Sending out queries works for some. If you’re one of the select few who was pulled from the query sea and received an offer of representation, I applaud you. That’s a commendable feat.
Like many newbie writers, I sent out some query letters early in my journey. After a handful of rejections I called a halt. I explained why I quit querying in my previous post.
I took a year off to concentrate on improving my craft. At the end of that year I scrutinized the five stories I’d completed before curtailing my querying, determined which of them showed the most promise, and embarked on a self-directed revision.
I’d just begun a major rewrite of the story I chose when I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in spring 2009. During the conference, I received a reality check about agents from a well-respected one whose name appears on a photocopied rejection letter in my files.
A Surprising Lesson from an Agent
In an uncharacteristically brave moment, I chose to sit at this agent’s lunch table one day. She arrived and sat beside me, so I couldn’t hide. We spent most of the meal talking. I wasn’t pitching at the conference since I didn’t have anything ready, so I asked what she reads for pleasure, about the part of the country she’s from, and other non-business topics.
Near the end of the meal, the agent asked what I write. I gave her a short statement, saying I write inspirational historical romance, had double finaled in the Golden Heart® the year before, and was revising one of my stories. She asked about my GH entries, and I gave her the one sentence pitches.
The agents’ eyes grew as round as our salad plates. She leaned close to read my name tag and lifted her gaze to meet mine, her face a study in disbelief. “I rejected you, didn’t I?”
I don’t know which of us was more surprised.
I recovered quickly, managed a lighthearted laugh, and said, “Yes, you did, but I deserved it. My work wasn’t ready, and I shouldn’t have sent it to you.” I located her name on my mental submission list and put “Remembers rejecting you. Do not resubmit.” after it.
What came next was even more surprising than the agent’s remarkable memory. She whipped out one of her business cards, handed it to me, and invited me to send her my story when I finished my revisions. I hope I didn’t have any food stuck in my teeth, because my mouth fell open before I caught myself and snapped it shut.
I left the conference encouraged and with renewed enthusiasm. I’d learned a valuable lesson. Even though I’d submitted too soon, I hadn’t destroyed my chances of being offered representation. Agents don’t write us off when we, in our naiveté, send newbie dreck. They realize we grow and will give us a second chance.
My Decision to Pursue Agent Representation through Roundabout Routes
While query letters hadn’t worked well for me, personal contact had yielded unexpected rewards in the form of a request. I decided to explore alternate avenues to reach agents.
My plan involved several steps. First, I would complete the revision, input my talented critique partner’s input, and polish the opening until it shone so brightly agents would be forced to don sunglasses. In order to obtain additional feedback to determine if the story was ready for submission, I choose ten contests to enter, basing my decision on the final round judges who would see my entry in the event I were to final.
My next step was to consider all the comments and suggestions offered by my generous preliminary round judges, see where they concurred, and revise the story once more in preparation for attending RWA® Nationals and the ACFW conference in 2010, where I would pitch the story to publishing professionals face-to-face and would hopefully receive some requests.
I made it to those conferences, but I was no longer in search of an agent. My decision to seek representation though roundabout routes had worked far better—and far more quickly—than I expected. I ended up with several wins and requests from the contests I’d entered, which led to an offer of representation from my Dream Agent in December 2009.
Alternate Ways to Catch an Agent’s Attention
• Enter contests in which the final round judges are agents on your wish list.
• Attend conferences and get face time through a formal pitch session, over a meal, etc.
• Cultivate a relationship with agents through Facebook, Twitter, and/or their blogs.
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If you have an agent, did you receive your offer through a query or some other way?
If you’re seeking an agent, how are you conducting your search?
What other alternate routes can you add to the list?