About two years ago, I began a very important quest: my search for a literary agent. Finding an agent was Phase II in my plan to ~take over the world~ er, fulfill my dream of becoming a successful published writer. (Phase I was to finish writing a book already.) Now, you may or may not know this, but obtaining representation by a literary agent is no mean feat. Here’s how I did it.
I started off by researching the process: how to write a good query letter, how to format a manuscript for submission, where to find literary agents, what to expect after contacting them, etc., etc. There’s no shortage of information out there on the ‘interwebs.’ After all that, I compiled a short list of agents to try in my first round of submissions. In deciding who to target, I generally stuck with three criteria:
1) Agents who represented mysteries;
2) Agents who accepted queries by email (most do); and
3) Agents who seemed to be associated with cool agencies, if their websites and other online info were any indication.
Next, I tailored my query letter to the individual agents (very important), and finally, with much trepidation, I clicked “send.”
From my research, I knew that it could be weeks, or even months, before receiving any kind of response. In fact, many agents say up front that they won’t respond at all if they’re not interested. So, I prepared to wait.
A few hours later, surprise! I received my first response. A rejection. Sent from her iPhone, the message said “Thanks but this is not one for me.”
Oh, well. I actually appreciated the quick reply.
Then, a few days later, I received my second response. Wonder of wonders, it was the response all aspiring authors hope for: a request for my FULL manuscript! Sometimes agents will ask for a partial manuscript before deciding if they want to read more. But, this agent asked for the complete manuscript, plus a synopsis. She said she found my premise “intriguing.” So, heart leaping with hope and nerves, I sent her the whole thing, carefully following the instructions on her website.
According to this agency’s information page, their response time “goal” for requested manuscripts was 12 weeks. Yeah, 12 weeks. Well, I was so primed by this early positive response that I just waited optimistically. I didn’t send out any more queries over the next few months.
Eleven weeks later, the agent finally responded. With a pass.
Back to the drawing board, I sent out a few more queries, and I received a few more rejections. (Although, in my mind, I tried to avoid the word “rejection.” I preferred to think that the agents “declined” my proposal.) I also received a request for a partial manuscript, but it was followed a few days later with a “decline.”
At this point, I started to second-guess my work. I wondered if it was really good enough for publication. And I seriously considered engaging a freelance editor for some professional help. But, first, I decided to try one more thing.
In all my research, I came across an unconventional method of obtaining a literary agent. I learned that, a few times a year, there’s a day on Twitter where writers can pitch their works, with the hashtag “PitMad,” while agents are watching—agents who are actively seeking to grow their client lists. If the agent likes a pitch, he or she will “favorite” it, which amounts to an invitation to submit a query letter.
Well, it seemed like a long shot, but I had nothing to lose. I opened a Twitter account and downloaded TweetDeck (a program that allows you to schedule your tweets in advance). I also created an Excel spreadsheet based on a template from the writer Diana Urban to try out various versions of my pitch in 140 characters or less.
Then, on the day of the pitch party, I sent my tweets out into the world and went about my business, trying not to think too much about it. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was quite possible I wouldn’t get any notice at all.
However, by the end of the day I HAD been noticed—four times! I received four favorites, on four different versions of my pitch. Feeling giddy, I looked up my fab four, grateful to all of them, and determined that two weren’t really good matches for me. So, I sent my solicited query letters to the other two… and less than two weeks later signed on with my very own literary agent, Rachel Brooks from the L. Perkins Agency.
Long story short, #PitMad is how my agent “discovered” me.
And, I LOVE working with Rachel. She’s an awesome agent—very responsive, always positive and encouraging. She answers all my questions and explains every step of the process. Not to mention the fact that she landed me a three-book publishing deal!
But, the funny thing is, Rachel was never on my original list of agents to query. That’s because I was focusing on those who specifically called out mysteries among the genres they represent, and she didn’t.
I really did need her to find me.
So, if you’re looking for an agent, definitely craft your best query letter following the established guidelines. But know that there are lots of ways to make connections besides the usual query submission process. There's #PitMad of course, (which is coming up again in a couple weeks!), as well as other on-line opportunities, including Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars. You can also meet agents at writing conferences and other venues.
My takeaway from this whole experience is this: Do your homework, yes. At first. Do the research, follow the rules, go ahead and start down the traditional path laid out before you. But don’t be afraid to deviate from that path. Don’t limit yourself. Be open to other possibilities.
P.S. Lana Turner was famously “discovered” at a soda fountain by a big-time Hollywood publisher. He introduced her to a theatrical agent, thus setting her on a path to fame, fortune, and glamour. As the son of that publisher later wrote: “Lana was just minding her own business having a Coke when destiny called. Her discovery became proof that Hollywood was a place of mystery and magic where a schoolgirl can become a screen legend.” See how anything is possible? :)
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.