"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.
Caroline Starr Rose's first book, May B., a
middle-grade historical novel-in-verse, will
be released Fall 2011 (Tricycle Press). Caroline
blogs about writing, reading, and the
publication process online.
I came to the querying process in fits and starts and with lots of misinformation. Because an agent isn’t a necessity in the children's market, I’d never consistently looked for one. It was easier to submit directly to editors, bypassing what, to me, felt like a superfluous step. Every so often, while waiting a year or more on an exclusive, unsolicited submission (what was I thinking?), I’d reconsider trying the agent route. Then I’d remind myself agents represented established authors, not green ones, like me.
On my first attempt at finding an agent, I sent out a dozen queries to those listed in the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market guide. One resulted in a full request, another in a partial. The full came back with a handwritten page gushing about how great my manuscript was and how someday I'd sell the piece and have to let the agent know, but the story wasn't right for her agency. The partial was returned with "I think I'll pass."
I got caught up in revisions of my other manuscripts (I’d written four middle-grade novels and seven picture books), and the lure of conference one-on-ones. The agent search never really got off the ground.
THE PLOT THICKENS
Last spring, I won a contest at a local writing conference. My prize included a meeting with an editor who specialized in fantasy, sci-fi, and women’s fiction—a world apart from my historical MG novel. She took one look at my manuscript and asked, “Why don’t you have an agent yet?”
That’s when I started submitting in earnest, sending three to five queries at a time. I combed through blogs like Cynsations, Literary Rambles, and the Guide to Literary Agents blog, looking for any mention of agents taking on new clients. By May, I'd gotten my first full request. In June I received two more. In July another two. In September, yet another two.
By October, I’d had ten agents request fulls and two ask for partials. One agent liked my story, but felt some significant changes were necessary. I thought through her suggestions but took things in another direction, coming up with an entirely new, stronger ending. In the days I spent revising, two more agents requested fulls, bringing my total to twelve. I contacted the first agent, telling her I’d made changes to the story, though not along the lines she’d suggested. If she was still interested, I told her, I’d be happy to send the manuscript along, but I also wanted her to know two more agents were reading the newer version. She graciously told me she’d love to see the story if the other two agents passed. One did. One didn’t.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH MICHELLE
I found Michelle Humphrey on the Guide to Literary Agents blog and fell in love with her upbeat attitude about the publishing process (“Make rejection pie!” she said). She responded to my query the next day. A week and a half later, she e-mailed me, saying she’d read my manuscript in one sitting and wanted to talk to me about it as soon as possible. Less than two weeks after reading Michelle’s GLA post, I had an agent.
Not long after, I spent a morning reading through the submission records I’d kept ten years running. Some information I’d had to fish out of other folders, but for the most part, I had a pretty accurate (though low-tech and messy) list of manuscripts, submissions, editors, agents, and rejections. Here's what the records showed:
- 11 years of writing (10 years of subbing)
- 11 manuscripts
- 211 rejections from editors (2 fulls and 1 partial requested over the years)
- 12 contests/grants entered (1 win)
- 75 rejections from agents (12 fulls and 2 partials requested, mainly last year)
- 1 yes! (Thank you, Michelle)
Writing books for kids or teens? One resource
you need is The Everything Guide to Writing