Okay, I’m going to say this right up front so that you have time to lower your pitchforks and put down your cauldrons of burning oil:
I never had to query to get my agent.
Wait, I said put them down! Let me explain!
A few years ago, I had a terrible HR office temp job wherein I was required to do absolutely nothing. Maybe point someone towards another office or change a toner cartridge. These were the challenges that, as a college graduate, I was suitably qualified to handle. Boredom led to writing, and I started to write a book. Eventually I left the job (or, rather, I went on vacation for a few days and got a polite call from the temp agency saying I wouldn’t need to return), but I kept writing. Aaaannnnd writing. The book became a behemoth. At around 150,000 words I stopped, read it over a few times, did some editing, did some research, and ended up querying about eight agents, all of whom rejected me.
And with good reason. That thing was…ugh. I don’t want to think about it, sitting over there on my shelf, taking up (a lot of) space. Ew, it’s looking at me.
I didn’t get depressed or anything, because I had expected this to happen. Getting a book published is a long hard slog through a swamp of muck and grime, or so all the advice books told me, and I was fully prepared for rejection. What I was not prepared for was the entirely different book concept that jumped into my head not soon after – actually, I think it was still while the rejections were rolling in. It was way better. It had much more promise. So I started writing that one instead.
Fast forward. New Book was ready to go, but before I jumped back into querying, I decided to give a conference a try. So I attended Michael Neff’s New York Pitch Conference, which is really more of a workshop on how to write a pitch for your book – a pitch that you then deliver out loud to four real, breathing editors from major publishing houses. So I went in there with my little book, worked on my little song-and-dance, met a lot of very nice aspiring writers, and soon the time came to pitch it to the first editor. Michael introduced her, then also introduced someone else named Tina Wexler who would be sitting in on the pitches – he told us who she was, but I somehow missed what he said. I went through through the whole morning thinking she was…I don’t even know. The editor’s partner? Her caddy? Just a casual fan of midday amateur writing workshops?
So I paid her no mind. I gave my pitch to the editor, and although she loved it, she didn’t handle YA (neither did any of the other editors, as it turned out). That random fangirl Tina said something nice about it too, and while I was happy to get positive feedback, I was a little saddened that it wouldn’t be getting me anywhere. But as time went on and more people gave their pitches, I started to realize something. This Tina person had a lot of insightful things to say. She seemed especially interested in the YA pitches. Slowly, it dawned on me…that key word that I had missed earlier when Michael had introduced her…
Agent who happened to specialize in YA. Agent who was a fan of snarky paranormal. Agent with ICM, a major international agency. Agent who loved and missed the TV series Dead Like Me, which was about Grim Reapers.
In other words, OH MY GOD THE PERFECT AGENT FOR ME.
After the session, she gave me her card and I gave her mine, an embarrassing mess of flimsy cardstock that I’d assembled on my crappy printer the night before. Somehow she managed to stop laughing long enough to shoot me an email requesting the manuscript, an email that was waiting for me that evening when I got home. Needless to say, I crapped my pants, then regrouped and sent her the pages a couple weeks later after one last hurried edit.
Wish I could say that she called me up the very next day and took me on as a client, but that actually did not happen until much later. See, Tina is a badass. And I mean this in the best way possible. She wanted rewrites, and big ones – including a major shift in the world, and a complete revamp of one of the main characters. At first her suggestions made me want to jump out of a moving car, but the more I thought about it, the more they made sense. So I gave them a shot.
And sweet sassy molassy, am I ever glad I listened to her. I could tell that she really cared, that she had a genuine interest in my work and what happened to these characters, and that’s how I knew she was the one. That, and the fact that the book got exponentially better whenever I listened to her and made a change. She’s right about everything. It’s kind of creepy.
Sample conversation at my house:
Me: Should I change this part?
Husband: I don’t know. What did Tina say?
Me: She said to change it.
Husband: Then you should probably change it.
Me, shaking my fists at the sky: Dammit, she was right again! WEXLERRR!
So in the end I never did end up querying Croak, because the very first agent to take an interest in it was Tina, and we go together like peas and carrots.