“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature
on the GLA blog. I find it fascinating to see the exact road people took that landed
them with a rep. Seeing the things people did right vs. what they did wrong (highs
and the lows) can help other scribes who are on the same journey. Some tales
are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings.
To see the
previous installments of this column, click here.
If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column
for this GLA blog, e-mail me at email@example.com and we’ll talk specifics.
Ellen Bryson‘s book, The
Bartholomew Fortuno, comes out in June
2010. The story follows Fortuno, the world’s
thinnest man, as he’s hired by none other
than P.T. Barnum to work at a spectacular
American museum. See Ellen’s website here.
REJECTIONS TRICKLE IN
When it came to finding an agent, I was not well prepared. I didn’t realize how many
good web sources there were to answer questions; I didn’t do much research, and I
never once wrote a good query letter. Mostly, though, I couldn’t find an agent because
my manuscript wasn’t ready. It took me years to finish a full draft—sometimes
working steadily, sometimes not at all. I plugged away, enrolling in a Masters program
to keep me working and, thanks to some really great teachers, help me improve. Eventually,
I felt ready enough to send the manuscript to writer friends of mine and writer friends
of others—anyone who was willing and able to give me usable advice. I rewrote, and
unwrote, and rewrote again.
Finally, I felt I could reasonably say The End. Out went the manuscript to
an agent that someone had told me might be a good fit. Back it came with a ‘no thanks’
but, generously, with notes. I took the notes very seriously and rewrote to try to
answer points raised. Out it went again, this time to an agent I had researched and
found to like the same kind of books that I liked. Back it came again, this time with
nothing but a form letter. I sent it again and again—the results more or less the
These rejections weren’t fun. It didn’t matter that I knew it wasn’t personal. But
I didn’t mind going back to the manuscript. Quite honestly, rewrites were work I really
liked. In the work, I had control. It was the agent search that I found difficult.
It all seemed so magical to me, and I did not feel like the hero of my story.
Deciding to try another tactic, I went to the writer’s colony Breadloaf, a humbling
experience but my first chance to “pitch” in front of an agent. Talking about my manuscript
to a professional was both nerve-wracking and instructive. It made me nervous. I did
it anyway. And I left with a request from an agent to send her what I had when I felt
it was finished. Wow, what a show of interest can do to renew one’s you-can-do-it
sense of things. It took nearly a year before I felt ready to send her a partial and
then, lo and behold, the whole thing at her request.
In a meantime, I sucked it up again, this time going to a local writers conference.
I’m not particularly social, and events like this weren’t easy for me. But at this
conference, I got lucky. I met a writer much further along the path than I was. In
a moment of generosity, he said, “I’ll take a look at your manuscript if you want
me to.” I loved him! Then, when he suggested I send it to his agent, I was utterly
beside myself. Since I hadn’t heard from the Breadloaf agent who still had my manuscript,
and as she had not asked for an exclusive, I figured, what the hell. His agent turned
YES, YES, YES!
My friend then suggested another agent he knew: Mollie Glick. Why not? I sent Mollie
a quick e-mail, telling her who I was and who had recommended me. After reading my
first three chapters, she asked to see the full manuscript. On the day before Thanksgiving,
Mollie called to tell me she liked the manuscript, but asked if I was willing to work
on it. Yes, I said. Yes, yes, yes!
It took two more years of back and forth, including six months of research, until
Mollie was happy with it. I dreaded her editorial letters but understood the points
she was making and did my best. The big changes I had to do alone, but both of us
did line-editing for misspellings, dropped or repeated words, and flabby writing—all
the painstaking stuff. After that, it didn’t take long for the manuscript to sell.
That moment was, well, wonderful!
So what did I learn through all of this? I learned that it takes what it takes. A
manuscript is never done, but it needs to get to a certain point before anyone will
be able to see it. Because I didn’t know what finished meant, I sent it out too early.
I sent to only one agent at a time even though no one asked me for an exclusive. As
a result, I often waited many months to hear back. Finally, and this is what an author
friend of mine said: It’s not a real book until the professionals get a hold of it.
But that’s another story.
to a spotlight on Ellen in the March/April 2010
issue of WD. If you don’t have a sub to
Writer’s Digest, what are you waiting for?