"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.
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.
Carving out time to attend a week-long writing conference wasn’t easy for a mother of seven. I had to arrange babysitting, swap carpool shifts, stock the refrigerator, and leave a trail of reminder notes for my husband. But the dream of getting a children’s picture book published had nagged at me since I was a kid, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had been writing stories for twenty years.
When I arrived at the conference registration desk, the secretary told me that Rick Walton’s workshop—the one I really wanted—had “no spaces available.” She insisted I select another. But Rick Walton was the local guru of picture books, having authored more than fifty. I wanted to learn from him. So I snuck into his class, finding an open chair in the corner. Gratefully, nobody shooed me out the door.
I'M ONE OF "THOSE PEOPLE"?
Soon manuscript critiques were underway, and after a dozen or so it was my turn. “Who will volunteer to read this one?” Rick asked. A hand went up, and as my story was read aloud, I tried to pretend my guts weren’t twisting into knots. I had written a rhyming, jazzy tale of a rat in the city, told in scat. Admittedly, the thing was odd. Would anybody get it? When the reader finished, there was an awkward silence, then a wave of positive comments. Rick seemed enthusiastic. “There’s a literary agent here at the conference you should show this to,” he said. I was ecstatic.
A meeting was arranged. I remember entering a small classroom and sitting across from the classy-looking agent in high heels. It was the Dollar Store meets Saks Fifth Avenue. I smiled, introduced myself, and gave her my manuscript. She looked it over, then got a confused expression and began to chuckle. “Who sent you to me?” she asked. Before I could answer, she looked up at the ceiling, speaking aloud to some invisible force in the universe: “Why do they always send these people to me?” I blinked, dumbstruck. I didn’t know who “these people” were but they sounded pitiful. She handed back my story with a verbal pat on the head, and pointed to the door. Needless to say, I was crushed.
Back in workshops, I privately shared the agent’s reaction. Rick shook his head. “She’s wrong,” he said. “Here. Try this agent.” He wrote down the name and address of Kendra Marcus of Bookstop Literary Agency. “Send her your manuscript and a few more of your best things. See what happens.” I tucked the piece of paper into my purse, thanking him, but wasn’t sure I was ready to set myself up for more rejection.
The conference ended, and I returned to my life of refereeing kid-squabbles, finding missing socks in potted plants, and experimenting with macaroni and cheese. It took several months of prodding from my husband before I had the courage to send off “a few of my best things” to the mysterious agent scrawled on the paper in my purse. Yet finally, I did. And I waited. Then tragedy struck. The United States was attacked on September 11th. Everyone was in an awful state of shock, rage, and mourning. Church and synagogue attendance was on the rise as our troops prepared for war. Suddenly my whimsical rat story about—of all places—New York City, which mentioned—of all things—the Twin Towers, seemed ridiculous. It was all bad karma. I put my nagging dream of publication away for good.
Several weeks after the dust had cleared (both literally and figuratively), I was looking through my pantry when the telephone rang. The voice on the line said, “Kristyn, this is Kendra Marcus from Bookstop Literary Agency. And if you’re interested, I’d like to represent you.” I dropped the can of chili I was holding. She continued: “I’ve been reading over your manuscripts and they’re very good. If you’re willing to make some revisions, I think I can sell these stories.”
A year later, Kendra sold Cool Daddy Rat to G.P. Putnam’s sons. It received starred reviews, and Mike Lester won the Rueben award for his illustrations. Since then, she's sold other picture books for me, including Bedtime at the Swamp (HarperCollins), The Middle-Child Blues(G.P. Putnam’s Sons), and Skeleton Cat (Scholastic). Kendra and her perceptive associate, Minju Chang, have been more than agents; they’ve been mentors, advocates, and friends. I am thrilled to be represented by Bookstop Literary Agency.
For me, the recipe for getting published was a mixture of hard work, networking with other writers, finding the right representation, and hope. Sure, one agent didn’t connect with my work, but the next enthusiastically signed me on as a client. I’m often haunted by the question, "What if I hadn’t tried again?"
Buy The Middle Child Blues
in time for Christmas!