How I Got My Literary Agent

I didn’t always write fiction. Way back when, I wrote research papers about fiction. And for years, I spilled words out on blogs and forums and in journals, caressing these posts until I had something I could share with others, hoping to entertain as much as anything else. Then I’d watch those hard-won words disappear into the oblivion of time.

And all the while, I didn’t realize I was always writing fiction – in my head, everywhere I went. As I checked out at the grocery and made up stories about the lady behind the cash register or narrated the entire scene for some imaginary future reader, I was already creating characters and scenes.

I first attempted to write a novel about fifteen years ago. But I had no idea how to start. I nursed ideas. I wrote opening scenes. I read better books than I’d ever be able to write. And I stalled. Years passed. Notebooks with half-written outlines piled up. I wrote some short stories. I saw one of my never-written novels become someone else’s movie deal.

In 2013, my karate instructor asked me: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” The answer came easy: write a novel. He said, “Do it.”

So the next month, I entered Nanowrimo and churned out a total piece of crap. Writing that first novel taught me things about craft, about my own voice and style, and mainly about my own capacity for barfing out a ton of words at a single go.

I badly wanted that book to be good enough, so I revised and revised and revised until it wasn’t completely terrible.

Not knowing any better, I entered novel #1 in contests. I entered it into Pitch Madness and didn’t get in. I revised and entered it in Nest Pitch and didn’t get in. I revised and entered it in Pitch Slam and didn’t get in. Undaunted, I revised and revised, learning more and more about what works and what doesn’t.

When I entered Query Kombat in the Spring of 2014, I was seriously on the verge of giving up on this pipe dream. I mean, obviously I couldn’t compete with all those “real” writers. I fully expected another rejection. But the wonderful SC picked me to be on his team (Writerbees!), boosting my morale by letting me know I was getting closer. It didn’t even matter that I got knocked out in the first round. Query Kombat was a career-changing experience for me. (Thanks SC!)

As a bonus, the query I wrote for this contest resulted in my first full request (and it came on the day the Query Kombat entries went live). So as I watched my QK entry get KOed, I was doing a happy jig.

As a super-double-atomic-powered bonus, I found friends and CPs for life by connecting with a team mate and, true story, with the same girl who knocked me out in the first round.

By the time I realized novel #1 was doomed, I’d managed to learn how to write a decent query, get requests, and get accepted into contests. But deep in my heart, I knew novel #1 was my practice novel. My trunk novel. My “one day I’ll know how to fix you novel.” I needed to move on.

So I buckled down and pounded out novel #2. Thanks to my new incredible CPs, I finished it just in time to enter it into Pitch Wars. I was surprised and delighted to be picked by my amazing mentor, Jaime Loren, who helped me revamp that sucker into a novel I’m truly proud of. And while my entry did great during the agent round, Pitch Wars didn’t lead to an offer. And in fact, cold querying that novel landed me one single solitary request.

In December, I put novel #2 into a metaphorical Viking boat, cast it off to sea, and shot it with a flaming arrow. I love that book, but it wasn’t the one.

Fortunately, I’d already started novel #3 before Pitch Wars selections were announced in September. I finished drafting in November (yeah Nano!), revised three times in December, and began querying at the end of January.

This time things went faster. I’d barely dipped my toes into the query waters when I got a number of requests. I entered Agent Query and threw out some twitter pitches which resulted in a few more requests. Coming full circle, I entered Pitch Madness.

However, I ended up dropping out before picks were made because…

After a month of obsessively refreshing my email and trying to read the Query Tracker tea leaves, I heard the panic-inducing “You have mail” ringtone associated with my author email account.

Now, I have a tendency to band-aid rip whenever I get a reply from an agent. I immediately scan for keywords like “unfortunately” and “subjective” on the one hand or “happy” and “please attach” on the other, so I can brace myself for a rejection or psych myself up for a request (or maybe, at long last, an offer).

So when this email began with “Please forgive me,” I blew a raspberry. And then read: “…for taking a while to get back to you.” I made myself read the words in the letter in sequential order and discovered that it looked suspiciously like an offer. The agent I had queried explained that one of the other agents at the agency wanted to work with me.

I spent the next four hours trying to piece together a coherent sentence to let them know I was thrilled. I wondered if it was possible to screw that up so badly the whole thing would go poof.

The contract came at the same time as the invitation to talk, so I went into The Call with an offer in hand, which meant the ball was in my court to make sure she was right for me. That put me at ease and stressed me out all at the same time.

I’d love to share all the details of the actual call, but it’s shrouded in the fog of war. I had my list of questions to ask, and ask I did. And she had all the right answers. I hung up the phone ready to sign the contract and send it back, but I had outstanding materials with other agents.

I took the requisite week to get my ducks in a row, got more requests, some rejections, an offer to revise and resubmit, and another offer of representation from a second very lovely agent. If she’d been the only one offering, I would have taken her offer with no hesitation.

But I had a decision to make. I knew I couldn’t really go wrong either way. Both agencies were highly reputable. The clients of both agents had nothing but glowing praise to offer. Both agents said lovely things about my novel. And both had ideas for revisions.

In the end, I went with my gut. I felt that the first offering agent’s vision for my book and my career more closely lined up with my own. (Also, I have a major crush on this agency.) And so, I happily, accepted representation from Rachel Stout at Dystel and Goderich.

2 Responses

  1. Nicole Lynn Hoefs
    Nicole Lynn Hoefs August 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm | | Reply

    I always love reading how authors got their agents. I’m so glad you kept going and didn’t give up. That has to be one of the best feelings in the world!

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