How I Landed a Literary Agent

Oct 7, 2011Write!

I spent over ten years writing in obscurity while my children were young. During that time I created newsletters and short stories, always forcing deadlines on myself—and then meeting them early. When my youngest child started preschool, I dusted off my dream of writing a novel, completing it in four months. I also became a newspaper columnist and found success in writing for national magazines. I attended a small, regional writers conference, then packed my bags for a major (400+ writers) writing conference in the spring of 2003.On the plane, my writing friend asked me what I hoped to accomplish there. I said something about finding a publisher.

“Don’t you want an agent?”

“Are they really that important?” I asked.

She shook her head, then explained why I needed one.
We arrived in the wooded hills above San Jose, eager and ready to knock ’em dead. I sent ahead the first three chapters, a synopsis and a query letter from my novel Crushing Stone to three publishing houses. I retrieved my manuscripts with shaking hands. I tore open the envelopes and let out a breath.

All three expressed interest. I hollered. And yelled. After writing in obscurity for so many years, the publisher’s approval validated me.

I took the intermediate writing track taught by a big-name agent (from this time forward, known as The Agent). He said up front, “I am not looking for clients. I’m happy with my stable of authors.” So, when I met with him, I didn’t consider him as a possible agent prospect. I simply wanted to ask his advice.

The Agent was very late for our meeting. I almost left. He came rushing in, apologizing. I told him I had some interest in my book and asked if he’d be willing to answer a few questions. He said sure. He asked for my proposal, and when I gave it to him, he said, “I’ve seen this before.”

I wanted to die. In wanting to be efficient, I not only sent my proposal to the people at the conference, as instructed, but I also I sent it to his agency, even though I didn’t quite know the purpose of an agent. At the conference, I found out his firm did not accept unsolicited manuscripts, particularly from unpublished authors like me. In that, I violated the don’t-send-your-stuff-if-you’re-a-nobody rule. Note to readers: This is probably not a good idea.

The reason he recognized it? My unusual stationary—not scented or colored, but it sported a curve on the right hand side.

“Do you mind if I take this with me?” he asked.

“Not at all.”

We shook hands and parted ways.

I came home from the conference happy to know editors liked my writing, but discouraged to not have immediate interest.

A few weeks later, I received an email from The Agent. He wrote, “You are one of the best new writers I’ve met and I’d like to talk about representation. Would you be interested?”

Would I?

I screamed. Hyperventilated a bit. I hollered some more. The children thought I was dying, so they raced upstairs, followed by my husband.

“What’s wrong mommy?” the children asked in unison.

“I . . . uh . . . I . . . ”

I jumped up and down. Though they didn’t know the reasons behind my pogo-ing, they joined me. Eventually I spilled out the email’s words. The children cheered. My husband cheered. I cheered.

I later found out the proposal I’d sent before the conference (oh woefully naive me!) made it into the hands of The Agent’s assistant. She screened it while The Agent attended the conference.

The Agent read my proposal on the plane. When he came into the office, his assistant stopped him, my proposal in hand, and said, “You need to sign this girl.”

He showed her the same proposal. “I already planned to.”

So, I received the email that supercharged my career, pulling me from obscurity onto the publication path. Within six months, I sold two books to major publishers.


This story is excerpted from The 11 Secrets of Getting Published. I hope it encourages you!