Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Agent News!

I'm so excited to share wonderful news: I signed with a literary agent!

I received a few gentle reminders from fellow writers that it's customary to post a "How I Got My Agent" story. (Optional: stuff full of gifs.) Happy to oblige!

Hopefully my story can show how much each journey toward publication varies. As I'm typing this, I still can't believe I found an agent who is excited and determined to see my story published. I mean, I haven't even started querying yet.

See, I had this master query plan. I'd already tagged potential agents in Query Tracker. I intended to start querying after I entered a few blog contests for feedback. Only, the contests ended up being my entire query process! Agent pitch contests essentially mirror querying, with the bonus of a third party blogger to slag through the slush for the agents, presenting them with a collection pitches and first pages to request from. So while I never sent a query letter, I did use my query when I submitted requests to agents.

After working on my novel for a year, I decided to dip my toes in the submission world by promptly signing up for three contests: Pitch Madness run by YA & MG writer Brenda Drake, Gearing Up To Get An Agent (GUTGAA) hosted by YA writer Deanna Barnhart, and CAGI at Cupid's Literary Connection. All of these contests had their own submission guidelines, format, and deadlines. And this got competitive. Submission windows closed out in minutes. We adjusted timepieces to the world clock and pressed SUBMIT precisely 8 to 12 seconds after the submission window opened BUT NO SOONER!!
I made it through to final rounds on all three. I received 12 agent requests from the 3 contests, a mix of partials and fulls. (One, I am just now realizing, came from twitter (#pitmad?)

Very slowly those responses (rejections) trickled in.

Some agents offered polite one-liners that told me nothing specific, but many provided at least one sentence or two with why they were passing. I noticed a pattern. Their responses gave me focus to make more edits.

The Authoress' famous Baker's Dozen contest rolled around in November on the Miss Snark blog (you must check it out if you don't already read it). I've been an avid commenter during the monthly Secret Agent contests (where I always lurked, but never submitted. Lurk and learn, lurk and learn.) Since I had a pitch, query and polished first page, I entered (on my birthday even!) and made it through to the final round; I want to say it was just under 300 entries pared down to 75.

Now, because I had a bit of contest knowledge from my busy September, I assumed (wrongly) that the day the BD contest went live, the agents would leisurely peruse and comment on the entries throughout the day. I was quite proud of myself for having just set an appointment for an HVAC company to clear out the ductwork in my house,

when my twitter feed started heating up and a fellow writer emailed me: Are you seeing what's happening with your entry at Miss Snark's blog?!

The Baker's Dozen is set up like an auction, with agents bidding in page request increments up to the Full MS. Bidding for my entry closed out in 3 minutes, thanks to fast and furious bidding by agents who'd scoped it ahead of time.

They were even fighting over it on twitter (playfully, I'm told, though with agents you never know).

I received 5 more agent requests from Baker's Dozen, with the idea that the top bidding agent gets first dibs. Meanwhile, I was knee-deep in a revision based on previous agent feedback. I certainly could have sent it off to the new agents as-is, but the feedback I received was so valuable, I couldn't ignore it. Soon Authoress was emailing me that the agents wanted to know why I hadn't sent the MS (HUNGRY AGENT. WANT MS. WHEN YOU DELIVER?) This was like, days later, not weeks or anything.

The winning agent suggested I take my time and send it in the new year, given December is a slow time for publishing. She agreed I should offer up my best work.

Right in time for the holidays, I holed up in my house and forgot about shopping for gifts. I bought cards but sent them with barely enough time to arrive by Christmas. Sometimes my husband would speak to me and an  hour would pass before I acknowledged him. Once I found him sitting alone in the dark eating tuna from a can. He wasn't even using a fork.*

*did not actually happen

In January, I tracked down a few writers to read through my whole MS with a tight turnaround time. I cannot exaggerate how generous the writing community is. One of the writers I'd traded pages with previously--a result of Miss Snark's critique partner swap--and another I connected with online. Can you feel the love?!

I submitted mid-January to the 5 agents. The first rejection I received included the same comments I'd heard prior to my revision. I admit, I had a dark week. I fully expected to overhaul it again, but I held off given the MS was out with four more agents. (To pass the time, I played a lot of Halo multi-player and read non-fiction books on American wars--I had some latent aggression to deal with...)

OK, now this part is a little sad. My grandmother became very ill, and we knew it was the end for her. Probably 20 minutes after hanging up with my mom, who drove through a snowstorm to get to her ailing mother's bedside, I get an email message from Agent 1 that she wants to offer representation. Shock! Only, the east coast was prepping for a blizzard, so could we set up a call Monday? My emotions were all over the place, but the news was a bright spot during a tough few days (my grandmother ended up passing away that weekend.).

I nudged the other agents, and received a request for a call with Agent 2, which resulted in an offer. Both agents seemed really great--awesome actually. I sent frantic twitter DMs and emails to writers I knew, friends, and the agent's clients to glean as much information as I could before deciding--DECIDING--which agent I wanted to work with. Who ever thought I'd get to decide?? They didn't make it easy either; each agent's clients LOVED them. Gushing, raving, exploding with joy kind of affection.

In the end, I chose Agent 1. She'd won the Baker's Dozen bidding war, she'd hounded Authoress about when I was sending my MS, she'd given me the luxury of editing through to the new year, and her enthusiasm practically reached out through the phone.

Last week, I signed with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd!

funny gifs

I couldn't be happier. Her clients love her, she loves my story, she wants to work with me long-term, and she has a vision for my MS and where it will sell.

While I didn't follow the traditional query process, I did a LOT of research on agents, agencies, publishing contracts, self-publishing--you name it. I think it's really easy to get sidetracked by all the agent stuff and the business side of it all, but what really matters most is the writing craft. I learn every day and I don't plan to stop learning. That's my one slice of advice: above all, put your efforts into becoming a better writer. OK two slices: celebrate other writer's victories!

Now for some stats:

Contests entered: 4
Total MS requests: 16
Fulls: 10
Partials: 6 (including 2 requests for the dreaded synopsis)
Rejections: 9
No response/did not send to/or bowed out after nudge email: 5
Offers: 2


  1. Sorry for your loss. My grandmother passed away recently, too.

    Congratulations on your success! I love reading success stories. Yours is really awesome.

    1. Thanks. The good news makes the bad a little better. My grandmother was 93 and lived a full life; these last two were tough because she'd had a stroke and had been very limited with communicating since then. She needed 24 hour care. We are glad she passed peacefully.

  2. CONGRATULATIONS!! That is so awesome :)

  3. Many Congratulations for the agent news. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your grandmother.

  4. What an amazing story! I've been seeing your ms in all the contests and wondering when someone would snag you. It sounds like a great book. Grats!!!

    1. haha... I did kind of overload on the contests. I followed several of them before I entered (there was the writer's voice last spring) and I loved seeing entries I liked graduate to good news.

  5. I LOVE this story! And I must say, I knew back in the slush of Pitch Madness that this was something special. :) SO happy for you!

    As soon as I get my other computer working, I'm adding you to my list of inspiring stories!

    1. Thanks! I met so many writers through Pitch Madness. It was so fun how interactive everyone was on twitter and the blogs.

  6. What a great and winding story this is!

  7. !!! So exciting. Congratulations! :-D

  8. Congratulations! What an interesting journey you had! :)

  9. That's awesome news, Stephanie! Good luck on your literary endeavours!

  10. Super excited for you! I remember the first time I read your opening paragraphs in a contest and thought, I can't believe this girl doesn't already have an agent. :) Best of luck to you!!

  11. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Stephanie. But I can completely relate to having devastating news happen, amidst all the craziness of trying to work with an agent(s). Isn't it amazing how quickly things can change? One day up, two days down, and so on and so on!

    But I'm so excited for you and I wish you the best of luck as you head out on submissions! Sarah is a fabulous agent - and your story is priceless. I can't wait to see how your journey unfolds!

  12. WHOA Mega congrats. I hopped over here to thank you for noticing my little superhero story in other contests, and lo and behold some fabulous news! Sweet! High fives!

  13. So very cool to hear the full story. Sorry about grandma, the blizzard, and it all happening on the same day. Phew. Yours is the most unusual agent-finding story I've read, and thanks for the heads' up about the pitch contests. Good luck with the manuscript. I'd still love to read it, any time now. I finally finished judging 550 pages' worth of Golden Heart entries, and all my house cleaning and remodeling, so my plate is clear, if or when.

    1. Wow, that's a lot of pages to critique! I have your email so I'll respond there. I have to write a new scene for my edits and I'll need some feedback on it.

  14. Oh, I am so thrilled for you. And for myself - I can't wait to read your book someday.

    I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother.

  15. This is such inspiring and wonderful news. Congratulations, seriously! You should feel so proud of yourself. I hope to one day be in your shoes after all my editing is complete.

    Now following your wonderful blog. Take care!

  16. I totally missed this post! Super huge congratulations to you!

  17. That is such great news! And really inspirational to hear. Congratulations! I wish you all the best in the future, and I look forward to reading your book.

  18. Congratulations! Best of luck on submissions!

  19. I remember reading your entry on the Baker's Dozen and it was one of my favorites! I had no idea it was yours. I remembered I even DM'd my agent telling her I was sad that she'd lost the auction for your item! I have a good feeling about this--can't wait to see your book out in the open! Congrats again!! Your story made me really happy!

  20. Congratulations, and thanks so much for sharing your story. So glad you stuck with it. Excited for you!

  21. I read this a while ago and thought I commented but I must have forgotten. Congrats on finding an agent, that's wonderful news! So sorry to hear about your Grandmother though. I'm not nearly as close to publication as you (family obligations, personal issues, and a general lack of talent hold me back) but my biggest supporters are my mother and aunt. They're both over 70, and they always cheer me on when I'm ready to give up.

    Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring us newbies to keep going!

  22. Stephanie,
    First, I just wanted to say that I LOVE your new profile pic!

    I also wanted to offer you a big and juicy (and somewhat belated) CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm so glad your hard work has paid off. It's always insightful for me to learn about how other people got their agents.

    And I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I hope you and your family are doing okay.

  23. Such an awesome success story! Thank you so much for sharing. It gives the rest of us hope about the various ways out there to reach the same goal. Congratulations!


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