How I Got My Literary Agent: Lisa Doyle

GIVEAWAY: Lisa is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. Lisa Doyle is the author of MILKED, a new novel from Simon & Fig.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Lisa Doyle, author of MILKED. 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: Lisa 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: Debbie won.)

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Lisa Doyleis a communications manager and freelance writer. Her debut novel
is MILKED: A MODERN MOMMY TALE WITH A RETRO TWIST (Simon and Fig,
Nov. 2014, fun women's fiction). She spent several years editing business-
to-business publications for the personal care industry before moving to the
nonprofit sector, and currently works in advocacy for homeless families. She
resides with her family in the Chicago area. The only child she has ever
breastfed has been her own. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

AFTER NANOWRIMO

I emerged from the month of November 2012 as a second-time winner of NaNoWriMo. I had a promising rough draft, many empty bottles of wine, and a lot of work to do….at some point. I knew in my gut that this novel had a little something special to it, a little spark that had the potential to really set readers’ minds alight. This novel, MILKED, had stemmed from so many questions I’d asked myself when I was a new mother, and so many anxieties I’d had about “doing it right.” What I really wanted was to take these issues and put a humorous spin on them, and I had a sense there was a market of frazzled moms like me – or once-frazzled moms – who would identify and laugh along with it. But, I also knew it needed a lot of finessing before I’d show that pony anywhere.

Then, in January, a friend alerted me to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Intrigued, I checked my calendar. I had less than two weeks to finish. I got right to work, nearly doubled the length of my manuscript and submitted it.

I made it to round two of the contest, but was booted before round three. I did take the judges’ comments very seriously, and used them to further improve the novel. I shared my draft with friends, family and even strangers, and was buoyed by the positive responses. Finally, I felt ready to start querying.

THE QUERY PROCESS BEGINS

Now, I knew that I'd have a tough road ahead of me, as my novel falls somewhere in between the categories of chick lit, mom lit and women’s fiction. I had to keep the dream alive, though, that I’d find an agent who’d think, “Down-on-her-luck, single mom becomes unlikely wet nurse to rich and famous families in Chicago? Obvious bestseller! Where do I sign?”

After some Google searches, I started to query agents that summer. I did receive some requests for the full manuscript, but ultimately, the responses were always in the “it’s not you, it’s me” category. Then, I noticed a “New Literary Agent Alert” post on this very blog for Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Literary, seeking commercial women’s fiction driven by strong contemporary issues. Since breastfeeding is clearly the new black, I queried her right away with 10 sample pages attached.
She responded quickly, asking to see the entire manuscript. After hyperventilating, forwarding the e-mail to my mom and husband with about 90 exclamation points, I calmly and professionally replied that I’d be happy to do so, and sent it to her that night.

About a week later, she e-mailed again. She said she liked my voice, my protagonist and my concept, but she thought that the story structure could use an overhaul. And, would I be interested in working on a rewrite with the end goal of her representing me, and selling the socks off it?
Would I? I shrieked, called my mom and husband, executed a series of celebratory roundhouse kicks, and then, somewhat less calmly and professionally than before, replied to let Claire know that I was 100% in.

I CHOSE CLAIRE

I did have some queries still out there, but I joyfully broke the cardinal rule of querying by immediately accepting Claire’s offer. I had a gut feeling about her from the start, and because she saw potential in an imperfect draft, and wanted to see me to improve it rather than just rejecting it altogether—I knew that she was invested not only in the story, but also in me.

We chatted on the phone a week later to discuss the different directions my story could go. I wrote every night, changing characters and altering outcomes, and sent her a new draft within a month. And in truth, Claire could teach a doctoral-level seminar on the fine art of constructive criticism. Through her gentle encouragement and spot-on advice, I was able to take this novel from the roughest of drafts to a publication-ready piece within a few mere months of revisions. She’s been a true partner on this journey as a new author, and I’m grateful for her expertise every day. Keeping myself open to suggestions about developing my novel was really key to its evolution, and I highly recommend this attitude to anyone.

Before long, Claire sold MILKED to Simon & Fig, a publisher that specializes in women’s fiction and chick lit, and it’s coming out on November 21, 2014. And, I’ve got a gut feeling that this is only the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Lisa 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: Debbie won.)

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