Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finding The One: An Agent Story

Today is the first guest post in what's turning out to be an interesting series about agents, publishing, and being published. Please welcome our first guest blogger; Karen Duvall! 

It's not easy getting an agent. Did you know literary agents reject 99% of all the queries they receive? That's an average so it doesn't reflect every single agent out there, but comes pretty darn close. In fact, many writers believe it's easier to find a publisher than it is to land an agent, and they could be right.

I just landed an agent in May, and I feel pretty fortunate. I've been writing seriously for a number of years and this is agent number three. Why didn't I stick with my first one? That's a story that begs telling and if you're doing an agent search of your own, maybe you'll learn something from my experiences.

Agent number one was a wonderful person. She was referred to me by another agent I'd queried who thought we'd be a good fit. She was right. I'd written a women's fiction novel that was semi autobiographical and it fit this new agent to a T. She'd just graduated from a literary agent program in New York and was actively building her client list. We got along great, talked on the phone a lot, exchanged letters (this was before email had become popular), and things were looking good.

She tried so hard to sell that book. I even rewrote it in a different POV because it seemed to be lacking something, but neither of us knew what it was. That should have been the first warning flag. The blind leading the blind. Not good.

So after two years of publisher rejections, agent number one bid me farewell and went on to build a successful career representing nonfiction. I can't help but think I might have been responsible for her decision to set fiction aside. Looking back, it wasn't a well-written book. The premise was good, but the writing? Not so much. I've grown as a writer since then.

Then I explored a new genre I was very excited about. Paranormal mystery. Yes! That was my ticket to solid representation and subsequent publication. I attracted interest from an excellent agent who had been an editor for Berkley, but after nine months of working together on revisions, she ultimately passed because she thought the book wasn't suspenseful enough. So I set out once again on the great agent safari, but there was little interest in my Big Chill meets Nancy Drew manuscript set in Hawaii. Then I got a nibble. And when he offered to represent my book, I said yes.

Big mistake. I should have checked him out better, but he was a lawyer! It was good to have a lawyer for an agent, right? Wrong. I don't mean the lawyer part, which may or may not mean anything. This guy simply didn't know what he was doing. His wife was a librarian and maybe he figured that's all he needed when it came to selling books to publishers. He's out of business now (thank God), but his approach was kind of like throwing spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks. His attempts to sell my book never stuck. Not only that, he charged for postage and photocopies. I should have known better, but I had my eyes set so firmly on the prize that I didn't think it through. Always check out an agent thoroughly before signing a contract. That was a year out of my book's life that I'll never get back.

So what ever happened to that manuscript? Nothing. I decided to set it aside for the time being. In fact, I'm seriously thinking about repurposing it for YA. It's a treasure hunt story that would be perfect for that market. For now, it resides in the deepest recesses of my hard drive.

Onward and upward. I'd learned from my mistakes. And I'd learned from the manuscripts that tanked after being represented by two different agents, one good and the other not so much. Despite the set-backs, I managed to sell two other unrelated manuscripts to publishers on my own. Both small presses, one traditional and the other an e-pub, but the experience added to my arsenal of knowledge about the industry. I was ready for the next step.

So I wrote book number six, an urban fantasy, a story I was so in love with I could hardly believe my luck. I knew that if I couldn't land a decent agent with this one, I'd move on without settling for less. I was fully prepared to set the manuscript aside if I couldn't find the interest it deserved.

So I sent out my queries. About ten at a time. I had a few good responses, and that encouraged me, but other than some partial requests, no offers were forthcoming. It took a couple of months before I got my first request for the full manuscript. Then another. And another. Within two weeks, I had seven full manuscript requests and I took this as a very good sign.

A month later, when Elizabeth Winick of McIntosh and Otis offered representation, I accepted. There were still four outstanding fulls, but I had no trouble making my decision to go with Elizabeth after we talked at length on the phone. She knew her stuff, was vice president of one of the oldest literary agencies in New York, the same agency that represents John Steinbeck's estate. No way would I pass up this opportunity.

We went through a couple rounds of revisions that I believe strengthened the manuscript, and about a month ago, Elizabeth began submitting my manuscript to publishers. Words can't express how wonderful it is to have a reputable agent on your side. I'm now working on my next project, fully confident my agent will do her job. No news yet on the manuscript making the rounds, but I'm hopeful. Wish us luck!

Karen Duvall writes a mix of urban fantasy, YA, and paranormal romance. Her novels "Project Resurrection" and "Desert Guardian," have both been published by small press. Her current novel, "Knight's Curse," was a finalist in the PASIC Book Of Your Heart contest. You can read more about Karen's publishing journey on her blog.  

Other agent resources: 

Writers Beware

Preditors and Editors 

Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent


Anonymous said...

That story scared the pants off me!

But was also inspiring. Thank you, Karen. And I am so happy for you!

Creative A said...

Lol. :P me too!

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