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How I Got My Agent: Amy Gail Hansen

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Amy Gail Hansen, author of THE BUTTERFLY SISTER. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. Amy's literary agent is Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary. GIVEAWAY: Kami is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Debbie won.)

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Amy Gail Hansen, author of THE BUTTERFLY SISTER. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. 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.

GIVEAWAY: Amy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Debbie won.)

the-butterfly-sister-novel-cover
amy-gail-hansen-author-writer

Born in the Chicago suburbs, Amy Gail Hansen spent her early childhood
near New Orleans. She holds a BA in English from Carthage College in
Kenosha, Wisconsin. A former English teacher, she works as a freelance
writer and journalist in suburban Chicago, where she lives with her husband
and three children. THE BUTTERFLY SISTER (August 2013, William
Morrow) is her debut novel. Meg Cabot, New York Times bestselling
author, said of the book, “I LOVED IT. That book is the perfect beach
read... girls who like dishy romantic thrillers are going to go nuts for it
this summer. I myself couldn’t put it down til I was done, like it was a
big fat pina colada.”

LITERARY AGENTS ARE (GASP!) HUMAN

In 2006, when I started writing my debut mystery novel, The Butterfly Sister, my idea of literary agents was based solely on my vivid Hollywood-inspired imagination. All literary agents wore black turtlenecks and dark-rimmed glasses, I thought. They were high-powered, intimidating, smooth-talking and stoic New Yorkers. They were gods.

I didn’t realize my misperception until 2008, when I attended The Writer’s Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and pitched my novel to real-life agents who wore jeans, spoke humbly and smiled. That’s when I learned that literary agents are—gasp—human, and the only thing they have in common is a passion for books.

Simply put, they love to read.

I’d like to say I left the conference with this nugget of knowledge and representation, but it was only the former. Although I dutifully sent requested partial manuscripts to the two agents I met at the conference, neither of them wanted to take me on as a writer. One never responded, and the other sent me a heartfelt, personalized rejection letter. I wasn’t discouraged. In fact, I felt a renewed sense of purpose after reading that rejection. A literary agent read part of my novel, considered it, and acknowledged me, I thought. I’m a writer.

(See a list of writing conferences where agents will be.)

A NECESSARY REALITY CHECK

Fortunately, I also came home from the weekend with a reality check. I came to the conference thinking my manuscript was near perfect and left realizing it was a first draft. I fixed the most obvious issues before sending query letters to six more literary agents, names I found in writing magazines, blogs and guide books. Two did not reply, two sent form rejections, and two responded with detailed notes. “The narrative was not compelling,” one agent said, and I took her criticism to heart. I stopped querying agents and instead, completely rewrote the novel until it was pitch-perfect. It took me three and a half years to revise—working on and off, since I balanced fiction writing with a paying journalism gig and motherhood—but the result was the best manuscript I could create. The book went from third person to first, names were changed, characters were killed off and added, chapters were completely deleted, and the entire “who did it and why” of the mystery was altered.

By that point, I was 100% okay if the manuscript never saw publication. I finished the revisions because I owed it to myself to see the project through. I’d written and rewritten an entire novel. That is an accomplishment in and of itself. But after putting so much work into the book, I decided to try to get it published. So one Friday morning in January 2012, I e-mailed queries to two literary agents, thinking I’d send two a week and see what happened.

...AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED

One of those two agents was Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary. How did I get her name? Flashback to the fall of 2010, when I was not only revising The Butterfly Sister but also purposely reading books in my genre—namely blends of literary women’s fiction and suspense—in search of inspiration and knowledge. That’s when I read The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh, a book I not only adored but believed was similar to my novel. In Walsh’s acknowledgments, I saw Elisabeth Weed listed as her literary agent. Elisabeth Weed, I thought, I’ll contact you when I’m done revising my novel, and I tucked her name away for that future day I hoped would come.

(How much should an outside edit cost writers?)

Well, that day came. And the good news is that I never had to query more agents, because Elisabeth Weed requested the full manuscript within an hour of my query and within 10 days, offered representation. After some revisions, she sold the book to William Morrow/Harper Collins, via my editor, Carrie Feron, in April 2012. The Butterfly Sister hit bookshelves on Aug 6, 2013. Looking back, I don’t regret any of the choices I made along the way because each and every one of them—from pitching a rough draft to taking three and a half years to revise—brought me to the right place at the right time.

Getting an agent and a publishing contract is a dream come true, but it’s a dream based on a lot of hard work and time on my part. Some people think the odds of getting published are the same as winning the lottery. You just get “lucky.” And yes, sometimes, that’s true. But now that I’ve been through the process, I would argue that luck is but a minor character. The real heroes of the how-to-get-an-agent-and-get-published story are perseverance, humility and intuition.

But for the record, I do think Elisabeth Weed is a god.

GIVEAWAY: Amy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Debbie won.)

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