Monday, December 5, 2011

How I Landed an Agent

Well, there was this guy...

Actually let me backtrack, because this is a pretty unconventional agent story and it requires some backstory.

When I was in high school, I fancied I was writing the Next Great American Novel. It was about three wealthy families with intertwined lives and the careless way they moved through life and left people and things broken behind them. It's was F Scott Fitzgerald inspired (poor guy he probably rolled over in his grave a few times) and it was unfinished at the time I went to a writing conference. Since I knew nothing about the industry, I went to this writing conference and signed up to pitch agents.

It did not go well.

At all.

For a lot of reasons. I was a painfully shy teenager (I swear I made it through sophomore year of high school and uttered under 10 words). I didn't know how to pitch a book. I was overwhelmed and unprepared and overly sensitive.

I'm also relatively sure the agent I sat down with was having a really bad day.

I left the pitch appointment in tears, left the conference without going to anything else, and went home. And in a way, I quit. I decided I would write for me because I loved it, and the publishing industry--and agents--just wasn't for me. (did I already explain I was overly sensitive and more than a little melodramatic?) There were plenty of other things I loved do

Fast forward 10 years and there was this guy...

This guy specifically.

The insanely talented Brooks Sherman is a friend of mine, and he'd just moved from working for a theater company to a literary agency. And (shockingly!) he really seemed to like his agency, enough that he was hoping to somehow weasel his way from intern to assistant there.

He was also part of a writing workshop of six people who got together once every two Thursdays and critiqued each other's work. When we were Christmas shopping last year, he mentioned someone was leaving the workshop and they were looking for another member. Because he knew I dabbled in writing sometimes, he encouraged me to join.

Because I don't easily say NO (it's harder than I think it should be) I said "of course I'll do it" (and then later I tried to think of ways to back out and failed).

At this point I had abandoned my attempts at copying F Scott. I'd written fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and was currently writing thrillers. But I never let anyone read anything. I saved manuscripts in different folders on my laptop and revised them sometimes when I was inspired or bored. I wrote a lot, but then I did the equivalent of shoving that writing into a drawer and just moving on to something else.

Which meant before the first workshop meeting, I was terrified. I emailed the first twenty pages of my current thriller to the group, felt a little like I might throw up, and then I tried to forget about it.

The first meeting and even subsequent ones were nerve wracking. I hadn't had anyone look at my writing since high school for a reason. Writing is extremely personal, it's something much bigger than just words on a page. I didn't know how to talk about it or how to listen to other people talk about it. But after the first meeting, I was beyond glad that I decided to do it. Writing might be solitary when it comes to first drafts, but it takes a lot of other people to make a manuscript take shape into a book.

Brooks and the people in the workshop were able to give me two huge things I needed. 1. Insight and fresh eyes that could spot plot holes and character flaws and 2. Confidence.

Because after a few workshop sessions, Brooks sang my manuscript's praises and swore it was something he would pick out of the slush pile. I took his edits (which were INVALUABLE) and thought about rethinking my attitude towards my own writing.

But then he talked about the manuscript at FinePrint's office and one of the agents said "tell her I want to see it."

Which is how I found myself emailing Janet Reid.

From there it was a whirlwind. Janet is as amazing, knowledgeable, funny, and as all around spectacular as Brooks said--and as she appears online. (Though I didn't know anything about her online presence before I met her). She reads fast and she talks even faster. She's so charming on the phone she manages to make me feel less awkward.

So far she's made me laugh a lot. And she's only made me cry once and that was later when she told me we had an offer on my book, so good tears.

And Brooks, the guy I owe a big thank you...he is an assistant at FinePrint now, and he's looking for his own projects now.

First published on 7/18/2011, this post in its original form can be seen on Brave New Words.


Petra @ Safari Poet said...

I think I said about 10 words a year in school as well. Extremely shy (still am) and also very sensitive (still am). On days with presentations I would always suddenly be sick. Didn't always work :-|

Happy to know everything worked out for you :-)

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