How I Got My Literary Agent: Margo Kelly

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Margo Kelly, author of the YA thriller WHO R U REALLY? 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: Margo 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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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Margo Kelly, author of the YA thriller WHO R U REALLY? 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: Margo 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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Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran
public speaker, she is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Margo welcomes
the opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs. Find
her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. She has September and October 2014
signings in Meridian, ID and Boise, ID. Margo's debut novel is WHO R U REALLY
(Merit Press, Sept 2014), a young adult thriller-suspense. Kirkus said of the book,
"Kelly’s first novel is a suspenseful page-turner."

A CHANGE IN CAREERS

In January, 2009, I decided I wanted to change careers and pursue a long forgotten dream of becoming a published author. Sound familiar? I purchased Janet Evanovich's HOW I WRITE and Writer's Digest's GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, and I began my research into the industry.

Six months later, I finished my first manuscript and I started sending out query letters. The rejections flooded in. I had tough skin. I knew rejections were part of the process, but one of the form letters pushed me over the edge. I struck a match and sent the rejection up in flames. (Yes, that was back in the days of snail mail.) Then I took a deep breath and went back to querying.

I also started writing my next manuscript. I read more books on the craft of writing, subscribed to magazines and journals that would help me better my skills, wrote flash fiction to tighten my story telling, and connected with two great critique partners that I met through online communities.

A year later, in August, 2010, I had finished my second manuscript and began to send out query letters. The requests for partials and fulls came in right away! I was so excited! But then rejections followed. I paid attention to the agents’ feedback, because I wanted to improve the story and make it saleable, but it was tricky, because while one said, "The main character is too naive" another said, "The main character sounds too adult." I revised nonetheless.

I HEADED TO MY FIRST CONFERENCE

With a bright and shiny polished version of the story, I headed off to my first writers' conference. I met up with my critique partner, Melissa, and we had an absolute blast. Plus, two agents at the conference requested my full manuscript, and I just knew one of these fabulous agents was going to offer me a contract. Yes-sir-ee!! I went home too excited to work on any writing. I was waiting to hear from the agents.

More than a month later, I sent very polite follow-up emails to the two agents from the conference. Both responded, explaining how busy they were (of course, I understood, I wanted them to take care of their current clients first, that made sense). But I was demoralized. I couldn't seem to start a new manuscript. So I pulled out my first novel and dusted it off. I figured I could work on rewriting it and improving it until I found my writing mojo again.

(Looking to attend a writers' conference? Start here.)

Three months later, one of the conference agents emailed to tell me she’d decided to shelve my manuscript, unread. She was no longer looking for new clients. By the summer of 2011, the second conference agent emailed and apologized for the delay in reading my manuscript. She said the writing was great, but it didn't excite her enough to offer me representation.

My tough skin had been broken, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue down this publishing path. Then I was diagnosed with a rare 12mm lesion in the middle of my brain. After a lot of time and money, the specialists decided there was nothing they could do about it. I had to reevaluate my life, my priorities, and my goals. What if my time was limited here on earth? How would I want to spend it? Through self-evaluation, I realized writing was still important to me, and as a result I refocused my efforts with great fervor.

11 MORE QUERIES

On November 11, 2011, I sent out eleven queries for my novel, WHO R U REALLY? A dream agent from my dream agency requested a partial the same day (it was a Friday). Monday, she requested the full. Wednesday, she requested a phone call. Thursday, we discussed ideas for revisions. I loved all of her suggestions, and my mojo exploded! She said if I could accomplish these revisions, she'd offer me formal representation. I wanted it! I got to work, and I was on fire! I sent her the revised manuscript about a week and a half later (I know, it sounds like I rushed it, but I'm telling you: I was ON FIRE!!). She read it right away and requested more revisions. I got right back to work. I was still excited about the process, and I was thrilled to think that someone had caught the "vision" of my story. While I was busy working on more revisions, she surprised me and mailed me a contract! YES! Not to mention, in the time I was working with her on revisions, other agents had requested partials and fulls. Out of respect, I contacted them to let them know I’d received an offer. One of the agents told me I’d be nuts to not accept the offer from this great agency.

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

On December 12, 2011, I signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House. I’ve been smiling ever since, because I have the best agent from the best agency.

From there, we finalized revisions and made another title change before sending the manuscript out on submission. It took a while to sell, partly because the main character’s age put the story on the fence between middle grade and young adult. However, Jacquelyn Mitchard of Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) saw the “merit” in the story and made an offer. WHO R U REALLY?, will finally be published on September 18, 2014.

Now I’m polishing my next manuscript, and I’ve already started writing another. The publishing process certainly requires persistence and patience, but the future is so exciting.

GIVEAWAY: Margo 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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