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Friday, January 22, 2016

How I Got My Agent: J.A. Bellinger

If you ever wonder if online contests really work for writers, this next author is proof that indeed they do! Today we have the world-traveling J.A. Bellinger here to share her agent story. I met J.A. through Query Kombat, and I was so excited when she made the announcement that she is now agented. Let's hear her story...


How I Got My Agent

Typing the title for this submission was surreal. I’ve spent hours studying stories of how other writers got their agents, trying to piece together the formula to make that magic happen for myself.

Turns out that while there was a little magic to it, mostly it was hard work.

I’m going to back my story up a bit for those of you who are as green as I was at the beginning of this process—oh, those innocent days before I could distinguish between a query letter and a synopsis or decipher acronyms like TBR and WIP and CP (that’s To Be Read, Work in Progress, and Critique Partner for you newbies!). Because frankly, I never would have gotten an agent if I hadn’t gotten an editor first.

I started writing my first novel, The Art of Almost, over four years ago. I didn’t set out to be a writer, though I’ve written on and off for my whole life. But on the flight home from my brother’s wedding in Arizona, I had an idea that I loved so much, I knew I had to try. As I drove home from the airport in the middle of the night, I left a voicemail for my office that I couldn’t make it in the next morning. I woke up feeling like an idiot, my belief in my writing ability vanished as quickly as it had appeared. But I’d already called in—I think a part of me knew I’d never write that story if I didn’t start immediately—so I made myself sit down and try. And from that moment on, I’ve never stopped.

Early on, I hoped to avoid the daunting process of getting an agent all together. I had a few friends with some vague connections to the industry; surely someone would hear about my brilliant concept and be so dazzled by my writing that I’d never have to write the dreaded query letter.

That’s not quite how it went.

What I got instead turned out to be excellent advice: get an editor. I agreed, and within the week I’d submitted sample pages to several editors. Secretly I thought they’d read my work and tell me there was nothing they could possibly help me improve upon, then hook me up with their publisher friends and my book would become a bestseller . . . and then a movie . . .

Again, that’s not quite how it went.

Turns out I didn’t need just one editor. I needed three.

I also needed Twitter, another recommendation I initially ignored and hoped I was the exception to. Social media? Not for me. I wanted to spend my time writing. But now I know that Twitter is the water cooler for writers, and there’s no more supportive, generous, gracious group of people than writers. Through Twitter I found out about the Query Kombat contest. At one point the name would have intimidated me—damn the query letter! —but by then I’d gotten tons of feedback on my query letter (and I’d queried before, in a wildly unsuccessful fashion). I was ready for Kombat.

Through the contest, I got in touch with the agents who had requested more pages after reading my query letter and first 250 words (250 words?! How much can someone possibly judge your brilliant story in 250 words?!). One of the agents, the wonderful Whitley Abell of Inklings Literary Agency, wrote back within a week asking for a full. My hopes were sky high. A few months went by, and then Whitley’s email popped up in my inbox (not that I was checking obsessively or anything)—the absolute best way to wake up on a Saturday! We talked the next day, and it was the most validating conversation of my life. She understood what I was trying to say and got my characters in a way no one else had. I knew immediately from Whitley’s enthusiasm that she’d be an amazing agent. We’re wrapping up editing now and will hopefully be submitting soon!

Hang in there, my fellow writers. It takes time to get there, but keep at it and one day the lovely Kristin Smith will be asking you how you got your agent!

J. A. Bellinger lives in her hometown of Indianapolis, a sweet city whose appeal only occurred to her after she had lived in six other places. Brisbane, Australia, where she spent a semester during college, provides the setting for her first novel, The Art of Almost. Bellinger still loves to travel, despite having once awoken to a cockroach scuttling across her cheek and having lived for months in a thinly walled mountain cabin, where a wood-burning stove provided both heat and a lovely substitute for TV. It was huddled by that stove that she met her husband, whom she wooed with the dozens of CDs crammed into her backpack. Bellinger is fascinated by why people make the choices they do and by what happens when regret creeps in, when the what ifs take over. In The Art of Almost, she gives readers the chance to live out those possibilities through the protagonist, Anna Marin.


mshatch said...

I like the 'that's not quite how it went,' part, lol. Congrats to J.A.!

Jessica Lawson said...

Love this story! Congratulations on landing your agent! Also, I love your bio :)

Liz A. said...

Ah, if only it was as easy as someone hearing your brilliant idea...

Huntress said...

regarding social media: I agree!! As long as it is used as a "water cooler" stopping place, a meet 'n greet and not marketing only, holy cats, yes.

If you know a little bit about a person, it helps sell books. Just plastering BUY BUY BUY doesn't do the trick for me.

Love your author pic. Super.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the kind words, everybody! It's funny to look back on how naive I was...but it's a good thing, because I don't know if I would have started had I realized just how tough (yet incredible) this industry is. Best of luck to you all!

Gina Gao said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for sharing.