Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Search Ends, or Agent Extraordinaire!!

Now that I feel slightly less like death, here is the promised post:

After ten queries, four requests for fulls, two rejections, and three and a half weeks, I have found my dream agent. I never expected to find her so soon - less than a month!!!!

(Disclaimer: in my excitement, this is probably going to become a much longer and more epic story than it needs to be. Especially since I had to work so hard to not mention anything.)

My cell phone rang at 9AM on Wednesday. I didn't recognize the number.

I must confess, I was not pleased. I had just woken up. I was in my pajamas. The coffee was still brewing. I was feeling sniffly with the beginnings of a cold. And the last time I had answered a call from an unknown number, it turned out that it was a medical facility calling me about a bill for some allergy testing I had done last fall. :-/

With a deep sigh, I answered it anyway, not in a very friendly or professional way. "Hello?"

"Hi, this is J[full name and agency]. Can I please speak to Shelby?"

Moment of shock. I had emailed the manuscript to J on Monday. Two days before. Less than 48 hours had passed since it arrived in her inbox!!! True, her request for the full had started off with "OH MY GOODNESS, Shelby" and generally expressed a level of enthusiasm for reading it that far exceeded everybody else who had requested a read. But no way she had actually read it that fast....

I stammered out that I was Shelby. She asked if it was too early to call - she wasn't sure what time zone I was in.

Okay, it was kinda early, but was I going to say no?

I said that I could definitely talk, but I asked her if I could call her back on the landline since my cell phone coverage was spotty on the mountain. She said yes, and I took the brief time between calls to pour myself a much-needed cup of coffee. My hands only shook a little.

I called back. We chatted. She said that she LOVED my manuscript. She explained that she sometimes had a hard time with middle grade fantasy submissions, because she loved the genre so much and couldn't bear to see writers miss the mark, but mine immediately grabbed her. It was a lot like a bunch of her favorite series. She said she felt like this one was really special. She also said that she had chuckled over it so much the night before that her husband noticed that the story was cracking her up.


Stunned, I started to explain where I thought the series was going - rattling off a couple sentences about the next four books. Excited, J said, That's why you have that part where this happens! It sets up so and so for book 4!

That floored me. J hadn't just read the manuscript. She had paid attention. She knew where I was planting stuff for future books. She also knew my characters the way I knew them. She pointed out the manuscript's weaknesses.

Then, after making sure that I was a real writer (and not just writing this because I knew the industry), she said, "I would be delighted to offer you representation. Just in case that wasn't clear."

Say yes! Say yes! Say yes! screamed all my writer instincts. She GETS it! J's the one!!

But another part of me, the part that was responsible and knew the industry's business side, reminded me: You can't say yes, Shelby. Not yet. You have fulls out with other agents. You're an unknown. You can't afford to make these other agents mad by accepting an offer without giving them a chance to do the same. The industry is too small, and you never know when you'll need a blurb from one of their authors.

So, I thanked J (it's a little fuzzy - I'm pretty sure I thanked her), and I asked for a week to get back to her. She sounded disappointed, but she was respectful and gracious about it. And without me asking, she said she would send me an editorial letter on the manuscript.

I immediately contacted the other agents...and my parents...and several friends, including the editor friend, who actually knows J.

Then I got to work on something that I had been meaning to do since I started querying: writing detailed synopses for the other planned books. I mean, J said she liked where I said the series was going, but if we were going to work together, I needed to make sure that she was going to love Books #2-5 as much as the first in the series. (And you know, synopses are hard. You have to focus on what to put in and what to keep out, and it's never going to measure up to the epic vision in your head. It took forever.) I shipped it off to J a half hour before midnight and went to bed.

Then, the next morning, J sent me her editorial letter, and basically, it was all over.

J got it. She got my vision just as much as I got it, but in a different way. In the letter, she said enthusiastic things about the series that I had dared to tell myself in my wildest dreams but would never say them aloud, because they were too self-serving. She also pointed out the improvements the manuscript needed to make it really shine. She totally called me on a couple weaknesses that I had worried about myself and tricked myself into believing I had smoothed over. She also surprised me with pointing out a flaw that surprised me but that I totally agreed needed changing.

I started chewing my fingernails, worrying that she wouldn't like the synopses.

She emailed me back after reading the synopses and had even more enthusiasm, asking if we could chat on the phone again. I emailed back, setting up a phone appointment for the following day (mainly because my cold had gotten worse and I was hoping to get better and be more coherent).

Unfortunately, excitement is a powerful thing. It can turn into insomnia. I went to bed a little after 10:30PM and woke up at 2AM. AND I COULDN'T GET BACK TO SLEEP! At all! I finished my book. I wrote in my journal. I got hungry and made pancakes. I took a shower. I counted down the hours until my phone appointment at 10AM.

I also made an important decision. I had only heard back from one of the other agents with the full, but I couldn't wait the whole weekend with this looming over my head. It was totally worth making those other agents mad. I emailed them back, explaining that I was accepting J's offer. (Luckily, they were both nice about it.)

Then I called J. Unfortunately, the coherent thing didn't happen. After 3.5 hours of sleep, my cold had turned into fever and coughing and sniffles, so I didn't sound all that chipper. So, I doubt J expected it when I accepted her offer.

But she said I made her weekend! And that she was doing a dance! And she made me promise to call her next week when I was not sick and could celebrate with her!

And so, even coughing and blowing my nose and drinking hot lemon tea laced with lemon, I have been BEAMING all weekend.

When I left New York last fall, I knew that I would need an agent in my near future. My dream agent had a few attributes that never changed:
  1. She would probably have to be a she. I know that's sexist, but all of my novels have an excessive amount of girl power in them. Really, it might eventually turn a guy agent off.
  2. She would have to welcome my input on major career decisions. I know I'm very young, but I did work in the industry for long enough to know a few things and have strong opinions. It would only make me angry if an agent tried to convince me that I didn't know what I was talking about.
  3. She would need to have staying power. I'm only 23. I have a lot of writing years left in me. I didn't want to find an agent that I loved only to have her retire on me after a decade. So, age was actually a consideration. (Gasp! Sexist and ageist in one post. :-o Please forgive me. I had legitimate reasons.)
  4. Most of all, she would need to love my manuscript as much as I do and to share my vision. I have seen manuscripts placed with well-intentioned publishing people who wanted the manuscript to become something that the author didn't have in mind. A lot of grief is caused on both sides, and I didn't want that to happen to me.
J is that dream agent. I just know it. All my writer instincts tell me that J and I are going to have a wonderful partnership in the coming years.

**deep, happy sigh**

Now, part 1 of the partnership: Whipping the manuscript into shape. (Stay tuned for more developments....)


Laura said...

I know this is a bit belated, but congrats on getting your agent! From one nomad to another:)

Shelby Bach said...

Thanks so much, Laura!