I found my agent like I’ve found a lot of things in my life; through a bizarre series of odd coincidences and happy accidents. First off, let me state for the record that I had no connections in the publishing industry. I have no MFA. In fact, I don’t have any higher degree at all. I had no relatives, friends, friends of friends, kind of/sort of connections, period. I was a complete and utter novice. All I had was a completed novel and an Internet connection.
I used that Internet connection to research agents. There is no secret handshake, there is, however, Google. Use it (or, use Good Search, which contributes a small amount to the charity of your choice for each search). I searched for literary agents. I learned the basics of what to look for (sales, no fees, enthusiasm) and what to avoid (reading fees, conflicts of interest), and I learned about the AAR‘s Canon of Ethics. I learned about Publisher’s Marketplace, and various writers’ boards where writers exchange tips and information. I learned about query letters, what works (well written, succinct, honest) and what doesn’t (flowery, pathetic, eleven pages long).
And then I got down to business. I made lists, I made spreadsheets, I grew overwhelmed. And I withdrew. I sent out a query or two. Maybe three. And then a friend, Sara Gruen, who had a wildly different approach than I did, flew down and stood over me while I sent out a ton of queries. (I still occasionally hear “Send, send!” in my nightmares.) There was one agent in particular I was interested in, but a friend had been a client of the same firm, and I, always determined to be above board, was hesitant to mix that up.
But my friend thought I was an idiot, and so, still not totally comfortable, the agent went on my maybe list. Then, the bizarre coincidences started. First, I was researching an idea for a novel and came across the term “camera obscura.” This might be a common term, but I swear I’d never heard it before, or I’d never taken note of it anyway. But it stuck in my head.
The next day, my husband, an art dealer, picked up one of the gallery’s artists from the airport and we went out to dinner together. His conversation revolved around his technique: camera obscura. I spent the following day sending out more e-mail queries to agents. That night I couldn’t sleep, what with all the angst over my agent search. Finally at about 3 in the morning I turned on the television, and started watching the biography of Vermeer, considered the father of? Camera obscura. Seeing a trend here?
The next day I thought I’d send out a few more queries. I checked Publisher’s Marketplace, searched for “Debut” and lo and behold, what pops up? The sale for Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s brilliant debut The Effects of Light. Only that wasn’t the original title. The original title, the title it sold with was, of course, CAMERA OBSCURA. The agent who sold it? Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins Literary Agency. The same agent I’d been so interested in but had held off on querying because I was worried about too many connections.
My fingers had never flown to the “Send” button so fast.
The next week was the most exhilarating week in the entire process. I got requests. For partials, for fulls, for phone calls, for e-mail conversations. From several agents, from several big agents. In that heady week, Anne Hawkins asked for a partial. Then she asked for a full. Then she called me. It was a Sunday. I liked that.
She had some questions though, and my heart fell. This wasn’t an offer. This was a feeling out. But her questions revolved around the one point in the manuscript that I wasn’t happy with. And that was when I knew for sure. I told her I wanted to work it out, and then I asked if that meant she was my agent.
Her answer: “Of course!”
Don’t rely on coincidences, but don’t ignore them either. And do your homework. And ask questions. Of me, of the Debutantes, and of your prospective agents. Heck, ask them right here, we’ll answer! Good luck to each of you!
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