How I Got My Agent: Amy Sue Nathan

“How I Got My Agent” (this installment featuring author Amy Sue Nathan) is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to get a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. Author Amy Sue Nathan's women fiction novel, THE GLASS WIVES, was released on May 7, 2013 from St. Martins.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Amy Sue Nathan, author of THE GLASS WIVES. 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.

(Book Payments and Royalties -- Your Questions Answered.)

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Amy Sue Nathan is the author of THE GLASS WIVES, a
2013 debut novel (St. Martin's, May 2013). Booklist said of
the novel, "[Nathan] proves she knows her audience as her
first novel hits all the right notes … Jodi Picoult fans will
appreciate the surprising twists embedded in this
thought-provoking narrative.” Amy founded the
Women's Fiction Writer's Blog in 2011. She lives
in Chicago. See her website or find her on Twitter.

Happy New Year To Me ... Or Not.

I will never forget Monday, January 4, 2010. It was the day I sent my very first query letter. I puttered around my desk for 30 minutes before garnering the nerve to hit send. That first day I sent 10 queries. And that first day I received three rejections.

That month I sent more than 30 well-crafted, vetted, polished queries and in return I got requests for partials and fulls as well as rejections. Some rejections were curt and some were kind. Some of those partial and full requests went cold (yes, after requesting a partial or full, some agents do not respond. That’s a rejection, by the way.) One agent suggested I introduced too many characters too quickly. One agent suggested the first chapter was too busy. When comments struck a chord, I stopped querying and rewrote and reworked things. One thing was true through it all. Every change made the manuscript better. I was getting, and accepting advice from people who didn’t want to represent me, but wanted to help me.

Although this was the exception and not the rule, it’s where I placed my focus. The more agents I queried, I reasoned, the more opportunities for representation – or for feedback. This experience I always referred to as the query-go-round, gave me the chance to become an expert at deciphering what worked for me and for my book.

Spring – and opportunity -- has sprung.

In the spring of 2010, I entered a QueryTracker contest for best pitches. Jason Yarn, a new literary agent for The Paradigm Agency, was the judge. Jason was on my hit list – I mean, my query list – but I hadn’t gotten to him yet. The list was a work in progress. I was always revising my pitch, entering contests, adding to my resume by publishing short stories, writing columns, and building my brand. I figured that while the queries sat in virtual slush piles, I should always be doing something. And one of those somethings was entering contests.

I was one of five winners of the Query Tracker contest, and the prize was sending my full manuscript to Jason. About a month later we talked on the phone. A few weeks later he sent me some ideas and some edits. I liked Jason and I liked his vision for my book, so I agreed to make the changes and send the manuscript back to him.

He didn’t offer representation just yet. He offered me an opportunity. So I took it, but I kept querying.

Summer And The Going Ain’t Easy

Early that summer I returned the manuscript to Jason. I waited. And waited. And waited. And late that summer he returned the manuscript to me, asking for more changes. No, I’m not kidding. I was making more changes and he had not promised to represent me. And yes, I was still sending query letters, although I’d slowed the pace quite a bit.

Why did I keep going? Both Jason and I liked the direction the book was going, the polishing that had ensued. And yes, I’d thought my novel was polished when I started querying back in January. I had been wrong, but now I was on the right track. My novel was going to be better whether or not he offered to represent me.

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

Falling Back On My Instincts

In September 2010, after ten months and 116 query letters and six months of intermittent revisions, I signed a contract with Jason Yarn. I had an agent! I never thought that my agent would be a man – after all, I’d written pretty straightforward upmarket women’s fiction. I never thought I’d work with an agent for five months without it being a done-deal.

But right from the start I went with my gut. Jason not only liked my story, he understood it. And even from the beginning he understood me (or he’s a great actor). It’s a great match, and as of now, I remain his only women’s fiction client. That either makes us crazy or it makes us really special. I’m going with the latter.

With Jason’s input and feedback, I kept working on The Glass Wives for the next year.

Take a breath. Yes. Another year. That might not be necessary for everyone, and it might not work for everyone, but with family obligations, other work, and the fact that time passes, a year went by before we determined we were actually at The End of the first leg of our journey with The Glass Wives. And in October 2011, after one month of submissions, the book sold to St. Martin’s Press.

A sale in just one month! That’s quick, right? Right!

One month to a sale -- just 22 months after I sent that very first query letter.

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This guest column is a supplement to the
"Breaking In" (debut authors) feature of Amy
in Writer's Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

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