How I Got My Agent

Note: This was originally posted on a collaborative blog I was a part of. That blog no longer exists and so I have moved this here. Unfortunately, I could not move the comments, but I was then and continue to be very grateful for all the well wishes. ~H

If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed this lovely little gem this morning:


I always enjoy reading “How I Got My Agent” stories, so I thought I would share mine as well (though oh-my-gosh-I-am-suddenly-feeling-very-shy).

HOOK’S REVENGE is my first novel and it took me an outrageously long time to write. I had the idea several years ago – while half-sleeping off the flu, half-listening to my daughter watching a DVD of Hook. When I woke up, there was a character in my head, but I was a busy young mom and not ready to pursue a career in writing.

Still, I sketched out the idea and slowly wrote a horrible first draft. In the meantime my family moved back home to Oregon (more than 3000 miles away from where we had been living in Maryland), I began homeschooling my daughter, and my father-in-law passed away. (He actually entered the hospital the same day I wrote “the end” on my first draft.) Though I enjoyed writing, I wasn’t at a point in my life where I could make a serious commitment to it. Instead, I played with words on my blog and continued reading and learning.

Last fall, I did some beta reading for a good friend. I was ecstatic when she landed a publishing contract and was inspired by her success. It was time to at least try.

I got to work. I started getting up earlier and/or staying up later than everyone else so I could write. I fell in love with my story all over again. I rewrote, revised, and rewrote some more. In addition, I set about building a support network. One of the best choices I could have made was to join SCBWI. There I found friends and mentors that really helped me to hone and polish my work.

In July, I felt that my manuscript was ready to begin submitting to agents. I read Query Shark and Slush Pile Tales to learn how to write a query letter, then spent an afternoon crafting one. After running it by a couple of friends, I revised a bit and set it loose on the world. (By that I mean, I sent it to five agents, then waited by my inbox.)

Two weeks went by with no response. I began to suspect that everyone hated it and/or hated me. I started a new project anyway.

Around that time, I saw on twitter that Janet Reid (the Query Shark) was offering a personal response to queries sent to her within a specific time frame. This was not to be a critique or query advice, but a non-form response–likely a this-is-why-I’m-rejecting-you response. The only problem? Janet does not rep middle-grade.

However, I did a little more reading on her blog, and found this bit of advice:

Query everyone. Forget that crap about honing a list and researching
what agents like. Query everyone. If they say no, so what. Maybe just
maybe you’ll find an agent looking to branch out, looking for a fabulous
new voice, looking for you.

Edited to add: Lots of agents say otherwise. They really hate being pitched to for genres they don’t represent, as it clogs up their already full query boxes. I’m not giving advice here – just stating what I did. Choose your own adventure.

I took her advice and sent in my query. Within 16 minutes (yes I counted) she sent me a lovely reply referring me to her colleague, Brooks Sherman. I’m not going to lie, that bit of encouragement made me cry. The validation was wonderful.

So, I queried Brooks, and nine other agents. I started getting page requests, along with some rejections. It was all very exciting and frightening and all-around-crazy-making.

A couple of months after I started querying, I decided to reread my manuscript. I read the first third one evening and when I came to bed, I told my husband, “You know what? It really is good.”

The very next day Brooks emailed to say he would like to chat. I was feeling really good about my ms and so excited to have The Call. We set up an appointment for a few days later.

That night I read more and my heart sank. I had gotten past the most polished, most recent, best part of my story. Things were not so good anymore, and I had achieved enough distance to finally see it. My manuscript was not quite ready and I was almost certain Brooks was only calling to tell me so–to let me down easy.

I was really nervous on our call, waiting for the rejection. But it turned out that he saw a lot of promise in my manuscript, and loved the voice, but he saw the same problems that I did. We spoke for nearly an hour on ways to make things better. I promised him first peek at my revisions and hung up encouraged and excited to make changes.

Over the next week I ended up getting four new page requests from a couple of contest I had entered – one from an agent that I had had my eye on for a very long time. I worked feverishly to complete revisions so I could give Brooks a first pass and not keep anyone else waiting too long.

When I completed my rewrite, I was so proud of my work. I ended up adding an additional 5000 words and really loved the way things had changed. Brooks loved it too and quickly offered to represent me. I asked for a week to think it over and alert the other agents that were interested. I ended up with two offers (and a very interested third who did not have time to get an offer in before I accepted with Brooks, but very graciously offered a hearty congratulations).

One offer was from Brooks–who had an incredible enthusiasm for my work, but is still a fairly new agent, and another from the agent I had, at one time, thought of as possibly “my dream agent.” You would think that that would have made me happy, but I was miserable. It was hard to choose between Brooks and the other, more established agent. I needed to choose between passion and experience.

I emailed Brooks about where I was in the decision process and his reply blew me away. I knew for certain that he understood and loved my work. I also felt confident that he knows what he is doing. And I knew we would have a great time working together. The choice was suddenly easy. Though the other offering agent truly is fabulous, in my opinion, the best agent is the one that loves your work the most. That’s the one that will fight the hardest for it.

I am 100% confident in my choice and really looking forward to our working together. I can’t wait to see what kind of mischief we’ll cook up.




PS: A few people have asked about my stats. Here you go:

Sent: 16
Page Requests: 5
Referrals: 1
Rejections: 4
No Response: 5
Query withdrew due to offer: 1

Entered: 2
Invitations to query: 1
Page requests: 4

Offers: 2


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