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Friday, April 24, 2015

How I Got an Agent: Guest Post by Mark Noce

Are you feeling frustrated with querying? Are you beginning to feel like nothing will ever come from sending out dozens upon dozens of query letters? Well, don't give up yet. Querying does work!


While some people find their agent through online contests, the majority of writers land an agent the good ole fashioned way—the query letter. All it takes is the right book, at the right time, and with the right agent. Sound like a piece of cake? 


We both know it's not...But it is doable!

With that in mind, I'm excited to have Mark Noce here today to share with us his story of how he got an agent and then a two-book deal! I'm so happy for Mark and all his success! Take it away, Mark!


Thanks for having me here, Kristin!

So, the big question…how to get an agent? Gosh, that’s like asking how to fall in love. It’s different for everyone. All I can do is share my experiences, and tell you from the bottom of my heart that you should persevere because good things really do happen to us all.

I wrote a bunch of books over the years, submitted them to just about every agent alive, and got hundreds of rejections each time. Not very encouraging math. I went to conferences and did “speed-dating” with agents, I read all the right books, put in the time, and did all the other stuff you’re probably already doing now. It all added up to squat. No agent, and no interest from publishers.

But I learned a lot, and made a habit of reading and writing a lot and getting feedback from others. More important than just my writing, I made sure to balance the things that really matter in life, like my wife, kids, job, etc. I’d rather be a good person than a good writer, but I’ve found that the two are definitely related.

I turned 30, had zero writing prospects, and was a bit sleep-deprived by my awesome, but energetic one-year-old at the time. Nonetheless, I went ahead and wrote a new book. My best book to date, by far. I knew I had something different on my hands than any of my previous novels, and some of my readers saw it too. I knew that if this puppy didn’t shine, nothing else I wrote would.

So I submitted it to agents. Guess what? Rejections galore. Worse, tons of non-responses. Just that deafening silence, a pain that only the lone writer can fully understand. But then I started to get some interest. A few partials, a couple full manuscript requests, but I’d gotten this far with previous manuscripts and knew that I shouldn’t expect these to pan out.

Nonetheless, I tried looking in some different areas, especially for new agents. This was key for me. It led me to blogs where agents introduced themselves, and even though a “new” agent could actually be someone quite experienced with lots of clients, what it really signified to me was that this was someone as hungry as I was to get a good story out there for others to read.

I sent an email query with the first 3 chapters to a literary agent named Rena Rossner. Yep, despite all the conferences, “speed-dating” face-to-face with agents, and trying everything else under the sun, I found my future agent via a simple email query. Like I said, good things eventually do happen to us all.

Rena emailed me back within a day. She said she was loving the story and would like to see more. I sent her the whole thing, and got a really nice, long email back from her several days after that. She told me she was seriously considering offering me representation, but like many agents she works as part of an agency and as a consequence, the whole agency must agree when taking on a new writer. What took days felt like centuries to me, but Rena was awesome and always let me know how things were progressing.

Everyone talks about getting THE CALL. For me, it was actually THE EMAIL. My agent lives in Israel and I’m in California, so time zones aren’t always cooperative. Although we did eventually speak on the phone, I signed with her via email first and it’s definitely been one of the most important and transformative moments of my writer’s journey thus far.

So I just signed with the most awesome agent on the planet, it should all be smooth sailing going forward, right? Nope. Let’s just say, dealing with rejection is a part of a writer’s life that never goes away.

We submitted my novel to publishing houses, all the big ones. Rena has great connections and got my manuscript in the hands of people who had never heard of me and would’ve been well beyond my reach as an obscure average Joe. If you think waiting on an agent’s response is hard, wait until you try it with publishers. Whew. They’ve got very limited time and a lot to do, and some people wait a very long time to get responses. But we finally started getting responses, and guess what? More rejections.

My agent was frustrated herself, because she knew my book was something special too, and yet we weren’t getting anywhere. Then we submitted to Peter Wolverton, the head editor at Thomas Dunne Books (a subsidiary of St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan). Pete was interested, but believed we should market it toward a different genre. At that stage, I would’ve pretty much added flying donkeys to my story if it sealed the deal, so I was more than happy to market my novel as historical fiction rather than fantasy.

So a couple months after signing with my agent, I signed a two-book deal with Peter. A real book deal that would actually get my book on the shelf in bookstores! Needless to say, my wife took me out and I had plenty of absinthe that night at a nice restaurant in the city. Because that’s what writer’s do, right?

Everything should be all peaches and cream now, yeah? Not quite. Time, time, time. Everything takes time. I’ve gotten great edits back from my publisher and have resubmitted my changes, but my publisher, understandably, has hundreds of other books to worry about during the course of the year. Which means that although I wrote my novel and inked a contract in 2014, my book won’t actually come out until sometime in 2016. Yep, that’s two years, and I’m lucky at that.

So my historical novel, Between Two Fires, will come out sometime next year, and I couldn’t be happier. In the meantime, I’ve sent the sequel to my publisher and have already written a first draft of another series. One plus side to having to wait on edits, is that I can always start writing the next book.

As you can see, I’m very much on the long journey to publication myself, and that story has only just begun. I wish I had some formula that you could follow that would get you an agent or a book deal, but like a lot of things in life, it isn’t that simple. Everyone’s path is different.

But what I can tell you is that whatever place you’re at right now, you are meant to be there. You’re meant to take in this moment and learn from it. Turn your disadvantages into advantages. No agents interested in your work? You’ve got no pressure or time limit to come up with your next book. No beta readers seem to like your last manuscript? Listen and see who your audience is and what they like. See what some of your favorite books have in common and see how you can incorporate that into your own story. Waiting on a publisher or trying to get your self-publishing efforts off the ground? Looks like you’ve got an impetus to start a new book.

I’m an optimist, in case you didn’t already guess, and I can tell you that the difference between a writer before and after their agent also isn’t as great as you might think. You still have to write, you still have to rewrite, you still have to read, you still have edits to do, and you will still get constant rejections. What you are doing right now, wherever you are in your journey, you are developing the skills and attitude that will see you through to whatever destiny your are meant to achieve.

So bottoms up, this life is meant to be enjoyed! Enjoy your writing and enjoy your journey! I’m Mark Noce, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. You can connect with me at my website where you can learn about my upcoming novel, Between Two Fires, and hopefully anything else you might be interested in. Many thanks!



Stephanie Faris said...

Great blog! I'm glad he pointed out that getting an agent isn't the end of the road. I landed mine and spent a couple of years trying to get a series published that is now in the "old manuscripts no one wants" folder on my hard drive. (For the record, there's no such folder, but there should be!) I got my book contract with a book that didn't even exist as an idea until a couple of years after getting my agent.

Mark Noce said...

Thanks for having me, Kristin! And keep on writing:)

Liz A. said...

A valuable reminder that this is a long process, and those in a hurry need not apply.

L.G. Smith said...

I was already familiar with your story, but it's good to hear how optimistic you remained throughout. It's a tough business for sure.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sometimes switching genres does make a difference. I never went the agent route, but I did query a ton of science fiction publishers. When I go nowhere, I started looking at other angles, including young adult. That's what finally landed a publisher.
Good for you, Mark! Look forward to helping you promote your very first book.

Jay Noel said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark. TIME, I know slows down to a crawl. But it'll be here before you know it.

Kristin Smith said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Mark! Definitely inspiring! :)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Congratulations, Mark, for getting the agent, the publisher, and for forging on with new books while you wait. It's good that you ARE an optimist. Good things happen to those who persevere, and lots of optimism is key to perseverance. Thanks for sharing your story which was both inspiring and realistic. This is the kind of advice writers need to hear while they wait offstage for their big moment.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

That was a great post, Mark. I left a long comment there, but I will reiterate my congratulations. Your advice was great for struggling writers to keep in mind. Meanwhile, I will look forward to your book when it comes out next year.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Oh, oh, I meant to post my second post on Marc's blog. I'll do that now, and then you can delete it as well as this one. Sorry.

Nick Wilford said...

Very uplifting post, especially the parts about learning from the journey and continuing on no matter what's happening. Really pleased for you, Mark.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Nice reading about how you got your agent, Mark. I have read that even after getting an agent one may not get a publishing contract fast. But patience is the key, as well as perseverance (writing the next lot of books).

Crystal Collier said...

Yay, Mark! It really is a patience game and developing the writerly muscles along the way, right? I mean, if you don't have the fortitude and gumption to get through all the rejection to begin with, how do you ever hope to survive reviews? Life is brutal.