Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14 Answers

Every month, on the 14th day, the Fall Fourteeners are here to answer your questions! Is there something you've been dying to ask someone who's made it through the slush pile but have been too afraid to ask. (Or you just didn't want anyone thinking you were a stalker?) Well here's your chance. From now until 2015, we'll do what we can to tell you about our journey through the publishing process and you'll see that no two authors follow the same course. 

This month, the question is:
"How did you find your agent?"

Lisa Maxwell: The short answer is I got my agent the old-fashioned way: querying. I wrote a query, revised it until it was ready and sent it out.

The longer answer would depend on which agent you mean. I’ve actually had a couple of agents since I began trying to get published. Each time, I queried, and each time I went through the requisite waiting and nail-biting, and angsting over getting an agent. Currently, I’m with Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon. She actually offered representation for a book and I decided to go with a different agent, because the other agent had been working on revisions with me, and I was excited about the direction they were taking. But after the revisions were done, things just weren’t clicking for me with that other agent, so I parted ways with her and (with fingers crossed and breath held) contacted Kathleen again about the book. Luckily, she still loved it and, luckily, she still wanted to represent it. She’s been nothing but supportive and excited about my work, and I couldn’t be happier to have her on my side.

When I first started querying, I heard people say that no agent is better than the wrong agent, and I totally didn’t believe them. But I learned that even an awesome agent from an amazing agency—a dream agent for some—can be the wrong agent for you.

Jaye Robin Brown: I queried the traditional route, however, the Xmas in July pitch contest (and some other offers) spurred my agent to read more quickly than she might have otherwise.

Joshua David Bellin: I’ve had two agents. The first didn’t work out.

I queried the traditional way and signed within a couple months. All seemed well. When I submitted my revised manuscript based on my agent’s editorial letter, however, it quickly emerged that we didn’t share the same vision of the book. I exercised the termination clause in my contract and began querying again. This time, I found a perfect match, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

I felt miserable when my first agent didn’t work out. I blamed myself (or her), convinced myself no one else would sign me, and generally got into a real funk. But the reality is, many writers switch agents, for any number of reasons. Hard as it is to give up on an agent—especially for a debut author—you’ve got to realize that if one agent liked your book, another will too. I’m happy to talk to anyone about this; drop me a note via my website. Bottom line: you need to find the right agent, and sometimes, that’s not the first.

Kat Ross: Finding an agent was actually one of the easiest parts of the whole process for me. Jeff Ourvan is a friend of a friend, and I was told he was looking for YA and middle grade manuscripts. I had just finished my first draft and hadn't yet sent it to anyone. I was horribly nervous to let it go, of course, but I worked up the courage to pass it on, he liked the first three chapters, asked for the rest, and signed me at our first meeting over a cup of coffee (I was a wreck! But he's such a funny, easygoing guy I was soon put at ease). So I was spared the crafting of the perfect query letter and that whole waiting game, which if it's anything like waiting for editors to read your manuscript, is purgatory of the worst sort. 
At the time, Jeff was a one-man show, but shortly after I signed with him, he joined Jennifer Lyons, who has quite an impressive client list. So if there's any moral here, I guess it's don't write off agents that may not be with a major agency at the time, they could still be fantastic and sell your book … p.s. - which in mine case turned out to be the second attempt!

Kristine Asselin: I’ve had three agents. And I’m not embarrassed to admit it. The one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that everyone’s process is different, and there is no “one size fits all.”

I queried the traditional way for my first agent. She pulled my MS out of her slush pile—she was the 67th agent I queried. She was wonderful, but this is a difficult field and she ended up leaving the industry.

I started querying right away. My 2nd agent was also wonderful—but circumstances changed and she was not able to represent me (I know, intentionally vague, sorry!).

I could have chosen to quit. BUT, I didn't. At this point, I knew I was agentable (is that even a word?) I just needed to find the right person. I wanted someone established, someone who got my work. I found that in Kathleen Rushall. Even so, things didn’t work the way I had expected. She declined my work initially! But in the end, we made a personal connection, so that when I had the right project at the right time, she was interested.

S. L. Duncan: I suppose there’s no great secret to finding an agent. I mean, it’s a recipe that has, like, three steps. Write a marketable manuscript, write great query, and then send it out. That’s what I did. Twice. My first agent was with William Morris Endeavor and pulled me out of a slush pile. He was great, and we worked well together, but there was a merger, and it was during a time when the market was clenched, so we amicably parted ways.

Getting John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich interested was like hitting the jackpot. He had it all - editorial experience, the backing of a top agency, and the ambition of a new agent. And those were all my criteria. I did a lot of research using and whittled down my list to only a handful of agents for this go. And after a revise and resubmit, we agreed to work together. 

Sarah J. Schmitt: I found my agent through the slush pile. After three years of querying two other books with enough rejection to wallpaper at least two rooms in my home, I was ready to start sending out my first batch of queries for my 2012 NaNoWriMo project. One of the agents requesting more was Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency. I went through the manuscript one last time before sending it in EARLY on Thursday morning.

On Friday, there was another email from Liza saying one of her beta readers, a former top acquiring editor, had read the book in two days and loved it. Liza was already 100 pages in and wanted to schedule THE CALL.

So here’s a true, but funny story. I read Liza's email while in a drive-thru. When I paid for my Cherry-Vanilla Diet Dr. Pepper, I was fine. When I pulled up to the second window, I had read the email and tears were flowing freely down my face. The woman handing me my drink must have thought a loved one died or something.

By the end of our conversation on Tuesday, I was absolutely, 100% over the moon about Liza. I remember telling her I thought she might love the book a little more than I did. Every bone in my body was screaming to say yes when she offered to represent me. But I had been practicing my, “I need to let other agents know I’m considering an offer” line for a while. Two days later, I emailed everyone who had pages and politely rescinded my manuscript. I signed with Liza the next day and there is no doubt in my mind that I've found my dream agent.

Kendall Kulper: I had queried a few agents when a friend and crit partner offered to introduce me to her agent, Sara Crowe. Sara was at the tippy-top of my list, but I'd been too nervous to query her directly, so I jumped at the chance to be introduced. Sara read and enjoyed my manuscript, but it turned out it just wasn't the right project for her. I was crushed but thanked her for her time and off-hand mentioned the manuscript I was working on at the moment. Sara said it sounded great and she'd love to take a look at it.

When I began querying the second time around, I had a little star next to Sara's name. In only a few weeks, she read my manuscript, loved it, and offered representation. I had a few other offers floating around, but Sara always stood out as being straightforward, professional, and passionate about my work. Since signing with her, I've been nothing but impressed with how butt-kickingly-awesome she is, and I feel so lucky and proud to have her backing me up!

Kate Boorman: Before signing with my agent, I queried a book rather blindly and to little avail. Then I wrote another book, and generated a list of agents who rep’d books I liked (lightbulb moment— yeesh!). Of those agents, I had favourites. I test queried about ten non-favorites first. When I received requests and knew the query was working, I started querying my top picks. (Does that sound cold and calculated? Meep! I was going for efficient and strategic!)

About a month and a half into querying an offer from a great agent came in. Her offer generated more offers, and one of these was someone who’s reputation preceded him; someone who represented books I adored.

Our first phone call convinced me that he was not only the smart choice, he was also my heart choice. The hard part was saying no to the other offers—especially the one who ’liked’ me first! I realize these are problems we want, but it turns out that although I can deal with rejection, I am no good at dishing it out (note to self: never become an agent).

I’m very happily represented by Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Shallee McArthur: I actually met my agent, Hannah Bowman, before she was an agent-- she'd read a previous book I had written. Her feedback was absolutely spot on-- it was like she was in my brain, knew what I was trying to do, and knew exactly why it wasn't doing that yet. After she became an agent, she immediately went to the top of my query list for my new book.

When I tweeted the pitch for my book on Twitter, Hannah tweeted back-- she wanted to read it. At that point, I wasn't quite ready to query yet. I told her so, and she was fine to wait. When it was ready, I sent Hannah the manuscript. A mere 9 days later, she emailed to say she'd read it twice, loved it, and wanted to set up a phone call.

I danced. I screamed. I laughed. I talked to her on the phone, and then talked to 2 other agents in the following week. I learned that there are a lot of great agents out there, and that there is one that may fit with you better than others. I accepted Hannah's offer, and she has been an amazing partner and friend ever since!

Amy Finnegan: I write romances, so let’s talk about falling in love: Through a series of dates, you figure out what someone is like. You hang out with their friends and hear funny anecdotes about them. You get a feel for how they talk about and treat others. You spend time with them.

And that’s when the magic happens. Or it doesn’t.

I approached my search for an agent in much the same way. I stalked Publishers Marketplace and agency websites. I watched what deals agents were making, and how often they signed debut authors. Then I took a closer look at which genres they seemed to be most attracted to, and decided if my own manuscript was their “type.” I followed agents on Facebook and Twitter. Did they most often dish out compliments, or criticism? Did they promote their clients on social media, and interact with them on a regular basis (man, this was such a turn on when they did. TMI? Sorry!)? After all this, I made a Most Wanted list, and then I started asking around (most authors are pretty transparent when they talk about their agents). And then I submitted to just a handful of them, and caught the attention of the swoon-worthy Erin Murphy—an agent so awesome and encouraging that I sometimes wonder if my parents pay her money under the table to build my self-esteem. Erin is absolutely perfect for me, and more importantly, she makes me feel like I’m perfect for her. It’s true love. If you look for an agent like you’d look for a lifelong companion—rather than a last-minute date to the prom—I bet you’ll end up this happy too!

Austin Aslan: Landing an agent* (*Author’s note: Yes, agents are like airplanes; you can land them. And you can also take off with them and go very far. Okay, end Author’s Note, before the analogy starts to quickly disintegrate.)

My debut novel, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, will finally be published this August. But it’s not my first completed novel manuscript. It’s my sixth. I finished my first novel twelve years ago, and I spent the next ten years searching for an agent that would represent it. I had a great query (and a great story pitch). About half of my query letters resulted in a request for more material. Agents considered the full ms several dozen times. But I never got across the finish line (except for once, which I’ll get to in a second). I queried this first novel several hundred times, year after year, eventually repeating my plea to agencies I had already queried. (Cringe, right? Yes: Awkward!)

Somewhere around 2006 a small boutique agency with a brand new fresh-out-of-undergrad assistant agent agreed to rep my book! Yay! Finally! My long, tortuous struggle had come to an end! Fast forward one year: Not so much. This agent was sending out my ms to various publishing houses (as far as I knew), but she never communicated with me. We never even discussed edits. I ended up severing the contract after a year, certain that this agency was in horrible disarray and not right for me. It was an incredibly painful and scary decision, but it felt right at the time and I never regretted it. Through time, I came to learn that I was right, this agency was a terrible one, but I also realized that my manuscript was terrible, too; the story has always been strong, but the writing wasn’t ready for Prime Time. It was unfair for me to expect a terrible agency to make anything happen with a terrible ms.

While all this was happening, something else key was going on: I continued to write. I got better at writing. Much better. By ms #6, I knew something was different. I was very hopeful that I had finally gotten good enough at this novel writing thing that I was going to finally pull off an agent and a book deal. Fast forward: I was right! I landed Julie Just of Janklow & Nesbit! One of the most powerful agencies in the business! My name was right next to Al Gore’s on their website! Julie communicated with me all the time! Daily. Hourly sometimes. It was glorious. Life couldn’t get any better! But wait, it can: we sold the book! In a two-book deal! A really good deal! To Wendy Lamb at Random House!

Several weeks after I signed the contract my agent Julie called me up to tell me that she was moving to a new agency and she asked me if I would come with her. My answer was immediate: of course I would follow her! I was nervous about the logistics of the move, the immediate instability of it, but I was thrilled about where we were going: Pippin Properties, a demanding, intimate agency with a stellar track record and a focus on children’s and YA literature. I settled in at Pippin seamlessly. I was even able to meet the whole Pippin crew when I traveled to New York in August and again in October of 2014. What a dream come true. I had found a literary home. Bliss.

Then, in January of this year, I received crushing news that my fabulous agent was leaving the agenting business altogether. I was very sad to see my agent go, but I never worried for myself. The Pippin team was eager to assure me that I still had a home with them, and I’m thrilled to remain there, quite literally, in the best of hands.

I’ve learned first hand how fluid and risky and painfully-slow the business of traditional publishing can be, but I’ve learned even more important lessons, too: persistence is key, the drive to improve your craft is essential, and developing strong relationships is elemental. Don’t send your material out too early. Wait. Make it perfect. Then, if you remain professional, motivated, and have a constant will to improve, one day you will hopefully find that doors are opening for you.

Kristen Lippert-Martin: I went through a painful round of "learning" queries with my first manuscript. Or maybe I should call them "bozo" queries. I did every single thing wrong. My word count was enormous, my query was a mess, and that's not even taking into account the ms itself. It needed a serious overhaul. Unbelievably I still got requests for it, but that was about all I got. After the requests, I got lots of "I'm sure another agent with feel differently" responses. I also did that thing where I would stop querying when someone asked for a partial or full, wanting to give them chance to respond. BIG mistake.

By the time I tried again with a new project, I made up my mind that I was going to keep querying "until someone put a ring on my finger." Yes, that became my mantra, and it seemed a bit ruthless to me at the time, and maybe even overkill, but I was determined to not waste my time hoping for that "dream agent" would get back to me. So even after I had 7 or 8 agents already reading my ms -- including two "dream agents" -- I kept right on querying. And it was through one of those overkill queries that I eventually found my agent. She started reading my ms on a Friday and emailed me about it on Sunday. It was that magic word -- enthusiasm -- that convinced me she was the right agent for me. Four days later, we chatted, and I signed with her. She's been a total peach to work with and has stuck by me through some hard submission times and lots of disappointment. But I tell you, I hit the jackpot in the agent lottery, for sure.

Joy N. Hensley: I started like everyone else, making a list of dream agents and polishing my query. After a few rejections, one of my writing friends recommended I query Mandy Hubbard. I did some research on her and realized she was my dream agent. She requested a full, then gave me the nicest rejection ever. BTW, those hurt WAY worse than standard rejections! Not knowing I was committing a faux pas, I asked if I could revise and resubmit. Once she said yes, I made some basic, superficial changes and three weeks later she rejected me again, saying we probably weren’t the best match if the revisions I made didn’t take very long.

Over that summer, I took a revision workshop, completely re-wrote the book I was querying, and sent Mandy another e-mail (adding to my faux pas count). Dream agent, remember? No way was I giving up without a fight. Thankfully she hadn’t blocked my e-mails because she called three days later (right after we’d had an earthquake!) and offered rep.

We are a match made in Heaven. I have no idea what I’d do if she ever left agenting. She builds me up when I need it, always has solid advice, and kicks me in the butt when I whine too much. It’s the perfect relationship and I heart her SOOOO much!

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