Sunday, August 30, 2009

How I Got My Agent: Guest Blog with Lara Chapman

Welcome to another edition of How I Got My Agent. Lara Chapman, a fellow member of the West Houston chapter, recently signed with an agent and graciously agreed to guest blog today.

Welcome, Lara. Tell us a bit about yourself, your book, and your agent.
This is my first guest-blog and I'm very excited. I write Young Adult Contemporary Fiction. My agent is Holly Root with the Waxman Literay Agency. The title of my book is FLAWLESS (a Cyrano love story with a modern-day twist).

How long have you been writing?
Three years.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
Yes! I began writing adult contemporary romantic suspense because that’s what I liked to read. What I found, though, was that my voice was too immature for an adult heroine (as pointed out on several occasions by contest judges) so I did some research and read a ton of YA books before making the switch. There’s been no turning back since!

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
Two adult contemporary romances, then two YA novels. The third YA novel was FLAWLESS.

What steps did you take to find your agent?
I actually queried pretty widely in the beginning. I made a list of the agents who repped my favorite YA authors and started with them. One of those agents was Jenny Bent (agent to tres extraordinaire YA authors, Tera Lynn Childs and Stephanie Hale). Jenny liked my writing, but didn’t have time to give it the attention she thought it deserved, so she referred me to Holly, who had previously worked as Jenny’s assistant and had recently moved to the Waxman Agency as an agent.

How did you go about researching agents?
While I definitely spent plenty of time trolling the internet for information – especially Agent Query and Publisher’s Marketplace. I found the most useful research was identifying agents that repped authors I enjoyed reading and thought my writing resembled. Once you see the list of authors an agent has signed and later sold, you get a feel of their interests and the type of voice that catches their attention.

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
Communicative – I really wanted an agent that stayed in communication and was accessible. Because I teach full time, it was imperative that my agent be email friendly as most of my communication takes place after working hours. I knew from the communication I’d had with Holly when I’d queried her with my first two YA novels that she was that kind of communicator.

Credibility – We all want an agent that has credibility within the industry. I knew I wanted an agent that was actively selling books in my genre because that meant she had contacts in the YA publishing market. It also meant she knew what editors were looking for!

Did you have more than one offer of representation?
Holly was my only offer of representation, and it was truly the only one I wanted. I just “knew” she was the one. Our personalities clicked, she was easy to talk to, and I trusted her advice implicitly. The backstory on my relationship with Holly is long… as in 2 ½ years long. I would query her, she’d ask for the partial, then the full. Twice she rejected me, but you could tell it just pained her to pass, even though it was the right thing to do (much as I hate to admit it). She’d offer some advice about how to make the next manuscript bigger and better. The term “high concept” was mentioned frequently, and we all know how elusive that term can be! During those 2 ½ years, I’d make pitch appointments with Holly when we were at the same conference and just talk about the industry. Keeping in touch was key to developing our relationship.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
Holly emailed me on Monday afternoon (on the first day of school, which is crazy for teachers everywhere!) and asked if I’d be available to chat the following afternoon with the note that she was “so happy with the work” I’d done on the manuscript. I quickly replied with a manic YES and spent the next 24 hours obsessing if this would be “the call” or if she was planning to let me down gently. When she called the following day, 20 fifth graders had just returned to my classroom from PE, sweaty, stinky, and well… generally just icky! I grabbed the phone off my desk, left the sweaty preteens to make wild guesses about who I was talking to, and took the call in the hallway.

There’s nothing quite like hearing an agent talk about your writing using phrases like “really hit it out of the ballpark” and “high concept” (I finally got it!) and “I’m really excited about this!” When she finally asked, “So, what do you think? You want to do this deal?” I nearly screamed! Instead, I just gushed effusively and think I got a “yes” in there somewhere. When she sent me the contract via email an hour later (See? Good communicator!), I read it at least a thousand times, making sure it was MY NAME on the paper. A copy of it is still sitting on my nightstand so I can look at it every single day! I’ve decided that August 25th is a new family holiday… aka Holly-Day… to be celebrated for many years to come!

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
I texted my husband and my critique partners first thing! Next up were my sisters! Honestly, the only people that really “get” what an accomplishment signing with an agent is are other writers. Husbands, sisters, and friends are happy for you and proud of you, but your writing circle explodes in celebration! My personal celebration was pretty low key… my only requirement was that I not be required to cook or clean for 24 hours and I got what I wanted.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers?
It sounds so trite and I’ve read the same words while stifling an eye roll more than once, but it’s so true… NEVER QUIT WRITING! You can’t sell what you don’t write and that’s just the plain and simple truth. I had all but decided to toss in the towel on writing, deciding instead that maybe I should consider it a hobby, not a career. But just listen to this story… the manuscript Holly actually signed me on had been lost in her email for nearly a year! When she never responded to my partial submission, I took her silence as a polite “don’t call me, I’ll call you” brush off. Regardless, I kept tweaking the story, loving it more and more with each revision, but never querying another agent. Fast forward a year… when Holly was cleaning out her email, she saw it, loved what she read, and asked for the full. Six weeks later, she offered representation! You never know what’s just around the corner. Believe in yourself, in your story… and never, ever quit! Oh, and you might want to follow up when an agent doesn’t respond to your submission.

What a great story, Lara!

Lara's website and blog are under construction, but be sure to bookmark the sites: and


Colleen Thompson said...

It made me smile just reading your story. Congratulations, Lara, and all the best of luck for a quick sale for you and Holly.

Kimberly Frost said...

This is great useful information for those who are looking for an agent. Great job, Lara, and it's a wonderful series, Vicky!!

Linda Warren said...

What a story! You hung in there and that's a major accomplishment. Congratulations! A sale is not far behind.