Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How I got my agent :)

Here is the story of how I got a literary agent. :)

I finished my novel (DREAM THINGS TRUE, a young adult contemporary fantasy involving a girl goes to sleep and wakes up as Juliet in Shakespeare's famous tragedy) in late October of 2011 and started querying in early November. At first, like most people, I really didn’t know what I was doing – my query was one big, long paragraph with no voice whatsoever. Amazingly, I got a couple requests with that letter, but I knew I really needed to improve my query. So I did research on Querytracker, read the archives at QueryShark, and starting getting help and critiques from other writers. My query improved and I got some more full requests, but all of them (obviously) ultimately declined. By the start of May, I had had 11 fulls requested and rejected (1 with helpful comments, 3 or 4 with “it’s good but not for me,” and the rest all generic forms) but still had quite a few queries, 2 partials, and 3 fulls out there.

Then I had an enormous streak of luck that didn’t necessarily lead to my getting an offer of rep. but helped my momentum and esteem enormously. I won two blog contests by random chance – a full ms critique from Amy L. Sonnichsen from her blog, The Green Bathtub, and a partial critique from Ann Marie Walker’s agent, Erin C. Niumata, from Ann Marie’s blog. Amy’s critique helped clean up my ms SO much, and she was also amazingly kind and supportive. Erin’s critique was not only also helpful and supportive, but led to a full request from one of the YA agents at Folio that she then passed the partial on to (that agent also ultimately declined, but was very helpful and supportive as well).

So in the midst of all this contest fervor, I decided to enter The Writer’s Voice and was lucky enough to get in. Over the next few days I watched my email and the Twitter feed like a crazy person, wanting so badly to get picked by one of the four judges. I got passed over by three of them, and when the fourth one began listing her choices on the morning of May 9th, I started to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to get picked. I left Twitter and went back to my gmail, but when I did, I saw an email from an agent who’d only had my full for a little over a week. My gmail account works so that I can see the first sentence of an email that lands in my inbox, and the first sentence started like this:

“Dear Andrea, I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…”

That stopped me in my tracks. I was ready for another rejection, but the opening didn’t fit. I mean, what sadistic agent would write: “I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…because I like to send out my rejections before breakfast”? I opened the email and literally felt like my heart stopped beating inside my chest. It said:

“I wanted to write to you first thing this morning (ok, after coffee) -- WOW.  I finished Dream Things True last night, and love, love, love it.  It's haunting.  Not only do you have a fantastic premise, but you've delved into a topic that's VERY hard to do well, especially in YA, and you've done so skillfully and powerfully.  I'd be thrilled to represent you on your journey to publication!”

I am a high school English teacher, and I read this email just as the bell rang and my students started walking into the room. I was staring at my computer screen with my mouth hanging open, barely conscious of their presence, until one cautiously approached my desk and said, “Mrs. Berthot? Are you okay? You look kind of sick.”

I’m pretty sure I said something like, “No. I’m fine. I’m actually amazing,” and I probably looked and sounded insane, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. Next to my marriage and the birth of my son, reading that email was one of the best, most memorable moments of my life.

So I taught my next class in a total daze, feeling seriously and amazingly high. As soon as it was over, I wrote the agent back (Jen Linnan, of Linnan Literary Management)– thanking her and letting her know when I would be available to speak the next day. Then I nervously and frantically sent out notifications of my offer to the agents who had my partials, fulls, and queries. (I also quickly posted in The Writer’s Voice Twitter feed that if the last judge had planned to pick me, I was now ineligible!) Many of the agents said congrats and bowed out, but 6 more requested the full. So, at the end of the day, I had 9 fulls out, and all of them said they would respond within a week.

I can’t even put into words how nervous I was for the phone call with Jen the next day. When my phone started ringing and I saw the NY number, I actually closed my eyes and took a couple deep breaths before I answered. I didn't need to be nervous, however. Jen put me at ease right away and we clicked from the very start. She felt exactly the same way about my book that I did, and she really, really wanted to sign me. She understood though, that I needed to hear back from the other agents first. I think that I knew from the moment I got off the phone with her, however, that she would be the one I went with, no matter who else offered.

I did end up getting one other offer, but like I said, I pretty much always knew that I would end up going with Jen. When I finally heard back from all of the other agents on Thursday, May 17, 2012, I wrote Jen and accepted the offer.

Here are my final stats at the end of my querying process:

154 Queries sent
132 Queries rejected (82 specifically rejected, 50 no response)
2 Partial Requests (1 specifically rejected, 1 no response)
20 Full Requests (18 rejected, 2 offers of rep.)

It was a roller coaster ride, and obviously FILLED with rejection, and there would still be much more rejection to come (which I'll admit, I was naively unprepared for). But I didn't give up then and I won't give up now, and neither will the agent I now have fighting by my side. :)

In my next post, I'll talk about where I am in my journey now. :)

5 comments:

  1. Congratulations! What an exciting email to get! And your story does sound fabulous. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm researching your agent, and delightfully, this is the first non-businessy post I found. (Businessy post PM, QT, AW, etc.) Thank you. Feeling better about her because you're so excited and enthusiastic about her.

    And congrats! You also gave me a little refresher for what my dream is too. Way to go!

    This post may well be from last year, but it never gets old. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! So glad my post helped someone out!

      Delete
  3. I'm researching your agent, and delightfully, this is the first non-businessy post I found. (Businessy post PM, QT, AW, etc.) Thank you. Feeling better about her because you're so excited and enthusiastic about her.

    And congrats! You also gave me a little refresher for what my dream is too. Way to go!

    This post may well be from last year, but it never gets old. :D

    ReplyDelete