Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Agent Post

Okay, this is a little late, like TWO YEARS late. Oops :) But still, my agent story is kind of cool so here goes:

My first manuscript was a contemporary friendship/problem book with a compelling voice but a weak plot. I never queried it (probably because I knew it wasn’t good enough) but I took it to a local conference once. The agent there liked my first five pages and asked me to sub to her. I did. She rejected my full. I didn’t sub it anywhere else.

Instead, I started on a second book—an awesome dystopian thriller. (I know, I know, too many dystopians, but I wrote this in early 2010). This one I took all the way to Oregon, to the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers’ Workshop. I probably dropped close to two thousand bucks when you added in the conference fees, airfare, car, and hotel, but I had decided to get serious about writing and I knew Jennifer Laughran, one of the Andrea Brown agents, was going to be there. I wanted to write YA and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency is a major player in kidlit, so why not aim high, right? Even if Jenn hated my 5-page submission and the conference wasn’t helpful, I would still get to spend a week at the AMAZING Oregon Coast. Total win.

Total win.

As I was driving from Portland to Oceanside, I could sense the Pacific growing closer. I was overtaken by this weird sort of mystical “Good things are going to happen to me here” vibe. I accelerated unconsciously, in a hurry to get there, desperate to see the ocean. But all I saw were flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. Oops. The cop wrote me a ticket for what felt like a trillion dollars. It was so high he said I had to appear in Tillamook Court. Problem, you know, since I lived 2000 miles away. FYI, “I was in a hurry to see the ocean” is not a good enough excuse for a cop--not at my age, anyway :)

So that whole “good things” vibe had kind of worn off by the time I finally made it to the conference. But then I met author April Henry right away and she told me she had loved my submission. And then I heard Jennifer Laughran speak and she made me laugh, but kinda scared the crap out of me too. (Somewhere she's furrowing her brow and going: “Scary? I don’t think I’m scary at all!”) I find her much less scary now, but she has this commanding presence, and that combined with her straightforwardness was kind of terrifying for a newbie at her first major conference. Like “Oh jeez, if she doesn’t like my first page, she’s not just going to shake her head and say “Keep working.” She’s going to enthusiastically explain to the whole room why it doesn’t work. Which, you know, is the whole point of anonymous first-page critiques—everyone learns from everyone and no one is called out. But still…yikes. Dude. I am glad I am desensitized to criticism now. Mostly :)

But I worried for nothing because the whole class loved my first page so much that they freaking clapped after the workshop organizer finished reading it. [Sidenote: things like this do not happen to me. Speeding tickets--yes. A room full of strangers clapping--no not so much.] Jenn said “This person should query me.” and now you’re thinking: Holy crickets! Agent fairytale story! Not quite. A couple of months later, Jenn read my full manuscript and passed on it. But she sent me awesome feedback about what worked and what didn’t, and once again I didn’t query anyone else. Because she was right.

You know how sometimes you’re thinking “ugh, that character/plot point/ending just isn’t working” and you hope you’re paranoid so you send it off to beta-readers and cross your fingers they’ll love it, but they all confirm your suspicions? And then instead of being upset you’re kind of relieved? It was like that. I knew the first half of my manuscript was awesome. I very much suspected the second half was not awesome. And while I still love the crux of the story and might use parts of it for a book someday, at the time I didn’t know how to fix it.

How can you not speed on the way to someplace so gorgeous?

So I focused on work-for-hire for a couple of months, writing the Venom proposal for Paper Lantern Lit. After Venom sold, I started working on the rest of the book and also started a third book of my own, which became The Art of Lainey. I wrote it concurrently with Venom, often working on both manuscripts in the same day. When people ask me now about switching from historical to contemporary, that isn’t how I see it. There was no switch. I was always writing contemporary. The historical just sold on proposal through Paper Lantern's agent and got published first. I’ve never worked solely on one project at a time. I sometimes envy people who can do that, but I suspect they’re making more money than I am ;)

I queried Jenn like a proper query bunny and then sent her The Art of Lainey. We had kept in sporadic contact since she rejected me and it had been roughly a year. In that time I had followed her blog and twitter and I really liked her style. She was bold, blunt, a no bullshit kind of girl. She was an Agent Tiger. When it came to publishing, I am was kind of a baby kitten. But I guess this time I knew what I had written might be good enough, because I queried other agents too. 

Jenn read first and offered first—“I LOVED it. I laughed. I cried. I went squee,” she wrote. 
I was so excited because I knew she was “the one” for me. But still, picking an agent is a big deal, and I wanted to take it seriously and listen to what others had to say and make an informed decision and all that jazz. 

But in the end, it was Jenn, and I could not be happier :)


  1. Very cool story!! So glad it worked out!

    1. Thanks, and me too :) It's one of those moments in my life where I decided what I wanted, went after it, worked hard, and achieved it. I should probably do that more often :)

  2. Great story! :)

    I totally get what you're saying about beta-readers confirming your suspicions. After experiencing that a couple times, I'm finally learning to trust my gut. The gut knows...

    1. Yeah. I was disappointed that she passed on the first MS, but I wasn't surprised. Deep in my gut, I knew the storyline had major problems. The good thing about being to trust your gut, though, is that eventually your gut will shout "You've done it! This--this is magnificent." And hopefully you can trust it then too :)

    2. PS - IMHO, needing to see the ocean is a completely legitimate reason for speeding. ;)


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