urge to slip them your manuscript. Instead, engage in some casual conversation. Mention something they said or someone they represent that you really like. Compliment them on a necklace you admire. Treat them like real people and you never know what might happen. If you happen to meet your dream agent in the conference bathroom however, I strongly suggest you leave her be.