Monday, June 1, 2015

AGENTS by James Mihaley

I began my search for representation by submitting my MG novel to four agents.  I immediately received two rejections.  The pain of being turned down was mitigated by a sense of gratitude for how quickly they read my manuscript.  It was obvious to me that they did actually read it.  Their email responses were lengthy and referred to specific aspects of the book.  I used this as a reminder that most agents are decent people who do their best to treat authors with respect. 

There I was, full of gratitude but I still didn’t have an agent.

A few weeks later, on a Monday morning, I received a phone call from the third agent.  She said she read the book, enjoyed it immensely and would like to represent me.  I put my i-phone on mute so she wouldn’t hear me screaming in ecstasy.  She said she knew an editor at Macmillan who might like my book.  The next day, Tuesday, she submitted it to Macmillan.  Twenty four hours later, on Wednesday morning, I received confirmation from my agent that Macmillan wanted to publish ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’.  One week later, I received an email from the fourth agent, rejecting my manuscript on the grounds that she couldn’t sell it!  I received a rejection letter from an agent after I had a publishing contract!  Many of my friends urged me to send the agent a snide email, informing her of her catastrophic blunder.  I chose not to although I was certainly tempted.  I truly believe that taking the higher road is the way to go.

Not many people have ever heard of someone who landed an agent on a Monday and had a book deal by Wednesday.  It may seem like there was a great deal of luck involved, and there certainly was.  However, I did an enormous amount of homework on agents before I began submitting and I would encourage any other writers out there who are looking for representation to do so.  In my research, primarily through Publishers Marketplace and the network of SCBWI, I zeroed in on agents who specialize in Middle Grade.  In my opinion, having an agent means nothing.  Having the right agent means everything.  If you have an MG novel, what good is an agent who specializes in YA?

My agent is not a coddler.  She is all business.  She is incredibly honest and is not afraid to be direct.  I’m fine with that.  For those who wouldn’t be, there are certainly other agents out there who have a more tender approach.  The temperament of the agent is a key factor.  Can you get along with them?  Can you work together in harmony over the long haul?  I highly recommend meeting with an agent before signing a contract.  If that’s not feasible then an extended phone call is a must.  The most important thing to remember is that agents are just people.  They’re human beings just like the rest of us.  The more you keep that in mind, the greater the likelihood of success when you reach out!


  1. What a great story! Back in the Dark Ages (when I'd submit to editors directly through the -- gasp -- mail) I'd always hope if I'd get a rejection it would come quickly. Then I could move on elsewhere.

    Your research beforehand certainly paid off.

  2. Finding an agent who knows the business is, I think, one of the most critical things in this field. Loves your books to death? Awesome! Enthusiastic, energetic, and bubbly? Also great. But knows the business? Priceless.

    I started my agent hunt after publishing my first book agent-less, which just proved how badly I needed a professional to represent me. During the search, I was turned down by one agent because of a clause in the contract I'd signed on my own. She led me to believe it was a fatal mistake AND NO AGENT WOULD TOUCH ME WITH A TEN FOOT POLE.

    You can imagine how devastating that was. But when I finally got an offer of representation and confessed this terrible sin I'd committed, her response was: "Oh, they can't hold you to that. I'll take care of it." And she did. With two phone calls.

  3. Interesting post! I love agent stories.

    While research helps, so does having the right book. So does certain amount of timing and luck.

    I got my first agent with my first query. I got my second agent after *mumblemumble* hundred. While I was successful with my first query, I knew a lot less and did a lot less research than when I was unsuccessful at querying. Research does not equal success.

    In general, I'm not sure the strategy of writer A can be repeated effectively by writer B because it's a different book in a different market -- even a week later the market is different if writer A just got that successful offer.

    Interesting post. I love agent stories!

    And Dianne, there are a couple agents who like to tell writers they have made fatal, unrecoverable,career-killing mistakes. A couple years ago, self-publishing was considered one of them...

  4. As someone currently searching for an agent, I needed to read this today!

    Of particular importance: "The temperament of the agent is a key factor. Can you get along with them? Can you work together in harmony over the long haul?"

  5. Great story! I am actually talking about the agenting process in my school visits this week and showing kids my rejection letters. When I finally got "the call" I was able to research questions beforehand to ask the agent as it's just as important to interview them to make sure their personality and way of doing business is a good fit for you! And I'm glad I did and that my agent is a good fit for me. Here was a post I referenced on Literary Rambles about questions to ask.
    But yes, every writer's path to an agent is different and worked for them - but may not work for someone else.

    Good luck Michael!


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