Friday, August 14, 2009

How I Got My Agent: Guest Blog with Sarah Andre

My West Houston RWA chapter mate and talented author Sarah Andre agreed to be my next guest blogger. If you're seeking an agent, be sure to read Sarah's journey to representation with the agent of her dreams!

Welcome, Sarah! Please tell us a bit about yourself, what you write, and about your agent.
I write Romantic Suspense. Although my first novel finaled in three contests, it has all the markings of a first novel and is now under my bed. The second novel: LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING finaled in the Lone Star, Finally A Bride, the Houston Writer's Guild and won the Linda Howard Award for Excellence in Writing. It's LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING (LLL for short) that captured my agent, the fabulous Maura Kye-Casella from the Don Congdon Agency in NY.

I majored in Creative Writing as an undergrad and won writing awards. But this is where I realized how difficult writing was and had my sites set on being a corporate big-shot, so fast forward many, many years and bottom line: life simply got in the way of writing.

In 2004, my husband took me to Italy for my 40th birthday and I swear to God, there is something in the air or water over there that inspires the artist in all of us! Even at the IAH airport on the trip out I spontaneously bought a notebook and began writing a story about an architect and an interior designer. While everyone slept through the flight I wrote and wrote and wrote, literally until my hand cramped up so badly I had to stop. No plot, scenes just flowed as I got to them...hence the discovery that I am a panster. In all 3 stories there is something of Italy or an Italian in the plot--it's my way of honoring a place that reminded me of the creative soul inside who'd waited so patiently all these years.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
When I first began writing I was an avid suspense reader- and I mean gritty, page-turning suspense, not RS. So when I opened the notebook that first day I automatically assumed that's what I'd write. Well! Out came the most cliche, over-dramatic soft contemporary romance with a misunderstanding for 400 pages instead of a conflict! A romance? No one was more shocked than me. But because it had flowed from me so naturally, I shrugged and looked up RWA and the local RWA chapters. And I picked romance books back up (I'd read romances as a teen) and read the modern evolved stories, went to workshops, writer's presentations and my second and third stories are solid, tense RS.

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
I had two stories under my belt (the first under the bed, the second in a bunch of contests) and was a third of the way through my present WIP when Maura called.

What steps did you take to find your agent? How did you research agents?
I had decided the way to get an agent was through one-on-one personal interaction instead of cold E-queries. So I pitched 3-4 agents a year or got in front of professionals through contest finals. Then a friend of mine, Sarah Castleberry, finaled in 2008 GH and created a spreadsheet of all RWA approved agents and shared it with me. The list was extensive and my two critique partners, and I split it into thirds and each of us researched massive amounts of info for each name on our list. We used a variety of websites, PW, P&E, Googling their names, checking out the agency's website, chapter rumors, etc...

So, I had this gold-mine of info and still was reluctant to use it...I perseverated that meeting an agent face to face or through a contest was a more successful way to go. The down side was only reaching an average of 7 a year. So, I'd been shopping LLL since 2006 when I'd only had a few chapters written. I'd received 3 full requests and many partials this way.

In May at a West Houston RWA meeting, best-selling author Sharie Kohler/Sophie Jordan met up with me at break and said "I keep hearing your name mentioned in all these contest finals...why aren't you published?" And the frank answer..."Because I'm lazy." Well! No need to go into her blistering "pep-talk" (lecture) but she ended with "you HAVE to start e-querying...everybody! Start with my agent if you have to. Even if she rejects you, at least you queried and got your work out there!"

Thus, soundly spanked, I queried her agent that week (specifically so I could get rejected and prove my point to Sharie that my way was slow, but better.) Therefore, I knew very little about Maura Kye-Casella, other than how incredibly successful she is at managing Sharie's soaring career.

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
I'd heard over and over at the chapter meetings that you should not jump at the first agent offer, but to wait for someone who went absolutely gah-gah over your writing, voice, story, etc, because they'd believe in you and a long term relationship was the focus here. So I knew that was criteria #1. I'd also been in the contest/pitching circuit long enough to also know I wanted an agent who got back to writers in a (relatively) timely manner, and if they took 6-12 months to read something that they'd requested, they were not the agent for me.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
Imagine my utter shock when, 3 weeks after sending the full to Maura, she called and spent 20 minutes gushing over LLL. It's innate in me to interrupt people who compliment me in any way with a modest "oh thanks, but really- let's drop the subject now" or to immediately volunteer "oh, but here's what's wrong with me" and I found myself opening my mouth to stop her after she'd say phrases like "hooked me," "tight storyline," "interaction between the brothers, wow!" And then I realized this is MY moment, I'd worked so hard all these years and received so many rejections or harsh feedback on this story that had reduced me to a fetal position and here was someone who GUSHED. This experience would never come again (getting your very first agent call) and I needed to just shut my mouth and absorb every second of it!

So I did, and the shock and sheer joy of a prestigious agent going on and on, and who GOT my characters and my plot, and who spoke to me as if she'd been a critique partner on it all these years was mind blowing. I wish this type of experience for every writer.

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
Of course my first call was to my husband, then my best friend in DC (both went straight to voicemail, sadly) then I ate lunch with my writer-friend Sarah Castleberry, who was ecstatic and made the achievement that much more real and exciting for me. I couldn't have celebrated better than lunch with a writer-friend who GOT the significance of this moment.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers seeking representation?
So I guess you could say my recommendation for writers is A) NEVER give up and B) don't get too caught up in one method or mindset. Pitch, enter contests, e-query and network, network, network. You never know when another writer's simple advice will change your life.

Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your exciting story. I can't wait to hear the news of your first sale!

Sarah Andre can be found on FaceBook and MySpace.


Karen Sue Burns said...

Excellent post. Congrats to Sarah as well. Can't wait to read LLL.

Renee said...

Sound advice. Congratulations! You show us unpublished it can be done.

Robin said...

Great guest, Vicky. And great advice Sarah!

Edie Ramer said...

Sarah, great story! Thanks for sharing.

Vicky, this is a terrific idea!

Vicky said...


I'm glad you like the new blog series. I'm hoping the stories will help other writers seeking representation.


Barb H said...

Two great posts, Vicky. What a super idea--thanks for doing this. It helps those of us who are pounding the pavement--hummm--keys, trying to attract an agent.

Would love to hear how you met your agent--twice, did you say?

Vicky said...

Barb, I'm so glad Sarah and Elyssa's stories are helping everyone. And yes, I met up with Lucienne by accident twice. Will tell all soon!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I love to see smart, talented writers show their strength and bravery (you know, by never giving up and actually getting their own Happily Every After)!

NOTE: Your fabulous agent is the final AGENT JUDGE for the Paranormal Category of our Emily contest!!
(Deadline Oct 7, 2009).

Big Congrats,

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

Sarah, what an inspiring story -- and I love how generously you share credit with the people who helped you!

Looking forward to hearing when I can order LLL on Amazon. :)

Elizabeth Pina said...

Great story, Sarah. I'm glad your procrastinated perseverance paid off! Good luck with getting it sold BIG TIME.

Nancy Kay Bowden said...

Great post, Sarah. Thanks for having her on your blog, Vicky! Congratulations on nabbing a super agent, and good luck with publishing. You're such a hard worker and so very inspiring! And BTW, I LOVE writing on planes and in airports--bless a couple of seven hour flight delays. I think there's a lot of creativity swirling in the air!

Jo Anne said...

Way to go, Sarah! Great post - and thanks for sharing. Can't wait til it's "Call" day for you. I'm looking forward to LLL.

sarah andre said...

Thank you ALL for your comments and a special thanks to Vicky for sharing her blog with writers like us! Can't wait to read the next interview... Sarah Andre

Sarah L. Catherine said...

Congrats, Sarah! You rock!! You're so sweet to mention me, when we got to that "celebratory" lunch (with my two children, and I'd just driven into town so it was all hectic!) and it took me, like, 30 minutes into conversation to smack myself in the head and remember you were talking to an agent that morning!! LOL

Great series, Vicky!!

Gerry Bartlett said...

This is why RWA is such a great organization. Pubs helping unpubs. Shari got you going. Fantastic, Sarah! Can't wait to read your book when it's on the shelves.

Colleen Thompson said...

I'm so enjoying these stories, Vicky! Congratulations, Sarah, and best wishes on the next stage of your writing career!