Writer Porn* (or Finding my Dream Agent)

March 31, 2009 at 3:04 PM | Posted in Publishing | 10 Comments
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I remember my first full rejection vividly. It slithered into my inbox at 3:48 on a Wednesday afternoon, making me drop my pencil halfway through my Spanish homework. I read it quickly, got a glass of water, and read it again. It didn’t sting any less the second time.

Exactly two weeks later, I received my first offer of representation.

This may seem like an odd way to begin a story about getting an agent. You’re probably skimming past this section, looking for the part of the post where I giggle like a schoolgirl and tell you how amazing it felt to talk with my agent on the phone for the first time. Well, I’ll get to that, but first there are some things you should know.

Querying is a painful process. Anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t been doing it long enough or has achieved a Buddha-like Zen that we mere mortals can hardly imagine. I tell you this not to discourage you, but because I wish someone had told me. Back in November, when I was just learning about what an agent does and how to write a query letter, I kept running into agent success stories where the author had magically obtained representation with little or no difficulty. Later I wondered, “If it was so easy for them, what am I doing wrong?”

In reality, querying is a lot of hard work with no guarantee of success. If you query widely – and you should, planning to target up to 100 agents who represent your genre – you will receive many, many rejections. One unlucky Monday, I received eight query rejections in the space of a few hours. If this happens to you, don’t panic (but if you are getting less than a 10% request rate, you may want to take another look at your query letter). Send out another query (this is called “revenge querying,” and I believe it was elemental to my success). If you’re anything like me, you will experience moments of doubt – about your story, about your writing ability, and even about your sanity. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like this from time to time as long as you don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed. Persistence is key.

Just over three months passed between the day I sent my first query letter and the day I received the best email of my life. The night before, my dad and I made a bet about whether anything good would happen to me that week. When I checked my email at lunch, the first thing I saw was a message from him saying, “You owe me $100!” The next thing I saw was the email containing the offer. I immediately began to scream and jump up and down, startling the other high school students in the computer lab, who probably thought I was having a heart attack. The agent (actually, agents – my book is being co-agented by two agents at the same agency) wanted to talk to me and my parents that afternoon (as an aside, I included the fact that I am a teen in my queries, both in the interest of honesty and because I have writing credits in teen-related venues). We set up a conference call at 4.

Since I’m not that great at speaking on the phone to begin with, I was more or less terrified. After querying agents for so long, it’s difficult not to build them up in your mind as a group of supernatural beings. But really, agents are just people – generally very nice, book loving people who make careers out of helping writers. The call went much more smoothly than I expected. They expressed their excitement about my novel, walked me and my parents through the publication process and an agent’s role in it, and shared some initial ideas for revisions to polish up the manuscript before sending it out to editors.

Though I pretty much fell in love with the agents and was ready to sign the contract then and there, I knew it was only professional to notify the other agents with fulls and partials before committing to anything. Within a week, I received a second offer of representation. Despite my initial confidence that I had already found the perfect agency, I found myself connecting with the second agent and her vision for my book during our call, and realized that I had a difficult decision in front of me.

As arduous as the months of querying had been, choosing between two fabulous agents was probably the most challenging part of my journey to representation. After talking with my parents and spending many hours going over the pros and cons of each agency in my head, I decided to accept the first agency’s offer. The agents had really impressed me with the creativity and passion of their plans for my career and suggestions for improving my novel – and the fact that they represent an author I greatly admire didn’t hurt, either.

The story doesn’t end here. I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of an agent-writer relationship as I work on revisions for my agents, and I know I still have a lot to learn. But hopefully I’ve helped to allay some of your fears about the querying process by showing you that teen writers with no “inside connections” can and do get agents. If you take away nothing else from my story, remember this: querying is agonizing, but you can succeed if you are persistent, and success is more than worth the effort. Please feel free to leave questions in the comments section, and I will do my best to respond!

– DK

*It’s been said that agent success stories are like porn for aspiring writers – thus the title of this post. No nude pictures were actually involved.

ETA: Emilia suggested I share my query letter with you, so here it is. I always included at least a couple pages of my novel with my query letter, so I’m not sure how good it is, but…ah, just read it and make up your own mind.

Dear (Agent’s Name):

Nate Varoski has lived his entire life in darkness. He’s a fifteen-year-old human-bird hybrid training with the Nightsider military to become an ambassador to the Kingdom of Day. But diplomacy is about to be forgotten: the Nightside is becoming dangerously light, and his superiors are convinced the Daylings are to blame.

Nate is not so sure. When his brother is mistakenly accused of starting a riot in the capital and his mother and sister are kidnapped by hired shapeshifters, he stumbles upon a secret that threatens to destroy everything he knows. The Shadowstone that keeps the kingdoms separate is breaking – or being broken. Without it, the sun will rise on the Nightside, killing every creature that depends on the darkness, including Nate himself. Armed with a stolen lightshield charm, a dagger as eager to hurt its wielder as his adversaries, and a budding form of dark magic he doesn’t know how to control, Nate must venture into the Twilightlands between the kingdoms to repair the Shadowstone before war breaks out and his family is lost forever.

He’s not the only one with problems. Rebels have overrun the Palace of Day, and Prince Milo barely escapes with the help of a talking panther who seems to hold a grudge against him even though they’ve just met. Iyroria, once an oasis in the barren Twilightlander plains, has fallen under a curse that turns all of its adults into monsters. Laura, the oldest child in the village, struggles to maintain order. Both will have to help Nate if he is to succeed in repairing the Shadowstone – but even if they can overcome their contempt for each other, there are creatures in the Twilightlands that are tired of living in the shadows and will stop at nothing to keep them from achieving their goal.

“The Twilightlands” is a 125,000 word young adult fantasy novel. (Insert writing credits and contact information here). Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
DK’s full name
(mailing address here)

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10 Comments »

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  1. YAY DK!!! *parties*

    Can’t wait to buy your book in B&N in a couple years! :D Although you did steal my thunder – I started a blog series about agents and queries. *glare* Lol.

  2. Thanks, Kristin, and sorry for stealing your blog idea. Though, to be honest, it’s not entirely my fault – I was bribed – I mean threatened – I mean politely asked to do it! :P

    • Haha, good point – good point. Oh, don’t forget to add yourself to “The Writers” page! :)

      Congrats again!

  3. Don’t worry, Kristin, you can write your competing agent success post in a few weeks ;D

    DK – once again, congrats. And great post. Maybe you could stick your query letter at the end of your post, for “ooh, aah” purposes! I’ve already asked my questions, but… what amazing thing happened to your dad that made him think he won the bet? haha!

  4. Congrats, DK! <3 That’s so awesome. I’m nowhere near the querying stage, but even the thought of agents makes me quiver in fear. Thanks for sharing your success story!

  5. Ok, Emilia, I added it. I was worried that the post was getting way too long, but I guess no one’s forcing people to read the whole thing. And to clarify, my dad had actually gone into my email account because he “had a feeling” that there was something good in there. I bet that something bad would happen. Ha ha, my powers of pessimism failed.

  6. Wooooo – I’m still so excited for you. I’m confused though, did you get your first offer 2 weeks after first querying or 3 months after? Either way – still amazing. Good luck on the edits and then submission to publishers! You go, Dk!

    • Thanks, Chanelley! I got my first offer a little over 3 months after I started querying (and, you know, got lots and lots of query rejections) and two weeks after my full manuscript was rejected by an agent for the first time (I think she had had it since January). I WISH the whole process had only taken two weeks! :P

  7. Wow, that’s wonderful! Congratulations – you’re well on your way now :)

  8. A few years? How long does it actually take once you have a publishing company to get published?


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