Monday, September 10, 2012

How I Got My Agent the Old Fashioned Way

Someone asked - and I shall provide...

A few years back I was querying agents off a list I found on Query Tracker, but since the book I was querying broke several "unwritten" rules of YA (ex. 12 y/o protag, novella length), none of the agents wanted to touch it (understandably).

Flash forward a year later and I had written the first half of a YA Speculative Fiction.  I entered it in an SCBWI Writer's Day content and won 2nd place.  I was totally blown away.  I went home and finished it a few months later, and tried to query a few more agents, 10 total, but all of them passed.

I gave up and resigned myself to thinking I would digital publish the spec fiction like I had two previous works, until I got together with two writer friends who encouraged me to try again.

One of them actually said,  "How many agents did you query?"
When I said, "About a dozen," she almost spit in my face laughing.

I went home and thought and thought about it, and figured, what the hell?
I accumulated a list of agents based on Writers Market, writer friends, Twitter feeds, and QueryTracker.  I only looked for agents who repp'd my category of YA, and ones I liked personally.  You can find this information on their biographies on their agency websites, and by Googling their name.  Scads of interviews and articles pop up.

It would take me an hour of reading and searching before I decided to query that particular agent.  This served to help me out once the responses came in.

Truth be told, I figured I had nothing to lose.  So in my query, I was as brutally honest as I could be.  I didn't use flowery impressive language, I didn't blow smoke up the agent's ass.  I readily admitted in the query that I tend to write dark, edgy stuff that doesn't necessarily follow all the "rules" of YA, but I had won 2nd place in an SCBWI Writer's Day contest, and wouldn't they like to read it?  That way, if the agent didn't want dark and edgy stuff that broke the mold, they'd pass right off the bat and save us both time and heart ache.

Funny enough, this approach got a good response.
Whereas with the previous book I got exactly ONE request for a partial (out of 115 queries), this particular book was receiving requests for partials and fulls about half the time (78 queries total).  I had to create a spread sheet to keep track of where it was and when.

Then, when agents passed, I'd send out another batch of query letters so I always had 10 in circulation, plus the fulls and partial submissions (at one point I had 12 full subs out).

I received one nibble (got contacted by an agent who wanted the outlines for book 2 and 3 and then passed), and another who said she'd offer rep if I rewrote the whole thing, changing to concept completely.  And I actually wrote several revisions for another agent who was non-committal, but gave such great notes I kept doing the revisions just to see if I could indeed make the book better.

When the time came that I received my first offer of representation, I took the time in order to contact every agent that had the full or partial and gave them a deadline of one week.  Most of them backed out.

But two more agents made offers after that, and one legendary agent actually sent me a long email giving me advice on the re-write, which she didn't have to do, but did anyway, regardless of the fact she wasn't going to offer rep.  She apparently "liked" me.  Huh!

I guess my point is this: honesty.  I didn't mince words.  I used a paragraph teaser instead of a full summary, and I told them right off the bat I had two other books previously digitally published, so if that scared them off, it would do so early.

All said and done my agent is absolutely the right fit for me personally and professionally, and I think this was because I didn't try to impress the agents, I didn't try to trick them with smoke and mirrors - I just told the truth.

"Hey, this is me.  Take it or leave it."

For more about the querying process visit this previous post: Query Letters for Beginners

And for those morbidly curious, here's my query letter:

Dear [Insert Name of Agent],

At an SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Los Angeles Chapter Writer's Day in April, 2011, my YA Speculative Fiction entitled, "The Line" won 2nd place in the writing contest.  I can't tell you how much this shocked me. I wrote "The Line" breaking every "rule" about YA I could think of, and in so doing, I somehow got recognized.  I found this both odd and encouraging at the same time.

"The Line" is controversial, it's racy, it uses the F-bomb, and it's unlike anything I've seen in YA; so I understand if it's not your cup of tea, but since my book to film agent Joel Gotler of Joel Gotler Associates recommended I obtain a Lit Agent for it, and  [insert reason why this agent would like it], I'm wondering if you would consider representing it.  

'The Line' Teaser:
The Line is a government institution where unwanted girls are sold into slavery. When Naya is retired off The Line, she is given a choice.  Find someone to replace her, or they will take her unborn babies.  Not much of a choice for a former sex slave.  Hundreds of years in the future, the world does not offer many opportunities for a seventeen year old with no skills, no friends, and no memory of her birth family.  Naya finds a girl willing to take her place on The Line, but finds she isn’t willing to turn her over.  Plan B.  Only after meeting a young man, Ric Bennett, and his team of resistance fighters, does Naya understand what she needs to do.  Now, Naya will risk everything to break The Line.

'The Line' is currently 73,000 words. Below you will find the [insert specs] of "The Line" to help with your consideration.

A little about myself:
I'm an Indie author of a Young Adult Fantasy novella The Beast Call with small but steady sales.  After years of writing for children's television, I now work part time editing for a digital publishing company and am currently writing the sequel to the novella. I blog, I Tweet, I FB and I am a self-promoting fiend.  I need a champion, however, in order to get my work deeper into the mass market, and I'm hoping you might be [s/he], and I further hope the book to do it is "The Line."

If this interests you, please let me know.
I appreciate your time in reading this email and I look forward to your response.

Anne Tibbets