In August 2012, I signed with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York. Once people hear such news about a writer, which they often do because that writer is going on and on about it to anyone who’ll listen, they generally want to know how it happened, especially if they too are an aspiring writer. In fact, that very question is the frequent subject of Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents” blog from Writer’s Digest. Today, I thought I’d answer the question here on the site.
I started Straightville, U.S.A. in December 2008 and worked on it off and on until August 2011. I then began sending out query letters. That’s what you do. You send a query letter to an agent telling about your book and yourself, along with whatever sample length they request. If you’re lucky, they’ll ask to read more.
Like any other writer who is excited at having typed those elusive two words, The End, I began querying much too soon. Both my letter and my manuscript needed work. I sent out letter after letter and was either rejected or received no response at all. I queried in small batches, sending out a few and waiting for feedback to help me determine problem points. During this process, I refined both the book and the query letter and, by the beginning of 2012, I started getting nibbles.
One of those nibbles was from Stephen Fraser at JDLA. He read my query and my sample chapter and liked them enough to request the full manuscript. I gave it one more polish and sent it off into cyberspace, awaiting his response.
It never came.
Now there are several schools of thought on when it is safe to nudge an agent or an editor who has your manuscript. (Nudge is what we in the biz call that desperate follow-up inquiry to ask, “Listen, pal, are you going to read the damn thing or not?”) Some say a month, some say a few months, I’ve even read that some say as many as six months. Unless the agency’s site says so, there’s no way to know what’s considered appropriate. So I just sat quietly and waited, assuming he’d get back to me when he read it. I had a couple other nibbles as well to tide me over.
Meanwhile, my day job – which involved running a communications department, coordinating multiple publications, and producing/hosting a TV show – suddenly became extremely busy and began spilling over into my writing time. So I didn’t nudge Steve until July. He informed me that he regrettably couldn’t find my original submission (and that I could've nudged him much sooner). I promptly resent it to him, and he promptly responded. I opened the e-mail with trepidation.
Mind you, I’d done considerable research on Stephen Fraser. I knew he had a past with the type of books I write. He’s worked with some of my favorite writers, including Brent Hartinger and J.H. Trumble. And he’s on this nice little list of Top 20 agents. I really wanted to work with him, so rejection was going to be a real punch in the gut. His e-mail began as follows:
What a sweet, touching book. I really like it.
A simple statement, but I knew immediately he got it. (See this post for a little insight into why that analysis fits.) We then began an exchange in which we both shared a couple thoughts about the manuscript, and Steve dug a little deeper into my career goals. Agents want to work with career writers, not one-book wonders. I pitched a couple other ideas, one of which I’m working diligently on right now. The next time I saw Steve’s name in my inbox, I opened the e-mail and read this:
I would like to represent you, if you are still interested.
My first thought was, “Holy shit!” And my second was, “If I’m still interested? Are you nuts? Of course I am!”
Side note: I read this message directly before walking into a meeting with two new colleagues. My jitteriness and overall lack of cohesion was obvious, especially when my pen flew out of my hand and across the room. It was one of those moments when you really need ten minutes to process and react to big news, but you just don’t have it.
Steve then began the quest to find Straightville a home. You’ll just have to keep checking my site for news on that.
So that is how I got my agent. But wait, there’s more! Something else happened that day that made it one of the most meaningful of my life. You’ll just have to catch my next post to learn what that was.