How I Got an Agent: the (Really, Really) Long Story

If you haven’t heard yet, I just signed with literary agent Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency!

I know that some of you are curious about how this all came about, and for you, I’ve decided to write out a more detailed account here.  This might be boring to those of you who aren’t writers, but here goes!

LIGHTS ALL AROUND

My journey toward agent representation actually began about six years ago.  I spent four years working on a novel about OCD; I began that as a poet and somewhere along the way became a novelist.  I poured my heart and soul into that manuscript, and it was/is very near to my heart because it was my first novel and because it is a fictionalized version of my own battle against obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I actually started writing that story before I even started cognitive-behavioral therapy!  So writing some of those scenes were very difficult, visceral, heart-wrenching experiences.  When I felt the manuscript was ready (which makes me laugh now– it’s quite unpolished, and though that can be embarrassing, I wrote it for obsessive-compulsives so you can read it here), I started to research agents.

This can take a long time.  I started with The Guide to Literary Agents, making a note when an agency repped my kind of book, then going to each agency’s website to learn about each agent and then creating a spreadsheet of agents who might be a good fit.  Meanwhile, I was working on a query letter, which is very different writing from novel writing.

When I first queried agents back at the beginning of 2012, it took weeks before I heard back from anyone.  In the end, one agent requested my manuscript, read it and liked it and requested revisions before she’d look at it again.

But let’s be honest: I was completely burnt out on that story.  I’d spent four years writing it– and 20 years living it.  I told the agent that I needed to set it aside for a few months and work on something different.

I never went back to it.

TRUEST

Instead, I started writing another adult novel.  Right around this same time, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was first released.  I read it, fell in love with his characters (especially Augustus Waters), and when I finished it, I wept for two reasons: the story itself and the fact that I didn’t write it.

After that, I scrapped my adult manuscript (50 pages in) and started over.  It occurred to me that young adult fiction was my favorite, and yet I wasn’t writing it (what was up with that?) and that I wanted to start my story with a character I could love as much as I adored Augustus Waters.  So I created Silas Hart.

I gave myself six months to write the first draft and finished it right on schedule.  It was a really bad first draft by most standards– and yet, compared to the first draft of my earlier novel, it looked pristine.  (Ha!)  Through the advice of several friends– but especially Kristin Luehr— I was able to point the story in the right direction.  I worked hard on a new draft of it and determined that my new year’s resolution would be to put more money into my writing.  So I hired a local editor who helped me restructure the novel.  I did a complete frenetic revision in only six weeks so that I would be ready to take the manuscript to the Big Sur Writing Workshop in California in March.  While I was there, I met some amazing writers, agents, and editors– and made even more big changes to my manuscript.  After another post-California revision, I hired the local editor for line edits, after which, I pronounced the novel complete (for the time being).

I had in the meantime been compiling a whole new list of agents (as this manuscript was YA and the former one was adult, I needed to start over from scratch).  I made a three-tiered list of 100 agents to query, ready to attack this querying process again.  I also worked and re-worked my query letter, putting a lot of research into successful queries, changing my mind about various things, and then finally taking my friend Elyse‘s wise advice, which I believe was the lynchpin to a successful querying experience.  (Thanks Elyse!)

(And yes, in case you’re wondering, I pretty much worked like a draft horse this whole entire time– writing every single day, slaving away over the keyboard, discussing my manuscript concerns with my long-suffering friends [thanks, Cindy, et al!], thinking constantly about my characters, jotting notes about scenes and ideas, weeping when I got them into situations from which I couldn’t see the way out [again, Kristin Luehr to the rescue!], leaving no stone unturned in my search for literary agents.  I probably only took the tiniest handful of days off over those 19 months.)

QUERYING

I queried my top tier of agents on July 11th and was shocked when I heard back from over a dozen people requesting partials and fulls.  It was very evident that this time was a far cry from the querying I had done just a year and a half earlier.

My friend and fellow writing group member Addie (who has a book coming out in October and so is many, many steps ahead of me in the process) mentioned something to me about the emotional rollercoaster of querying, and I wasn’t sure quite what she meant.  That’s because I hadn’t started getting the rejections yet.

The most emotional moment for me came one weekend when an agent remarked, “I’m captivated by what I’ve read thus far and I’d love to see more! Could you please send the full manuscript in a Word document (.doc)? I can’t wait to keep reading your work.”  Somehow, I knew– just knew— that she was going to say no and that it was going to hurt worse because of how eager her email sounded.  I cried like a baby that weekend, prayed a TON, and eventually returned to the manuscript for more revisions (even before I got her rejection, which came the next week).

Some of the comments I got from agents who ultimately rejected the manuscript:

“I think you have a very interesting and unique writing style, which drew me to your work.”

“I think you’re a strong writer.”

“I do like your idea and writing.”

And from the agent I worked most closely with at the Big Sur workshop:

“I came away from Big Sur so impressed by you, certain that you have the authorial (and editorial) eye, the professionalism, and the charming/witty personality to be incredibly successful in this industry. And now that I’ve had a chance to read your work, I’m even more impressed and even more certain. You are a truly talented writer, with a masterful command of language and of your characters. You make it look effortless, like the best of the best do. All of your characters are fully round and compelling, and your depiction of small town teen life is vivid and fully engaging.

“I get lost in your writing in the best way, and I believe TRUEST is about something (which I mean as high praise).   I will be first in line to buy my copy of TRUEST.”

exhausted2

But Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency loved it.

“I like smart kids,” he told me when I talked to him on the phone earlier this week.  “I’m not so interested in prom night as I am in teenagers exploring questions of spirituality and philosophy.”  (Okay, he said something close to that– I was a little nervous on the phone!)  I find it fascinating (and, I hope, indicative of the far-reaches of the story) that Steven himself is not religious and yet was drawn to these characters who are exploring spirituality.

The contract arrived in the mail yesterday.  I couldn’t be more excited to be represented by the Chudney Agency!

(So, there’s the long story.  I know … so long … but this is essentially the last six years of my life wrapped up into one blog post!)

Now … I just need a book deal!!!

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “How I Got an Agent: the (Really, Really) Long Story

  1. Pingback: Post-NaNoWriMo Resources | Ashley Brooks Editorial Services

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s