"How I Got My Agent" is a new 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.
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.
STARTING WITH REJECTIONS
When I first began looking for an agent for my memoir, Unstrung: Memoir of a Mended Marriage, I made a list of about 30 agents that I was interested in. I compiled the list based on loose connections and reading the acknowledgement pages of all my favorite memoirs, and learning who those author’s agents were.
I had read several books on how to get published, and consulted several online articles on how to write a query letter. One weekend, I finally sat down and wrote my query letter, and then created a matrix for keeping track of who I’d sent it to, the manner in which I’d sent it, when, and if I’d sent any sample writing or not. Each agent is different, some only want e-mail queries, and some won’t accept e-mail. Some will accept a chapter or two; some specifically ask that you not send anything but the query. The matrix helped me keep track.
Then I started including the rejections on the matrix, and the form of the rejections: post cards, e-mail, form letters, or in many cases, silence. Some rejections came in as little as 20 minutes, some “I’ll take a look at the first 50 pages,” requests, too. Some I’m still waiting to hear from over a year later. You never know.
"WANT TO MEET UP?"
About two months into the process, a friend offered me free use of her Manhattan apartment. I contacted two agents in New York that I was very interested in, but still hadn’t heard anything from. “I’m coming to New York and was hoping I could meet with you,” I e-mailed. They both replied that yes, they’d love to meet with me. I printed off full manuscripts and proposals and flew east.
Both meetings went well and I was sure my biggest problem would be in choosing which of the two I’d want, when the fighting for me began. One of the two learned within a week that she was pregnant with twins (already adding to the two under two she had at home) and would not be taking on any new projects. The other one? Never. Heard. From. Again.
HEARING FROM LAURIE
Back home and feeling discouraged, I got an e-mail from one agent I’d queried and not heard from: Laurie Harper at Sebastian Literary Agency. “I’m so sorry it’s taken so long for me to get back to you,” she started out. I was immediately in love with her; she was an agent with a good heart. The e-mail continued, “I just went through a surprise divorce. If you can bear with me, I’d love to consider your work. In the meantime, you should certainly continue to query other agents, as it may take me a while to catch up.”
Coincidentally, I had just finished reading, and loving, Split: Memoir of a Divorce by Suzanne Finnamore – all about a “surprise” divorce. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I sent the book to this agent. And my full manuscript. And my full proposal (unsolicited). And a letter explaining what I was and was not looking for in an agent and what I brought to the table. And a personal note explaining that Split was a personal favorite of mine, and I hoped it served as a balm for her.
A few days later I got an e-mail from the agent, saying, “I must admit I was surprised, but happily so, by the box you sent. Thank you.” I wrote back, and within a few weeks, she called and said, “We are well-matched. I love your book. I love you. I’d like for us to work together.” We’ve been happily collaborating every since.
And the icing on the cake? I had written a blog post about Split right after I’d read it, and Suzanne, the writer, contacted me. She’d been Googling herself and found my blog post. I kept her e-mail address “just in case,” thinking "What are the chances?" But after getting signed by my agent, I pulled out that address and contacted Suzanne. “Thanks for writing Split; it got me an agent.” That little e-mail began a cyber friendship – a rich and satisfying one for both of us. One day she e-mailed and said, “What was the subtitle of your book? Memoir of a Mended Marriage?” I wrote back, “No, but it is now. That’s better.” And it is.
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