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How I Got My Agent: Lisa Janice Cohen

"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. Lisa Janice Cohen is an author of both YA and adult novels.

"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. 

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.

This installment of "How I
Got My Agent" is by
Lisa Janice Cohen, author
of both YA and adult novels.

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EARLY ATTEMPTS & THREE BOOKS

I completed my first novel in the summer of 2005 and, with only a minimal understanding of the process of publication, began to search for an agent. Between August 2005 and August 2006, I sent out queries to 50 agents who represented fantasy novels, who had profiles on agentquery.com, and were considered legitimate by Preditors and Editors. (At least I knew enough to not get scammed in those early attempts.) Those attempts garnered one request for a partial, many form rejections, and the rest never responded.

As I was racking up the rejections, I was also hard at work writing novel No. 2, a near-future thriller. Figuring I had given the fantasy novel its best shot, I began to query the thriller. I sent out 42 queries. This query received a handful of personal rejections, and the odd assortment of form rejections and non-responders.

By that time, I had completed novel No. 3, a YA urban fantasy called House of Many Doors. I knew my writing was stronger and I was better able to see what was not working in my first and second novels. I started querying the YA novel in March of 2007, almost by accident (as I was still actively querying the thriller). A writer friend of mine contacted me asking me if she could pass my info on to a poet friend of hers who was also a literary agent.

The agent was interested on the basis of my teaser and asked for a partial, then the full ms. She requested edits, which I thought were all excellent suggestions and I was over the moon, assuming that I had finally figured it out and was about to get an agent. Months passed and she finally called me to let me know she did not feel the manuscript was commercially viable without massive rewriting and that she was going to pass. I was devastated and confused.

But I continued to query novel No. 3, sending queries to an additional 28 likely agents. One of those agents was Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency.

SUCCESS WITH NEPHELE

I initially queried Nephele in September of 2007, as part of her Back to School query contest on her blog. There had been an announcement of this contest and a link to her blog through Forward Motion for Writers (fmwriters.com). Nephele blogged that she was specifically looking for YA urban fantasy and, lo and behold, I had a completed manuscript in that genre (novel. No. 3).

She liked my query and asked for sample pages within 24 hours. About a month later (October 2007), she requested the full ms. After not hearing back from her for four months, I sent a polite status check e-mail and Nephele was quick to respond that she was swamped and current clients needed to be her priority. About every 3 months, I would correspond with her, asking for a status update.

In the meanwhile, I had the good fortune to be asked to submit the manuscript to an editor at a YA imprint of one of the NY publishing houses. (This was through a personal connection - the editor's fiancee worked with my husband.) While the editor loved the story, she felt it was ultimately not right for her imprint. But, she sent me wonderfully detailed editorial notes on her impressions. Those notes translated into a further revision of the manuscript. After completing the revisions in the fall of 2008, I e-mailed Nephele wondering if could I send her the revised manuscript. As she hadn't yet read the original, she agreed. Within a few weeks, she had read the revised manuscript and offered me representation.

So while it took from September of 2007 to January of 2009 from query to acceptance with an agent, the process actually began in August of 2005 when I sent my first unsuccessful query for my first novel. Since then, I have finished a total of 4 novels, and am on track to finish novel number five this summer.

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Writing your query? Check out The Writer's
Digest Guide to Query Letters
. It's a great,
up-to-date resource for query letter writing.

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