"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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll talk specifics.
WANTING "YES" IN A WORLD OF "NO"
I was an actress until the unrelenting rejection got to be too much. I was living in a world of "no" and I wanted "yes" in my life … and maybe a shot at earning a monthly mortgage payment, too. So I gave up acting, got gainfully employed, started a lovely family and bought that house. My life was one big dreamy yes.
But when my youngest son, a heretofore well-behaved, adorable boy, went through a tantrum stage, an off-hand remark I made to my husband tore the fabric of my life. We were grappling with our cherubic, tousle-headed darling as he raged, kicked, screamed and threw things … and in tones of harried wonder, I breathed, “My God. It’s like he turns into a werewolf.”
And right there, you see, that’s when it all began. I didn’t know it then, but I’d just opened the door back up to no. Because that remark gave me the idea for a little boy who really did turn into a werewolf when he got upset. And I wondered what it would be like if a boy like that were your little brother … and began pounding my computer keyboard obsessively until months later, a comic, middle-grade novel danced out of my printer.
SENDING ABBIE OUT
I loved every word of my book already, but I read a billion kids’ books, paid for a manuscript consultation, showed the thing to friends for their notes, wrote, rewrote and wrote again, until I loved it more. My book was good. I knew it. I harbored no doubt that the literary world was catching its bottom lip in its teeth in anticipatory excitement for what I joyfully titled, The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams.
From the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide, I made a short roster of the lucky ones who’d get first shot at my Abbie … and sent off pleasant, informative queries and pages. Weeks later, my tenderly inscribed, self-addressed, stamped envelopes began limping back to me. They all said one thing. “NO.” Astonished, I studied the guide again and sent out another round. But I’d only opened the door wider on no. Loathsome sensations of powerlessness, last experienced in my waning acting days, seized me. But I believed in my book (and stamped out recollections of having once fruitlessly believed in my acting ability, too).
Obviously it wasn’t my beloved book, it had to be my query letter. I began tooling and retooling it. Published friends gave me advice and I sweated over the thing until it was so good that if you didn’t want to sign me after having read that brilliant query, it could only because rigor mortis was setting in. I fired up the printer, unfurled rolls of stamps and invested in a sponge to save my tongue from the effects of prolonged exposure to envelope glue. Then I sent queries and pages to every remaining literary agent alive in America, and some who were possibly only recently deceased. They all said no. Not one of them would read my manuscript and I darkly suspected they hadn’t read my few pages either.
Sometimes they said no in really horrible ways … like the one who tore off a miserly corner of my query letter to scrawl “Not interested” on it… as if my work wasn’t worth an entire sheet…even a used one. Sure, some sent very nice form-rejection letters suggesting some other agent might conceivably be interested some day … but there wasn’t one personal word from anyone—no kind or positive feedback—no negative feedback for that matter. Nothing but no.
But I knew there were other ways. A recent proud member of SCBWI, I signed up for the summer conference and secured a manuscript consultation because I’d taken note that agents and editors were on the faculty. But I didn’t get an agent or an editor as my consultant. I got a writer! And while she was lovely and gave me insightful notes, which I gratefully employed and which appear in the finished book today, it seemed that no one in the entire agenting community of the USA was ever going to cast their jaded glance over the slowly moldering fruits of my literary endeavor.
But fate intervened. I’m Canadian by birth—not something that’s historically been any great advantage (aside from instilling me with rigorous politeness), but for once it proved a boon. I had a friend who’d just been published up in Canada, where agents only take on Canadians. She asked her agent to look at my book. And so it was that I got my lovely agent Lise Henderson and lived to see my Abbie on bookshelves (and in fact just got the news that she’s going to be in Scholastic’s book clubs, too!). So the lesson in all this? Hmm. Well, one is that it’s really hard to get an agent, but it doesn’t mean that your book is no good. And two, if you can ever give another writer in whom you believe a referral … do it!
Writing books for kids or teens? One resource
you need is The Everything Guide to Writing