Getting a literary agent can seem like finding the Holy Grail! You’ve accomplished your goal, and all is right in the world. However, what most people forget is that it’s usually a long, strenuous quest that leads to Literary Agent Land. Of course, you could be one of those lucky few, those fairytales in the flesh, who gets an agent in the first few days (or weeks) of trying. It’s not impossible; it does happen. But the odds are that you’re going to have to face a few more feats on your own journey.
At least, that’s what my journey felt like.
But let’s start at the beginning. Fresh out of my MFA program, I was ready to query my thesis project. It was as shiny as I could make it, but I had no idea where to begin. I did all the right things. I researched how to write a query letter. I found the agents who represented the books that I loved. I submitted queries without any attachments. And…..crickets. Okay, I got a few little requests here and there, but nothing stuck.
I felt like a failure. No one wanted my amazing book? Well, maybe that’s because my novel needed a complete rewrite (but that’s another story….literally!). I regrouped. While I was waiting to hear from agents, I’d written another book, a better one. This time, I had a better plan of attack, too. I was going to query a smaller group of agents who were the ones I actually wanted to work with. I’d do it in smaller batches to see if my query letter and first few pages were garnering the right level of attention. I also added a conference to the mix.
I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, where I met top agents and got to pitch them my book. Better yet, they loved the idea! So…is that where I met my agent? No. But I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have landed my agent without Midwest Writers Workshop because while there I talked with an agent who gave me an R&R (a revise and resubmit request). Based on her feedback, I changed the opening of my novel so that it was stronger and more attention grabbing. I also learned from Midwest Writers Workshop that I should be on Twitter because virtually every writer in the world was on Twitter.
So I joined Twitter, and I saw that an agent I was following (who liked fairytale retellings!) was having a contest on her blog. I posted the first 250 words, and I waited. Well, I lost the contest because a winner was randomly selected to win the free query critique. Yet, I won in the end because that agent requested the first 10 pages from me based on my first 250 words.
However, this request came at a very odd time for me. I was sitting in the Atlanta airport about to embark on a trip to Antarctica. (If you’ve read my About Me blog post, you’ll know I love to travel.) That’s right ANTARCTICA…a place where I would have no Internet access for a couple of weeks.
I had materials out with a few other agents, so I did what any sensible writer would do when heading off on such an adventure- I wrote a book for my sister on how to handle any literary matters that might arise in my absence. That manual covered everything from how not to respond at all if I got a rejection to how to properly send materials if I got a request and, of course, what to do if I got an offer.
Well, while I was happily off playing with the penguins, that same agent came back and asked for the full manuscript. My sister obliged by sending it. Then came the offer. AN AGENT WANTED TO REPRESENT ME!!! Of course, I didn’t know any of this until a few weeks later, although thankfully my sister had followed the guidelines I’d set out for her and told the agent I was out of town and would respond to their offer immediately after I returned.
I found out about the offer while sitting in the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, using a shady internet connection that I only used BECAUSE I HAD TO KNOW IF I HAD ANY OFFERS!
The first person I told that I got offer was this old guy sitting next to me in the airport because I whispered, “I got an offer,” as I stared around trying to locate my parents in the airport terminal.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind as I informed other agents that I had an offer, got another offer, and ultimately had to make a decision. But I know I made the right decision in the end.
So if you’re still looking for a literary agent, query the agents you really think would be a good fit for you, and stay with it. Sometimes it takes one or two or ten books! Don’t give up. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re frolicking with penguins in Antarctica or sitting on your sofa in Reno when the offer comes. The feeling of joy will be the exact same.