“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Jo Franklin, author of I'M AN ALIEN AND I WANT TO GO HOME. 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 Jo Franklin, author of I'M AN ALIEN AND I WANT TO
GO HOME (Nov., 2015,Clarion). Jo writes funny, feel good stories
for 8-12 year olds. She likes to write about children who are not
normally centre-stage like tomboys, geeks and misfits. She is a
stationery addict and runs www.paperspenspoets.co.uk. You can
find out more about her on her website and on Twitter.
It takes some time
Depending on how you do the math, it took me either thirty or seven years to get an agent. I first began writing in the 80’s but even though I was a writer, I knew nothing about how to turn my passion into a profession. There was no internet back in the Stone Age and I hadn’t actually finished writing a book.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I started writing children’s fiction. This time I was serious. I joined a tutor-led critique group, fiercely protected my writing time and joined SCBWI British Isles. (Sorry, I forgot to mention, I’m English and live in London.) Through SCBWI I learnt the art of submitting.
In seven years I wrote eight, nine, ten books – I lost count. I submitted most of them multiple times. During this time I was also going to a lot of SCBWI events. I took every opportunity to have 1to1 feedback sessions with agents and editors. Right from the start I was receiving positive feedback in amongst the standard-form rejections. I knew I was close, which was incredibly frustrating, but I hadn’t written the right book yet.
And then I wrote I'M AN ALIEN AND I WANT TO GO HOME.
The right book at the right time
An agent asked me to send the full manuscript to her after a one-to-one and after various delays and chases she came back to me with ‘It’s a little wordy.’
I sat with that email for a week, wondering what to do about it. I asked the advice of a friend who was also an editor.
‘Cut 4,000 words. 20%,’ she said without hesitation. She hadn’t read a single word.
So that’s what I did. Having that 4,000 word target helped me focus on the superfluous words and flabby scenes. I sent the revised ms back to the agent and heard nothing.
While I waited, I heard on the SCBWI grapevine about a brand new agency being set up. The Anne Clark Literary Agency. I’d never met Anne but I decided to submit the first 5,000 words of my super lean ms to her according to her submission guidelines.
A week later a reply arrived in my inbox. It took me five hours to pluck up the courage to open it.
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Thanks for sending me Help! I'm an Alien. It made me laugh, and I'd like to have a look at the rest of it if I may.
I’d made an agent laugh! There was much screaming and laughing and charging round the room at this point. I couldn’t believe my luck. If she liked the beginning of the book, she was going to love the rest.
Laughter was the sign
I sent her the whole manuscript and she got back to me a week later saying she wanted to meet. She also asked me if I had any other manuscripts lurking.
‘I do, but you can’t see them,’ I replied. However I did prepare a document listing all my projects. Title, genre, age group, word count and tag line.
We met in a coffee shop at St. Pancreas International station and chatted about my book. I showed her my list of projects and suggested she think of them as possible future ideas because they had all been abandoned for some reason.
The meeting went well and she offered to represent me on the spot. Of course, I said yes.
Anne advised me to make a slight change to the beginning of the story, setting up the character with an existing problem before slamming them with the inciting incident.
Within a month I was out on submission!
Of course things didn’t go smoothly. Rejections still come in even after you have an agent, but what I didn’t appreciate was that I had two agents working for me. Margot Edwards is the foreign rights consultant for the agency. German, US and French rights have been sold and in May 2016 I'M AN ALIEN AND I WANT TO GO HOME will be published in the UK by Troika books.
The US edition is called I'M AN ALIEN AND I WANT TO GO HOME. It is published by Clarion and illustrated by Marty Kelley.
I know how lucky I am to have such a fantastic person in Anne Clark, working on my behalf and it helps that the book is pretty good too.
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Your new complete and updated instructional guide
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Spotlight: John Weber (Serendipity Literary) seeks Young Adult and Middle Grade.
- 5 Opportunities to Increase Your Writing Productivity (Without Actually Writing).
- Never Let An Idea Get Away.
- How I Got My Literary Agent: Robert Owens (Fiction).
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.