How I Got My Agent: Holly LeCraw

"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. Holly LeCraw's first novel, The Swimming Pool, was a Kirkus Top Debut of 2010 and was named a "Best Book of Summer" by The Daily Beast and Good Morning America.
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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.

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

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Holly LeCraw was born in Atlanta and grew
up working in her father’s beloved institution of
a bookstore, Oxford Books. Her first novel,
The Swimming Pool, was a Kirkus Top Debut
of 2010 and was named a "Best Book of
Summer" by The Daily Beast and Good
Morning America. She is at work on her second novel,
which will also be published by Doubleday.
See her website here.

A NEAR-MISS, THEN A WHOLE BUNCH OF MISSES

I first began querying agents when I was 41 years old and had been writing seriously for more than 15 years. I’m not counting my first, abortive drawer novel (there should be some compound German noun for that), for which I sent two queries and then saw the light, or lack thereof.

I believed in The Swimming Pool as I had never believed in the drawer-novel. Still, I was terrified. When I finally got my braves up, I began with my ace in the hole: an agent whose big-deal client, or one of them, was a close friend, and had actually read my manuscript. She asked for a full immediately, and two weeks later wrote me a dream of an e-mail. I was enormously talented. My writing was elegant. The book, nearly perfect.

And she didn’t take it.

Friends offered condolences, but I was energized: I wasn’t crazy; someone important thought I could write. And I had gotten a near-miss! On my first pass! After that, there were a lot more.

"WHO ARE THESE AGENTS, REALLY?"

I subscribed to Publishers’ Marketplace, made a folder on each agent, noting their authors, any connection I might have to them, no matter how tenuous. (I hated asking for referrals, but it turned out to be good practice for other teeth-gritting later on—self-promotion, soliciting blurbs.) No website, however, would tell me what I really wanted to know: Who were these people, really? Who was bitchy, generous, flighty, encouraging? Who would take the best care of me and my book? All I had was instinct.

I would send out six or eight queries, carefully tailored, and then sit back and wait. I knew I should be relentless, but I found each round draining. Some were rejected immediately, with the “not currently accepting submissions” angle. There were a few more substantive e-mails, and also some rejection phone calls, which struck me as odd until I realized these agents were on the fence. If I, say, promised my firstborn, or a top-to-bottom revision, one might take me on. But, in point of fact, the manuscript did not need a lot of revision. It wasn’t stubbornness; I just knew. So I kept looking.

However, gradually that confidence was ground down to nil. I’d begun querying in April; by August—when publishing comes to a standstill—I had sent out three or four dozen. People said not to take rejection personally, but how was that possible? I decided to stop querying, so as not to use up agents, and in the fall somehow revise once more. By now I was deeply afraid that I’d been wrong, after all, about this book, and my ability.

ONE OFFER SPAWNS MULTIPLE OFFERS

Then, on vacation, I got a phone call. The agent was lovely. She understood the book, had good ideas for where to send it. I attempted some intelligent questions, resisted the urge to holler “yes!” and told her I would get back to her soon. In shock, I got off the phone and then, almost as an afterthought, e-mailed the agents who still had fulls—and for the hell of it e-mailed everyone else too, all those places where my queries had disappeared into the ether.

This raised several agents, some on vacation themselves. One called with an offer. I liked her as well. Meanwhile, Henry Dunow of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner, a desperate, midnight pie-in-the-sky query to whom I had no connection whatsoever, wanted 10 pages, then 50, then the whole thing. Then he called.“Who are you?” he cried. “Where did you come from?” I stuttered and babbled. He said, “I would give my eyeteeth to represent this book.”

Still attempting cool professionalism, I told him I would seriously consider it and got off the phone. I hemmed and hawed, talked to my husband, some friends. Then I realized that all along I’d been trying to go with my gut, and if ever there was a time to take my own advice, it was now. When I called Henry back, he said, “I’m jumping up and down!” Just think how he’d pitch editors!

More agents emerged from the woodwork, but I told them no. Henry talked me through a quick revision (he is a fabulous editor himself), and then submitted the book. By the next week we had serious interest, it went to auction, and I ended up with a two-book deal with Doubleday.

Writing is all about instinct, but the agent search was the first time my instinct had to intersect with the demands of the marketplace. It was hard to not beg those early agents to take me, hard to believe I was allowed to query legendary agents, and very hard to keep going. But: Never give up. Trust your gut. And don’t count out August.

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

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If you're confused as to what a
synopsis
should look like, seek
out the formatting
guidebook Formatting & Submitting
Your Manuscript, 3rd Ed.