Sunday, October 18, 2009

How I Got My Agent: The Accidental Encounters

In the final edition of How I Got My Agent, here is my story. I met my agent by accident - twice. But first, a little background about my writing history.

Several years ago, my first book did very well in contests and racked up lots of requests, but it didn't sell. After a trip back to college and a few years establishing my marketing career, I started my second Regency historical romance. By now, I'd learned far more about craft and the business of writing, but I traveled 70% of the time in the US and Europe. The constant jet lag was a significant barrier to my writing goals. So I negotiated with my manager to cut out most of the travel. Then I took a vacation. Three weeks later, I finished my second book, which was then titled, THE DUCHESS COMPETITION.

My second book also did very well in contests. My goal was to get a great agent, so when friends invited me to tag along to a conference, I decided to go. I signed up for appointments, but was unable to get one with Lucienne Diver because her slots were filled. That night, the conference held a dinner at a local restaurant. My buddy Jo Anne Banker & I got lost. Needless to say, we arrived late. The keynote speaker met us and then realized she'd only saved one seat for Jo Anne. The speaker was horrified, but I told her not to worry. I don't know a stranger, so I strode off in search of new best friends.

There was only one vacant chair next to an agent. I'm an extrovert, but even I was a bit nervous when I approached Lucienne Diver. She gave me a warm welcome. To my surprise, Lucienne asked me what I wrote. I said Regency historical romance and shut my mouth. I believed she only asked to be polite. Then she asked me what my book was about. I gave her a sheepish look and said, "Oh, it's the bachelor in Regency England, minus the hot tub and camera crew." She whipped out her card and requested a partial. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Then we started chatting and hit it off. We’d traveled to some of the same places in Europe and swapped funny stories. After the conference, I sent her the partial and not long afterwards, she requested the complete.

Fast forward to another conference. While riding an escalator, I heard someone call out my name. I looked back and saw a familiar face. Yes, it was Lucienne. She asked about the manuscript, and I told her I was doing revisions. I'd found a flaw in the book. With my first book, I’d learned a lot because I’d done revisions for an editor without promise of contract. That first time, I was too inexperienced to do justice to the revisions (I’d only been writing for a little over a year). This time around, I was armed with far more knowledge, and I was determined to get it right. I believed too much in my story to send out anything but my very best work. Lucienne and I talked for a bit, and I wondered if this was some kind of sign (cue eerie music). What are the odds of meeting an agent accidentally - twice?

I returned home energized and finished those revisions. Then I sent the book off to requesting agents, including Lucienne. Soon afterwards, something unexpected happened. Three agents offered representation.

Of course, I was excited and flattered. It's a good problem to have, but it's also terrifying because you have to choose. I knew this was one of the most important career decisions I would ever make. How did I do it? I compared and contrasted each of them. I also did additional research. Here are some of the key points I investigated:

  • Their styles of communication. I wanted an agent who replied in a timely manner and also someone who listened to my goals.
  • How and to whom they envisioned submitting my manuscript.
  • Their editorial feedback and whether or not it resonated with me immediately.
  • The agency contracts, especially termination clauses.
  • Their agent experience, including the number of years in business.
  • Promotional efforts for their authors.
  • Their deals on Publisher's Marketplace (# of deals, which publishers, etc.).
  • Most importantly, I spoke to at least one of their authors.

In the case of the two other agents, I knew authors they represented. I didn't know any of Lucienne's authors. So I called published authors to find out if they knew any of Lucienne's clients. None of them did, but more than one admitted they were seriously considering querying her. Finally, I asked Lucienne if I could speak to one of her clients. She referred me to her wonderful author, Michele Lang. As it turns out, Michele had also gotten multiple offers of representation and understood what a difficult decision I had to make. She gave me a thorough and objective description of how Lucienne works with her authors.

So what differentiated Lucienne and why did I choose her? She has 16 years of experience as an agent. Lucienne has a stellar reputation in the business. Her move to The Knight Agency also swayed my decision because the agency is very well established and really promotes their authors. Plus, Lucienne promotes her authors on her blog. Speaking of promo, I'd learned from Michele that Lucienne went above and beyond at one conference by making a promotional opportunity available to her authors. And remember my one-sentence pitch to Lucienne? She got me at hello.

In addition to these tangible factors, I listened to my instincts. You see, I believe things happen for a reason.

Lucienne has exceeded my expectations over and over again. Working with her is a true partnership. She listens to my goals, provides guidance, and makes sure I'm involved/informed about all aspects of my career. I am so pleased with how quickly she responds. She emphasizes there is no such thing as too many questions. So I never hesitate to call or email. And she’s great at brainstorming ideas. In particular, I like that she's a creative thinker and makes opportunities happen. Not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself at my good fortune. She’s the perfect agent for me.

Best of all, we sold that book in a three-book deal to Grand Central in June 2009!

Merci beaucoup, Agent Awesome Sauce!

May the magic romance fairies be with all of you!