How I Got My Agent: Tom Leveen

"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. Tom Leveen’s debut novel, Party, was released in April 2010 (Random House). It tells the story of a summer party and 11 teenagers who intersect in ways that none of them saw coming.
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"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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Tom Leveen's debut novel, Party, was
released in April 2010 (Random House). It
tells the story of a summer party and 11 teenagers
who intersect in ways that none of them saw
coming. Tom lives in Arizona and is the artistic
director of the Chyro Arts Venue.
See his website here.


ONE AGENT PASSES IT TO ANOTHER

My first rule for obtaining an agent was: Follow the rules. I spent months researching proper query format, manuscript format, what agents like and don’t like … things like that. I asked questions on writing discussion boards, I asked for and got brutal feedback on my terrible query letter (for which I am eternally grateful). I built a simple database to keep track of who I was sending queries to, and how (or if) they responded. Forty agents weren’t interested. One was.

I queried an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and was instead contacted by one of their associate agents, Michelle Andelman, who told me the agent I queried wasn’t interested, but had passed the manuscript on to her. Michelle took about a week to talk it over with the agency before calling me to offer representation.

(I did not weep inconsolably with joy after we got off the phone, if that’s what you’re thinking, or perhaps you saw a picture online that is now deleted. Nope. Never happened. I was a rock. Yep.)

WHAT IF YOUR AGENT LEAVES?

Michelle and I revised for several months before she felt the book was ready to pitch ... and then no one bought it! (BTW: While the pitching process was going on, I worked on my next book (Party), which is exactly what any writer should be doing while his/her first book is being pitched—or submitted to agents.

I finished Party, and we began the revision process all over again, after having decided to shelve the first book. The day before we were going to pitch, Michelle left the agency for another job in the industry. I learned of this news on the evening of my wedding anniversary. Dinner was not celebratory that night. Two years, two manuscripts, and I had nothing to show for it? This was, as they say, “a kick to the groin.” (Let me clarify for the record that Michelle was and is awesome. If not for her, her patience and willingness to take on a debut writer, I would not be here today. I learned more with her than I had learned in the previous 10 years combined about what goes in to a successful YA novel. She is still one of my heroes.)

POLISH YOUR WORK TO A GLOSSY SHINE

A few weeks later, I was picked up by Jennifer Mattson at Andrea Brown Literary, who is my agent still. “Relief” isn’t quite a strong enough word for what I felt. Jennifer had me—wait for it—revise Party. Again. And again. And … maybe once more for good measure. Which she was right to do. She resumed my education where Michelle left off. Finally, we agreed Party was ready to pitch. I got to work rewriting “Book One,” based on responses (that is, rejections) I’d received previously from editors. I also began work on two additional YA novels. Notice the trend, there? My job didn’t stop once the pitches began.

On December 15, 2008, I got The Call from Jennifer: Party had been sold to Random House (at auction, no less). My wife and I gave ourselves a few days to celebrate, having some dinners out and whatnot. (Take that, wedding anniversary gloominess!) And then it was back to work. Getting an agent was not and is not the end of the road. Getting published is not the end. I make sure to take time and savor each step, to be sure; but as of now, writing YA novels is my job. It is work. Never doubt that. Is it a dream come true? Oh, absolutely! There is nothing on earth I’d rather be doing as a career than writing YA and getting to speak to teens at school, library, or signing events. But it’s work. It’s a job. The. Best. Job. Ever.

I’d like to point out one important detail to everyone who’s struggling with that damn query letter, or wondering just how many rejections it takes to get to the center of the publishing Tootsie Pop®: I was just like you. I didn’t “know someone” in the biz, I had no inside track, I could afford no conferences and five-minute pitches to agents or editors. All I did was do my agency homework, spent quality time drafting and redrafting my query, and had a polished finished novel to pitch. That’s it. If there’s a secret formula for obtaining representation and getting a publishing deal, I’m unaware of it. Agents want you to write a great book and a great query, they really do. Now all you gotta do is give it to ‘em.

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