Like me, Peggy is a first-time author. But she’s several steps ahead of me in the process; she has already completed her manuscript and signed with a literary agent, who is about to submit to publishers. Her book is about dieting with her dog.
Peggy has a rather unusual story about how she ended up with her agent, which is why I’ve asked her to join us today. When it comes time for me to seek out my own agent, I’ll keep in mind what I’ve learned — what you’re about to learn — from Peggy.
Welcome, Peggy! How’d you get your first offer from a?
I had an article in a magazine I write for regularly. The end of the article included my bio, which mentioned that I was working on a book. An agent noticed, and contacted me, asking if I’d send the proposal. At that time, I wasn’t finished writing the manuscript, and hadn’t planned on contacting agents yet. This was my first contact with an agent of any sort, and I was beyond excited!
What happened next?
A little later, another agent contacted me. Agent #2 was referred to me by an editor of a magazine. I know, I was shocked! Two agents contacting me, and I hadn’t even finished writing the book. Although it was exciting, that wasn’t the way I expected it to happen. It just goes to show that there is no typical way to get an agent. I really hadn’t even begun thinking about agents, since I was still working on the writing part. So my first advice is, it’s never too early to start thinking about agents.
I finished writing the book in about three months, and sent it off to both agents. There was some communication, but no contract offer. So after both agents had the manuscript for about a month, maybe more, I figured neither one was interested. I sent a query to a third agent.
Wouldn’t you know, about two hours after I sent that query, I got an offer from Agent #1? I was flattered, but also confused. Shouldn’t I fully consider the other agents too? So I wrote to Agent #2 and said I had an offer. This agent called me back and made me an offer right then and there on the phone. Then I wrote to Agent #3, who had my query, and explained the whole situation. She asked for my proposal and sample chapters and was kind enough to read them immediately. She also made me an offer.
Okay, so how did you choose one?
Although I had previously only dreamed of having an agent, now that I had offers I was confused. And honestly, freaking out. I had three great offers but which one was right for me — a large agency? A smaller boutique agency? And how would I know? Eventually, I went with Agent #2, from a large agency. I chose this agent partly because I was impressed by the many bestselling books the agency represented. The agent was enthusiastic about my work. And, the agent came referred by someone I trusted. I was excited, but it also felt awful turning down the other agents.
Agent #2 was super nice, but after about four weeks was unable to sell my book. I had expected an agent to search for months, maybe even a year. But that was the end of the road. We parted on very nice terms, but I was surprised.
Soon after, I approached Agent #3 again, and explained everything. My voice was shaking, I was so nervous. She was so understanding, and she agreed to sign me on. I am thrilled with my new agent, she has great ideas and great communication, and I feel like my book is in very good hands. Even though I’m starting off back at the drawing board, I trust her and I’m extremely grateful she’s taking a chance on me.
Looking back, what do you wish you did differently?
I don’t think I could have avoided the way things happened, everything moved so fast. Sometimes we make mistakes in the name of inexperience. I guess that’s how we learn. But ideally, I would have liked to have researched agents and created a list of those I thought were right for my manuscript, and ranked them. That would have helped when I needed to make a quick decision.
I guess one thing, I wouldn’t be so blinded by a larger agency. It may be right for you, but in my experience a small boutique agency can also offer the same things, and maybe even more personal attention. I wouldn’t dismiss an agency just because it’s small, or not located in NYC, or whatever.
I also might have given more weight to the kinds of books the agent has sold. I write about animals and pets, and my new agent has represented numerous books about pets. Now that we’re working together, I can see that she really knows this particular market and has read competing books. Because of her knowledge and insight, she’s already given me some great suggestions.
What have you learned from this experience that you’d like to share with other writers who are looking for an agent who will be a good fit for them?
I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure! You only have so much information, and maybe only an email or two between you. It’s such a gamble. You have to trust.
Look at their list and make sure the agent not only represents, but seems to like your subject matter. If you write mainly “girl stuff” consider if a female agent might represent you better than a male? Once you are in communication with the agent, see if they “get” your work. Do they tell you that they love your story? And most of all, hopefully you’ll be able to talk to them on the phone before you decide. That gave me a better feel for how we connected. One agent offered to send me references without my asking. That made a big impression on me.
Just do your homework, then go with your gut. And don’t worry, if things don’t turn out how you expected, it’s not the end of the world. The next plan may be even better!
Thanks, Peggy! Anyone want to pick her brain? She’ll answer questions on the blog today — Just post them below in the comments section.