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How I Got My Agent: Shannon Whitney Messenger

"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. Shannon Whitney Messenger is a writer of middle grade and one of six founding coordinators for the new WriteOnCon.

"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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Shannon Whitney Messenger is a writer
of middle grade and one of six founding
coordinators for the new WriteOnCon, a
free online conference for KidLit writers
(Aug. 10-12, 2010). She runs a blog,
Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe, and
also tweets, too.

TESTING THE WATERS

Honestly, I had no idea how to write a book. I’d studied screenwriting in college, but graduated knowing I didn’t belong in Hollywood. So, in addition to learning the craft, I also read everything I could about publishing—and the same advice kept popping up: Go to writers conferences. Meet agents in person. It sounded terrifying. But I researched conferences in my area and found out the SDSU Writers Conference was five months away. That became my deadline.

I didn’t finish revision in time for the conference, but I was close, so I signed up for an advanced reading appointment and four consultation appointments with agents (and yes, I was totally freaking out about it). But I wanted honest feedback about my book so I could make the necessary changes before I ended up with a mountain of rejections. I wasn’t hoping for page requests or praise.

Somehow I walked away with three partial requests, one full request, and a Conference Choice Award for my first 10 pages. I pretty much went into shock. The only downside was that three of those requests were from agents at Andrea Brown, and they’d all warned me to only query the agent I thought was the best fit. They did promise to pass the pages along if they weren’t interested, but I still went home convinced I would pick the wrong agent and ruin everything.

SHOVED INTO THE QUERYING POOL (KICKING AND SCREAMING)

I’d told the agents at the conference I needed a month to finish revising, but after two weeks my draft was really close. My critique partners (and family) wanted to know why I wasn’t querying, and, when I told them I wasn’t ready, they accused me of stalling.

Truthfully, I was.

Out of the Andrea Brown agents I’d met, I’d decided to query Laura Rennert—and she was not the agent who requested the full. She was also the scary Senior Agent with the big clients, so it felt like a risk. But she’d been at the top of my wish list from the beginning, and I had a good feeling about her, so I’d decided to go with my gut. I was just a little too afraid to actually hit send. Which was where Twitter came in.

One of my friends tracked me down with a special hashtag—#hitsend. Pretty soon I had about forty people pressuring me to #hitsend—including Bree Despain, a writer I really admire. I tried telling them I still had ten chapters to line edit but they didn’t care, and when #hitsend came dangerously close to trending, I caved, proofread my query one more time, and #hitsend to Laura and three other agents. Two hours later, I had my first rejection from a slush query and went to bed convinced I’d made a huge mistake.

WHIRLWIND

When I finally found the courage to check my e-mail the next evening, I was not excited to see a reply from Laura. I figured it had to be a rejection. When do busy agents read a partial in less than a day? I was shocked to find a full request instead. I know I should’ve been thrilled, but all I could think about were the ten chapters I hadn’t line edited. I was up all night working on them, and sent her the full by noon the next day. Then I sent another very small batch of queries to cover my bases, and hoped I hadn’t lost my mind.

I was planning on a long wait, but Laura e-mailed a week later telling me she was interested, and giving the ms to another reader. I had no idea what that meant, but tried to believe it was a good sign. A week after that, she offered representation. (Okay, I’ll admit it—I had to read the e-mail four times before I believed it.) So, as it turned out, I’d spent six months obsessing and panicking about querying, only to get an offer of representation from my number one agent after two weeks in the pool. Was it stressful? You bet. Did I get rejections? Of course. (Two were even from partials.)

But querying was not the nightmare process I’d made it out to be in my head. The rejections stung, but they weren’t unbearable, and there is nothing better than getting the offer of representation. So whether it takes two weeks or two years, don’t be afraid to do it. I’m very glad I had friends and CPs who pushed me into it, and if anyone needs some extra motivation, find me on Twitter. I’ll be happy to sick the #hitsend minions on you.

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Writing books for kids or teens? One resource
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