For a writer, finding an agent can be a very stressful/painful/frustrating process. Most of us don’t send a query letter to our favorite agent on agentquery.com, and get a nice contract back in the mail.
I get a lot of questions about how I found an agent, so I thought I’d talk about how it all happened for me.
First of all, Laura was not my first agent. Years and years (and many dark years…) ago, I went through the querying process with my first novel, which was a horror novel (circa my all-things-Stephen King-phase). This was pre-internet mind you, so the Writer’s Market was my bible. Through a long drawn out process, and many rejection letters later, I managed to snag an agent, which was ginormous! I thought I’d died and gone to literary heaven. I was sure I’d retire rich from my oh-so-superior manuscript which would take the industry by storm.
Alas, despite overcoming that (seemingly insurmountable) hurdle, my book was never published.
I tried several times over the years to rewrite and resubmit my manuscript, and yes, I did find another agent willing to take it on. And again, heartbreakingly, no publishing contract.
Finally, I decided that if I wanted to write, then by-golly I was gonna write! And by then I’d discovered YA (thanks to a very good friend of mine…whose name rhymes with “Schm-aylene”, but really starts with a “G”), and had pretty much fallen head over heels with the whole genre. Plus, with kids in my house 24/7 I had plenty of real-life material to draw from in creating characters and dialogue. Although they’ve banned me from trying out their cool new phrases out loud. Like I'm not down-with-the-411. Whatev!
Anyway, I wrote a YA manuscript and started looking into writer’s conferences.
It just so happened that the BEA (Book Expo of America) would have their annual conference in May, so my husband convinced me to sign up. We decided to make a romantic getaway of it (romantic meaning no kids, of course).
Well, as it happened the conference was at the end of the month, and on May 12th I finished the last revisions of my novel. I eagerly poured through the list of agents who would be at the conference, and was thrilled to see that Laura Rennert, an agent (okay, THE agent) who I had planned to query once I’d completed the YA manuscript, was attending! This was huge for me!!!
So we headed out for Los Angeles, shiny new manuscript in hand (well, not literally, but I had a disk and some sample pages, just in case). As it turns out going to this conference will have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In case you’ve never been, here’s how the Pitch Slam at the BEA works:
The agents and editors are placed in conference rooms through the convention center and you are handed a map. You plot out which agents you want to see most, and start with your favorites and move down the list. At each agent/editor, you stand in line with several (a lot!) other nervous writers hoping to snag themselves a contract of some sort. So, when it’s your turn, you have three timed (yes, there is a stop-watch) minutes to pitch your manuscript and then find out whether you’ve gotten the go ahead to send samples in post-conference.
Basically, it’s like speed-dating, but without the cocktails.
So, here’s how my “speed dating” went:
1) Take a Xanax an hour before Pitch Slam starts.
2) Stand in line with Laura Rennert (my #1 choice agent in the country!)
3) Hope the Xanax kicks in soon.
4) Nervously meet Laura, try to stop my voice from sounding like a warbling country crooner. (Remind myself that I’m a cool and confident woman, for God’s sake!).
5) Confuse the words “urban” and “rural”, and then try to smooth over the mistake after she’s gone on to talking about something else.
6) Pitch book, and get the green light to send in five (yes, FIVE) sample chapters!
7) Leave room as calmly as possible before freaking out and calling hubby on cell phone!!!
I pitched to six other agents and editors after Laura, and got five other yes’s and only one “thanks, but no thanks”, which was pretty amazing to me. By the time I left the conference that day, I felt like I’d won the freakin’ lottery!
By the time we were leaving LA, I had already decided I was going to send my sample chapters to Laura first, since she was the agent I really wanted anyway. I waited until the following Monday, and sent the chapters at about 8:00PM that night. That may have been the most nerve-wracking “SEND” button I’ve ever hit.
Three hours later, my husband came racing upstairs to wake me up, telling me that she emailed back and wanted to see the entire manuscript!
What, are you kidding me??? Needless, to say, I did not sleep that night.
The rest is history…
For me anyway, going to that conference was a huge milestone. After Laura contacted me to say she wanted to represent me (another lottery winning moment!!!), I had to email the two agents who still had my Middle Grade manuscript to let them know that I was signing elsewhere. One of them emailed back to say how disappointed they were, since they were planning to offer representation on it, but I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason.
As for me, I got the agent of my dreams out of the deal!