How I Got My Literary Agent: Parker Peevyhouse

Parker Peevyhouse, author of WHERE FUTURES END (Feb. 2016, Kathy Dawson Books), shares the steps she took to obtaining representation.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Parker Peevyhouse, author of WHERE FUTURES END. 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 Parker Peevyhouse, author of WHERE FUTURES END
(Feb. 2016, Kathy Dawson Books). Parker’s online course, Starting
Your YA Novel
, will be offered through The Loft Literary Center this July.

Parker lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family, where she
works at a school and volunteers with teens. She can usually be found
wandering local trails, playing board games, or watching science fiction
movies. Follow her on Twitter.

A head start
I found my agent when I was least expecting to.

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)

I’d already worked with two agents previously. I’d signed with the first after cold querying, and she got me a deal with a big publishing house. But that publisher eventually decided not to publish my novel after all, and then my agent left her agency and couldn’t take me with her. The agency assigned me to another of their agents, but it soon became clear that our tastes didn’t match up, and we parted ways.

I wasn’t sure if I’d bounce back from that string of blows, so I decided not to look for a new agent right away. I wanted to write a brand new YA novel that had been banging around in my head for a while, and it was too strange a project to tempt an agent with. The novel would be comprised of five interconnected stories, each taking place further into the future—a structure that would not exactly be an easy sell. I decided to write this new manuscript just for fun and not to worry about publishing it.

New novel and a new start
But as the new novel took shape, I felt more and more excited about it. My writer friends encouraged me to finish it and to try to get it published. And then, strangely, I got an email from an agent! Ammi-Joan Paquette from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency had read some short stories I had posted on my website and wanted to know if I had anything novel-length that I needed representation for. Well… yes! Yes, I did!

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WHERE FUTURES END had turned out to be a weird manuscript indeed: part science fiction, part fantasy, with five different main characters living at five different points in the future. It needed an agent who had a solid love for the unusual. I had talked to some of Ammi-Joan Paquette’s clients and learned that she loved science fiction and fantasy, but I wondered how she would take to a novel as experimental as WHERE FUTURES END. At this point, after having worked with two agents already, I knew what I wanted in a new agent: someone who could share my vision, but temper it too—without trying to radically reshape my story out of fear it wouldn’t fit squarely into the market. I sent the manuscript to Ammi-Joan and also to some other agents I had researched, and crossed my fingers that I would find the right partner.

Then the rejections started coming. Some were long, lovely rejection letters from successful agents, which was really encouraging. But overall, my complicated manuscript was welcomed with all the muster one gives an eccentric relative. Some of the agents asked if I might simplify the story, but I wasn’t interested in making the changes they suggested. And none of the other manuscripts I was working on were any less adventurous with story structure, so there wouldn’t be much point in signing with an agent who couldn’t embrace the strange.

Different is better
Then I heard from Ammi-Joan—she had read my manuscript and wanted a phone call! Not only did she love WHERE FUTURES END, she believed its unusual nature would perk up editors who felt they’d “seen it all.” And she had some suggestions for me about how to revise what I had already sensed wasn’t working. After we talked, I felt she would be just the partner I needed: someone who loved odd stories but could also call me back when I’d gone too far out to the edges of accessibility. I happily signed with her. She went on to land me a book deal with Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin. My debut YA novel, WHERE FUTURES END, hit shelves in February of this year.

(Before you send out your query, look over a submission checklist.)

I have a lot more odd ideas to work on, and I’m lucky to have an agent who’s great at helping me shape my stories so that they fit my ambitions but also work for readers. In the end, I’m glad I figured out what I needed in an agent, and so happy to have found an agent who believes in my stories.

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