“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Steph Cha, author of FOLLOW HER HOME, a mystery. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Steph Cha is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School.
She lives in her native city of Los Angeles, California. Her debut novel
is FOLLOW HER HOME (Minotaur, April 2013), a mystery that follows
main character Juniper Song, who the LA Times called "a compelling
and original protagonist … One only hopes that Cha and her driven,
neo-noir detective have more opportunities to explore those troubling
intersections over many books to come." Connect with Steph on Twitter.
THE "GLAMOROUS LIFE" OF A WRITER
I finished the first draft of Follow Her Home while I was in law school, and by the time I graduated, I was determined to pursue the glamorous life of a writer. To that end, I moved home with my parents and spent my days writing and querying in bed, as I had no desk in my room...
I’d be the first to admit that my life has been exceedingly easy, but, in relative terms, this short part of it was pretty hard. Every writer knows that awful dread that the road never ends. For six months after the bar exam, I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d put all of my eggs in just the stupidest basket.
Here’s my timeline – I completed the first draft of my manuscript in December 2009, started querying in March 2010.
STARTING OUT COLD
I started the query process with no writing credits and no connections. I educated myself online and just got started. In the first wave, I hit around three dozen agents and got five requests for partials/fulls. I was thrilled with this success rate, and I remember thinking, “Maybe it will be this easy. Maybe this agent will love my book and we’ll sell it before graduation.” Ridiculous. So ridiculous! But it’s hard not to fantasize when you’re dealing in dreams.
I got my first rejection on a full manuscript on March 31, 2010, which was my boyfriend’s birthday. It was the first time I’d gotten feedback on the novel as a whole, and it was a short letter that said, “Although you have a thrilling story, I did not fall in love with the characters as much as I had hoped for.” I was devastated. I picked a fight with my boyfriend and cried a lot and basically ruined his birthday. Until that rejection, I thought my book was really good and that if someone would just read it, things would fall into place.
My relationship with agent Ethan Bassoff [of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin] started in March 2010, when he responded to a query I had sent to another agent in his agency. He asked for a partial, then a full two months later. A week after that, we spoke on the phone, and he invited me to his office to talk about the manuscript. He gave me extensive notes, laced with lavish praise, and said he wanted to see that I could edit. I left feeling hopeful, and told him I would get him a revised draft in the fall. I sent him my first revision in September 2010. He sent me an email in December apologizing that he hadn’t gotten to it yet, but that he planned to very soon.
THE ANTICIPATION BUILDS...
That stretch from June to December was really stressful. Because I had met with Ethan, I felt he was my one point of entry into the publishing world, and I kept thinking I would never succeed if he decided to drop me. At various points, I thought he’d rejected me silently, and that I would never know for sure what had happened.
With Ethan’s help, my manuscript had become a lot more presentable, and I decided to send out a new round of queries. This time my success rate was much higher – my query letter was stronger because my book was better. Within a few weeks, I received an offer of representation from a well-known agent who wanted me to take my book in a more commercial direction. He was a bigger name, but by that point I was pretty attached to Ethan. I followed up with him, and he offered me representation on the spot.
The process went about as smoothly as I could have hoped, but it still felt long and painful while I was in it. There’s an easy parallel to dating here. I haven’t been single for a while (just got married, actually!), but I remember sitting around staring at my phone, waiting for texts from guys I didn’t even like. It was terrible, and the agent process was terrible in a similar, magnified way. There were times when I sat staring at my inbox waiting for the smallest communication because I’d put out dozens of missives and a response could come and crush me or change my life at any time.
It was all worth it, of course. Ethan and I are still together, and we’ve sold two books with remarkable ease. That said, you couldn’t pay me enough to go through the process again. Even writing about it is making me anxious.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- All Writers Face Self-Doubt -- But We Conquer It.
- Make Appearances For Free to Help Promote Your Book
- Copyright Basics For Writers.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Literary Agent Interview: Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary.
- 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 how to write a query letter.
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