Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Agent in Six Months! (or Eleven Years, but Who’s Counting?)

I’ve been writing for almost thirteen years but never consistently looked for an agent until 2009. Because an agent isn’t a necessity in the children's market, I figured submitting to an agent was an extra, unnecessary step. Instead, I sent queries and manuscripts directly to editors willing to take unsolicited submissions, always hoping the next editor would be The One.
In spring 2009, I won a contest at a local writing conference. At the last minute, I’d decided to send in my middle-grade historical novel-in-verse. It was my best work, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received alongside pieces meant for the adult market. My prize included a one-on-one with an editor who specialized in fantasy, sci-fi, and women’s fiction, a world apart from what I’d created. She took one look at my manuscript and asked, “Why don’t you have an agent yet?”
That’s when I started subbing in earnest, sending three to five queries at a time. I combed through blogs like Cynsations, Literary Rambles, and the Guide to Literary Agents, looking for any mention of agents taking on new clients. By May, I'd gotten my first full request. In June I got two more. In July another two. In September, yet another two.
By October, I’d had ten agents request fulls and two ask for partials. One agent liked my story, but felt some significant changes were necessary. I thought through her suggestions but took things in another direction, coming up with an entirely new, stronger ending. In the days I spent revising, two more agents requested fulls, bringing my total to twelve. I contacted the first agent, telling her I’d made changes to the story, though not long the lines she’d suggested. If she was still interested, I told her, I’d be happy to send it along, but I also wanted her to know two more agents were reading the newer version. She graciously told me she’d love to see the story if the other two agents passed. One did. One didn’t.
I found Michelle Humphrey on the Guide to Literary Agents blog and fell in love with her upbeat attitude about the publishing process (“Make rejection pie!” she said). She responded to my query the next day. A week and a half later, she emailed me, saying she’d read my manuscript in one sitting and wanted to talk to me about it as soon as possible. Less than two weeks after reading GLA’s post on Michelle, I had an agent. 
Not long after, I spent a morning reading through the submission records I’d kept over the years. Some information I’d had to fish out of other folders, but for the most part, I'd kept a pretty accurate (though low-tech and messy) list of manuscripts, submissions, editors, agents, and rejections.
Here's what the records showed:
11 years of writing (10 years of subbing)
11 manuscripts
211 rejections from editors (2 fulls and 1 partial requested)
12 contests/grants entered (1 win)
75 rejections from agents (12 fulls and 2 partials requested)
1 yes! (Thank you, Michelle)

16 comments:

  1. I love this story! I too started a long time ago, before there were all the internet resources to help. Your story should be inspiration for people who want to give up after only 10 to 20 rejections.

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  2. Oh, wow, Caroline! I'm with Dee, what an inspiring story for all of us! It only takes ONE 'yes' and you and I both got ours! Cheers to that! Hard work really does pay off!

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  3. Thanks, ladies. I'm glad I had no idea going in how long the wait would be. Ignorance is bliss. ;)

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  4. Michelle Humphrey seems like an amazing agent. And I just love her hat in her photo. :) There's something intrinsically trustworthy about a person with great taste in hats!

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  5. Wow, awesome story! I love hearing the specifics of an author's journey!

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  6. I love this kind of story. You're a rock star.

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  7. Liesl, you're such a sweetheart.

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  8. Your story is such an encouragement to keep on keeping on for the long haul!

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  9. Great story. I hope everyone reading will soon have similar good news to share.

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  10. Great story, Caroline. Thanks for showing the rest of us that dogged perseverance pays off.

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  11. Caroline, I'm awed by your patience. I started writing 24 years ago when my first child was born. Gave up when the second came along! Wrote sporadically over the years, but I've only been writing seriously for 4 years now. So far, 1 agent rejection. I have a long way to go!

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  12. Thanks for sharing your story! It's always encouraging to see how perseverance and determination pay off.

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  13. Sometimes the winners are the ones that just won't quit. :)

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  14. Great story. I am always in awe of writers who have several manuscripts finished before they get an agent.

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  15. YAYAYAY! Clearly you deserve an agent. ;) Can't wait to read some of the work that got so many professionals so interested!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!