Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Agents: Part One

I've gotten a couple of questions lately about literary agents, so I figured now would be a good time to write a few posts about my experiences with the Great Agent Hunt. Those of you currently looking for an agent have my respect and sympathy -- it's not an easy game to play. I spent my time down in the trenches, believe me.

Late last year I signed with Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Danielle is awesome; it's because of her enthusiasm that I finished the Underbed draft as soon as I did.

Believe it or not, winning the ABNA contest and having a contract with a Penguin imprint doesn't guarantee you'll have agents groveling at your feet. (Actually, I'm pretty sure groveling isn't in their DNA.) I did hear from a few after the 2011 finalists were announced, and I queried a few more, including two who had already rejected Spookygirl. Danielle was one of those -- back in 2009 she turned it down because she had a client with a similar project. She did, however, compliment the partial she read, calling Violet "very real and likeable." Her rejection was one of the nicest I received, and I requeried her last year in case circumstances had changed. They had.

But landing an agent when you're already under contract is trickier than it sounds. The sale's already been made, so there's no commission there. An interested agent is betting on two things: related rights and future books. I knew I needed representation for the former, as I was starting to get questions from production companies about Spookygirl's film rights. And of course, I wanted to find an agent who would look beyond my first contract and help me shape my career. Danielle and I discussed that during a great phone conversation; I guess she liked what she heard, because she made an offer of representation that I gladly accepted.

That's where my Great Agent Hunt ended, after nearly ten years and close to one hundred rejections. I'll go into more detail on all that in future posts -- I can share tips, admit to some of the awful mistakes I made, and mutter under my breath about a few of my not-so-great query experiences (without naming names, of course!). If there's anything else you'd like me to cover, let me know in the comments.


  1. I know what you mean - the trenches really suck. But that's really good that your agent was able to take you on as a client. :) It just shows that all of the rejections and pain is worth it. :)

    1. Thanks, Krista! I'm definitely happy with the way things are working out. :)

  2. Tell all! I am currently on the agent hunt myself. Three months and counting. Every query is a learning experience, and I understand it may be the book itself that is the 'problem'.

    Please share all you wisdom. (And any you have smuggled out of the agent!) ;)

    1. I don't know if I'd call it wisdom, hahaa, since it took me so many years, a contest, and a contract to get an agent. But I'll definitely share what I can! ;)

  3. Hi Jill,

    Thanks for much for the insight. I'm really surprised that only "a few" agents contacted you after making it as an ABNA finalist. I guess it is a double-edged sword. You win the contest and get recognition--but the deal is in place and any agent would have to take you own without getting paid. In the hopes you have another great book in you.

    As someone struggling to make it to where you are, I do have a few questions:

    How much did having production companies interested in SPOOKYGIRL play into Danielle signing you on?

    Were there any other agents that you thought were "this close" to taking you on...but then, for whatever reason, they just lost interest?

    Thanks again,


    1. It was definitely a strange place to be, and I had trouble finding much advice about landing an agent after signing with a publisher. Did everything backward! One good thing -- I had a very short pitch for another manuscript ready to go, so when Danielle asked about my plans beyond Spookygirl, I was able to say, "Well, I have this other idea I've been dying to work on..." It would've been even better if I'd had another manuscript to send her right away, but none of my older projects were quite polished enough for that.

      While it was exciting to hear from production companies, I'm not sure it impacted Danielle's decision that much. It certainly didn't hurt, but apparently hearing from a few scouts after signing a contract is a pretty common thing.

      As far as other agents, I came close several times with Spookygirl. One agent gobbled up a partial manuscript in a single day, emailed me excitedly asking for the full, and even found and friended me on Facebook. I sent off the full manuscript and never heard from her again.

    2. Very interesting--especially about the production scouts' interest being "no big thing." And I feel awful about that agent who showed that immediate interest and asked for a full--and never got back to you(!?) That must've been awful.

      I can relate because it happened to me TWICE last year--excited interest, request for a full, and then no reply. Not even after follow-up emails. And now I'm beginning to worry it may be happening again this year. I guess I feel (somewhat) relieved that it wasn't just me.

      I'd figured that at least with fulls, agents would be polite enough to reply with a simple "no thanks" if they're not interested. Don't they realize that by not doing that, they can send they wrong image on how they do business?

      As someone who now has a successful relationship with an agent, would you consider this a warning sign?

      BTW--since you've been so gracious and helpful with all this insight, I'll be buying SPOOKYGIRL next week. And I'm not even a huge YA fan.

    3. Ugh, sorry to hear you've had the same experience with agents and fulls! I've had at least one other agent request a full and then never respond, but what got me about the case I mentioned earlier was the Facebook friending. It's not like she was using her FB account as a professional tool -- most of it was personal. At least I knew what she was doing when she wasn't answering me, hahaa. (Nothing juicy, unfortunately!)

      I always think a reply is better than silence, especially on requested material. Always. And yes, if I had trouble getting in touch with an agent I'd queried, I'd keep that in mind if the agent made an offer. It might be indicative of the overall way he or she does business. I know a few authors who've had to cut ties with agents due to a lack of communication. These were well-known agents with good reputations, but they were poor communicators.

      And thank you! I truly appreciate that, and I hope you enjoy the book.

  4. I am looking so forward to hearing about your experiences. I have gotten dozens of rejections over the last couple of years on three different books. So any advice you have will probably help me tremendously.

    1. I'll do my best! Like I said to John above, I'm not sure how much of what I have to share will be helpful, and how much is more a matter of what *not* to do. Heh.