Let’s Pretend I Was Calm and Sane as I Queried Agents

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I’d love to write a post for today about how easy it was to find an agent. It’d go like this: I whipped up a few query letters, shipped them off, continued to write another book without any angst at all, and then magically one day a phone call and offer of representation changed my life. Simple! No big deal!

Alas, that’s not how life unfolded. In reality, it took 61 query letters and nine months to find the agent of my dreams. The path was twisty and confusing, and at times I was paralyzed by anxiety and uncertainty.

At some point early in this process, I happened to listen to a talk given by Eleanor Brown, author of Weird Sisters and former Debutante Ball author. She said it took her 100 queries and turning down offers of representation before she found the right agent. But Weird Sisters eventually became a New York Times bestseller. I told myself: don’t panic until I’ve hit 100 queries, and maybe not even then.

Fortunately, I had interest from agents nearly immediately. The first agent who asked to read the full manuscript ultimately turned me down, but in her rejection letter she said I was a “fantastic writer.” A fancy, big-name New York City agent read my manuscript and said I was a fantastic writer! Me! A fantastic writer!

Do you remember that part of the movie Monsters Inc. when Mike and Sully are on a commercial and Mike is thrilled to be on TV even though the company’s logo completely covers his body?

My reaction to my first rejection was like that. “An agent said I was a fantastic writer!” Umm, hello?! Same agent also rejected you. Somehow I didn’t focus on that point.

Each subsequent agent who read Caged Eyes offered different advice. A few even said they’d represent me…but those offers always came with an “if.” The problem was none of these agents held visions that matched mine. One agent I spoke with on the phone may have seemed like a good fit, but something in my gut didn’t feel right. She wasn’t the best agent for this particular project.

It was a nearly impossible decision to continue searching and querying despite the agents’ interest. My strength in doing so came from Eleanor Brown. She had turned down offers of representation too. I told myself: trust your gut.

At one point, I went months without hearing any news. I slid from hopeful and giddy, basking in all of the agents’ compliments, to despondent and angst-ridden. I questioned my decisions to continue querying. I questioned the merits of Caged Eyes. I became sensitive to criticism from anyone no matter how trivial and far removed the topic of conversation was from my merits as a writer. Even reading became painful as I self-pityingly lamented that all of the authors I read were so much more skilled than I was. (Note to self: don’t do that. If those authors are wicked talented and are on the second, third, or twelfth books, it’s because they earned it.)

I’ll admit it: at my worst, I vegged out on the couch binge watching the entire Desperate Housewives series. Yes, Desperate Housewives. I’ll pretend to not be ashamed by that.

I went from being like Mike to being like Bella –

Then on a Wednesday morning as I was grocery shopping, I got The Email. It was a one-liner from Leigh Feldman, agent number 61, an agent beyond my wildest imaginations. Did I have time to talk on the phone today? Yes, of course!

I specifically remember thinking as I queried Leigh, “What the hell? Why not?” She hadn’t ever represented anything like Caged Eyes, but I deeply admired all of the literary fiction on her list. Besides the popular novels she had sold, I was in love with one of her authors in particular, Amy Greene. Amy’s novels floor me. So when Leigh called and started with, “How are you?” I think I said something silly like, “Excited to talk to you!”

In our first phone call, Leigh said exactly what I needed to hear. Her vision matched mine. She was empathetic towards me and my story, but not so much that she treated me like a victim instead of as an author. She was direct and forthcoming. The best part was that she seemed as excited as I was. She loved memoir, she said, but she had been waiting for the right one – and that turned out to be mine.

I had grown up wanting to be an astronaut, not a writer. But it was accepting an offer of representation from literary agent Leigh Feldman that made me feel like I was going to the moon –

 

I hung up the phone and literally jumped up and down. Later I went out for champagne and chocolate with friends. For me, this moment was the highest of the whole book-publishing journey.

In summary:

*Be patient. If not, pretend to be patient.

*Trust you gut. Don’t accept an offer of representation if you don’t think it’s a good match.

*Resort to Desperate Housewives if you must. Hey, there are worse faults in the world!

 

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Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.

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This article has 7 Comments

  1. Wow, you just gave me heart, Lynn K. Hall! Send a shout out when your book is ready for pre-order, I’ll be at the top at the list. Your writing is, indeed, fantastic.

    I’m knee-deep in Queryland, similar high-highs and low-lows: Famous Agent loves the letter and writing but the…Kind Agent loves the story but already has an author who… And then the dry desert of August vacations and the sad, empty email box.

    Thanks for sharing your story, I’m waiting breathlessly for the next chapter!
    Gail

  2. Thank you so much for your honest, encouraging, and humorous look at the whole process. I’m a therapist, (20 + years), finished my first fiction novel, and sent my first query letter this week. Let the journey continue with the waiting game, and hope I will not lose my mind. 🙂 Congratulations to you!!!

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