“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Amber Brock, author of A FINE IMITATION. 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 email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Column by Amber Brock, author of A FINE IMITATION (May 3, 2016,
Crown). Amber received an M.A. from the University of Georgia, where
she concentrated on modern Spanish film. She currently teaches British
literature in Atlanta, Georgia, and lives with her husband, also an English
teacher, and their three rescue dogs. Follow her on Twitter.
Agents can be hard
I know some writers, some very good writers, struggle and fight and do everything they can only to find themselves without representation years into their writing journey. So before I risk anyone’s frustration with a story of signing with not one but two agents, let me assure you that separating with an agent is never an easy or a pain-free choice. This isn’t a story of a writer whose talent and skill was so amazing that agents were falling at her feet to represent her. Rather, this is a story all too familiar to those in the “query trenches”: one of rejection, dismissal, and dedication.
I wrote from the time I was in middle school, but I didn’t start pursuing publication seriously until 2011. I had completed and edited my first real novel, and I promptly racked up almost 50 rejections with no requests for material. After educating myself further (and doing another couple rounds of self-edits), I went back out. In the spring of 2012, I signed with my first agent.
First time wasn't the charm
My first agent did her absolute best with that novel, but the market was against us. I never once doubted her commitment or excitement. Though we discussed a few more of my projects and ideas, in the end, we just weren’t the right fit. I can’t stress enough what a knowledgeable, professional person she is, but if a working relationship is not working, there’s nothing to be done but part ways.
The thing I’m happiest about from my early querying days is that I took the wise advice to work on other projects. If I’d put all my publishing hopes into that first book, then parting with my agent would have been much harder on me. Still, despite having other projects, I found myself in the worst writing slump I’ve ever had. I started several novels and couldn’t finish anything. I made the decision in May 2013 that I had to finish the next project I started, even if it was a disaster. Otherwise, I doubted I’d ever regain the confidence to start submitting my work again.
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It worked. I finished that novel, and the boost gave me the confidence I needed to start working on A Fine Imitation. I’m a teacher, so I spent the summer of 2013 hunched over the keyboard, getting the first draft out. That made novel #4, and I knew something about this one was different. If I was going to find new representation, it was going to be with A FINE IMITATION. I edited it over Christmas of 2013 and started querying once more.
Even though I felt so sure about this novel, I knew it was missing something. That was confirmed when lots of agents requested and all of them passed. I gobbled up every tidbit of feedback I got and continued tweaking.
The right novel and the right agent
At last, in summer 2013, I got a reply from Stefanie Lieberman. She’d requested and read the full manuscript and wanted to talk on the phone. My husband, by now a veteran of “the call”, wanted to celebrate an impending offer of rep. But just as I knew the novel needed more, I had a feeling that Stefanie wanted to talk because she had a suggestion. Sure enough, she had an idea for an addition that blew my mind. I’d known something was missing the whole time I’d been working on the novel—she’d known exactly what that was. She asked to see a revised draft if I decided to take her suggestion. I had to laugh. I started working on the revision almost before we hung up the phone.
I completed that revision in six weeks (with the start of the school year thrown in for extra craziness). I think the speed of the revision might have made Stefanie a little nervous. Waiting for her response made me very nervous. But she called about two weeks after I sent the new draft in. I’d done better than she’d hoped, and she offered to represent me. We signed together in October 2014. And, yes, we still did several more rounds of edits before sending to editors. The result was that I had a novel I was truly proud of.
What I’ve learned from all this is that no work is ever wasted. I have three novels sitting patiently on my hard drive, but I needed to write those to get to A FINE IMITATION. Also, I discovered that the only true end of a writing career is giving up. If I had given up on my career after separating with the first agent, I wouldn’t have written the novel I’m proudest of (so far!). And finally, I found that I have to trust myself, even when I know what’s needed is going to require harder work of me.
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