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Monday, April 20, 2015

How I Got an Agent: Guest Post by Beth Ellyn Summer

Are you ever drawn to reading authors' stories of how they got an agent? Do you find yourself hanging on to every word, hoping they will impart some bit of wisdom that might help you find your dream agent?

Everyone's story is different. For some it may take years to fulfill their dream of getting an agent while for others it may seem like they've won the golden ticket in life with quick response times and multiple offers of representation. But for this week—and this week only—I've asked several authors to share their "How I Got an Agent" story. I'm super excited to have the lovely Beth Ellyn Summer here today to share with us her own story of how she got an agent. Take it away, Beth!

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I am so happy to be here at Unicorn Bell! :) Thank you so much for asking me to contribute, Kristin!!

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"That will never happen to me."

Every writer has thought this at one time or another. It's hard not to when you read about the perils of querying: No response means no. Partials getting bumped up to fulls only to turn to rejections. A revise and resubmit request from an agent that doesn't end in an offer. Writing a novel that an agent really likes, but doesn't feel the timing is right for the current market. Developing an agent crush ("they love classic sitcoms and devoured the Babysitters Club series as a kid. It's fate!") only to be rejected just as fast as you fell in love with their bio.

But surely if you write a great manuscript, polish it to perfection and do all your agent research you'll avoid all that, right?

                                              

I queried two manuscripts before AT FIRST BLUSH. My first had a good request rate, but there was no clear boundary between MG and YA. Looking back, I definitely gave up too soon. I didn't know about the art of revision.

My next MS had its own special set of problems. It was an 80,000 word tell-a-thon. I had no idea what it meant to show, therefore, I didn't do it. My request rate sucked, and the feedback was all the same. "Either lower or raise the ages. There's no market for twenty-two." Of course, less than a year later, NA became a thing.
                  
And just like that, it WAS me. All the bad things that were previously hearsay were happening to me. By the summer of 2012 I had had enough.
I cried. I slammed my laptop closed. I swore as God as my witness I'd never write again.

An hour later, I had a few thousand words on a brand new YA.

                                     

Six months later, I knew this was The One. Everything about it felt so right. By the time I finished AT FIRST BLUSH it was late January, 2013. I queried and received requests instantly. Even better? The (very kind and helpful!) rejections were just as instant. Speed is this elusive, mythical creature in the publishing world, and I was experiencing it! I knew I had something here.

Then one night in mid-February I was lazily scrolling through my twitter feed when I saw it: a retweet advertising a "Girly YA" contest over on Monica Bustamante Wagner's blog the following day. I immediately booted up my laptop and proceeded to check out the agent.

Carrie Pestritto was with Prospect Agency, and had a really fun blog. I spent a good hour reading through her posts and learned that she had great credentials (phew), she loved Essie nail polish (I have two salon style racks filled with Essie nailed to my walls), and most importantly, she'd recently read THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass, and was on a girly, makeup/fashion fueled YA kick, hence why she was holding this contest.

My new MS was about a teenage girl who loves makeup so much she films YouTube tutorials, and has to decide how far she's willing to go for a million subscribers. I had to enter. I also had mixed feelings. If this agent didn't want AT FIRST BLUSH, I doubted anybody would. And then I really would quit for like a week forever.

                   

I tried to remain upbeat. I tweaked my query and posted the pitch on the blog at about 8 A.M. the next morning.

The following day I wasn't thinking much of it anymore, to be honest. My parents were at the hospital for my dad's between-chemo-rounds-checkup for his rare blood cancer. Any time the phone rang or my email buzzed I'd tense up, thinking it was bad news about Dad. So when the email came through from Monica that I was one of 4 winners, I was just so excited to have some positive news to share. I called my brother, and then called my mom at the hospital. Everyone was extremely excited, but we've all learned by this point not to get our hopes up too high.

The winners got to email Carrie Pestritto our first 100 pages. After a quick sweep-through of my pages I sent them off to her that afternoon. Seconds later she wrote me back thanking me and saying she was really excited to read!! Yes, there were two exclamation points in there.


An agent, excited to read my MS? It had to be an overly upbeat auto-response message.

I decided to try and put it out of my mind to the best of my abilities. It was a Wednesday, which meant a good television lineup. So, that very same night I'm watching Modern Family when I get a new email from Carrie.

My brain: WOW. She must have hated it so much she can't wait to reject me.

But no, they were notes about a revision, and she said we could set up a time to chat on the phone.

My brain: A PHONE CHAT WITH AN AGENT? How will this go? How will I speak? What if I forget how to speak? What if I forget how to breathe? What if I forget everything my mind has retained since Kindergarten and I just recite vowels and consonants like a jumpy Wheel of Fortune contestant?

I spent hours composing my calm, cool, and collected reply. It said something along the lines of, "yes, Ms. Pestritto, I would very much like to have a phone discussion regarding revisions. I am free any moment for the rest of my life, which of those moments works for you?"

We spoke the following evening and I felt like I'd known her forever and we could be best friends. I was shocked that she was asking me questions that sounded suspiciously like pre-offer questions. I loved her ideas and completed the revision in a month.

                     

Unfortunately, since it was my first real, major revision, I didn't really know much about them. It still needed some more substantial work. So no offer.

                                          
But nope! It wasn't over. We had another great call, and now I had a clearer idea of what needed to be done. Carrie is incredible at giving authors chances to develop and grow as artists. She saw something in this manuscript, and in me. I was more determined than ever.

                                               

 A couple of months later in May, I was about halfway finished. It was a beautiful but very miserable spring day. My dad was coming up on two weeks in the hospital due to a very bad reaction to his stem cell transplant (he's fine now and in complete remission!) but it was a really really scary, bad time. I was trying desperately to concentrate on my MS when my phone rang. I was shocked to see it was Carrie. Also, a little nervous. Did she change her mind? Was she calling to tell me to forget the whole thing? Except she sounded too excited for it to be bad news. All I remember thinking is, it can't be healthy for a heart to pound this erratically and fast. I glugged some water and sat down.

And then the offer came.

                                         

She was having lunch with an editor and started pitching my book as though I was her client already. That's when she realized she should make it official with me. I was shocked. She said she loved my voice, the MS, me as a person and had enjoyed working with me. She officially offered me representation.

Before I'd even finished that second revision.

                  

I was gobsmacked. I was also happy that I was able to instantly say yes. I stopped querying while revising, because I really liked Carrie and didn't want to spread myself too thin. The other requests had been passes, and one agent really liked it but the head of her agency was leaving to form a new agency and she wasn't sure where she was headed.


So yes, it DID happen to me. The bad stuff, but also the good stuff.

If you're currently in the query trenches, please do NOT give up. Don't stare at the clock or calendar and panic that time is running out for you to achieve a dream. Time doesn't exist in dreams. You will get there, and it will happen for you, too.
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About Beth:

Beth writes girly teen fiction, because writing about a smoky eye look is a lot easier than actually doing it. She used to work at 30 Rock, where she laughed a lot and learned some stuff too, interning for Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon. She lives on Long Island and can usually be found watching Wheel of Fortune, and tweeting too many pictures of her kitten, Penny.

17 comments:

Suzanne Furness said...

Loved reading your story, so happy you got there.

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

thank you so much, Suzanne! I'm so glad I got to visit UB today :)

Liz A. said...

Great story.

Melanie Stanford said...

I love HOW I GOT MY AGENT stories and this one was awesome! Congrats Beth and Carrie!

Al Penwasser said...

Fantastic story! I'd love to get an agent. Or at least someone who'll talk to me. Without me having to use zip-ties.

Leandra Wallace said...

'Time doesn't exist in dreams'. Wow, Beth, I love that! And it's so true. I'm getting restless to start querying the story I'm revising- I want one of these inspiring stories myself! =) (tho I am super happy for yours, of course!)

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

thank you Liz and Melanie! :)

haha Al, you'll get there!

Leandra, I'm so excited for you to start querying. you're super close to being agented. I feel it!

Kristin Smith said...

It was so much fun having you on here, Beth! Thank you sooo much!! :)

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

of course, I had a blast! xoxo

blogoratti said...

Great and interesting read. All the best for the future!

sage said...

This is a wonderful story, Beth Congratulations. I haven't been to this blog before and when checking it out learned that it's another blog of a blog friend, neat!

Peaches D. Ledwidge said...

Love the way you told your story.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Congrats on getting your agent. It's a great story on how it happened too.

Kelly Hashway said...

What a great story, Beth! So cool that Carrie found herself talking about your book to an editor. That definitely is a sign that she really believed in you and your work.

Chrys Fey said...

That is an awesome story, Beth! WAY TO GO!!! :D

Julie Dao said...

Such a wonderful, happy story, Beth! I know Carrie from speaking to her on the phone about revisions :) She was always so kind and professional, and I would have liked for her to offer to me. (But I am THRILLED with the agent I ended up getting, so all's well that ends well!) I'm so glad she did so for you! What a wonderful thing she did to pitch your book to that editor!

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

aw thank you everyone!