Writers are often asked about the road to publication. The truth of the matter is that there is not one road. I wish I could give you a checklist and say, “Do these things, and you will end up with a book contract.” Unfortunately, that’s just not the way things work. That said, I think it can be helpful to hear how others tackled the process, and so I’m happy to share my story of how I wound up with my agent, Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc.
Secrets of Truth & Beauty was actually the third novel I sent of seeking representation. The first two novels were for adults, while Secrets was my first YA. I worked that novel into the best shape I possibly could. This is step one: make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible.
Next I worked on my query letter. Summarizing a novel in about a paragraph is daunting. I mean, you spent tens of thousands of words to tell your story, and now you’re supposed to distill it to five to seven sentences? But if you don’t have a strong query letter, your manuscript won’t be read. Sara wrote a post several years ago about queries that worked for her and included mine along with those by Holly Nicole Hoxter and Varian Johnson.
So, I had a manuscript and a query letter. Now came step three, researching agents. I used Query Tracker to help me find agents who specialized in YA or children’s. This was 2007, so there weren’t quite as many back then. I also tried to find out who represented some of my favorite authors or writers of books who were similar -- but not too similar -- to mine. One of the easiest ways to do this was to call the book up on Amazon, and then do a search inside for “agent” as many of the authors thanked their agents in the acknowledgements. Now that most authors and agents have websites, you can probably find this information with some simple web searching.
From my research, I made my list of agents. With the previous two books, I created a list and then sent the query to each of them according to their specific guidelines. This time I decided I’d try a new approach. I chose five agents to start, and sent them the query. If I got a rejection, I would send out another query. That way I’d be able to gauge if my query was working or if I needed to change something.
Meanwhile, I was getting ready for my wedding. This proved to be a fortuitous coincidence. I was so busy with things like gift bags and seating arrangements that I wasn’t sitting at my computer pushing refresh, refresh, refresh. If there is anything you can do to occupy your time during the agent search, do it!
The week before the wedding, Sara emailed me and asked to talk. We had a phone conversation on Thursday. Her enthusiasm for my work was obvious. We also just clicked on the phone. Plus, since I had done my research, I knew she knew what she was doing. She offered representation and I accepted. I’ve heard since that I should have let the other agents who had the manuscript know that I had an offer. There are two reasons for this: one, if they haven’t had a chance to read your manuscript, this might push it to the top of their list, and then you might be in the position to choose between agents. However, I knew that Sara was the right agent for me. You also don’t want to waste anyone’s time. If another agent is reading your manuscript and you’ve already decided to go with someone else, you aren’t only wasting the agent’s time, but also taking time away from other writers who have submitted. I let the other agents know the following week, and they were all excited for me.
So there you have it. Sara has been my agent since the beginning, through thick and thin. She has since sold my two middle grade novels: The Water Castle and the upcoming The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, both to Walker/Bloomsbury.
Finding an agent might seem like an impossible task. The truth is you don’t need secret passwords or magic keys. You just need three things: a polished manuscript, a strong query letter, and a plan. There are no guarantees, of course, but these provide the necessary foundation. Good luck with your search!