How I Got My Agent: Lee Kelly

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lee Kelly, author of MANHATTAN SAVAGES (2015, Simon & Schuster). 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. This installment from Lee Kelly is the story of how she found her literary agent, Adriann Ranta (Wolf Literary Services) and got a two-book deal at auction.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lee Kelly, author of MANHATTAN SAVAGES. 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 and we’ll talk specifics.


Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she could hold a pencil, but it
wasn’t until she finished law school that she finished something. She’s
spent the last four years writing in the morning before practicing law in
New York. MANHATTAN SAVAGES, her YA near-future thriller will be
published by Simon & Schuster Children's (2015), chronicles two sisters’
escape from a war-ravaged New York, and their simultaneous
discovery of their family’s dark history. You can check
out her website or her Twitter.


My story of getting an agent can’t be told without my story of finding the courage to actually sit down and write, and so I hope you don’t mind if I start there.

While I always answered “writer” when anyone asked me what I planned on doing with my life, I was a Type-A oldest child, and a people-pleaser. I took pride in being good at things, and the idea of failing at something I wanted more than anything scared the crap out of me.

So, like many closet creatives I suppose, I went to law school (sorry lawyers!). But I took comfort in the fact that I was a writer at heart, as I’d start countless “Chapter Ones” on the weekends. I never finished anything, though: finishing something means you can be judged on it – it means you can fail. Years passed by, but I’d buy Guide to Literary Agents and Writer’s Digest without fail, and read with envy about debut authors securing agents and publishing deals. I didn’t do anything about it though. Not then anyway.

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Instead, I studied my butt off through law school and did very little outside writing or reading. After the bar exam, I took my first sigh of relief in three years. Then I had an epiphany: in the process of trying to be practical, I had created a life to distract me from the dream I was too scared to pursue. That summer, I made a promise to myself: no more stalling. No more lip service to this writing dream.

So over the next two years, I wrote every morning before work and slowly cranked out an entirely unpitchable, semi-autobiographical novel about a fourteen-year-old who battles mean girls during the day and bad guys in her dreams – with no narrative connection between the two stories (oh, and it was 130,000 words). I giddily sent it around to agents who were friends of friends – they (politely) told me I had some real work to do, and plenty to learn.


Over the next two years, I took that manuscript chunker to a mediabistro class, and got tough but invaluable feedback. I read countless writing resource guides, and stalked agents’ and editors’ blogs for industry insight. I also read a YA book a week, which proved incredibly helpful in understanding voice and structure. I formed a writing group with some members of my mediabistro class, and I started working on something else, MANHATTAN SAVAGES – total fiction, and a complete escape from my daily grind. I also went to two Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences, and started meeting more writers and listening to industry panels. Then I started querying.

(What are the BEST writers' conferences to attend?)


I’d love to say I was fully prepared for the querying process after all of this, but I had one more lesson to learn: query people who are actually looking for what you’re writing. At first, I was pretty much blindly sending to agents who accepted YA (a lazy way to query I know). I received a couple requests for fulls, but it never amounted to anything. Frustrated, I started poking around online, and found this amazing website, Literary Rambles, which gives detailed information on countless kid’s lit agents. Based on that research, I sent out a targeted bunch of queries to agents who were interested in darker, grittier YA. Much more work, but this time around, I got over ten requests.

Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services requested the full after 2 days, and then wrote me a heart-stopping email about a week later asking to chat about my novel. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she loved my book for the same reasons I did. We talked about her agency and our reading obsessions, and after an hour, I was more than impressed. I promptly wrote the other agents and told them I had accepted Adriann’s offer. And after meeting the lovely Adriann in person a couple weeks later over coffee, I was even more confident I had made a great decision.

We sold MANHATTAN SAVAGES at auction to Simon & Schuster Children's, and I have to say having someone as supportive as Adriann makes this overwhelming process so much easier. I don’t know what will happen with my manuscript, but I feel like I’m beyond lucky to have found such a good match.

I guess in every industry, it pays to do your homework.

Oh, and it turns out failing isn’t so bad if you love what you’re doing.

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