This week, I’m going to be talking about the subject I know most about: myself!
Well, sort of. Jen has asked me to talk about my own experience with finding a literary agent, and I have agreed to lay out my experience with the daunting task of finding representation.
I wrote my first YA fiction novel, currently titled M, over the course of a year. The first draft was done within eight months, and I started sending queries to agents as early as then.
To be honest, I’m not sure that this was so smart. In fact, it was probably not, but it gave me a lot of learning experience. I went into this totally blind, using what I read on Writers Digest and the like as my only points of reference.
I did look at a few sample query letters and felt confident about my query, if anything. I believed I could snag agents’ attention, and largely I could.
Within a month of sending out that uber baby draft, I had a response asking for the full manuscript. I was thrilled, and also thought this was probably it! I was going to marry the first boy (well in this case, woman) I kissed and live happily ever after in my fancy new publishing deal!
Alas, after reading this full draft, she passed, and I felt the sting of a first crush’s rejection. Sigh.
But after some Ben & Jerry’s and Parks & Rec, I was revitalized and decided to hit the pavement again. I sent it to more and more agents, and this time got a manuscript request back from two of them.
This began my fling with Agent Y- let’s call her “Roberta.” Roberta was very intrigued with the sample chapters, but asked me to make a few structuring edits before sending the full manuscript. I was thrilled, I was in love, and I would do anything for Roberta. So I made the edits. I sent her the shiny new manuscript in all its newly-chaptered glory and held my breath for three weeks. After reading it, she said she was hooked, but would like it to be about 100 pages longer.
I stared at my phone in my towel (I received this email right before getting in the shower), and mulled over what this meant. Was she passing, or did she want me to send it back after more edits? After fretting for far too long, I simply asked. She’d like it sent back with a little more volume, she said. I took my first gulp of air in almost a month, and decided this time, I’d come back with the full army.
Jen had been talking about the idea of hiring a freelance editor, and I decided to go ahead and do this. I landed on Kim Graff of Wild Things Editing after some more, furious google-based research. (I would highly recommend her if any of you are in the market for an editor). She offered a few different packages, and since I was charging ahead with guns blazing, I went with the “Big Bang” package. Basically the most thorough and in depth edit money could buy. I figured I had invested thousands of dollars at this point on my acting career; might as well get serious about writing if I was going to do this. (And I was.)
Roberta, goddess that she was, agreed to wait as long as I needed to give her a second draft. Angel. Light of my life. I began thinking of the names of our future children.
I received Kim’s edits while I was acting abroad in Scotland. I would sit and read them and write accordingly at the Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling supposedly began writing Harry Potter. The juju of the place was sure to help me create my best work.
Kim was harsh but fair. Some of her critiques were hard to read, because as it happens, I am not a perfect writer and she pointed that out. But she offered specific ways to make my book better, and I gobbled up most of these suggestions. (I ignored some. Sorry, but I still love my prologue.)
After about two months of adding and editing, I felt that M was good enough for Roberta once more. I sent her the latest, creme de la creme draft and contemplated which bottle of champagne I should buy for our wedding night.
A few weeks later, she e-mailed me back. She passed, and the reason she cited was a line on page one (which I have since omitted). I was a bride left at the altar, I wondered if I was deluded in thinking my writing was good enough to publish.
When speaking of this to my real-life boyfriend, he said so simply: “That’s okay. She’s one person. There are hundreds more; go get ’em.”
And though that felt so hard, it was also so straightforward. One of the amazing perk’s of Kim’s edit was a list of agents she thought might like my novel. I sent queries to every single one, and got a few more responses.
But how I actually met my agent Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong Literary Agency is a much more serendipitous, much more alcohol-infused story. A friend had brought me along to a Shakespearean open mic night in a Hell’s Kitchen bar, which, yes, is exactly what it sounds like: people drinking and signing up to perform scenes and monologue’s from the Canon. Amazing.
I did a monologue and used one wonderfully receptive woman in the front row as my acting object. It was so much fun, and later my friends and I began chatting with her. I asked if she was an actor too, and she said “No, I’m actually a literary agent.” I asked if she represented YA fiction, she said she did, and I sobered up and delivered a pitch on the spot. The rest is (very recent) history.
This is not to discourage anyone from sending those dozens of queries. And of course, this is just my story! There are a million roads to Rome. I had back-and-forths with a few other agents after Roberta, and thought at one point I might sign with one of them if Alyssa ended up passing. Thankfully, she did not, and I could not be happier that a fortuitous drunken monologue brought us together.
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Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and works with BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.