Let’s face it. Looking for an agent is the pits. The very scary, Pits of Despair, Princess Bride, pits. I fumbled across my first agent four years ago, right after I’d begun writing. We met online in a chat room. She was new to agenting. I was new to writing. Why not partner up? It was a wonderful experience for a while, but a couple years in, my career had stagnated, and I was frustrated. She and I were friends, and I knew she was working hard for me, but something had to change.
I needed to break up with my agent and start again. I was a wreck at the thought. How could I give up my security blanket? Even if my agent wasn’t perfect for me, she was still there. Real. Mine. I thought about it for more than a year before I made the call. We’d just signed another digital first, no advance, minimal support contract with a publisher I didn’t need an agent to submit to, and I told her it would be my last.
And just like that. It was over. I was adrift. And terrified. But I’d taken my time (LOTS of time) making the decision to let her go, and I knew it was the right thing for my career.
So, I wrote a new cozy mystery.
I found three published friends to read for me – none of whom actually write cozy, (I still don’t have a partner who writes cozy to trade with) but my girls are good at their craft and they love me, so they chipped in and gave feedback. I made the changes and ate my weight in Ben & Jerry’s.
This was it. Nine months after the dreaded breakup call to my former agent, I was ready to query again.
Holy hopscotch! What was I thinking???
My list of ideal agents had been drafted, refined and cultivated over many months of daydreaming. Stalking my favorite authors to see who represented them. Following the agents on social media. Reading their blogs. Interviews. Tweets. I thought quite a few agents were funny. Some would be a blast to have drinks with. And then there was the One. The one who was my tip-top, out-of-my-league, dream agent. So, I started with her. Obviously. Her name is Jill Marsal co-founder of Marsal Lyons Lit. She represents so many AMAZING, successful authors. She has a law degree from Harvard. I love telling people that about her. Smart people float my boat. I wanted HER.
I sent a query and waited. I will admit that it took an extra-large glass of wine to make me hit send…at two in the morning….on a Friday night. I woke Saturday morning with a headache and regret. WHY WHY WHY??? did I think I was ready to contact my dream agent???? Stupidstupidstupidstupid….
And then I opened my email.
Jill had received my late night tipsy query and she wanted my whole manuscript. Not a couple pages. Not a few chapters. She wanted to read the whole thing.
…… …………… <— those dots represent the part where I stared slack-jawed at my screen for two hours.
By lunchtime, I was moving in mental fast forward. I reread the manuscript from start to finish, plucking and culling, licking my thumb and smoothing flyaways until there was nothing more I could do. This was all I had in me. It was a full representation of my very best. If it wasn’t good enough, I’d try again next time, but for now, this was it.
Being Julie… I sent two more queries that night. I figured, I’d already set the thing in motion, I might as well give myself something else to fret about. It was highly unlikely Jill would want me, and I had months of waiting ahead of me while she read the manuscript. So, I sent two more queries and now, I had contacted my top three agents.
I sent the manuscript to Jill on Sunday night, after a trip to church and lots of prayers for sanity during the sure-to-be-maddening wait. I mostly hoped for feedback. When she rejected me, which I believed was 90% inevitable because she was Jill Marsal and I was….well goofy, awkward, a bumbling forty-year- old authoring dork… but her feedback upon rejection could change my game. I could use it to improve the work before someone else asked for pages. While I was at it, I sent two more queries. There. I’d contacted my top five. It was over. I could go puff into a paper bag and wait for the rejections to roll in.
My phone rang at nine am the next morning.
Jill had read my manuscript through the night and called as soon as it was business appropriate. That’s so sweet and professional of her. I would have gladly rolled out of bed to get the call at literally ANY hour, but nine am the next freaking morning worked also.
I didn’t play it cool. I didn’t ask for time to contact other agents or think it over. I dorkily barfed all my internal monologue on her. She was my number one choice. She was the one. Yes. Yes. Yes, please and thank you. Yes. “Perfect,” she said, because she’d already compiled a list of publishers who needed to read my story. I may have rolled off my couch silently. She emailed her contract for representation and while I signed and returned it, she put together a package for six presses. The next morning, she called again. Four of the six had requested to read me. The day after that, another call. She had two offers. If you’re still reading and keeping track, that made FIVE DAYS between my tipsy-query-send and a new agent with two publisher offers. By day 7 after the tipsy query, I’d signed a NICE three book deal with Crooked Lane books. And I’m still wondering when Jill will realize what she’s gotten herself into and politely flee from me.
While that was all lovely and fine and exciting, I want to tell authors in the find-an-agent boat, it wasn’t a reflection on my phenomenal writing skills that made that wild and wonderful story unfold. I probably don’t completely suck at this job, but I’m also no better than most other authors out there and I’m a LOT worse than plenty of them. Remember those other four queries I sent? I had ONE request to read. I also had a big rejection. Not a form letter, a “No thanks. I don’t see this finding a home in the cozy world today,” break-my-heart style rejection. And TWO agents just flat out ignored the query. ie: Rejection by avoidance. It’s a thing. *shakes my head*
So, you see, if I hadn’t had the wine and sent the query to Jill, I might not have an agent or a contract today, and I’d be questioning my craft, my future and my viability as an author. There’s no guarantee the one other agent who asked to read me would’ve wanted to represent me. Maybe no one else would’ve seen promise in my silly story of a woman in New Orleans making custom couture clothing for pets and solving murder. Who knows? That’s why you to have to be brave. Are you sitting on a query? Afraid to pull the trigger? Don’t be. Hit send. Have some wine if you need it, but put yourself out there and don’t stop being your number one advocate. If you need a first agent to move forward, seek one. If your current agent isn’t right, it’s okay to say so. Do the thing, whatever it is. Go for it. If I can do it, YOU can do it.
So, do it!
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world. Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC). She is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency.
Julie also writes as Julie Chase. Learn more about Julie Chase books here.
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