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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How I Got My Agent: Suzanne Warr

My good friend, Suzanne Warr, is here with us today to share her inspiring agent story. I met Suzanne at a conference a year and a half ago and we've kept in touch ever since. Take it away, Suzanne!

Finding the right agent can feel like searching for a pearl on the bottom of the ocean--a pearl that's the key to an author completing their life quest, but hidden from view by a mundane oyster shell. My search began in earnest some 6-7 years, before I found my agent, Christa Heshke, of McIntosh and Otis. Initially I was subbing an urban fantasy MG, just as the industry was tapering off and those books had become a tough sell. Still, I got good practice ‘diving’ and over the three years got approximately twenty full requests, and some great revision notes and writing advice. All of the rejections were encouraging.

But, a rejection is a rejection, right? It’s hard to see that pearl slip away, after having come so close. I attempted a YA, but it didn’t sum much because even I could tell the voice sounded MG. So, hide away in my office from the writing world, and wrote a different kind of book. Something a little silly, with crossing the road jokes and ninja chickens. In winter of 2013 I'd finished the first draft, and started work on the query. When getting feedback on it, a writing friend suggested I enter my query into Writeoncon's Luck of the Irish pitch contest. I figured I had nothing to lose, so threw myself into the forum discussion that proceeded the pitch contest. Through the feedback I received I realized that two secondary characters needed to be combined into one, and my third chapter needed to become my first.

When the contest began, I eagerly looked up the agent who’d been assigned my book...and my heart sank. She was brand new with no previous agenting experience, and moreover going it alone, without an agency to back her or mentors in the industry. Still, I was grateful for what I'd learned about my novel and query, and set to work rewriting it. As an extra boost, when the pitch contest ended, my book 'won' among the dozen or so pitches it competed against, and got recognition in the forums as one of the winners of the contest. I'll always be grateful to that agent, who picked out my pitch, because she turned a spotlight on my writing.

However, she seemed lukewarm about the book itself, saying it was aimed at younger readers than she usually went for. She did offer feedback on a partial--which I scrambled to have ready for her--and I took a deep breath, knowing this was only the first of many dives.

Except it wasn’t. Another agent--my future agent, Christa--saw my pitch because of its being featured as a winner. She approached the contest organizers about getting my information, so she could request pages. Imagine my surprise when I received this email! It was the first time an agent had every sought me out, and it felt great! Unfortunately, I was still carrying through the revision I'd launched as a result of the forum feedback. As I typed up the email telling her the full manuscript wasn’t quite ready, I did it with the sinking feeling that I'd just blown my best chance. However, she was polite and said I could send it when it was ready, and two weeks later--in early April--I sent her off the full. In the past, I'd always gone down for more ‘dives’ and done my querying in batches, but in this case I decided to wait. I really liked what I'd learned about Christa, and wanted to hear what she had to say before throwing a wider net. It was a risk, but one I felt good about taking.

April rolled into May, which rolled into June. I got an email from Christa, saying she'd be getting to my manuscript soon. I mentally resigned myself to her passing, since my experience with my first manuscript had taught me that agent's enthusiasm for a manuscript ebbed the longer they had it.

Meanwhile, my family was heading out to Estes National Park, in Colorado, for a family reunion. In a trip worthy of a novel quest story, everything that could go wrong did. Our early morning flight was delayed for hours and hours. At one point, I used my phone to check my emails, thinking how cool it would be if an offer of representation came in while I twiddled my thumbs in the airport. It would make such a great story! There wasn't anything, though, and I promised myself I'd stop obsessing and focus on family time.

That was my mistake. Obsession is always the answer.

When we finally made it into Denver that evening, we'd missed our shuttle up to the park, and needed to hunt for another one, since it was long past their usual hours. When we finally dragged our weary bodies into our cabin beds aroundmidnight, we passed out, without even checking emails. The next day I kept my promise and focused on family time--which was made easier by our cell phones having no reception in most of the park. The morning after that, though, I had my hubby check my emails as I combed out my daughter's hair. I'll never forget the tone of his voice when he said "There's something here you need to see. Come look at this email."
I came, and after reading it three times finally processed what I was seeing--a request for a phone call, in order to discuss an offer of representation! At that point, I did what any sensible author would do—paced in a circle between the beds and bathroom, repeating over and over 'Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh' while I marched.

I'm a little embarrassed at how long that went on. Truth, I don’t really know, because that day and the next couple are a blur. I'm pretty sure my daughter's hair did not get combed. I did have a phone call with Christa, and found her to be just as delightful as I'd hoped. I asked her all the questions on my long list, and loved her revision notes for my book. En route back down the mountain, at the end of our stay, I signed and returned an electronic copy of the agency contract on my phone! Another moment I’ll never forget.

So, what did I learn? How can my story help you to go after your pearl-in-an-oyster, and net it when you find it?
· Each book is unique, and on its own journey. Try not to bring baggage from previous searches—instead giving each situation its own chance.
· Be ready to fix your book as soon as you recognize a need for improvement. If I hadn't jumped on the changes my forum buddies suggested, my partial might not have impressed Christa enough to request a full.
· Query widely, unless you feel you shouldn’t. I tried it both ways, and can’t say one is better than the other, but I know that the second time out, waiting for feedback from Christa was the right thing for me.
· Never give up hope. Never. The only way you’ll lose is if you keep diving. Your agent is out there!

Suzanne Warr writes middle grade fantasy and science fiction, with enough humor and adventure to keep things lively. She is a graduate of BYU with a history degree, and has a black belt. She is also a content editor for Red Adept Publishing, so she has the awesome day job of helping authors shape their novels into the books they want to become. Her favorite hobbies include sword fighting, playing at the beach, and hiking the gorgeous trails around her home in central North Carolina. She is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis. You can find her on her blog www.suzannewarr.com, where she spotlights a middle grade each week, and on Facebook under Suzanne Warr. She’s also on twitter as @zeechick, and on Instagram as warrchick.


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Love your voice in this post, Suzanne! Thanks for sharing your encouraging story.

Liz A. said...

Of course the offer would come when you go on vacation.

Suzanne Warr said...

Thank you, Sheri! I'm glad it was encouraging. :)

Liz--of course! lol