I recently found a story I absolutely LOVED in the Pitch Madness slush. So I uh, tracked her down with a tweet something like this- “I would very much like to follow the author of CAN'T BUY ME LOVE. Who are you? ;)”
Since then we’ve totally connected and I’ve found another great CP as well as a friend. It helps that she loves Josh Duhamel, the Bills, and London, but really we’re just completely on the same wavelength when it comes to our love of Middle Grade. So, you can imagine my excitement when she got an offer! I am THRILLED to be able to host her success story. Read it to the end and you will not only be entertained, you’ll also be inspired. Congratulations, Jen!!!
How I Got My Agent by Jennifer Malone
I devour “How I Got My Agent” stories the way people on diets seek out “How I Lost Half My Body Weight” stories. Most of all, I love reading about the vastly different journeys these writers have been on to reach that moment. Here's mine:
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE is my second MG book, and my second one period. I began writing in January, after waking up with an idea that wouldn’t get out of my head. I studied journalism in college and have worked as a publicist, so I have a writing background, but I had never attempted fiction.
It so happened that about a week after I wrote THE END on my first “novel” (quotes are because this effort hardly deserves the moniker), I ran into a distant friend of a friend, the only published author I knew. I accosted her and asked if she would read my MS. Please laugh along with me at the fact that not only did I send her a document that I’d formatted to look like a real book (8X6, single spaced in a double page layout view) but I had even gone as far as including cover art. Yes. Cover art. And acknowledgements. And a recipe for tie-dye cupcakes in the back because the MC made them with her babysitter.
What she should have done was laugh me off the planet. She barely knew my name and we weren’t friends. Instead, she gave me a thoughtful critique and a healthy dose of confidence. Never did I suspect at the time how much restraint she exercised in writing the line “I do think the manuscript probably needs another going-over before you send to an agent”. Comments that followed included this one: “Several of your chapters don’t have any dialogue.” I kid you not. But she ended with a list of resources and the words “You’re a natural.” And that was all I needed to hear. I checked out every book she recommended, read entire blog archives, joined SCBWI and signed up for their spring conference. I also read every published middle grade I could, while still staying employed and not abandoning my husband and children too completely.
In the meantime, I queried my first book (Duh. Haven’t you realized yet that I have a compulsive need to make every newbie mistake in the book?). As you might expect I received mostly rejections, but I did actually get a few partial and three full requests, two of which led to revise and resubmits.
Revise? Hadn’t gotten to the blog posts on that yet. Hmm. Better just write something else and make it perfection right out of the gate, so I won’t have to deal with this weird revision thing people keep mentioning.
So I wrote CAN’T BUY ME LOVE.
By then I had hooked up with two critique groups doing chapter by chapter critiques and joined a group of MG writers willing to trade full manuscript reads. The honest feedback I got from these groups pushed my writing to a much higher level and helped me finally appreciate the art of revision (oh, are you shocked to hear I didn’t write perfection right out of the gate? Me too.)
In late July I began querying again with CBML. The rejections sucked, but I did put them all in a file and with each one I allowed myself to sulk and then ended with the pep talk, “Won’t this stack of rejections make quite the impression when I’m doing school visits as a published author someday?” I did finally get one full request that had me jumping for joy.
By August, I decided to try out a *few* contests. I apologize if you were subjected to a major online overdose of CBML. In two months it was in CAGI, Pitch Madness, and Miss Snark’s Secret Agent. I began by posting my query in a Write-On Con forum. Lucky me- a Ninja Agent made one comment that caused me to add seven tiny words to my query and took me from a 5% request rate to a nearly 40% request rate. Thank you, Ninja Agent Lime, whoever you are!!!
And then I got the first heart-stopping email that said, “Do you have time to talk?” With equal parts disbelief and excitement I listened to all of the great things the agent had to say about my story. While I was doing a happy dance inside, I calmly explained to him that I would like some time to alert other reading agents to his offer. I spent a frantic evening sending off emails with that elusive “Nudge With Offer of Representation” subject line to the agents reading my fulls and even to those who hadn’t responded to my query yet. Apparently the magic formula for getting your query read in minutes is to have an offer on the table. The next morning I had six more full requests, with all of the agents promising to read and respond ASAP.
The week that followed was mayhem. I did not sleep. Offer #1 came on Thursday. By Tuesday I had two more. One agent lived in my city and suggested we have “The Call” in person. Oh. My. God. It helped that she offered via email beforehand, but I still warned her that she couldn’t judge me based on anything I said or did in my state of extreme freak-out. She was lovely about it. As a bonus, I got to utter the phrase, “I might be late, since I have to meet my agent for coffee,” if only to another mom at the bus stop.
Wednesday brought offer number four and I started to get a little panicky. Thank goodness for two incredible CP’s I let in on the news, who provided advice, but mostly just let me use them for sounding boards. In the meantime, they also did ALL THE CHEERLEADING.
By Friday morning I had only two agents still reading with a four pm decision deadline. I had also contacted a sampling of each offering agent’s current authors for their honest feedback, made pro/con lists, did some soul searching and decided. I was feeling very Zen about my choice. At two pm, as I composed emails to the agents I would not be signing with, my email dinged with a “Can you talk right now?” message. This was not happening. The agent emailing had only seen my nudge email on Wednesday night and I didn’t think there was any way she’d read it and respond in a day and a half. I’m guessing you see where this is going…
Within minutes we were on the phone and in the next 90 minutes, she blew me away with her comments, background, sales list, basically with everything. Arggghh! I began debating anew between fantabulous agent #1 and fantabulous agent #2. Don’t get me wrong- it was an amazing position to be in and yet...
In the end, I went back to my gut and a night to sleep on it, neither of which has ever steered me wrong. I am beyond thrilled to announce that I am now officially repped by the amazing… HOLLY ROOT of The Waxman Agency. She is a rock star and I can’t wait to work with her!
I finally get why those actors need music to urge them off the stage at awards ceremonies, because for one person’s success there is a whole long crumpled-and-stuffed-in-a-pocket list of people who have to be thanked. I like to think they know who they are so I’ll give it a blanket thanks and hope they know how much having them in my corner has meant.
Yes, yes, stop blathering and get to the stats…. I hear you!
Queries Sent: 74 (I know, right?)
Requests: 21 (3 partials, 18 fulls)
Rejections: 53 (yup, those school children’s jaws will drop)
Offers: FIVE!!! (Eep!)
And now you want the recipe for those tie-dye cupcakes, don’t you?