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How I Got My Agent: Lynne Raimondo

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lynne Raimondo, author of DANTE'S WOOD. 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: Lynne 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: lanieww won.)

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lynne Raimondo, author of DANTE'S WOOD. 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.

GIVEAWAY: Lynne 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: lanieww won.)

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Lynne Raimondo is a full-time writer. She formerly worked as the
general counsel for Arthur Andersen LLP and later as the general
counsel of the Illinois Department of Revenue. Her first novel is
DANTE'S WOOD: A Mark Angelotti Novel. In a starred review, Library
Journal said of the book, "Raimond's ambitious first-person-narrator
debut tackles a taboo topic head-on. Her blind psychiatrist character
(with oodles of guilt issues) is a real keeper."Find Lynne on Twitter.

LESSONS FROM THE GROUNDHOG

I’m always happy when I read about debut authors who labored in obscurity for years, landed an agent with their first query, and went on to sell their novel in what industry publications delicately refer to as a “significant” deal. Success stories like these are what keep aspiring writers at their desks, even if they happen about as often as Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring.

My own journey to publication wasn’t nearly as sunny.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

From the time I was a teenager devouring everything from romantic suspense to hard-boiled detective stories, I always knew I had a novel in me. But it wasn’t until I was a middle-aged lawyer taking a sabbatical from my day job that I did something about it. I was soon hooked on writing and finished my first novel in eight months.

Naturally, I assumed I’d find an agent right away. I’d been writing professionally for years, had authored thousands of pages of briefs, and figured I had the mechanics of writing down cold. I also thought I had come up with a pretty neat plot. So almost as soon as I had typed “The End” on my manuscript, I bought the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and started sending out queries.

BEGINNER'S MISTAKES

I made every beginner’s mistake in the book.

My first query had no hook. It dwelled too much on my legal credentials – at the time, I didn’t realize that many agents equated “lawyer” with “verbally challenged” -- and ran to almost two pages. I even committed the cardinal sin of sending it out on engraved stationary that was neither 8x12 nor white. (At least it wasn’t pink.)

Not surprisingly, I got form rejections from every agent I sent it to.

I regrouped and went back to the drawing board, this time doing my homework. I scoured the internet for guidance, reading every single post in the Miss Snark archives and the Successful Query Letters column in this GLA blog. I attended a writers conference and had my letter critiqued by professionals. I took everything I learned and rewrote my query letter -- a dozen or so more times.

(See a list of writers conferences.)

Nothing happened. Reluctantly, after nearly a hundred unsuccessful queries, I came to the conclusion that my novel wasn’t saleable.

So I wrote another one.

WILL PATIENCE PAY OFF?

I had a first draft of Dante’s Wood finished by June, 2008. As a test, I sent out five query letters that summer, generating one request for a partial, three personal turn downs, and one form rejection. I thought I was off to a good start. My homework had paid off: it was only a matter of time until I found an agent.

Then the financial crisis hit.

It quickly became apparent that the publishing industry was in a state of panic. Every news article I read contained dire warnings about shrinking sales and dwindling backlists. Agents were accepting few new clients. Except for a handful of bestselling authors, the market for mystery fiction had dried up. It seemed to me that I had a choice. I could go on trying to find representation for Dante’s Wood in a terrible economy. Or, I could exercise Zen-like patience and wait.

I chose to wait. For close to a year I didn’t query at all, using the time to work on other projects and periodically polish my manuscript. It was good discipline and made Dante’s Wood much stronger. By the fall of 2009, the economic outlook was starting to brighten, so I began querying again – but slowly. I sent out five letters at a time, paying close attention to the response rate and revising accordingly.

My success rate went up. Soon, I was getting personal replies and/or page requests more than fifty percent of the time. But sadly, no offers. I began to feel like the Bill Murray character in the movie Groundhog Day, stuck in an endless time loop. Write novel. Query agents. Get rejected. Rinse and repeat.

Then, in October 2010, while I was reading this blog, I spotted a New Agent Alert on the GLA Blog for Kate Folkers, who had just joined Martin Literary Management after a long career on the marketing side of publishing. Kate was looking for mystery/thrillers and was “NOT [her emphasis] interested in writers trying to capitalize on trends.” I thought my novel fit both descriptions, so I shot off an email and the first fifty pages. Within weeks, Kate had read the full manuscript and offered representation.

(See all new agent alerts and query these agents.)

A year later -- on Groundhog Day, if you can believe it -- Kate phoned with the incredible news that editor Dan Mayer at Seventh Street Books wanted to publish Dante’s Wood.

My day in the sun had arrived.

GIVEAWAY: Lynne 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: lanieww won.)

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