April 7, 2014

On Finding the Right Agent

By Jennie Davenport

As a debut author and, once upon a time, a querying writer, I can tell you that knowing whether or not a certain agent is the right fit is…difficult. Oftentimes, our judgment can be a bit muddled because we are so desperate to find one—any one, really—that will give our stories a chance. So in our search, we come across an agent who represents our genre, and we immediately think, “Oooo! Maybe he/she is the one!”

I thought that so many times it would be impossible to count. So, if you’ve felt that heart-wrenching pain from your ONE rejecting you—and even your fifteenth ONE in a row—YOU’RE NOT ALONE!

Querying is difficult and trying. It takes patience and the ability to learn and grow. And timing is everything. But don’t let that repetitive rejection dim your passion! Learn from it, grow from it. Never stop tweaking your query. Never stop looking for an agent. Never stop trying to be better.

My best advice: keep an ear/eye out for new emerging agents. How did I know my agent was the right fit for me? She was one of those emerging agents. If you don’t follow Writer’s Digest on Twitter, you should. I sifted through their tweets every day, looking for the new agent introductions. That’s how I found Beth Campbell from BookEnds, LLC. But it wasn't just her shiny “new” sticker that caught my eye. Her bio and her wish-list caught my eye. She was right up my alley, and something about her personality bled through and pulled me in.

So I queried her. Along with many other agents, of course. I was always querying, always pounding the pavement.

But let me backtrack to another reason why my agent stood out to me in a sea of many.

BookEnds was the first agency that ever caught my eye six years ago, when I first decided I wanted to make a career out of writing. Back when I decided to look into the business of getting an agent, back when I had no idea how it all worked, I came across the BookEnds blog. No joke, between Rachelle Gardner's blog, and the Nelson Literary Agency blog, I learned every single thing there is to know about the publishing and agenting world.

Everything. Let me emphasize: Every. Thing.

I owe my drive for getting published to this blog. Unfortunately, BookEnds stopped blogging in recent years because of time constraints, but they still keep the blog public for anyone to reference (though their posts about industry standards, etc. will be out-of-date, it is chock-full of gems). Years ago, because of this immediate love for them, and in finding that their agents and agency were a good fit, I queried them. They were one of my dream agencies.

But of course the rejections came. I was an even greener rookie than I am now and was trying to sell a project that just wasn’t right. Though I didn’t see it at the time, those queries were all rejected for good reason. I wasn’t ready, nor was my work.

Between then and the time I found my agent, I had queried almost a hundred agents, for three different projects (it was a busy few years for me, and I learned so much).

Then I wrote HEMLOCK VEILS a couple years ago, and I knew I had something special with this story. I queried a large chunk of agents, doing it in rounds. Many were interested. One even read it twice and offered INVALUABLE feedback, even though she ultimately declined on representation (If you ever encounter an agent who is willing to take time out of her busy agenting schedule to help a writer she isn't even going to represent, not only is that agent a rock star, but that is verification alone that you have written something special).

But my manuscript still wasn’t ready. I had a lot of work to do to make it the great story it is now. So when I reached my last round of agents (about a year ago), I came across another Writer’s Digest new agent spotlight (on Chuck Sambuchino's blog). When I saw she represented my genre, I got excited.

And when I saw she was with my once-upon-a-time dream agency, I may have squealed (and then scolded myself for getting excited too soon). Funny, after dozens and dozens of rejections, and many other agencies I came to adore, I would eventually land a place with the agency who was my original number one choice. Kind of awesome.

The thing was, she was in the batch of agents that showed the littlest amount of interest, out of any batches in the past. I got rejection after rejection, some of which didn’t reply at all (we know that’s some agents’ way of rejecting). Beth was one of the agents who didn’t respond. I don't know if all the rejection at that time was due to the market's sudden decline for an interest in paranormal (because it did get pretty undesirable), but either way, I was having ZERO luck.

I’m generally a positive person, and though rejection gets me down, I like to embrace it and learn from it. I am a firm believer in positive energy (don’t get me wrong; I’m not a sunshine and rainbows kind of gal all the time). This whole time, I had known that one day, HEMLOCK VEILS would be published.

But now I was starting to question everything. What was I doing? Was I totally fooling myself? Everyone else shares success stories, but maybe I’m just not supposed to succeed!

I let that negative energy win. I needed a break, a time to reboot. So I put all that wishful thinking aside and moved on from the world of agents, knowing in my mind it would just be for a short time.

In the meantime, I bettered my manuscript and even entered a few contests. The last contest I entered was a twitter pitch party—one I, hate to admit, was feeling pretty negative about. I was thinking, These things never work! It'll get me nowhere, and I'm doing this just because I feel like I have to. I had spent so many months/years trying to be positive through the rejection, that I had just reached a point of giving up. But I’m not a giving-up kind of person, and especially not on my dream. I simply couldn’t let the contest pass without being involved. So I pitched anyway.

And, guys. I am So. Glad.

Though I didn't get the attention of an agent through the contest, I did get the attention of a certain fabulous editor from Swoon Romance (an imprint publisher of Month 9 Books). It shocked me. She wanted to read my manuscript. Still not trying to get hopes up, I thought, Okay, sure, I'll send it. Whatever. So I did. (I swear I’m not usually that negative.)

Well, she loved it. My jaw dropped when I read that. And…what?! She wanted to sign me?! I was floored. And SO flattered.

But...I didn't have an agent! I admit, I was freaking out. After all, this is not how I expected my dream would be realized. I didn't know how to treat the contract. I didn't know what to do. So I did some research on the publisher, waiting it out. And what happens in the meantime?

Beth from BookEnds just so happens to email me, back from the query I had sent her months before—the one I had mentally moved on from. Turns out she got married (how dare she?) and was pretty darn busy. Turns out she was interested and wanted a partial.

I sent it to her, but told her I got an offer from a publisher, and they gave me a deadline.

So she asked for the entire manuscript. And Heaven help her, she read the entire thing in a week, even with all the other things she had going on.

My deadline was quickly approaching by this time. During, I decided to take a somewhat spontaneous trip to Oregon (read HEMLOCK VEILS in the fall and you'll know why!). As soon as I got off the plane at the Portland airport (after a horrendous SLC airport experience, I might add), I turned on my phone and found an email and voicemail from Beth.

I listened.

And I flipped inside when she said she wanted to offer me representation. Guys, this call was the thing I had been dreaming about for the past three years—the thing I had been working SO desperately hard to achieve, and the thing I was beginning to think may not come to pass. So, right there in terminal D, I had "the call." I was so thrilled, and it totally set the tone for the rest of my amazing trip!

Timing really is everything. Rejection really does mold you, and your work. And most of all, things don’t always happen the way you envision them. But they do happen. And they happen in the best way. Because of my amazing, kick-ass agent, I’ve come to some pretty awesome terms with my publisher—my publisher who is like another family to me.

Don’t stress. Keep plugging along. Keep looking for the agent that is the right fit for you, because he/she is out there. And write what stories speak to you—not just what the industry wants. If, at the time, the industry isn’t looking for what you’ve written, don’t give up on it. If it’s supposed to be out in the masses, it will be! At the right time.

Jennie Davenport is a wife, mother, and author of the paranormal. Her first published novel, HEMLOCK VEILS (a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast), will be released by Swoon Romance this fall, and its sequel in the spring of 2015! You can find her blog, here, or follow her on Twitter (@may_davenport) and Facebook.

1 comment

  1. Great guest post, Jennie; I learned a lot. I admire your perseverance and work ethic. :)