How I got my agent!

Posted: December 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

I haven’t made a blog post in so long, but I have a good excuse: I’ve been writing like crazy, and focused on getting an agent this year. I finally have one! I must have read a hundred “how I got my agent” stories while I was querying. So, I’m excited to finally share my story:

On Christmas Eve 2016, I wrote “the end” on a new book called PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRLS. With 10 novels published by small presses, a co-written book, 5 short stories published in anthologies, and a recent hit on the USA Today bestseller’s list, I finally felt ready to take a shot at getting an agent. When I first started writing in 2012, I didn’t know anything about publishing. It was embarrassing, really. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I couldn’t submit to any of the large independent or traditional publishers without an agent. And when I read the stats on how hard, and unlikely, it was to get one, it scared me a bit. But as 2017 kicked off, I was determined to get one.

At the end of January 2017, I started sending out dozens of query letters to agents for my new book. A query letter is basically a pitch for the book, a bio, and a request for them to read it. Writing one sounds easy enough, but it’s anything but, and every agent has different guidelines for how to approach them. There’s a format, and an art, to writing a query letter. And to be honest, it took me a while to get it right.

Over the next couple months, I received a lot of bites – agents asking to read the partial or full manuscript. But I also received a lot of rejections. Some of them were quite painful, and I’d be lying if I said that some tears weren’t shed.

By the time June 2017 rolled around, I was sitting on a big pile of rejections. And there was a THEME to them – my ending was too twisty and the story wasn’t commercial enough. I’d had my work ripped apart from the inside out, but there were good comments, too, so I felt like the feedback helped me be a better writer. All of that criticism just made me want to fight harder, write better, and be stronger. I never felt more like a REAL writer than when I was in THE TRENCHES, because it was in these up and down, struggling, lonely moments that I realized how bad I wanted it, and I also realized that I was going to write books no matter what the outcome was. I’m in this business for one reason – I love books and I want to write them, even if the only person who ever reads them is me. So, I couldn’t control what happened around me, but I could control my writing, and finally realizing that felt good. As Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “I loved writing more than I hated failing.” And that was so true in my case. I refused to give up.

Several of the agents had invited me to resubmit if I revised the book, so I got to work on revisions. But a month later, I was still feeling stuck. I felt like every change I made was making the story worse, not better. I was also way too close to the project. I needed distance from it, maybe permanent distance, and that realization was overwhelming, and disappointing, for me. But, finally, I decided to set PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRLS aside and start a brand new book. There is nothing harder for a writer than setting aside a book and deciding to do nothing with it, but I was going to stick it out.

I focused all of my energy into writing a brand new project, and in September 2017, I finished a story called WHO WE ONCE WERE.

This time, instead of sending it out to a ton of agents, I picked ten and sent out my queries, trying to personalize each one. I received a few quick full requests, and a couple weeks later, I got an email in my inbox: one of the agents loved the book. My eyes darted up and down her email, wondering: where is the BUT? Because, believe me, LOVE and BUT sometimes (and often) live in the same house. But there was no BUT this time – she wanted to talk to me on the phone. This is what aspiring writers refer to as THE CALL (with lots of exclamation points). I was actually holding a jar of spaghetti sauce when the email came in, and in an effort to sit it down with a wet shaky hand, it fell and smashed all over the floor. The kitchen looked like a murder scene, and I was grinning like the maniac responsible for the crime.

The next day, she called and offered to be my agent. But because I’d done my homework on agent etiquette, I knew that I was supposed to set a deadline and give her an answer by that date. This would give me enough time to notify the other agents who I’d queried, and handle the offer professionally. But what happened next was mind-blowing: over the next 10 days, I received 5 additional offers of representation. I talked to agents on the phone, and I even got to meet one of them in person. If I’m being honest, it was terrifying. But it was also very cool – getting to talk to so many knowledgeable and book savvy people who actually wanted to discuss MY book was an invaluable experience for me.

After months of getting gut-punched, you can imagine how rewarding that week felt for me. I wanted to bottle it up and keep it for all those weeks that were not so good. Even though it was exciting, it was also a stressful time. My head was spinning, and I couldn’t sleep all week, because I would have been happy/lucky to work with any of them and I had to choose. As many times as I’d daydreamed about getting an agent, I’d never once considered the fact that I might get multiple offers. I just wanted to pinch myself.

Ultimately, I had to go with my gut – and I had a “gut feeling” about one of the agents: Katie Shea Boutillier from the Donald Maass Agency.

I’d actually found Katie on MSWL Day, which is a twitter event where agents put up their “MSWL”, or manuscript wish list. I can remember thinking “she’s perfect for me” when I sent out that initial query. I also really admired her clients and her taste in books. Katie was funny and smart and enthusiastic on the phone. She knew more about my own book than I did, and she wasn’t afraid to make some suggested changes for the book despite the fact that I had multiple offers. I really respected that. She seemed interested in my career as a whole, and we just clicked.

Since signing, we’ve done revisions to WHO WE ONCE WERE and I’ve completed another new book called THE GIRL IN THE HOUSE. I hope you guys get to read them soon!

As Christmas Eve 2017 draws near, I can’t help but remember last year, when I stayed up all night on Christmas, painfully trying to craft a good query letter. I probably wrote a hundred of them before I sent one out.

I’m pleased with the goal I set for myself and accomplished this year, and I’m grateful to all of the agents who accepted (and rejected) my books. I’m also grateful for all of my writer friends, and for events like MSWL Day that help writers like me find agents, and connect with the writing community, in a way that I normally wouldn’t be able to.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings! With Katie by my side, I have high hopes for the future!

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Comments
  1. Congratulations! This is wonderful news!

    Liked by 1 person

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