How I Found a Literary Agent - Part 2

How I found a literary agent

My second attempt at pitching Learning to Fall came a year later, when I attended the Maui Writers Conference. My husband and I made it a mini-getaway. Frankly we only got in the ocean once during the whole trip since I was too busy with the conference. There were two wonderful people I met there: my now good friend Amy, and an agent who requested my novel on an exclusive basis. The agent was from a fantastic agency, represented beautiful novels, and was very excited about mine. I came home from Maui with no tan, but felt that the rest of my life was about to begin.

I waited a week. Then two. Then three. A month later the response came in: she liked it, but not enough, and told me if I revised, she'd be happy to read it again. I revised and decided to cold-query some other agents I'd added to my list of three (I was casting my net wider...)

I cold queried six agents between a Thursday and a Saturday in March, and by Monday I had an agent ask to read it. On Tuesday I had a top literary ask if she could have exclusivity and read the full manuscript. I told her it was out with another agent, but I was happy to share it. She responded shortly after asking for a conversation the next day. We talked for an hour - she thought my writing held promise, was excited to work with me, and thought she could sell the novel because she'd represented an author with a similar book - but I'd have to make revisions. She gave me some ideas of what I needed to work on, suggested a couple of additional books on writing, and told me she'd love to represent me. I emailed an agent who'd asked to read it, giving her a chance at representation. She passed and I signed the contract with first choice agent.

I was in heaven. I read more books on writing, took more classes, edited and revised. I sent the ms off by May. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I didn't hear back until the end of July. The book was improved, but still not there. To say my heart sank is a bit cliché - but it kind of did. She suggested more revisions, and I listened, took notes, but wasn't sure how to make it better. Two and a half months later I went to a fabulous writers retreat in the Bahamas, where I work shopped with talented authors; learned from incredible agents and editors; and regained stamina to finish my novel.

Shortly after the retreat I went for two weeks to Whidbey Island - alone - and worked on the novel. I ripped it apart, took all the advice I'd been given by my agent, complete with the writing classes I'd been taking and everything I'd learned in Salt Cay, and tried to apply it. It was hell. I was alone, and should have had plenty of energy, but I was used to a chaotic, on-the-go lifestyle filled with family, pets, horses, a business. I was lonely and frustrated. I did come home with most of the next draft finished. I sent to beta readers and an author for feedback. Then I revised some more.

By early January I was ready to resend to my agent. The wait began again - but not for long! She loved the changes I had made (she'd read the first half)! I waited a few more weeks and didn't hear a word. I contacted her. She had almost finished reading the novel. She loved it! She thought it could be a great novel!!!

But it wasn't ready.

I cried for a bit - likely threw myself on the ground and screamed - or at least I wanted to. Then I did the only thing that made sense: I dug back in and revised. I got help from an author and revised again. I sent it back to the agent in March. She had a couple of notes, and said she'd send on submission to publishers! I celebrated! My parents cheered! My husband said he knew I could do it! This was it! The work had paid off! I would finally get the novel out to publishers!

Mid-March came. Then April. Then May. Then June. No word. I contacted her and she finally responded. She had lost an assistant. Things had changed at the agency. She just didn't have time for a debut author.

I think I drank too much that night - and for several nights afterward. Out of desperation I sent the book out to a couple of agents I knew, and they promptly turned it down - said it wasn't for them. I renewed my license for and took a long look at my list. I sent off eight cold-queries and had a decent response: four agents wanted to read the full manuscript.

Of those four agents, two said they'd read it again if I revised. Two turned it down. One of them was Kevan Lyon, of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So I stepped back, and I thought about the novel...I had a decision to make: to revise (again!!) or to keep sending it out hoping someone would represent me. I decided to hire an editor instead. I got in touch with wonderful Heather Lazare, who'd worked at Simon & Schuster's Touchstone imprint as an editor before she turned to freelance editing. She was excited about the novel and about working with me. We set a date. 

By the end of September I had the novel back and boy...did it need some work. Heather was thorough. She tore into it and made sure every single thread, every single detail, every single story line and character and plot thread were followed through on. I was thrilled, but at this point I wasn't seeing the carrot at the end of the stick. Only rejection. I didn't feel there'd be any point. But Heather got on the phone with me and talked me through and encouraged me and told me it looked worse than it was. So I re-opened the file and, with her notes, started editing. Most of it was fine-tuning, dusting, repositioning, adding an extra bit of gloss, realigning. The funny thing was, I knew the ms needed it, but I thought I'd do that with an editor at a publishing house. I thought I'd get to it all once I was aligned with a 'partner' who would help me figure out the final details and the direction we wanted the novel to go. I realized that if I wanted a chance at publishing, it was in my hands. Heather told me that it was unlikely it would sell unless it was polished until it gleamed. Until barely a comma was out of place. I resent the novel to Heather in December for feedback: to make sure I had done the work. She told me it was ready.

In January I sent the manuscript back to my old agent (who, when I told her I'd revised, was very excited to get it back on an exclusive.) She was a big agent, loved the story, had worked with me, and I really wanted to work with her. I gave her exclusivity for two weeks. Those two weeks slowly dragged into eight. I gave up. I had wanted to make it work with her, but like a relationship, it was becoming clear that it just wasn't meant to be. So I sent an option to three other agents (two who had asked to see it if I revised and one I'd always loved.) Kevan Lyon responded within an hour, saying she remembered the story well and would read it again. She asked for an exclusive. Heather and I consulted and she agreed that Kevan was a phenomenal agent: kind, courteous, and quick to respond. Heather thought she'd be a wonderful match for me. I agreed to the exclusivity.

A week later, Kevan emailed asking me if we could talk. I wasn't ready for another rejection but I scheduled the call. Kevan and I clicked immediately. She was kind, generous with her feedback, immediately went on to tell me what her agency could do for me, how they worked, all the details anyone ever recommends asking an agent about. We got on right away. She was a kindred spirits. I said I would love to work with her!

How I found my agent

And that is how I found my agent - who is all kinds of wonderful.

So, even though it may seem tough, you have to keep trying. Most importantly, you have to be open to advice, keep improving, keep learning. (Oh, and maybe hire a good editor :) )

Cheers, and never give up!