How I Got My Agent

This is a post I've wanted to write for a long time. I have always been an avid reader, and (like many who love books) I always had this nebulous idea that someday I would write a book. In 2010 I finally sat down and wrote a full-length novel during National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is dear to my heart, and I continued to participate in NaNoWriMo each November after that. After a couple more years of writing for fun, I wondered what it would take to make my books into Real Books.

My shirt says "Reading is for Awesome People." I thought writing books would be awesome, too. But how to get other people to read my books?


One of my husband's students was interested in writing, too, and when Ryan mentioned that I like to write, this student let me borrow his copy of Writing Fiction for Dummies. Inside there was a section on publishing, and what it takes to get a book published by a traditional press. I learned that if you want a book published by a big publisher, you need a literary agent.

A literary agent represents you and your work to editors at publishing houses. You write the book, your agent sells the book to an editor, then the editor's company publishes your book and gets it on shelves. A literary agent helps negotiate contracts, makes sure the publisher pays you on time (and correctly!), and typically guides an author through their career. The author doesn't pay the agent upfront; the agent takes a percentage of the money the author earns through sales.

Once I decided I needed a literary agent, I had to figure out how to get one. You don't just ring up a literary agent and say, "Hey, want to work for me?" There's a process. You send the agent a short description of your book, similar to what you might find on the back cover of a published novel. This is called a query letter. You send agents your query letter and some sample pages of your novel, and essentially ask them, "Would you like to read the whole book?" If an agent decides they are interested in your book and they think they might be able to sell it, they write you back and request to read the whole thing. Then the author waits and waits in the hopes that the next time, the agent will write back and say, "I loved your book! I want to represent you!"



So, during the summer of 2013, I put together a (terrible) query letter for the book I wrote in 2010. Out of all the query letters I sent, I got one request to read more of the book. I entered some contests and some pitch parties on Twitter, and got a few more requests to read. In spring of 2014 I went to a writing conference and had a pitch session with an editor, who told me it sounded like my book wasn't going anywhere because it didn't have enough conflict. I finally realized that it was time to shelve that project, and spend my time on polishing up the book I'd written during the last NaNoWriMo.

I made some new writing friends that year, and they all helped me revise that second novel. I'd learned a lot more about query letters, and wrote a much better one for that book. In early 2015 I started to query again. With that novel, I got a lot more requests from agents looking to read more. I'd finally learned how to write a query letter good enough to interest people in my book. But there was still something missing, and none of those agents offered to represent me. Again, I set that project aside and went to work on something new.

I started querying a book called RESET during the summer of 2016. It was a new area for me: RESET is for teens, whereas my other two books were aimed at adults. It also has a slight sci-fi bent, while the other two were pure contemporary. But I loved it, and my critique partners loved it, and so I started sending it out to agents. I got a lot more requests to read the full manuscript, and I hung on to the tiny sliver of hope that maybe this time, someone would love it enough to take me and the book on.

But by February 2017, I had been rejected over a hundred times, and it was getting harder and harder to send out new query letters. At the end of the month my mom watched our kids while my husband and I went on a three day work conference. I didn't check my query inbox once during the conference, telling myself that I didn't need any rejections bumming me out on our mini-vacation. So imagine my surprise when I checked my email the day we got home and found an e-mail from Silvia Arienti at Jill Corcoran Literary Agency telling me that she loved my book and was going to run it by Jill Corcoran to see what she thought about representing me. 


This was approximately my reaction.

That email was sent the day we left for the conference. I was kind of glad I didn't read it until three days later, because I would have been stressing out about it the whole time I was gone. Instead, I only had to stress for a day, because Silvia wrote back the next day with the subject line I'd been waiting three and a half years to see: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION.

And now it's official! Silvia and I are working together to get RESET ready to be seen by publishers. Jill, with her many years of experience and publishing connections, will be the one to actually sell the book. I feel very confident in both of their abilities, and mostly confident in my own (ha!), and hope to someday write a post called "How I Got My Book Deal." I'm so glad that Silvia saw something in RESET when she fished it out of the slush pile, and is willing to help me work on it until it is the best possible version of the story. I'm thankful for Jill's confidence and expertise, and I feel like I'm in good hands with her.
Signing the contract and making everything official


For those reading who are still in the query trenches, hang in there. I used to roll my eyes when people said "It only takes one yes!" but now I know it's true. Don't stop writing, and don't stop dreaming. 

My "Nevertheless, She Persisted" t-shirt arrived in the mail the day Silvia made the offer of rep.



7 comments:

  1. This post make me feel so much pride in you and your accomplishments. "That's MY wife!!!"

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  2. Wow wow and wow! So proud of you! I've always known that you were bound for great things! I remember when I saw you read at 3 years old and challenged you to tell me what you had just read because I didn't believe you were actually reading! You were!! You are an amazing young woman and I'm so incredibly proud of you ! I wish you great success and I'll be one of the first to buy my granddaughter's book. Love you grandma Maria

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  3. Kara you make us so proud! Even though I knew all of this, it brought tears to my eyes reading your post. We love you baby carrot! Go get em!

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  4. How thrilling to read about your experience! I feel so genuinely happy someone "saw" your genius!

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  5. So exciting (and reassuring from down in the trenches). I've been watching your journey for a while, and it is so cool to see you reach another milestone. Crossing my fingers for a speedy trip to the "How I got my book deal" post.

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