This is a reprint of my post for the Firebirds blog (at ghfirebirds.com) on Tuesday. So if you read that, you’re free to go!
My agent search started out normal.
I collected agents’ cards at RWA. I logged into Querytracker.com (I love querytracker; I love the frowny, red faces for “rejection” and the smiley faces connoting incremental progress and the smiley-faces-with-Jackie-O-sunglasses for offers) and searched and sorted and refined until I had a list of agents I thought might possibly maybe perhaps like my book. Then I wrote my query letters, customizing as I went, and sent them off with a big ol’ bless and release.
Thanks to that Golden Heart Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, I got more requests than not. But no offers. I even had one agent from a big agency call to say she loved my writing, didn’t think she could sell Thrown, and would love to see my next book. Another well-known agent (with the initials Jill Marsal) asked for the full almost immediately after getting my first three chapters, but ended up passing anyway.
Then came the big day when I got that phone call from an editor who offered me a book contract with Simon & Schuster for their Pocket Star line.
I thought, “Zowee, that agent who didn’t think she could sell Thrown (my first book, the one that finaled in the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest last year) doesn’t have to sell it now. It sold itself!” I thought she’d jump at the chance to represent me. Nope. Still wanted me to write the next book. With my offer in hand, I approached romance novelist extraordinaire Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ agent, figuring not only is he a superstar, but man it would be so much easier to stalk her if we had the same agent. (I am Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ official stalker. She knows this. And doesn’t always call security when she sees me.) He asked for my full, then politely declined. I asked the lovely, talented, bestselling, multiple-RITA award winner Kristan Higgins for advice about the agent who didn’t think she could sell Thrown. Should I push my first-born aside, refuse the offer and write my next book for big money? “No!“ said Kristan. I queried an agent she recommended at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and two minutes after I hit “send,” my phone rang. The agent wanted my full. She emailed me on Saturday to pass. I emailed Kristan’s agent, who had previously requested revisions, to see if the revisions were up to snuff. In one of the kindest rejection emails I’ve ever received, she too, passed.
See, about now I started to wonder if my now-editor had been drunk or recently concussed when she called me. Was it some kind of dare around the office? “I’ll give you twenty bucks and a MetroCard if you call this woman and tell her you’ll buy her book.” Isn’t it supposed to be easy to get an agent when you have a book contract?
As it turned out, I got four offers of representation. An embarrassment of riches, I know, since I had assumed I’d have to send out 100 queries, minimum. Heck, it took huge bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz six years.
Four offers. Four reputable agents. I was lucky enough to know at least one client for each agent, so I could ask them questions. One agent was a friend, so I decided not to risk the friendship. Check. One was just too…aggressive. I think she would have been fine, but I would’ve been uncomfortable with her business style. Check.
I was down to the last two, and this is where the big piles of angst came into play. Both of their clients I spoke to loved them. I liked what the agents had to say about their vision for my career. They were easy to talk to, but I’ll admit I hit it off better with one than the other and could have talked to her all day. They both made the same number of romance deals over the previous year. Here was a key difference: one had made deals only with houses that accepted unagented submissions; the other, with several houses that only accepted agented submissions. The first was with a larger, well-known firm. The other had her own agency. After much hand-wringing (not really—I’m more of a sigher and talk-to-myselfer), I chose the agent who, all things considered, had made deals with the more exclusive publishers. She’s the one who had her own agency, which I hoped meant she’d be “hungrier” because it was all on her shoulders to succeed. I also liked the idea of giving my business to a smaller agency.
As it turned out, she got me a bigger advance, made all sorts of changes in the contract to my advantage and my editor said she was “lovely.” We’re still in the honeymoon phase—I haven’t gotten my editor’s revisions yet—but I haven’t regretted my choice. All that sighing paid off.