Wednesday, March 6, 2013
How I Got My Agent
Good morning from the Investigator, aka Naomi Hughes! Last week I was honored to join Team Fury, headed by the amazing Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Agency. Here's how it happened.
I’ve always been a lover of stories, especially young adult books “with a twist.” Something about them is addictive: the humor, the unexpected poignancy, the impossible romances. They’ve been my staple for over a decade now, even when I felt guilty for reading about werewolves and angels while my college friends were reading *insert stuffy voice* “important literature.”
I’ve always loved making my own stories, too. Writing is my passion, but after a while I kind of stopped dreaming. It was too hard, and I wasn’t good enough—or so the little voice in my head kept saying. I wrote a few for-fun books in junior high and high school, but things dried up in the cynicism of college and, later, during my attempts to find a “real” job. I tried journalism, photography, secretarial work, and librarianship, and all of it was okay, but none of it was fulfilling.
Then one random day last September, I had a daydream about this really cool scene and started writing what turned out to be a book. When I finished (three weeks later), I sent out about forty query letters to agents, and was very depressed when most of them were rejected. Then I got determined. Writing was my DREAM. Was I really just going to give it a half-hearted shot for a month and then give up?
So I started writing another manuscript called “The Shadowed Flame,” about a goofy, brave, cocky-but-vulnerable Unicorn Rider named Jackson. This time, I tracked down beta readers (and a few hapless family members, including my wonderful husband) to tell me what was wrong with it before I started querying. Being able to swallow critique graciously and use it to make your work better is without question the hardest part of being a mature author. But darn it, I LOVED writing, I was going to be GOOD, I was going to get PUBLISHED, and for that I had to improve. So I did.
I read every post on craft I could find. I read books on outlining, on hooking readers, on the parts of a story. I spent about six hours a day writing, revising, re-reading and re-revising. I got better, and I loved every second of it.
Then in December, I found out about an online contest called Pitch Wars (God bless you, Brenda Drake). I was chosen as an alternate, and my awesome mentor Danielle Ellison was kind enough to read my manuscript and tell me the truth: it was a good concept, but it wasn’t ready. The first and second half felt completely different, there were several unnecessary characters, and the pacing was off.
I was discouraged. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to go on. After a lot of angst, I decided that I loved Jackson too much to let him go. When the agent round of the contest rolled around, I was a few chapters into my brand-new rewrite. One of the agent judges, the incomparable Louise Fury, loved my pitch and first page and wanted my full manuscript. After I explained the situation, she was gracious enough to agree to wait a few weeks for me to finish the new version.
I kicked it into high gear: I woke up before dawn, wrote for two hours before going to work, came home early in the afternoon and wrote until dark. And it was good. I could feel the difference in the story, in the voice. This one might have a shot, I thought.
When I finished, I sent the manuscript to Louise. The next day, she emailed me to tell me that she was only a quarter of the way through so far, but she wanted to know if I had it out with any other agents (I did, about twenty). The following morning, I got an email saying she’d finished it and wanted to call to offer me representation. She adored my book. She loved my writing. I was sure I must be dreaming.
She was AMAZING. She laid everything out—edits it needed, why she loved it (I may have squealed a little to myself at that point), where she thought it might find a home. Everything she said was exactly on track with my vision for the book, and I was even especially excited about the edits, because they made SO MUCH SENSE and would make the book so much better. We set a deadline and I got to work nudging the agents I felt could compete with her (it was a very short list) and respectfully withdrawing the rest of my queries.
I got about a 50% interest rate from the agents I nudged, but all five of them ended up stepping aside with congratulations and praise for my quirky manuscript, which they all liked but just didn't fall in love with. Honestly, I’m glad none of them offered, because it would’ve been a gut-wrenching decision and Louise SO would’ve won anyway! I accepted her offer the day before our deadline. She’s an enthusiastic, amazing, efficient juggernaut of an agent (with a cool accent to boot), and I’m absolutely thrilled to be the newest member of Team Fury. I can’t wait to see what the next few months will hold.
What did I learn from all of this? Do what you love. Do whatever it takes to be the best you can at it. If you ever hear that little voice that says “It’s too hard, you’re not good enough,” don’t listen. And never stop dreaming.