Monday, December 16, 2013

How To Get An Agent

First, find a large wooden box and about ten feet of rope.

Ha, ha! Just kidding! That’s creepy. Don’t do that.

There is no clear path to agent-hood, just like there is no clear path to publication, thin thighs or well behaved kids. This stuff takes time and effort, and above all else, PERSISTENCE. 

However, as my one year agent anniversary is approaching, it seems like a good time to share how I signed with my agent, Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She is such an amazing lady. And friend. She is my lady friend. I digress.

When I began querying agents, I only had nine names on my list. Right up at the top was Kathleen. She passed, but offered to review my work in the future. This is agent code for “I think you can do better with more practice.” And, as always, Kathleen was right. I kept writing and editing and writing and editing and writing and editing and, well, you know. 

I subbed poems to magazines, sent stories to blogs, and collected rejections like my grandmother Mimi collected buttons.I also sent a manuscript out to a few slush piles. Then (drum roll please) I got an email from Sterling Publishing! They liked my book. I responded by running out into my driveway screaming and sobbing. That’s normal, right?

Anyway I eventually calmed down and contacted Kathleen with the news. She offered to read more of my stories. And then more. And a couple more. That same day we talked on the phone. She was brilliant. I was babble-y. She offered representation. I accepted.

Kathleen then worked with Sterling on my behalf (seriously, she swooped in there like some literary paratrooper, all business and awesomeness), and obtained a wonderful contract for me. We are now working on a second book.

For you numbers people, it took about six months to find an agent. I queried nine of them. Two showed interest. And one was perfect. 

And for you list people, here are some tips that helped me:
(1) Research your agents - my list was short but solid. (Like me!) I used Verla Kay's Blueboards and Publisher's Weekly, and did many, many Google searches.

(2) Pass the time between rejections WRITING. Not weeping. Well, you can weep a little, But write too.

(3) Join groups like Julie Hedlund's 12x12 and PiBoIdMo to get motivated and build your portfolio of work.

(4) Have at least five polished manuscripts before you query.

(5) If you are subbing to publishers while querying, don't use the same manuscript.

(6) Be prepared to actually to speak to an agent. Thankfully I had a list of questions for Kathleen that I'd compiled from Blueboard posts. The list kept me (slightly) calm and on track.

(7) Do. Not. Give. Up. If your short list doesn't work out, find more agents. Write more. Research more. Send out a few more magazine subs. Revise your query. Do. Not. Give. Up. 


  1. Congratulations. It's always fun to see how the process works for everyone! Good luck with both books!

  2. Thanks for the insight Catherine! That is interesting that you had a publisher interested then found your agent. I love happy stories that are a bit off the beaten path of the usual. :)

  3. All good points^.
    Especially #2- very important. Ages ago a writer advised me to never wait for a reply (usually a NO) "like the girl who waits for the boy." This analogy may be dated for today's youth, but the point is the same.

  4. Dang it! I knew I was doing it wrong- I've only been using eight feet of rope... ;) Thanks for sharing your story, I love hearing agent kindnapping- er, I mean, agent success stories! =)

  5. Great advice. Querying can be so stressful, especially when you start to get desperate (not that I know anything about that...) so it's nice to have a list of tips to keep you on track.

  6. Nice list or tips. I am calmed by your short list of agents. I feel a little silly that I only want to work with a few people--agents with a personal stamp of approval from clients I know or agents I have personally met. I'm glad you kept at it and found your match. I know the normal advice is to query widely, but I have heard a lot of horror stories about agents not clicking with clients. It's a big, scary thing, querying. :)

    Thanks for sharing your story! I hope that you continue to have successes!

  7. What a wonderfully clear and inspiring post. Thanks, Catherine!

  8. this story sounds vaguely familiar... congrats on your book and your awesome agent. hard work pays off!

  9. Great--wow! Kathleen is also my agent and though I went about querying completely differently than you did, I'm enormously happen with the end result. :)