How I Got My Literary Agent: Stephanie Wahlstrom

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Stephanie Wahlstrom, author of THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE. 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. Stephanie's agents are Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown Creative and Tina Wexler of ICM Partners.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Stephanie Wahlstrom, author of THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE. 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.

(What query letter mistakes will sink your submission chances?)

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Stephanie Wahlstromgrew up in Edmonton, Canada. A significant amount of her
time was spent making up and acting out stories. She graduated from the University
of Alberta with an English and Sociology degree and I also have a Bachelor of
Motion Picture Arts (that’s a fancy term for Film School) from Red Deer College.
Later, she went back home to write "My Green House," a factual TV series.
Her debut novel is THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE (Swoon Romance),
humorous women's fiction. Find her on Twitter.

I MADE A RESOLUTION

On January 1st 2013 I made a resolution: I was going to get published by the end of the year. At this point I hadn’t even properly edited The Accidental Socialite, never mind looked into agents or what the publishing process entailed. I polished my ms and started sending it out in February, which was probably too soon as I ended up doing more severe edits after the first round of feedback. I had a few requests, but it was always "I like it, you have a great voice, but I’m not passionate enough to offer representation." Every. Single. Time. Then I heard of the PitchMadness contest by Brenda Drake. The request window for agents opened on my birthday and I took it as a sign.

And then I was rejected a further 25 times. It was the end of June when I started to think about self-publishing. I absolutely could not fail at this goal, and although it wasn’t the way I wanted to go, self-publishing was looking like the only option. I had myself a little cry for my publishing dream that never was, put my big girl pants on and started researching cover designers.

Deep down, I knew I didn’t really want to self publish, so I threw out a Hail Mary at the beginning of July and tried one last contest: PitchMas.

PITCH-MAS

This time the requests weren’t from agents, but from publishers.

I sent the ms out on Thursday night, and by 5am on Friday I had an e-mail with an intent to offer from a publisher. I was supposed to meet my boyfriend in France for a weekend away in six hours, so I quickly let everyone who had the ms know what the deal was. I felt terrible because it didn’t give the publishers who had received the ms the night before any time, but I didn’t know what else to do. The plane landed in Cannes and I totally ignored the "Don’t turn on your phone until you are safely inside the terminal building" (or whatever the equivalent in French was) and turned on my phone to find an offer from publisher two. I’d already told the woman next to me my life story, so I updated her on this development and she very kindly pretended to care and promised to buy the book.

By the end of the day I had two very different offers for multi-book deals from publishers and did not know what to do with myself … so on Monday I went to the Manolo Blahnik sale to celebrate my almost book deal and bought a pair of nude patent Mary Janes for 80% off. I was winning at life that week.

In late 2012 I’d taken a course with Curtis Brown Creative on writing for children taught by agent Stephanie Thwaites and writer Tony Bradman. I e-mailed Stephanie asking for a cheeky bit of advice because I really felt I needed the help of an agent to choose/negotiate the best deal possible.

(How successful writers are using the Internet and social-media to sell more books.)

SEEKING THE HELP OF AN AGENT

To my surprise, Stephanie actually asked to read The Accidental Socialite, so I sent it to her and in a few days she started talking about what "we" could do. I got stupid excited and awkwardly asked if she was my agent, because it would be really cool if she was, or not, you know, playing it cool over here and not like the girl in the corner at prom who finally got asked to dance, and by the most popular boy at school no less. FYI Stephanie isn’t a boy and there wasn’t dancing involved - or at least not on her part - I spent most of the whole month of July and August doing happy dances. Anyway. She said yes and fund me a co-agent in New York at ICM Partners (was Lyndsay Hemphill, now Tina Wexler).

I was all like, EMERGAHD! I have the same agent as Winnie The Pooh! Not only had my dream come true, I’d hit the jackpot when it came to agents with Stephanie and Tina. I sat down with Stephanie and she talked about my career… implying I was going to have one. This was real!!!

Stephanie worked her magic and in the end I actually had three offers from publishers. Then it was decision time. The first publisher who had shown interest was super passionate about The Accidental Socialite and seemed to really get it which I think is the most important thing you can find when you work creatively with anyone. I felt really comfortable with Georgia McBride and Stephanie agreed, which is how The Accidental Socialite ended up with Swoon Romance in North America. Happy dance!

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