How I Got My Agent

Kacey 2Wait! Before you read, head over to my Facebook Page, where you can be the first to see my brand new pen name! Give it a like to stay updated, and then come right back!

 

 

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You’ve heard the phrase “it takes a village,” right? The story of how I got my agent is the epitome of this saying.

I have been writing for over 10 years. Trying to get an agent has comprised at least 8 of those years. I’ve written over a dozen manuscripts.

What did I not do? Give up.

27833542Flashback to 2016, when a friend encouraged me to pick up Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I like to think of this day as the moment that changed my life. If you write, and we’ve ever spoken, chances are I’ve raved to you about how much I love this book. I devoured it, and then I got the best news ever: Lisa teaches a CLASS.

I signed up.

What followed were some of the best writing times I’ve had. I wrote LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY using Story Genius and continued with Author Accelerator’s book coaching program to finish it. My book coach, Julie Artz, is about the best cheerleader around. She’s the one who encouraged me to submit to Pitch Wars. PW is a contest…sort of. You pitch to mentors, who then select one writer to work with over the course of two months. They help you rework your manuscript and query letter. In the writing world, getting into Pitch Wars is like winning the lottery.

pitchwarslogo1To my shock and disbelief, I got in. Out of nearly 3,000 people. Me. Little old me. Up until this point, I’d mostly known rejection. I had a few short pieces published, but I never thought I was good enough to get into PW. Cue the crying. Through PW I met the ever-wonderful Katherine Fleet, who took me through yet another round of revisions. With my manuscript as shiny as can be, I entered the agent round with high hopes.

I had some nibbles, a few requests, but the worst part afterwards was the waiting. It took some time, but eventually I sat down and started working on a new project. In December of 2017, I participated in my first #PitMad. I had several requests from agents. More waiting. In the interim, I kept writing.

In March, I participated in my second #PitMad. More requests. More waiting.

Curious about my most successful Twitter pitch (aka the one that got me my agent)? Here it is:

Hudson has the same disease that’s killing his brother. Dying doesn’t terrify him, but the girl who interrupts his suicide does. Two strangers, a night of firsts and lasts, and one impossible decision: Is life with a deadline still worth living? #PITMAD #YA #CON #MH

Then came the fateful day. The moment of truth. In the midst of a family vacation to Florida, I received an email from an agent that said, “I’m enraptured. Please send the full.” Happily, I obliged.

30123782_10213586004022432_3280649492751187968_nThe following day was a visit to the Animal Kingdom. I visited the Pandora exhibit. I rode rides. I basked in the awesome Florida sun. Then we went on a safari, and it was actually pretty awesome. I’d been careful not to check my email, which, over the course of several rounds of querying, has become like neurosis, but when I got off the safari truck, I noticed the agent who’d requested my full had liked a tweet of mine.

Curious, no?30226478_10213586005782476_5169229033224798208_n

As I’m excitedly telling my family this, I opened my email and saw the words: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION.

She loved it. She stayed up until 2 a.m. reading. Cue more tears. I suddenly became the author I dreamed of being. The one who sends a full and gets a nearly-immediate offer of rep. I read the email aloud to my family, who looked on, eyes wide (possibly with disbelief, or maybe excitement).

Aside from the compliments she gave, my favorite part of her email was this line: I’m very excited about this manuscript Kasey (She did realize right after sending that she spelled my name wrong! Agents are people, too!!!) and what you’ll accomplish in the future, and would love to offer you representation for this and all future work. (Most exciting part: ALL FUTURE WORK.)

And this is the part where I was jumping up and down and screaming in the middle of Animal Kingdom’s Africa. The agent and I set up a call for the next day. I wandered Animal Kingdom in a fog. A joy-induced haze. I rode more rides. I think I ate something, but the details are blurry. A writer dreams of the day they’ll get the email. I’m so glad I spent it in Disney, surrounded by my family. The email couldn’t have come at a better time.

The call was great. We clicked. We talked about my writing and what I envisioned for my career. She had everything I was looking for in an agent. From the moment I spoke with her, I had this feeling of rightness. Of course, there was still some housekeeping to do with the rest of the agents who had my full: Send emails that said, I HAVE AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION, and get on the phone with the agent’s clients to talk business. (They LOVE her. This was definitely a positive sign!!)

I expected more rejections to roll in, after all, as a writer, I’m well versed in rejection. However, I ended up getting two more offers and speaking with both agents, but in the end, I went with the person who is as enraptured with my story as I am.

20180413_213641Here’s a picture of me signing my contract. Ahh!!

And that’s the story of how I ended up with Ali Herring of Spencerhill Associates, my literary agent extraordinaire.

Some history on my querying. LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY is the 5th book I’ve queried. My stats look something like this.

BOOK 1: Queried before I knew Query Tracker existed. I sent it to a handful of agents and small presses. Crickets. I don’t even think I got rejections.

BOOK 2: 9 queries, 1 partial request. All rejections/no response. 3 months.

BOOK 3: 47 queries, 2 full requests. All rejections/no response. 4 months.

BOOK 4: 63 queries, 5 full requests. All rejections/no response. 13 months.

BOOK 5: LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY 70 queries, 16 full requests, 35 rejections, 30 no response, 2 step asides because they didn’t have time to read (publishing is weird), and 3 offers of representation. 6 months.

As you can see, I got better and better with each round of queries. My writing improved, my queries improved, my success rate definitely improved. But I never would’ve made it here if I gave up after querying my first book, or my second, or my third… You see my point.

It takes a village. From Story Genius to Author Accelerator to Pitch Wars to #PitMad. And that’s not mentioning the countless manuscripts and books I’ve written. Every step brought me closer to fulfilling my dream of being an agented author. And every rejection taught me something about perseverance.

A month ago, after a slew of rejections, I was at my lowest point. This was literally the day before #PitMad when Ali liked my tweet. I cried for 4 hours and stayed up all night, a depressed mess, certain that I’d never get an agent, never be successful. The funny thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only place you can go is up.

Now, I have no illusions about publishing. I know getting an agent isn’t the golden ticket to success. I still have a long, difficult road ahead of me. But now I have a community, mentors, book coaches, and one cheerleader who I know will champion this book the way it deserves.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

 

 

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WHAT I LEARNED AT THE MICHIGAN WRITING WORKSHOP

Yesterday I attended an amazing conference hosted by Writer’s Digest featuring Chuck Sambuchino as the speaker. If you’re not familiar with Chuck’s work, YOU SHOULD BE. I’ve been using Writer’s Digest, and Chuck’s blog specifically for YEARS. You’ll find all kinds of good stuff over there about writing queries, querying agents, and even which agents are brand new and building their lists. I’ll wait while you explore.

While a lot of the conference discussed things I already knew, I did take some notes to bring back for you guys. Not only was Chuck Sambuchino awesome, I participated in “Writer’s Got Talent,” where a panel of agents read the first page of manuscripts and critiqued them. But we’ll get to that later.

Let’s talk about queries first. Everyone who’s ever queried knows how much writing a query SUCKS. As in, sucks the life out of your soul. It’s hard work choosing the right words. Agonizing, even. So while I won’t reiterate everything Chuck said (he has books for that kind of thing), I will hit on a few important points that I wrote down regarding query writing.

  1. Intro – Get in and get out quickly.
    1. Use the first sentence to give the technical details of your work. Genre, word count, title. Giving the genre first tells the agent how to feel about the query. (Don’t use a hook. Usually a hook is confusing and not explained until later anyway. Using an intro is the safest, most harmless method.)
    2. The second sentence is the reason you are contacting the agent. (Saw them at a conference, you read that they like super-secret spy thrillers on their blog, etc.) Side note—don’t say you’re contacting them because they rep BIGGEST BEST SELLING BOOK. Chuck suggests that you look farther down in their list and choose a book that wasn’t a best seller, but that the agent likely loves anyway. This will make you stand out because everyone else is using the best seller.
  2. Pitch –
    1. 3-10 sentences (Think back cover of a book.)
    2. DO NOT reveal the ending.
    3. Use specifics. Do not use language that has more than one meaning. (Don’t be vague or use cliché “suspense” tropes.)
    4. Read the back of debuts at the bookstore and see what language draws you in. Apply this to your query.
    5. Use evocative language that will “paint a picture” and help the agent know the tone of your work.
    6. Beware of subplots, extra characters, and proper names. Try to limit the number of names you use in the query, especially if they’re hard to understand (unusual, foreign, made up for sci-fi). Mention ONLY the main characters.
    7. Don’t say “My novel is…(funny, heartfelt, terrifying).” Show it within the query by using the right words to evoke a response.
    8. Some random things I wrote down –
      1. What does the character desire?
      2. What things go wrong?
      3. Layers of conflict.
      4. What happens if the character fails?
  3. Bio –
    1. Mention any serious and well-known writing groups. (SCBWI, for example.)
    2. Notable and relevant awards you’ve received. (Nothing from high school, please.)
    3. Any job where you’ve been paid to write, even if it was a long time ago. You don’t have to say it happened twenty years ago, just that you were a columnist at such and such a place.

Some DON’TS

  1. Don’t say it’s your first novel.
  2. Only pitch ONE THING at a time.
  3. Don’t mention how long it took you to write. Four weeks sounds bad. So does 10 years.
  4. Don’t use rhetorical questions. They sound silly and so do you.

The agent panel was immensely interesting and informative. Chuck read the first pages aloud and had the agents raise their hands when they would’ve stopped reading if this first page were a submission. Holy massacre! Sometimes we made it a few sentences, sometimes a few paragraphs. Very few authors had their first page read all the way to the end. This showed me that even though many of us think we’re ready to query, we’re nowhere near that final perfect submission. It also proved that agents read subjectively. Where one agent would raise their hand, another wouldn’t. Where one agent would love a particular turn of phrase, another found it cliché. (Want to know how my first page did? Ask in a comment and I’ll fess up!)

The biggest DON’TS the agents mentioned regarding the opening scene of a novel –

  1. Don’t use a phone call.
  2. Don’t have the main character waking up in the morning.
  3. Don’t use a description of the weather.
  4. Don’t use a dream.
  5. Don’t use a prologue. Some agents say ABSOLUTELY NOT to prologues. Better to be safe than sorry.

So what do you do? Put your character in the MIDDLE of an event or situation. Start with ACTION.

Later, Chuck told us not to fall victim to the TWO BIGGEST mistakes that get authors rejected. (And yes, I wrote them down for you.)

  1. The book starts too slow and is boring. (Start in the middle of something.)
  2. Too much info dump.
    1. Telling not showing.
    2. Description.
    3. Back story.
    4. Explaining the character motivation.

You want to give just enough that the reader isn’t confused because what you DON’T say is more interesting that what you DO. The unknown will keep the reader (or agent!) turning pages.

While I learned many more things from Chuck (he’s a FANTASTIC speaker), one last point really stuck out to me.

AS AN AUTHOR, SO MUCH IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTROL.

This is true about So. Many. Things. Whether an agent will like your query or first pages. Whether they’ll pass or decide to give you a call. Whether you’ll actually sell your book even if you get an agent. Edits. The cover. The first run. Even if you self-publish, you don’t know if readers will like your story.

The most important thing you can do is WRITE THE BEST THING YOU CAN. (And be patient.)

All the best,

Kacey