How I Found a Literary Agent - Part 1

Whether you're at the beginning stages of writing your novel, whether you've been at it for years, or whether you're already in the process of looking at publishing optionsat some point in time you'll come across this startling reality: publishing houses are pretty much closed to queries. Unless you have a partner, that is. The literary agent. This comes as news to most writers, the crafters of drama, creators of new universes, dreamers of romance stories. They've spent all this time writing and now they have to find an agent before they can send their work to publishers? What??? Since I scoured through most writing sites and authors' pages for blog posts on how they found their magnificent other (aka their agent) I thought I'd tell you my story.

After much of the afore-mentioned scouring of the internet, I found sound advice that I should first find books I thought were similar to mine, research who the author's agent was, and put them on my 'dream list' of agents. I also learned that I should research agencies and agents via literary agent websites to see who best represents my type of fiction. I did just that. I looked in the acknowledgements sections of books, then I discovered a nifty website querytracker.net which allowed me to streamline this process. Mind you, I did all this way before my novel was finished. Sometime between running the business, driving my girls up and down a mountain to school and after-school activities, being a wife and mom and finishing the novel, I researched a gazillion more literary agencies.

I zeroed in on three agents. Yes. Three.

Literary Agent Speed Dating

The second writers conference I attended was the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference. Two of my top three dream agents would be there, and I knew, that if they only had a chance to see my pages, they'd immediately represent me, sell my novel, I'd work with a fabulous editor at the publishing house, and I'd be on my way to the New York Times Bestseller List. I booked a room, made it a special weekend (sent the kids to grandma and grandpa's, asked my hubby to join me for the weekend (it was Valentine's Day)) and signed up for a pitch session called 'Agent Speed Dating.' Since I'd already been married for over a decade, speed dating didn't sound appealing, but I'm not one to shy away from a new experience.

That morning I spent so much time preparing my pitch that I missed breakfast and the conference's morning sessions. I'd given presentations to some of the best scientists in the world, but pitching my novel to these agents was absolutely terrifying. Still, I drafted my pitch, targeted several agents, put on an extra layer of deodorant, and went to the pitch session.

As I neared the entrance of the hotel one of the two agents I'd targeted was rolling his suitcase down the hill. I thought of stopping him, telling him he had to hear my pitch, that I was there to see him and he would miss out on my novel, but alas, reasoning won out and I smiled as we passed - I let him continue on with his life. I breathed heavily as I climbed the hill to The Mark Hopkins in my high heels, pissed that he left before the session was over, wished I'd brought the deodorant with me, and got to the lobby. There were approximately 1,587 people in line ahead of me. Okay. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it was close. Once in 'the room,' I had to figure out where each agent was located, and who to run to first. Unfortunately, all of the agents I wanted to talk to had a line up of about a dozen people, and we had to keep our pitches to two minutes. I calculated, being as bright as I was at the moment: 2 x 12 = no time to talk to agents. Gaaa! So I went to the ones that had the fewest people lined up.

how i found a literary agent

The first pitch was a bitch. I barely got any words out. I'm quite sure I spoke a mix of Polish/Dutch/French and English (Putfrish) but I got through it.

At table #2, a very sweet agent told me that the book was not for him. He recommended the agent that left. I thanked him with a tight smile, made him feel like he was really smart, and moved on.

At table #3 sat a great agent from Writer's House (a literary agency made famous by Stephanie Meyer's blog post on how she got an agent, I'm sure.) I made my way to the front of the line. I started to speak, he put his hand up and said, "Don't talk. Show me your first page." (It's a bit like going on a blind date and they want to see you undressed before you talk... a bit uncomfortable.) With trembling fingers I opened the laptop but couldn't get Scrivener to load. Then the page scrolled up when I scrolled down (new feature.) He read two sentences and said, "Not for me." I asked why, and he said, "It just isn't." He smiled, though his eyes said, "If you ask me again, I'm going to kick your shin," then offered to help me with my scrolling option on my new MacBook Air (the one that would help me write the bestselling novel.) He was very nice. I'll always think fondly of that date.

I tried to keep my spirits up as I went to three other tables. A couple of the agents asked to send me the work. I kept their cards in my binder. They didn't represent work like mine and I doubted it would be a good fit. I decided to finish writing the novel (did I mention I was only 3/4 of the way done?) before I pitched again.

This blog post is much longer than I expected, so I'm breaking it into a 2 Part Series... Stay tuned!