"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. 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 email@example.com and we'll talk specifics.
Stephanie Barden is the author of Cinderella Smith
(April 2011; HarperCollins), a middle grade novel.
Stephanie's new take on Cinderella story has
sequels coming out in 2012 and 2013. She
lives in Seattle. See her author website here.
IF KAREN CUSHMAN HAS AN AGENT, THAT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME
At the spring 2008 SCBWI Western Washington conference, I was listening to one of my idols, Karen Cushman, share words of wisdom. During her talk, I took copious notes and put large stars by two points: One, she wasn’t part of a critique group, and two, she submitted her work to publishers through an agent. I starred the critique group point because I had a little chip on my shoulder—the “cool kids” in my writing class had formed one and had not included me. I starred the agent point because the idea of sending my manuscript off to big publishing house intimidated me. I hadn’t ever thought about trying to get an agent, but if that’s what Karen Cushman did, that’s what I wanted to do, too.
I worked on my manuscript all summer, and by the fall I was ready to take the plunge. I poured over the Guide to Literary Agents and dog-eared the ones that represented authors of children’s middle-grade books. I studied each entry and tried to get a feel for the agency. Most didn’t have websites at that point, but I was able to glean enough information from their paragraph or two to cull my list. (Huge thanks to GLA—I couldn’t have done this without you!) I chose 20 and sent out query letters and three chapters.
A CALL FROM CRAIG
A few weeks later, I started to hear back: one rejection, two rejections, three rejections, and four. Number five was a “maybe.” The agent thought the manuscript had potential, but only with a long list of changes, including a stronger arc to pull the readers through. Amidst the trickling in of rejections, I started to work on the story’s arc—the one change I agreed needed to be made.
Then I heard from an agent named Craig Virden of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. He liked the story a lot and “had his fingers crossed that I was still agent-less.” I let him know right away that I was indeed. We started an e-mail correspondence and I sent him the re-write I had been working on. An hour or so later he called and wanted to sign me up!
While he sent off my manuscript to potential publishers, we started to chat regularly on the phone. I’d Googled him so I knew his whole, illustrious history—from Curtis Brown Ltd, to Scholastic, to associate editor at Delacorte Press, to head of children’s books at Random House. He, however, knew nothing about me. (I wasn’t Google-able at that point.) He was full of questions and was warm, enthusiastic and tremendously funny. When I confided that I didn’t know if writing was just going to be my little hobby or if I could take it somewhere, he told me I was the “real deal.” I was over the moon. He also told me to get to work on a second book while we waited to hear about the first.
SAD NEWS, BUT A PROMISE KEPT
A month later, while still waiting to hear back from publishers, I got a call from Marietta Zacker, also from the Nancy Gallt Agency. She had terrible news. Craig Virden had died suddenly the day before. I crumbled. Though I’d only known him through e-mail and phone conversations, I felt he was a friend and now, and now … he was no more. I don’t remember much else of the conversation, but before Marietta hung up she said: “Craig loved your book and we’re going to get it published.” And she kept that promise.
I dedicated my first book to Craig because not only did he fish me out of the slush, he set me on my path and gave me the confidence to think of myself as a writer. He also brought my new agent, Marietta Zacker, into my life. Being on two different coasts we have the same sort of email-phone relationship that I had with Craig, but her warmth and enthusiasm, like his, spans the distance. Marietta is smart and insightful and her guidance has garnered me a contract for two more books with my publisher. This spring of 2011, she’s coming out to Washington State for the SCBWI conference. I can’t wait to welcome my agent and my friend to my hometown.
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