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How I Got My Agent: Kevin Sheridan

"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. 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. Kevin Sheridan is an author of screenplays, short stories, middle grade fiction, picture books and young adult non-fiction.

"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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Kevin Sheridan is an author of screenplays,
short stories, middle grade fiction, picture books
and young adult non-fiction. Someday he hopes
to actually publish one of those buggers. He’s
also an actor and a musician, which means if
he can’t play the tune he can fake it really well.
See his blog here.

GOIN’ FISHIN’

In October of 2009, I was told my position was being eliminated. In November, my hard drive crashed on my Mac and I lost everything I’d written in the past two years. Effective January 1, 2010, I was out of work, but with a decent four-month severance package. If my dog had died or my wife ran off on me, I’d have had the makings of a great country/western song. Instead, I decided to go fishing.

And so, armed with a tackle box filled with the 2010 Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, plus the 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market just for good measure, I went Agent Fishing. I plopped down on the side of the Internet, strung up my first query letter, and cast it in.

My catch: absolutely nothing. But like all good fishermen, I had to wait it out—patience is as required for fishing as good bait (the query letter) and a great net (the manuscript).

KEEPING TABS

Now, any good fisherman knows that there are good spots and bad spots, and good lures and bad lures. When I started out, I read up on query letters and tried my hand at one that might’ve qualified for a novella if it were just a few sentences longer. See, I figured agents wanted to know the whole story—a little taste of the beginning, middle and end. Wrong.

I did my research, looked up the appropriate agents looking for middle grade fantasy, but got “I don’t think I’d be the best match in this instance” almost every time. After a while, even though I kept the e-mails, I had trouble remembering where I had fished before and where I hadn’t. Age sets in and the memory goes. Anyway, I decided to use Excel and create a spreadsheet with all the agencies I’ve written to, to whom I addressed the letter, their response, and the next step. (I’m an optimist. Check out my blog if you don’t believe me.) Pretty soon I had twenty plus agencies listed. A small number compared to some writers, I’m sure, but it was good for me.

Now I just needed to look at what type of bait I’d used. See, the more I read up on it, the more I realized my query letter was just too long—I think it was the two by four thrust into my forehead by Janet Reid of QueryShark (queryshark.blogspot.com). So I shortened it up—made the paragraphs more attractive with more white space, and tried again.

I GOT A BITE

Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson asked to see the first fifty pages. Like a dozing fisherman whose line jerks and pulls I shot up and got myself ready. First fifty pages? Sure! As soon as I look over every single word at least fifty times. I looked through common clichés, passive voice usage, unnecessary word usage (I think I said “pretty” or “just” about 500 times each), and cleaned it up as best I could—served it on a silver platter.

And then? The three most delightful words I’ve ever heard…in my head … as I read them in an e-mail … in my entire life. From Caitlin: “I’m enjoying this.” EN-JOY-ING. She went on to ask for the full manuscript and a three-week exclusive because it’s my first novel—would that be ok? OK? Heck, you could’ve asked for my first born male child and I would’ve had him packed and ready to go! (He’s twelve. Those of you with twelve year-old boys would understand).

So I sent the manuscript, and again, waited. Three weeks took two years. I was about to give up when I wrote her back. The three weeks were up and I had a couple of other nibbles. "But wait!" she replied. "Don’t do anything! Call me on Monday! On the phone!" Wow. Me and an agent. I got to tell my friends, “Oh, sorry, can’t do it. I’ve got to call my agent.” Loved it.

Then came Caitlin’s news: She loved the story and the voice (great!) but the second half has to go (not so great!). Seems I had written a partial middle grade novel and partial history textbook. OK, so I got a little excited when it came to the history. After a long, eye-opening discussion, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me, but what a great problem to have. Caitlin has since turned out to be everything I could ever hope for in an agent. Through it all, though, I’ve learned that you need to keep tabs on what you’re doing, don’t ever stop learning, and be ready to change anything you have to do keep moving forward. But most of all? Be patient. Enjoy the scenery. Keep writing. Something will happen, exactly and precisely when it’s supposed to.

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Kevin mentions the Writer's Market. Lucky for
writers, the newest edition (2011) just came out and
features more than 3,500 updated markets to
get your work published!

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