Deb Erika Gets the Agent Call (er, the Email)

Congratulations to Erika MarksColeen Patrick and Judy, Judy, Judy who’ve each won a copy of LITTLE GALE GUMBO!

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After Deb Joanne’s great post about getting the call for her book deal, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and talk about getting the agent call…

It’s no surprise that the Deb theme a few weeks ago was Anticipation. For those of who us write and seek publication, patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a must. (And let’s be honest; one rarely feels very “virtuous” refreshing our email’s inbox twenty seconds after we’ve just sent out a round of queries.)

We’ve all heard the stories of how a simple connection can make all the difference in publishing—but that doesn’t have to mean the “my-aunt’s-sister’s-trainer’s-accountant-does-Stephen-King’s-taxes” connection. Connections can be built up over years and years of querying. The story of how I met my agent is a perfect example of that.

Almost five years ago, I queried a manuscript with a large agency and received word from one of the agent’s assistant that the agent was interested in seeing more and to send a partial. Ultimately, the agent passed on the work but what followed over the next few years was a lovely series of communications with the assistant as I submitted several new projects for her and the agent’s review.

When I sent her Little Gale Gumbo at the beginning of 2009, the assistant sent me a very complimentary email that she and the agent thought the story had great promise but that as much as they would like to represent it, their list was full. However, there was another agent in the office who was looking to take on more women’s fiction writers. Her name was Rebecca Gradinger. The assistant had forwarded my manuscript to Rebecca and Rebecca had shown interest.

Within a few hours, Rebecca and I were exchanging emails. We agreed that we would work on edits to see how well we worked together before an offer of representation was made. Of course, as soon as we talked on the phone, I knew we clicked. A month—and a new draft—later, Rebecca offered me representation over email so while there was copious amounts of (offline) hooting and hollering, I had the benefit of composing myself (and my response) over a few minutes so I don’t have a really juicy story like Deb Joanne.

The bottom line is it takes time, there’s no question (Twenty years, friends. Twenty. Years.)—but that’s why it’s so important to keep track of those agents who ask to see partials or fulls, or offer to see your next project. You never know where that one connection might lead.

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Anyone else have any The Agent Call stories to share? Juicy or otherwise?

21 Replies to “Deb Erika Gets the Agent Call (er, the Email)”

  1. I love your story. It illustrates precisely how important patience (even if it’s the fake patience we all have to exhibit at times *grin*) and persistence are in this business. I’ve met a LOT of writers over the past few years, and not one of them popped out the perfect manuscript, got offered representation by the first agent queried, and sold to the first editor who read the ms after going on submission. (Not that these writers don’t exist. But if they do, they are rare.)

      1. So true. There are so many obstacles and gatekeepers in this business. Good on you for being one of the tough ones, Erika. I’m so glad you stuck it out, or we’d be missing out on the awesomeness that is LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

  2. It’s so helpful to hear stories like this as I’m going through the beginning steps of seeking representation! And this is a great reminder not just for persistence but also for building relationships (and not burning any!). Still, I may need to expedite my process just a little because I don’t think I have 20 more years 😉

    1. Ha! Thanks, Jen. Joanne really did set the bar pretty high, and right out the gate, too. With three Deb stories left this week, there’s a good chance someone else can match it–or at least come closer than I did 😉

  3. Oy, goodness, I’ve created a pants-pooping monster!
    Don’t sell yourself short, Erika. Just because your story doesn’t have any flashy pants-pooping moments, doesn’t mean it’s any less important or helpful. I have found that there are a lot of really awesome people in publishing and it never hurts to make allies and never burn bridges. Good lesson for everyone.

  4. Agreed on the time. And that’s across the board for creative projects. I love telling my friend Craig’s story — he pitched Dinosaur Train about FIFTEEN years ago and it was rejected… but he held it in his back pocket, revisited it periodically, and when he got the chance to bring it to Henson, they loved it and now it’s a hit on PBS. No creative project, no contact, no forward progress is a dead end — the wall you think you slam into is actually ricocheting you in another direction.

    1. Thank you, Lori! A spreadsheet is exactly what I used, believe it or not. Making notes on which projects interested who and how far along we got, and whether or not they said they’d be willing to see another project. It helped a great deal…

  5. It’s so true. I landed my first agent in part because in my query letter I mentioned that I knew so-and-so back in the day. I’m certain this mention got the agent to consider my submission seriously. She’s since left the business, so I’m starting again on the agent hunt. I now find myself in the same spot you were in with your agent, Erika. This isn’t the point of your post, but I was glad to read that you worked on edits with your agent before it became official. That’s where I’m at — crossing fingers. I completed initial revisions, and now she’s got the manuscript for a thorough going-over…

    Strange as it may seem, I think that agents do remember writers whose writing they like, even if they reject the current project. If an agent rejects you but says to consider her for future projects, take her seriously! Agents don’t bother saying that unless they sense potential and like the writing.

    1. Lisa, that is EXACTLY right. Agents are understandably so busy–they don’t make those offers lightly. If they offer another look at another project–or explicitly say they’d consider looking at a new draft of an existing project (which in my experience I found is rare but can happen), run with it. They are, as you noted, totally serious.

      And I think it’s very common to do edits with an agent with an eye towards representation BEFORE getting the actual offer. It really makes such good sense for BOTH parties, to see if you like working together. So much better to find that out beforehand.

      Best of luck to you on your revisions–this is an exciting time!

  6. It is SO true. This business (or any business, I imagine, but especially publishing) is about making connections. You never know who might want your next project, and you’re much likely to have someone agree to take a read when they know your name. Or you’ve been nice and professional with them and not bitter because they rejected the last four projects or something. You just never know.

    I’m having that same experience with my book publicity. I can’t tell you how many random connections I’ve tapped into to hit up for coverage in their magazine/website/radio show/town flyer. Whatever. People are surprisingly happy to help out. So I keep track of anyone who has ever expressed any interest along the way.. Just my two cents.

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