How I Got My Agent

SIGNED, sealed, delivered….

I’m yours! That’s what I essentially said to Stephanie Kip Rostan of the Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency when I sent in my literary agency agreement. Yes, I mean what you think I mean – I signed with a literary agent today!

Let me back up.

In late August, I received an email from Shelby, Stephanie’s assistant, who told me that she and Stephanie were both reading and LOVING (I’m not taking any creative liberty here, she actually used all caps) my book. She asked me to keep her posted if the availability changes, and that they would try to get back to me in the next week or so.

So naturally, I cried.

I’ve been querying my book, Less to Carry, for quite some time now. I started pitching it an a conference in July of 2014, and besides the two or three times I had to take a break for major revisions I was sending queries, requested partials and fulls that whole time. Before this book, I queried my first book, The Road Unraveled for two years before shelving it.

So yeah, I was NOT used to hearing that anyone loved my book except for my mother, my boyfriend, and my closest friends. Just hearing that actual professionals in my desired industry were loving my words was this huge, important moment in my life. I also knew, instinctively, that an offer was coming. In my head, I adjusted the “week or so” to two weeks, as I know that the industry rarely moves as quickly as you think it will and current clients always take priority.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but I was floating. Nine days after I got the email, I got engaged. That helped distract me. In fact, it bought me an extra week (so three weeks since the original email) before I followed up with Shelby. She told me Stephanie was getting caught up with some stuff but was still reading my manuscript. A month later, I hadn’t heard back. I followed up again and got a similar response. I waited two months through the holidays this time, knowing that most agencies (and the entire literary world, from what I’ve gathered), shuts down at this time.

As most writers who have crawled through the querying trenches can understand, after you get rejected so many times (So. Many. Times.) you develop a pretty negative self-narrative. You come to expect rejection. And more than not wanting to be a pest during the holiday season, I didn’t follow up because I wanted to delay the rejection. I wanted to hold onto that glimmer of hope.

Nevertheless, the shine had dulled. I prepared myself for the day I would check my inbox and get an email like “Hey, sorry, we meant to send that original mail to someone else. Your book was meh,” or “Sorry we jumped the gun on that email, we read the ending and it completely ruined the book for us. And there’s no way you can fix it. It’s just too terrible.”

As much as I tried to think positively, I couldn’t imagine the situation turning out any differently for me. Having only ever been rejected, I slowly started to believe all the negative voices in my head, that this would be another disappointment, in fact the largest one I’d experienced because I had been so close. I busied myself finishing the first draft of my next project, but I had to do a little soul searching: was this the right path for me? It inspired this post, about deciding to just going to keep right on going, to keep on climbing that tree no matter what obstacles I encountered.

So after the New Year, I decided to bite the bullet and follow up with Shelby. And again a few weeks later. I came thisclose to adding a more professional version of “If she’s going to reject me, can we just get it over with?” But I refrained. I didn’t want to screw up the juju. But I braced myself. If I was going to get rejected, it would be okay. I still had a few agents left to query, and if God forbid, I had to give up on this manuscript, I had another one in the hopper ready to work on. It would break my heart, but I had done it before, and I would keep doing it until I got it right.

A week after my last follow-up, as my (now) fiance and I were driving down to the tasting at our wedding venue, I got an email from Stephanie herself. She said A.MAZE.ING. things about my book and told me she was very interested in representing it. She asked to set up a time Monday for us to talk on the phone.

And I cried again. Big, fat, happy crocodile tears.

I couldn’t even read the email to my fiance for several minutes I was so blubbery. I was shocked. Speechless. I would have an agent. This was happening. To me. This happened almost three weeks ago; I’ve since spoken with her and a few of her clients, told all the people closest to me, and signed an actual agreement, and I still can’t believe it. The amount of times I’ve done a crazy little happy dance in a bathroom stall or in my office while I thought no one was looking is countless.

Now I know this is just the first step. The road ahead of me is still going to be hard. I still face more revisions, rejection from publishers, and harsh reality checks. It’s going to be hard. I know only enough to be a little scared of not knowing how hard it’s going to be, if that makes any sense. There are no guarantees in life, and certainly not in this business. I’m not quitting my day job or burning any bridges. But it’s a step. An honest to God step, and if I hadn’t kept going, kept pursuing, kept writing even on the days when I honestly couldn’t see the point, I never would have gotten here.

On the Querying Process – Rejection

You’ve written the query and three versions of the synopsis (1, 2, and 3 pages). Revised them. Revised them again. Threw them out. Started again. Revised the new versions twice. Sent them to Twitter friends (thank you, lovely Twitter friends). Revised them based on feedback. Twice.

That sounds like a lot of work, right? Distilling the essence of your beautiful baby (your MS) into a page of marketing speak? It is. There’s a lot of “it’s not fair!” that goes on during this process. In fact, most writers consider writing queries and synopses the bane of their existence. We’re writers, creatives. We don’t want to worry about being salesmen. Luckily, I have a marketing background which makes it a teensy bit easier. But only a teensy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoy this process, but one thing I can say for it is at least it’s an active process. Just like when something really heavy strikes us anger is often what comes up first because it feels active and powerful. While we might feel lost sometimes when doing a query and a synopsis, lost for the right words to describe our literary child, it’s not the hardest part.

I’m actually torn between which is the hardest part – the waiting or the rejection. But more on the waiting later.

Rejection sucks. There’s no other way to look at it. It sucks. Everything I’ve read tells me it gets easier, but I’m finding the opposite. It’s getting harder.

Why? Because I’m getting closer.

With my first novel, I was a complete newbie who knew nothing about the process. The fact that I had finished writing an entire book length work and was actually ballsy enough to let people read it and send it out into the agent world was enough to make me proud. When the rejections (or crickets, in lieu of a response) rolled in, I wasn’t too surprised. I was actually kind of excited, because it meant that someone had read something I had tried to put out, even if they didn’t like it. It made it real. It was the first step. Of course, after dozens of rejections, revisions, and more rejections that came it eventually lost its luster, caving in to a general hopelessness. But I could feel good that I had tried my best.

My second book I have higher hopes for. My writing has grown up a bit, I’ve learned a lot more about the process, I know what agents are looking for. And I truly love the story I’ve written. The characters feel more real to me. The dream is more alive than ever. So the rejections, when they come, are more crushing.

It’s also because I’m more focused on the kind of agent I want, so the agents I do query are people I really wanted to work with. It’s like when you do speed dating and walk away without a connection it’s disappointing but not a big deal, because it was a crapshoot in a room full of strangers. But when you go out with someone you’ve had a crush on for months and then they don’t call — that’s the stuff that sends you right to the Ben & Jerry’s.

The worst part is, 9 times out of ten you get a form rejection, so you can’t gain any valuable insight that can help you improve. (Side note: I am not on my soapbox demanding that every agent should send a personalized rejection to every querier. They do not have time for this, so I understand. See, agents? See how easy I am to work with?) But I’ve been told, and am really starting to believe, that when you do start getting those personalized rejections you’re getting closer. It means your hook is strong enough that they wanted to read more. It means your sample pages kept them reading, even if not for as long as you had hoped. It’s the next step.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. If a game is neck and neck and your team is thisclose to winning, the moment when the other team scores and you realize you’ve been defeated is absolutely flattening.

There are two pieces of advice I can give to querying writers, with the disclaimer that I am not yet published and therefore you may not care what I have to say. But for your sanity’s sake, just listen up.

1) When you’re querying, start your next book. The querying process is long, my friends, much longer than you can imagine, and if all your eggs are in your querying book’s basket, you will go insane. Like legit, rocking in a corner, insane. Shed all the excuses to start a new project (“I want to see if anyone likes this one before I waste time on another one” is common. I used this one for a bit). No. Ignore this. If you are a writer and this is your dream, you need to write. Not only will it help you stay connected to the writer inside, it will help improve your writing. It will give you a sense of control throughout a process that you have almost zero control over. And no matter how good a writer you are, your craft improves with time and practice. So if your book (God forbid) doesn’t find a literary home in the end, at least you’re still moving toward the target.

2) There’s a way to frame rejection, but you have to believe that there is something at work larger than yourself to find it helpful, and that is this: Every rejection you get clears the way to the agent who will be the champion of your work. There are tons of agents out there, all of whom bust their butts for their clients. But even if you think one of them is your dream agent and will be the one to launch your stellar career, if they don’t fall in love with your work, then you aren’t, in fact, the right fit. You don’t want someone who has lukewarm feelings about your book! You want someone who is in love with it as much as you are (more even, given the writer’s slant toward self-hatred), so they can sell it! So for every agent you get a rejection from, try being grateful that something even better is out there for you.