How I Got My Agent: Christa Allen

Author:
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"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 literaryagent@fwmedia.com
and we'll talk specifics.

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Christa Allan is the author of
Walking on Broken Glass, a women's
fiction novel released in Feb. 2010
(Abington Press). See her website here.
She lives outside of New Orleans.

CLUELESS, I TELL YOU, CLUELESS

An interview question that I’m often asked since Walking on Broken Glass released is, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?”
Honestly?
If I’d been bombarded with the realities of the submission process and
publishing then, I might have impaled myself on a dull pencil. (For the
record, laptops are totally ineffective for this.) One of the blessings
of beginning as a total innocent is that, like having a baby, by the
time you realize what’s happening and how painful it all is, it’s too
late to back out.

I started writing two years before Hurricane
Katrina (I live close to New Orleans; my life is divided into pre-K and
post-K) because my husband surprised me with a laptop and guilted me
into pursuing my dream. During that time, I joined a writer’s group and
met a few writers online who gently introduced me to manuscript
formatting because I sent single-spaced pages for them to read and the
world of word counts. Clueless, I tell you, clueless. But I continued
to write. I knew that without a complete manuscript, I couldn’t send a
query letter.

Katrina interrupted the process, but when we
resettled, I started writing young adult and women’s fiction, figuring
I’d hedge my bets with agents. Wrong. I soon discovered agents don’t
want writers inviting them to their buffet. I queried about seven
agents, a few for my YA, a few for WF, and I offered both to another.
The good news of electronic submissions was I didn’t have to wait long
for the “no.” The fastest turn-around was less than five minutes. I
actually stopped writing for a month while I became a literary voyeur
reading websites of writers I admired, studying query letters, learning
about proposals and how to write them.

THE CONFERENCE CRITIQUE

A
writer friend told me if I was serious about writing, I’d attend a
conference. She convinced me that I needed to meet agents and editors
in the flesh. I registered for the American Christian Fiction Writers
conference and, included in the fee, was a critique. I selected a
writer I thought would “get” my voice, but she wanted only 10 pages
instead of the 25. My friend advised me to reconsider, but I trusted my
gut (lesson alert) and sent the pages off.

At the conference,
the writer said she wanted to introduce me to her agent, Beth Jusino.
Me? Seriously? To the agent who was number one on my list? I spoke to
Beth—I know my lips moved and sound came and she made a few
suggestions, then asked me to e-mail her 50 pages.

I did the
happy dance all the way home (which isn’t easy when you’re driving).
Two weeks later, I e-mailed Beth the “cleanest” fifty pages possible.
Two months later, she e-mailed me the nicest rejection letter I’d ever
received.

A SECOND WIND, AND SUCCESS

I e-mailed
the writer who’d referred me to her with the news. She asked me if I’d
considered querying Rachelle Gardner at WordServe Literary. Rachelle
was the editor at the house that bought her first manuscript, but had
started agenting just months before. I’d remembered seeing Rachelle’s
blog, but didn’t know too much about her beyond that, but I thanked the
writer and told her I’d check her out. The next day, the writer sent me
an e-mail telling me to send my chapters to her, and she would forward
them to Rachelle. That was four days before Christmas. Santa had
arrived early.

A few hours after Rachelle received my chapters,
she e-mailed me asking for the entire manuscript. A month later, her
name popped up in my e-mail, and my lunch popped up in my stomach. She
called a week later, and one of the first things she said was, “I get
your novel.” That sealed the deal for me. The lagniappe was discovering
how much we had in common, and how comfortable I felt in that
conversation.

A month after I signed the official “Rachelle
is my agent, oh happy days” contract, she and I combed through my
proposal, then she sent it out. Within less than two months, we had
nine “no thanks.” The “yes” came a month later, almost a year after
Rachelle had first read my manuscript.For me, the journey has been a
series of connecting the dots, with sometimes a thin thread leading me
from one to the other. Who knew that a mother of five, high school
English teacher, who lives in a city so small it doesn’t have a traffic
light would one day walk into a bookstore and find her name on the
cover?

We sometimes pass up gifts because they don’t arrive in the wrapping we expect. Ignore the wrapping. Shake the box. Go for it.

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Christa's agent, Rachelle Gardner, is
teaching a webinar on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010,
and giving free query critiques with it!


Want more on this topic?

  • Agent Elaine Spencer talks queries.
  • What should you write in the bio paragraph of a query letter?
  • How to write a query letter - the three parts.
  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!
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