How I Got My Agent
It’s here, folks. The post that I’ve hoped to be able to write for well over ten years. Holy moly, over ten years -- that’s a long time. Here’s the story, warts and all. It’s a long story, because, well, it took a long time. And this is my blog, so I get to write whatever dirt and secrets I want! Pull up a chair and a coffee…
In 2005 I wrote The Best Book Ever (or so I thought), spiffed it up a bunch of times and sent it out to about 30 agents over the next six years. Amazingly, “Reluctant Sanctuary,” a purple prose-filled schmaltz-fest– SHOCKER—did not get even a whisper of interest. Honest to lordie, this manuscript was bad, you have no idea. But in the revisions and rewriting during 2012-2013, I ended up using this book – and the mentoring of a very patient developmental editor, Gwen Hayes – to learn the craft of how to write a novel. I finally managed to let The Best Book Ever go from my clawed death-grip. By then, I had conceived of a novel which later became Immortal Flame, the first in my Hell to Pay series, written during one of the breaks from revising The Best Book Ever.
Then I made a really amazingly dumbsuper duper smartmove and attempted to break in with a genre book that – wait for it – doesn’t fit into any genre. (Could’ve done shifters or vampires which everyone understands, but NO. That would have made way too much sense.) I worked and worked on this novel, incorporating what I learned in workshops and feedback from contests. Gwen and some additional critique/beta readers helped with developmental work and taught me even more. In 2013 I sent out ten queries. (I know they say send five at a time, but I was antsy.) Got a full request right off the bat, and immediately thought – to the hand-rubbing glee of my hubris (darn hubris, gets me every time) – that THIS IS IT, I’m going to get an agent for this fabulous nonconforming novel. Easy peasy, right?
As it turns out, that was not an entirely accurate assessment. Not even close.
To the surprise of no one but myself at the time, this was not, in fact, IT. Not even in the same zip code as IT.
158 (yes, you read that correctly – I don’t give up ever) agent queries later with a few partials and fulls but never anything more, I had moved forward with direct press submissions. Lo and behold – interest! Heaven bless Crimson Romance, but they were like, “Modern world + indebted ancient immortals who have to kill criminals to feed Satan? Plus hot sex (not with Satan)? Sure. Let’s get this party started.” (That quote is wildly extrapolated and poorly paraphrased.) Anyway, four books later and I’dthey’d published my series!
Onto the psychic cowboys, series number two. Because what’s better than one non-genre-conforming series? It’s two series! Apparently, “paranormal western” isn’t a genre. Until now! Suffice it to say, as fun as it was to write this series and as good as I believe it was, it’s really tough to sell books in a niche that doesn’t actually exist. 35 agent queries later with – surprise – no dice, and thank goodness Crimson said, psychic cowboys and random evil forces, sure why not? (I kind of miss Crimson, TBH. Tara and Julie. They took chances on many of us and really nurtured our work.)
In the midst of the whole psychic cowboy series development and publication, I got this amazing new idea for an ambitious series and wrote Fallen Comrade. The first query for Fallen Comrade went out in May of 2016. I knew that I’d made a big jump in my writing ability from the first series. Would it be enough?
After about sixteen queries, I paused to re-tune the query and complete another set of big revisions with beta readers (including amazing Carmen P) and Gwen. Entry into Pitch Wars – twice (2016 and 2017) – was a bust. #RevPit also was a no-go. A contest entries came back, and I kept plowing feedback from these and Pitch Wars mentors into the next revision. #PitMad netted a few requests and more feedback. I kept sending out queries, getting just enough nibbles to keep going, but still no dice. But unlike the previous books, I knew deep down in my gut that this was The Series. I had finally found my stride, my voice. I believed. A few more partial and full requests started to pop up. Close. So close I could taste it. It had been over two years since I wrote the book. But I wasn’t going to give up. I enlisted the eagle eyes of editor Tera Cuskaden for the last tune-up in late 2018. The final one.
Or so I thought.
February 2019 and a reply from an agent popped up in my email. My heart sank. I had just received a couple of “not for me” emails earlier in the day. It was going to be another rejection..
Instead, it was an R&R (revise and resubmit). It wasn’t a “no,” but it wasn’t a “yes.” R&R’s are risky on the part of the agent because writers could take a detailed R&R, improve the manuscript, and then shop it elsewhere. But I knew that this agent might be newer but she had lots of prior experience in publishing and was very editorially-focused which is what I need. Also, and I liked her take on the story. And hey, she took a chance by providing feedback and seeing if I could execute the revision. Three months later with a beta read from Diane Wiggs (thank you!), and I sent the manuscript one more time into the great beyond. According to internet stalkingreputable sources, the standard turnaround time would be three months.
Three months came and went. I revised another project during this time, as much for the purpose of creating new material as creating a distraction. Three months and two weeks passed. Three months and three weeks. Not that I was counting or anything. Four months. Every time I opened my email inbox, I had a heart palpitation. Nada.
The evening before leaving for Georgia RWA’s Moonlight and Magnolias Conference (it was a great conference, you all should go!), I was at a hotel in The Big City so as to catch the crack-of-dawn flight from End of the World to Atlanta. An email popped up. I saw who it was from. I couldn’t open it. I just knew it was going to be a rejection. After that many No’s, I figured that I still hadn’t revised well enough. But if I didn’t open the email, I wouldn’t have to face the reality. So I literally did other things for about fifteen minutes before opening the email. (Crazy, right?)
It was a request to set up The Call! So here I was, alone in The Big City hotel, unable to scream (because, hotel), jump up and down (also, hotel), or call hubs (too late at night). I couldn’t post anything online because nothing was official and also be cool man be cool. So I kind of danced in place for about ten minutes like a deranged chipmunk desperate to find an acorn and did fist pumps which mostly threw out my shoulder.
It took us a week to finally connect because of conference and life, but after a terrific conversation with Jana, I reconfirmed that she was a great match for what I needed. She understood what I was trying to do in the book, saw the potential in the larger series arc, and had great insights into the manuscript. Also, she believed in my work in general. That’s huge.
After two weeks to clear obligations and complete due diligence, well, here we are. As much as it is a relief from the stress of querying for THREE YEARS (well, thirteen years total, actually) and all the work I put into this novel, I know that my job is nowhere close to done. In fact, I suspect the truly hard work is yet to come. But I’m here for it. There’s now an enthusiastic partner in the process. We shall see how the future unfolds.
My best take-home message: never ever ever give up on your writing. Ever.
By the numbers (these might be a record for persistence/bullheadedness and I’m not sure if it’s worth cheering or being embarrassed by these figures)
Book #1 (Reluctant Sanctuary >BLARF<)
Queries: approximately 30
Requests: 0 (SO surprised, really I am)
Book #2 (Immortal Flame – Book #1 of Hell To Pay)
Requests: 9 fulls
Book #3 (Legacy of Lies – Book #1 of Hell’s Valley)
Requests: 1 partial, 1 full
Book #4 (Fallen Comrade)
Requests: 3 partials, 16 fulls, 1 R&R
GRAND TOTAL QUERIES UNTIL AGENT SIGNING: 385 (Did I mention that I never give up? A good quality in a doctor and a distance runner. For a writer? It’s probably a good quality there, too. Seriously, don’t give up, ever.)
Bonus pro tip: Doing queries at home at the same time one is on call for the hospital is a bad combo. Sleep deprived doc + nursing home calls = who sent a query to the agent BUT ADDRESSED IT TO THE PATIENT. Two thumbs, right here, people. Don’t be like me. Focus.
Other tip: If you’re going to cut and paste an agent’s name into your query letter, do it in Word. Then paste the finished Word document into the email. Don’t cut and paste within the body of the email you just pasted from the last email you send. People can see it. Which I learned about 100 queries into this quest.
One more tip: Gather a group of folks who support you but will give tough love on your writing. This is who will make your manuscript better. Also, read craft articles and go to workshops (some online ones are not expensive at all). A few workshops I attended were nearly life-changing, the advice was so spot-on.
Final tip: Allow your first few books to be the “training wheel” books. Revise the heck out of them. Send them out for contests and feedback. Use them as your personal master class. Then be okay that they are your learning tool and they are meant to be the place where terrible mistakes happen and you can learn.
Finally, if you’re into this sort of thing, here’s the query letter:
Dear Ms. Hanson:
In reviewing your wish list of desired projects, I believe my manuscript fits with your interests. FALLEN COMRADE is an adult romantic suspense novel, complete at 90,000 words. This book is best conceptualized as Universal Soldier meets The A-Team.
Ex-Green Beret Jake Zimmerman’s Georgia mountain seclusion is shattered when the one woman he should never have left, Kiera McNeill, shows up on his doorstep. She’s pregnant and now her life is in danger, thanks to her participation in the botched Morpheus Squad mission. If the nature of her unborn child is discovered, there are forces that will stop at nothing to capture Kiera and her baby. When Kiera uncovers the truth of Jake’s top-secret military MorpheusVirus running through his veins, she realizes that her protector may be the deadlier threat.
Kiera knows the secrets of Fallen Comrades, a billion-dollar “charity” which siphons donations and government money away from wounded veterans like her brother and into the pockets of power-hungry CFO Beau Lequire. Now her ex-boss, Lequire, is bent on revenge. Her only chance of escape from Lequire’s sadistic clutches rests in the lethal hands of the one man who rejected her years ago: Jake. All she needs to do is suppress her buried feelings for Jake long enough to destroy Fallen Comrades, stay alive, and save her baby.
I am an active RWA member and regional conference speaker. My writing credits include two paranormal romance series, HELL TO PAY and HELL’S VALLEY, published by Crimson Romance. IMMORTAL FLAME (my first book) won “Best of the Best” in the Emily Contest through West Houston RWA. And the manuscript I am submitting to you today, FALLEN COMRADE, won the Fool For Love contest through Virginia RWA, the Stiletto contest through Contemporary Romance Writers RWA chapter, and the Diamonds in the Desert contest through Desert Rose RWA.
FALLEN COMRADE would appeal to readers who enjoy the complex alpha heroes in Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers series and the high-stakes dilemmas in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series. The full manuscript is available upon request. I appreciate your consideration of Kiera and Jake’s story.
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Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.
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