Last week, I made the exciting announcement (with an incredibly cheesy Jane Eyre pun!) that I signed with a literary agent. In case anyone is curious, here is a longer version of what happened and what this means.
Most publishers won’t look at un-agented work these days. Authors need an agent to represent them, kind of like a trusted middle-man to vouch for your book. This doesn’t mean I have a book deal or that my book is going to be published, but I am one step closer now that I have the wonderful Samantha Wekstein at Writers House representing me.
People say all the time that you don’t need to live in New York City or have friends who work in publishing to get an agent. This is true! But both played a pivotal role in how I got my agent.
Last March, while I was knee deep in thesis craziness, I went to trivia night at a bar where my roommate hosts. I’m terrible at trivia and left early. Later one of the trivia regulars approached my roommate and said something like I would have done better if you’d done a round on young adult books. My roommate mentioned that I felt the same way and that I was getting my MFA in writing for kids and teens. The trivia regular gave my roommate her email and said she worked at an agency and loved young adult books. When my roommate told me she said: You may not win prizes at quiz, but at least it’s a weird networking opportunity!
I used to hate “networking” with a passion. Then I started online dating in New York City.
After going on lots of terrible, terrible dates, I realized that networking with book people is pretty much the most fun thing ever. Instead of awkward pauses and talking about people’s siblings (at best), you get to talk about books! Past Alison might not have followed up on the email, but I did. I was honestly thinking more about if I wanted to get a job in publishing after graduating than getting an agent at the time.
We arranged to get drinks the next week at a very dark bar with very limited seating. And so, like a blind date, I met Samantha. Two hours and two rounds of drinks later, I was having a great time. We talked a little bit about my work in progress and MFA experience, but way more about books we liked (Sarah J. Maas!), working at an agency, and, of course, Hamilton.
I’d mentioned that I knew a newish editor who I thought shared Samantha’s taste – a friend I’d reconnected with during a networking binge the previous summer. Schedules are hard, but in early October, I met with Sam again to introduce her to my friend. This time, instead of feeling like I was on a blind date I felt more like a match maker. But we all clicked. I watched the two of them talk shop with keen interest. I was much closer to being done with my manuscript, and talked about that a little more. This time Samantha told me to send it to her when I finished.
Doesn’t this all just feel so meant to be? We even have a meet cute!
Now, I feel that way. But when I started querying in late November/early December nothing felt meant to be at all. After the election, I retreated into my writing with a new determination to make this happen. I decided to just rip the Band-Aid off and send queries to fifteen agents, including Samantha. I approached this small batch not knowing if my query was good enough, if my draft was ready, or if anyone would like it.
I had a formal query letter, but wrote something much more personal to Samantha. Here’s an excerpt (and how I honestly felt at the time):
Please don’t feel the need to read through the entire thing if it doesn’t sound like something that would be of interest to you. I completely understand that you have to love something in order to represent it. Just because we’ve enjoyed chatting doesn’t mean you will connect with my story the way I hope.
I queried a book in 2014 and it was hard! Waiting. Never hearing back. Rejection. Then finally, a few very kind rejections that gave me great advice moving forward. I know, now, that wasn’t the right book. I needed to learn more and read more and develop my community. This time around I didn’t know what to expect.
I didn’t expect to have an agent (who reps a favorite author) request a full within ten minutes of sending my first query. Very quickly, nine of the agents I queried requested fulls (translation: they asked to read the entire book based on a sample chapter). I think this is more because I did a lot of research than because of my book, but I was beyond excited. The interest really validated how much I’d grown as a writer in the last two years. And before I got any rejections, just three days after I send her the manuscript Samantha asked me to give her a call. She did love my book and my characters and offered representation.
Alison’s mind = asdfgh!?!?!?!?!?!
It was the best news. Of course, it was. But, honestly, I was also really, really, really overwhelmed.
Our conversation about the book made me feel so excited to work with her. The very first thing she said was some version of I like how you have a story about three complicated characters who all do some things wrong. This is exactly what I’d been telling my workshop group at New School I wanted to do for two years! I liked her ideas for revision. I thought she had some good thoughts on editors/imprints to submit the book to.
But … I had promised some other agents with fulls the chance to read and make offers on their own. Part of me hoped none of them said yes to make the decision easy, because I couldn’t imagine saying no to Samantha. On the other hand, of course, part of me wanted everyone to say yes.
The next week was not easy. I got a lot of rejections. Some were so nice they didn’t even feel like rejections (well if you like the book so much why don’t you want to represent me?) Other’s had interpretations of the book I never expected – like suggestions for dramatic revisions of the plot or to turn the book into a middle grade. I wish that I could say I was cool and breezy, assured by the fact that I already had a wonderful offer on the table. But that’s not what happened. I was losing sleep and checking my email every ten minutes.
I’d told Samantha I’d get back to her within a week. But by Friday I was seriously so overwhelmed and two of the agents asked for more reading time. I asked Samantha for another week to decide. Her kind, understanding response of yes made me feel even more excited about the prospect of working together. I just wanted to have a clear understanding of my options first. I had never expected to be making a decision so quickly.
When I did say yes to Samantha I was thrilled. I signed the contract while on vacation with my family and downloaded a funny scanner app to my iphone to send it in. Then, my sister and I had a celebratory dance party around our airbnb.
Nothing is certain in publishing. But I’m really beyond excited to be working with someone who I genuinely like and who in the deepest sense gets my book. I started revisions last week and know that Samantha is already making The Revenge Play a better book. Also being at the same agency that represents John Green and Stephanie Meyer and Laurie Halse Anderson (along with adult authors like Nora Roberts, Jonathan Franzen, and Tom Clancy) … I kind of can’t believe it.
Now, after writing my longest blog post ever, back to revisions and hoping for a book deal!