How I Got My Literary Agent: Andrew Roe

Debut author Andrew Roe—THE MIRACLE GIRL (April 2015, Algonquin)—shares his journey to finding an agent and publishing his novel.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Andrew Roe, author of THE MIRACLE GIRL. 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.

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Column by Andrew Roe, author of debut novel THE MIRACLE GIRL
(April 2015, Algonquin Books). His book was recently named a Los
Angeles Times Book Prize finalist for the Art Seidenbaum Award for
First Fiction. His work has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco
Chronicle, Tin House, The Sun, One Story, Writer’s Digest, and elsewhere.
He lives in Oceanside, California. You can find him online at andrewroeauthor.com

A lucky beginning
I got lucky, twice—both literary agents I’ve had reached out to me after reading one of my short stories in a literary magazine. As a writer, that’s a great position to be in: having the agent and the interest come to you vs. being the one doing the approaching. And it doesn’t have to be The New Yorker to catch someone’s eye, and it certainly doesn’t have to be print, not anymore at least.

(Should you sign with a new literary agent? Know the pros and cons.)

Young, up-and-coming agents are out there trying to make a name for themselves, and they’ll often seek out clients by reading lit mags. The tricky part, though, is getting a short story published, which can be extremely competitive. For instance, the editors of Glimmer Train, Linda Swanson-Davies and Susan Burmeister-Brown, estimate that they receive 40,000 manuscripts per year. Someone once quipped that it’s easier to get into Harvard than Glimmer Train; however, it doesn’t have to be a high-profile publishing credit that lands you an agent.

Goodbye and Hello
After my first agent and I parted ways (a story for another time), I was in a fairly dark place, writing-wise as well as life-wise. My novel hadn’t sold. My father had been diagnosed with cancer and suffered two strokes, along with a series of other ailments. And for a couple of years after that, I didn’t write much. Then, in 2007, I published a short story in the online literary journal Failbetter. Not long after that, I got an email from an agent named Michelle Brower. Did I currently have literary representation? No, I did not.

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Michelle also said she loved my short story and asked, as agents often do, if I was working on a novel. At the time I was still a bit wary of agents because of my previous experience, but I told Michelle that yes, I had a novel, and that someone else had represented it, and it had failed to sell. I sent the manuscript to her and she responded a few weeks later, saying she liked it but didn’t think it was something she could sell, especially since it had already made the rounds to publishers. Did I have anything else?

I did: a novel I’d started and then stopped to write the “easier” novel that didn’t sell. Not wanting to lose this opportunity, I spent some more time polishing the first 50 pages and emailed them to her. Again, she got back to me very quickly, and she was very encouraging and enthusiastic about the novel (then called THE BELIEVERS, but eventually published as THE MIRACLE GIRL).

The perfect fit
Thus began our relationship and a multi-year journey toward publication. I kept writing, periodically sending more pages to Michelle and getting her feedback. We met in person at a writer’s conference and I liked her even more. Life-wise, there was a day job and now three children, including twins. But she was always patient, never rushing or pressuring me to finish. Early on I knew I had the right agent when, during one of our first conversations, she said, “We need to be thinking about your long-term writing career.”

(The skinny on why to sign with a new/newer literary agent.)

It’s hard to imagine publishing a book without Michelle—and I do sometimes wonder if I would have kept going if she hadn’t contacted me. When we first connected, she worked for Wendy Sherman and Associates, before then moving on to Folio Literary Management, where she became a senior vice president. She currently works at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary/Kuhn Projects.

Even if you’re someone who also ends up getting lucky and doesn’t have to go through the laborious and time-consuming process of querying dozens of agents, you’ll still want to research and vet any agents that directly contact you. As Michelle told me so wisely all those years ago, you need to be thinking of your long-term writing career, and landing the right agent—and the right advocate—is oh-so-very important.

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