Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick and Relatively Painless

The truth is...I actually got an agent fairly quickly. The only problem was that my first agent and I didn't really mesh, and I unfortunately had to move on within a year of signing with her. Authors of children's lit don't typically go the agent route the first time around. Children's book publishers, unlike their adult counterparts, are more open to direct contact by writers and are willing to look at newbies. This was a great starting point for me. Once I had my book placed with a publisher, getting an agent was relatively easy. I originally submitted to five agents and three responded favorably. After careful consideration I picked the one I thought would be the best and signed with her. At the beginning she was great. She was attentive and prompt in all of our conversations and seemed fantastic, but over time she got harder to contact and wouldn't respond to my inquiries. It would take her many, many months to read new works. She just seemed to lack the polish that I was looking for. The hardest thing for me in deciding to drop her as an agent, was that I liked her, but in the end it came down to my career and where I wanted it to go and I was simply not satisfied.

After I notified her of my decision (she took it quite well,) I decided to look a little closer to home for my next agent. Though I loved the idea of having a New York agent (which my first agent was,) I decided that it might be better to get a Canadian agent that knows where I'm coming from and knows what I'm talking about when I mention things like "touque" and "a double double." So I contacted a very reputable agency and immediately got signed with the wonderful and very patient Lise Henderson. She is a great agent and does her best to meet the needs of all her writers. Aside from the business end of things, she is just plain nice...and that never hurts! So if you are looking for an agent here are few of my own personal tips in getting the right one.

1. Make sure you submit to the agent that is representing you kind of writing.

2. Do not send out blanket submissions. Personalize your cover letter and introduction and know something about the agency you are sending to.

3. When you make contact with an agent, tell them EXACTLY what you are looking for as a writer. Do you like them to keep their distance and only contact you when you contact them? Do you need to be prodded along? Do you need them to set deadlines for you? Let them know what you are looking for...afterall they are working for you.

4. DO NOT agree to pay for READING FEES. No reputable agency will ever charge you to read your manuscript.

5. If things don't work out with your agent don't feel obligated to stay. It's important that you find someone you are comfortable with and someone you can trust. Do though, make sure and read the fine print on your contract to find out what steps you need to go through before you can break the contract.

6. Look at the agent's client list and recent sales. Though you wouldn't think it, it can actually tell you a lot about them.

7. Remember that an agent with many, many clients will not always be able to give you the personal attention you would like. If you want someone who is going to know that your cat's name if Fluffy, then consider going with an agent with a short list of clients.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Very nearly a cautionary tale...

You know that Simpson's episode where Bart is reading a scouting manual titled "Don't Do What Donny Don't Does"? Heh. Substitute 'Lesley' for 'Donny Don't'.

First of all, don't take over a decade to write your first book.

Second, don't wait for a single, pretty obviously unmotivated, agent to read said book for almost a year without querying other agents.

Third, don't wait to start writing another book while you're waiting for agent responses.

Fourth... aw hell. I could go on and on about the pain and horror that was my first bout on the query-go-round. Suffice to say: not fun. I did pretty much everything wrong. Don't do that.

DO, however, listen to your boyfriend (or other relevant influential person in your life) when - on the occasion of sitting patiently while you whine for the umpteenth time about how 'no one wants to rep your precious baby' he finally snaps and says "Would ya shut up already and write another book?" (Or - y'know - loving words to that effect...)

DO write that other book (maybe don't make it - y'know - 7,000 pages in a down-market genre this time).

DO research appropriate agents and DO query widely.

Perhaps DON'T start said 'querying widely' until you've actually FINISHED writing the dang book. Which is what I did. Hence the 'very nearly cautionary tale'...

See, my past experience had indicated to me that agents were predisposed to take FOREVER to get back to querying writers. I figured - enh, send out a couple of queries now! You'll have weeks to finish up those... LAST. FOUR. CHAPTERS. Weeks, I tells ya!

Let's be clear on this point: I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS METHOD.

Because, of course, I had neglected to take into consideration the decrease in response time with a lot of agents who had moved to accepting e-queries. Yup - I'm an idiot. Im a LUCKY idiot. Because when, after receiving my (admittedly kickin') query, the MARVELOUS Jessica Regel at JVNLA responded only a day or two later with a gleaming 'please send the entire manuscript' (not 'please send the first 50 pages' - which is what I was counting on...) she didn't, at least, ask me to email them.

So. I responded with a hearty "absolutely! heck ya! I'll get that in the mail by the end of the week!" and then I panicked and didn't sleep very much for the next six or seven days. 'The end of the week' turned into 'the beginning of next week' as, baggy-eyed, quivering and wan, I trundled my MS to the post office, figuring that I'd pretty much blown my big chance with an agent I really really really wanted.

When Jessica called a week later to offer representation, I spent most of the conversation too preoccupied thanking my lucky stars to hear much of what she said. Although I WAS paying enough attention to know that she was awesome. The agent for me. The agent for my career. Smart, supportive, savvy, gets me, gets my writing...

And she came fully equipped with a sense of humor, thankfully.

I finally got around to mentioning my - heh - questionable querying methods to her last time I was in NYC (because Harper Collins was interviewing me for their website about the books Jessica sold them - not even the same one I queried her with but that's another story, entirely...). When I sheepishly finished my tale, she just looked at me and laughed. With me. Not at me. That's how awesome my agent is.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How to Acquire Enough Rejections to Wallpaper Your Kitchen (Or My Four-Year Quest for an Agent)

I first started looking for an agent back in 2002. Fresh out of grad school, armed with my new MFA and a shiny bound copy of the novel that was my MFA thesis, I didn’t think that finding an agent would be that hard. (I was wrong, of course!)

I bought the book, Guide to Literary Agents, made a list of about 50 agents and set out querying them over the course of the next year. In response, I received requests for some partial manuscripts and a few full manuscripts, but mostly I got form rejection letters. Of the few agents reading the full manuscript, three or four wrote back personal responses that all basically said the same thing: they loved my writing, but the book was too slow and was never going to sell. I was upset and frustrated, but the little voice inside my head also told me that maybe they were right.

At around the same time, I also lost my job as an adjunct professor due to budget cuts. It was too late in the year to look for another teaching job, so I decided, for a few months, to devote all my time and energy to writing a new novel. Two months later I had the first draft of what would eventually become The September Sisters.

I revised the book for a few more months, honed my query letter, and then I sent it to about 20 agents. Many of them requested to see at least part of the manuscript. One agent even e-mailed me while she was reading to tell me how much she loved the book. But a few weeks later, she e-mailed me again to let me know that she just wasn’t sure she could sell the book, and thus, did not offer to represent me. She was kind enough to offer some suggestions for revisions, as was one other agent who also rejected the full manuscript.

But I was frustrated, ready to give up, and for a while – nearly two years -- I did. I had a baby. I became lost in that world of caring for a newborn, devoid of sleep and adult conversation. I got another teaching job. I got my real estate license.

Then, in the summer of 2006, my husband asked if he could read a draft of my book. He’d never made it through an entire draft of my first novel, but this one he read quickly and insisted upon the fact that it was good. He started bugging me about looking for agents again. He even went through my Guide to Literary Agents and put together a new list of agents he thought I could send to. I reluctantly took out the draft, read through it again, and with fresh eyes, was able to make some revisions. And I decided that I would give finding an agent one more shot.

In the fall of 2006, I sent out around 20 more queries. Several agents requested a full manuscript. Two very nice agents even called me to tell me that they loved the book, but they didn’t offer to represent me. They offered to read the book again if I made some changes, but their suggestions were both different, and I wasn’t sure if they really reflected what I wanted for the book. I decided to query a few more agents that I’d heard good things about and then decide.

This is when I queried The Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. I came across their listing on the AgentQuery website, and I remembered that a professor of mine in grad school had told me they were a great agency. I e-mailed an agent there, and a few days later, she requested a few chapters. A few days after that, a different agent at the agency, Jessica Regel, wrote back to me. She said my material had been passed on to her, and she wanted to read the full manuscript. I sent that off, and within a week, Jessica offered to represent me. That first time I talked to her, I knew that she understood my book and me perfectly. And I was absolutely thrilled to accept her offer of representation.

Jessica’s belief in me and my work truly continues to awe me. And not only is she a fabulous agent, but also a lovely, patient, kind, and brilliant person.

So here’s to sticking with it, no matter how much rejection you get (and to the people who love us, who refuse to let us give up on ourselves!)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Never Give Up

“I love it!”

The words I’d been dreaming of for years – and years. Time and again I’d fantasize about how it would happen. Then one Thursday night – somewhere around midnight – I got home from having drinks with a few friends from a screenwriting class, opened my computer and OH MY GOSH, there it was in my in-box. Holly Root from the Waxman Literary Agency wanted to be my agent!

The road to Holly was by no means smooth. Rugged is more like it and now that I think about it I might even call it treacherous. Especially when I consider the bumps and bruises to my poor heart. It’s very difficult to have someone reject your baby - after all it’s an extension of you – and when the rejections start piling in one can’t help but to backslide into thinking “my writing isn’t good enough.”

The types of rejections were varied. Some were flat out mean - “Sorry, not my type.” Others were sort of mean – “I didn’t fall in love with the characters.” Still others were what I call positive rejections - “Great story, you have talent but I’m afraid I have to pass.” The latter is just a very nice way of saying - “You didn’t make the cut.” If the agent really thought that I was all that great she would have signed me.

But take heart.

Persistence and a belief in oneself will pay off in the end. Never give up. I'll say it once more because I know what I'm talking about - never, ever give up. I'm living proof! I saved all my rejection letters. I don’t know why, really. Maybe I hoped deep down that I would become one of those Dr. Seuss stories. He got rejected something like 85 times. There’s a great book called The Writer’s Book of Hope that outlines the bumpy road to publication of almost every well-known writer, including Stephen King and John Grisham. If you’re hope is waning, please order it now and keep the faith!

Personally, Agent Query ( worked very well for me. I could type in my genre and all the agents representing Women’s Fiction would pop up. Then, like Maureen, I made a spreadsheet to track my partials, fulls and the many, many rejections. In the end I ended up with more than one offer of representation and that certainly helped to rebuild my confidence. But Holly Root was the clear choice for me and I’m so happy that she is the champion on my side of the court. Like she did for Maureen, Holly submitted my book over a period of 7 months or so and never gave up until she made the sale. I remember a particularly funny email she sent that said something like “Someone is going to buy this book out of sheer fear at the sight of me with the top of my head in flames!!!!!!!!!” I love her sense of humor.

It’s easy to look back now at all the rejections and laugh. But there is nothing funny about it at all when your every waking moment is spent weary from wanting, waiting - and waiting even more.

See you next Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Much Agent Love

I started my agent search in April of 2007. And much like all other writers, I was…terrified of screwing up. I’d heard all of the “Must Do,” “Never Do,” and “You’re An Idiot If You…” via Miss Snark (R.I.P.) Although much of it was common sense, I was still deathly afraid of making a small mistake since, in my mind, something as small as having the wrong date on a query letter meant instant rejection.

But, I put on my big-girl panties and forged ahead. I made a spreadsheet of close to 100 agents and started going down the list. Within my first batch of 25, I got 3 partials requested. Immediately, visions of a quick sale for multiple six-figures danced in head. (Yes, I know. Ha ha.)

And, of those 3 partials? All were turned down.

So, I cried. I threw things. I wished I could drink gallons of wine in my very pregnant state.

But, I gave it a few days and went back and re-read the emails. And buried in-between the “liked it but didn’t love it” and “going to have to pass” were some great suggestions. Suggestions that rang true the second I read them.

So, I made the changes and sent out another batch in May, and got another handful of partial/full requests. One of the agents I queried was Holly Root of Waxman Literary. Immediately after sending my query, she asked to see a partial. But, her email back to me was…different. It made me laugh. I was all, “Whoa! I didn’t know agents had a sense of humor!” :)

Then, two days later, a full request and a week later, an offer.

The second that 212 number popped up on my phone, I started flipping out. As I let it go to voicemail, I scrambled to compile a list of questions to ask her. But, of course, when I finally spoke to her, she was so charming and engaging on the phone that I don’t think I asked her any of those questions and most likely promised my first-born child to her.

And I knew I’d made the right choice when, a few months later, my book had gotten REALLY REALLY (Seriously, REALLY) close to selling but didn’t. And she stuck with me, with my book, and kept submitting until we got a “Yes! I loved it!” a full seven months after I signed with her.

So, yeah. Whenever I hear someone say they “don’t see the value in an agent,” I would like to transport them back in time and show them myself at this time last year, sleep-deprived with a newborn and praying my book would sell, reading Holly’s encouraging emails and keeping the faith.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finding the RIGHT Agent

My agent call story is a little different than the other girls here at The Novel Girls (at least, I’m assuming), because I had an offer for my book from my publisher before I had an agent. I’d begun my agent search right after A Taste of Magic was complete, and because I’m an Internet junkie, I did a lot of research. A lot.

I read agent blogs. I looked up information about agents. I read authors blogs to see what they said about their agents. I talked to my writer friends about their agents. And then I researched some more. So I figured I had it all together. I began sending out queries, and received many requests for partials, some for fulls, and of course, plenty of rejections.

The rejection pile grew bigger pretty fast, because while I received lots of compliments on my writing, the story didn’t seem big enough, marketable enough, to many of the agents who’d read the material. Others didn’t like the first person perspective, and others thought the story too light for their tastes. And of course, in the mix of all the great personal rejections were the form rejection that really didn’t tell me anything.

So, at the same time this was happening, I attended a conference and pitched my book to Senior Editor Chris Keeslar from Dorchester Publishing. I’m not that great at pitches, so I’m still not sure what he heard that intrigued him, but he did ask for the partial. But, I didn’t send it in right away, because—well, I was looking for an agent.

A few months passed, along with more requests and more rejections. I didn’t get that depressed about the rejections until one in particular came in, and this specific one hit me hard.

The agent wrote me a letter that was more about what she loved about the book and less about why it was being rejected. It made me wonder if good writing wasn’t enough. If good storytelling wasn’t enough. It made me doubt my talent and my story.

Now understand, this wasn’t the agent’s fault—or the rejection itself—it was a combination of reading the same type of comments over and over. It’s one thing when you’re told the story needs this, or it needs that, but what I was hearing was “This is great! I love your writing! You’re superb at characterization! But I don’t think it will sell in today’s market, so I have to pass.”

Then, I received a phone call from the contest coordinator of a contest I’d entered. A Taste of Magic was a finalist in their contest, and the scene I finaled with was being sent to—Chris Keeslar at Dorchester Publishing. Yep, the very same editor who’d requested the partial I’d yet to send in. So I sent it in. Pretty much right away! No one ever said I wasn’t smart, lol.

There were still several agents who had my material I hadn’t heard back from, and one of them in particular I was really jazzed about. I’d submitted to her before, and had always received rejections back, but this story was different than anything I’d written before—so I hoped, and hoped, and hoped she’d want to take me on.

In addition, there was another agent who I’d never submitted to before, but had heard great things about, and I was also pretty hopeful about her. She has a blog, which I read often, and I liked what she had to say. So I kept my fingers crossed.

About two weeks after I mailed in the partial to Dorchester, they sent me a letter asking me for the full manuscript. I was on cloud nine! But then, you know, time passed (a lot of time) and I quit hearing from anyone. Agents still had my work, Chris still had the full, and I was busy working on another book.

Fast forward many months and on May 1, 2008, Chris called me. He wanted to buy my book. I was amazed, excited, in disbelief, and pretty much mumbled like an idiot. Luckily, he took my mumblings in stride, and we agreed I’d get back to him in a few days, after I contacted the agents who still had the book under submission.

Long story short (I know, too late!), I ended up with two offers of representation from two smart, savvy, and reputable agents. My choice was to accept the offer from Michelle Grajkowski at Three Seas Literary, and I haven’t looked back once. Our partnership has been terrific so far, and I know it will only get better.

And I learned that while the research I did was smart, because I learned a lot, what it came down to—for me—was trusting my instincts. In doing so, I ended up with the right agent for me. And I couldn’t be happier!

Now, for a little humor, check out this video my fellow Dorchester author, Christie Craig, put together with her friends and a few agents. It’s awesome!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Novel Girls News

Lesley Livingston's WONDROUS STRANGE was listed as a Debut to Watch in Publishers Weekly.

In foreign rights news, Italian rights to WONDROUS STRANGE have sold to Fazi in Italy. Read about it here in Lesley's blog.

Danish rights to Jillian Cantor's THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS have sold to Forlaget Thorup in Denmark. Read about it here in Jillian's blog.

Thanks for joining our discussion on friendship! We hope you'll come back next week as we blog about finding an agent.

The Novel Girls