How I Got My Agent: Lisa Dale

"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 and we'll talk specifics. Lisa Dale, writes fiction such as Simple Wishes.
Publish date:

"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 and we'll talk specifics.

This installment of "How I
Got My Agent" is by
Lisa Dale, who writes fiction.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title


I wrote my first novel during my senior year of college, while I was working on my senior thesis, "Magical Realism and Post-Colonial Vertigo; The Narrative Strategies of Rushdie's Midnight's Children." While my thesis went on to be nominated for best in my entire graduating class, the “big” project I was working on secretly was a romance novel – a smutty, ill-researched, 500-page whopper of a romance set in Colonial America (which is, incidentally, not a great time for romance).

When I finished, I stepped back, took a look at my heaping (and heaving) doorstop of a book, and I thought, well, it’s bad—but why not try to get it published? I figured I’d learn something about the process, if nothing else. So the summer after I graduated, I began the research to find an agent. I was in up to my eyeballs in market books and Post-it Notes, and when it came time to mail queries, I wallpapered the whole city of New York with them. And that was just the first round.

Oddly enough, I had this feeling something good would happen even though I had a lackluster bio, no publishing credits, and no idea how the industry worked (I figured I’d work that trivial stuff out as I went). And lo and behold, I got an offer from a boutique agency based out of a home office. I went for it. I figured that if getting an agent was so easy, it was only a matter of time before I hit the bestseller lists.


And then … nothing. The agent wasn’t sending the book out and I was too petrified to call her—dialing her number made me feel like Dorothy sidling up to the Wizard of Oz. I agonized. When she did start sending the book out, I suspected she was sending my book along with other writers’ books at the same time, and my rejection letters from editors showed not only my name, but the names of other unlucky writers are well. I ignored my suspicions in favor of feeling optimistic (read: willfully ignorant) about my prospects. Any agent was better than no agent, right? A year later, when my agent still hadn’t sold the book (and I’d written another novel, equally as bad as the first, if not worse), we parted ways.

That’s when I started to realize four important things: 1) I was going to have to learn how to write, not just crap out bad novels as fast as I could, 2) I’d have to learn something about the business of writing, 3) I’d have to build a really impressive bio to prove to people I meant business, 4) I needed to get honest about my true writing voice (which meant soul-searching and time).


Instead of writing another book, I interned at an NYC literary agency. I worked for free to learn about publishing from the business side, and I even though I kept on writing, I put it largely to the side. A year or so later, when the owner offered to let me become an acquiring agent, I said sign me up! I really liked working with authors and editors; I tried exceedingly hard on behalf of the writers I worked with. But in the end, it was sort of like I was trying to make my head fit the shape of the hat instead of the other way around. I realized I wouldn’t be able to avoid my real passion: writing.

So, I regrouped again. I went back to school for my MFA because I knew I needed to improve my technique. I volunteered for everything, read anything, wrote in all genres, worked tirelessly. I built up my credits with numerous publications in the small press/university market, and even got nominated for some cool awards like the Pushcart Prize and Best New American Voices. And, outside of the MFA program, I wrote my first women’s fiction/romance (Simple Wishes, Grand Central, 2009). The book felt more like “me” than anything else I’d written. I found a way to combine my love of culture, art, and drama with my love of, well, love.

The second time I went agent-hunting, it was a whole different scenario. I had all the ammo I needed: the bio, the technique, the experience—and the proof (in terms of the publications and awards for my poetry and short prose). I sent out some feelers to agents I had met in my travels—people who I thought might remember me from various panels and conferences, people who I thought might enjoy my work. I also sent some queries to agents I had not met but who were interesting to me, though I got more positive feedback from folks who knew me.

Ultimately, I hooked up with Kim Lionetti of Bookends, an agent who I’d sat on a panel with years ago. Kim, you might guess, is a fantastic agent—what an agent should be. She’s also a former editor, and her generosity in sharing her editing expertise with me is—I’m certain—one of the biggest reasons she scored us two different offers of publication for Simple Wishes

It was a long, very convoluted process to finding an agent and getting published—with lots of highs and lows. But I wouldn’t change a thing. The highs keep me going when the lows get the better of me, and the lows are learning processes that I do my best to be grateful for. I’m still working all the time, searching for new opportunities and inspirations. In the end it will always come back to just doing what I love: writing stories. That’s where it begins and ends—convolutions aside.

Image placeholder title

From First Draft to Finished Novel has
instruction, checklists, and worksheets
that touch upon everything from plot
conflicts to the art of editing and
polishing your manuscript.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

In this brave new world of virtual learning and social distance, Kristy Stevenson helps us make the most of the virtual conference.

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

Writers of historical fiction must always ride the line between factual and fictitious. Here, author Terry Roberts discusses how to navigate that line.

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

In this post, we look at what creative nonfiction (also known as the narrative nonfiction) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing and more.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Four WDU Courses, a Competition Deadline Reminder, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce four WDU courses, a Competition deadline reminder, and more!

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she discusses the next big fiction trend, and whether or not all books are the same.

From Script

A Change in Entertainment Business Currency and Disrupting Storytelling with Historical Significance (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by, learn about how crypto currency is making a wave in the entertainment business, what percentages really mean in film financing, the pros and cons of writing partnerships, an exclusive interview with three-time NAACP Image Awards nominee, co-creator and former showrunner of CBS’ 'S.W.A.T.' Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is putting off submissions.

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

Have you ever considered outlining after finishing your first draft? Kris Spisak walks you through the process.