Seeking Representation through Roundabout Routes

Photobucket image from pbear_spirit

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.

* * *

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?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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14 Responses to Seeking Representation through Roundabout Routes

  1. Interesting story! Thanks for sharing it. I’m just beginning my agent search.

  2. Wendy says:

    This is great, Keli. I’d so be the one with something stuck in my teeth. And what a great encouragement that we get do-overs with agents too sometimes.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Keli, your story is remarkable and shows your patience and skilled strategic thinking. I suppose my approach is roundabout. I am not seeking an agent, but instead taking my polished picture book manuscript and put together a team to bring my PB to the iPad/iPhone app world. We’re getting to the “It’s time to start marketing it” stage. and I love marketing!

  4. Keli,
    I enjoyed reading about your strategy! Good points and encouraging. Thanks.

  5. Great post. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I will keep these thoughts in my storehouse of knowledge. This season of my life, attending a conference would be impossible. When my story is ready, perhaps I will enter it in a contest. I’ve been thinking for a while that this has been a way in for many authors. I’m not ready yet. Blessings to you, Keli…

  6. Julie Nilson says:

    Keli, you always provide such useful and unique information! I’m going to save a link to this post for when I finish my MS.

  7. Another great, informative post, Keli! I’m in the process of seeking an agent, and it’s definitely a “roundabout route” *smile* – – so hopefully soon I’ll be able to share my adventure. ~ Have a blessed Easter weekend! 🙂

  8. Sherrinda says:

    Keli, I love your journey. I love your determination, hard work, and belief that God will make a way. Thank you for sharing your path and being an encouragement!

  9. Marsha Young says:

    Keli,
    This is an interesting and helpful post. Thank you. My daughter just attended the Mt. Hermon Writers’ Conference last week and learned a great deal.

    I received the raffle prize in the mail today, and the little walrus finger puppet made me smile. Thank you, again. Have a wonderful Easter. …Marsha

  10. Thanks for sharing your story, Keli. I’m not sure where I stand in the query process. I have three completed mss, and am working on a fourth. I’d like agent representation but I’m in a long-term learning, growing, writing and revising rut. I’ve approached only one agent this year and have no enthusiasm for trying any others. I don’t suppose that’s a bad thing as long as I’m continuing to study and write.

  11. This is great, Keli! I definitely think we should always be thinking about the best possible ways to put ourselves out there. I will say I had horrible experiences sitting with agents/editors at a conference, but I’m sure I’ll try it again. I’m persistent that way.

    Are published/agented writers really receptive to reading a portion of your work and making recommendations to their agents? I guess if you have a relationship with an author, but I’m not sure I have the guts to do that.

  12. P.S. I’m with Heather on that last point, Keli. I couldn’t possibly ask someone to read my work and possibly put in a good word with their agent! That seems way too presumptuous.

  13. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. I read and enjoyed them, although I wasn’t able to respond the way I like.

    I’ve been in transition the past few days. I got a great deal on a nifty writing desk from Staples, which will be my new Creation Station. My little office had to be emptied, the desk assembled, and the room returned to a semblance of working order. My poor computer sat perched on a corner of my sadly neglected scrapbooking area the better part of a week, severely impacting my ability to be online. While things are still in disarray, my desk and computer are set up, so I’m functioning again.

    Heather asked a good question: Are published/agented writers really receptive to reading a portion of your work and making recommendations to their agents? My answer would be: It depends. As I said in the post, I would only suggest approaching a writer pal who is a close friend. Since I’m hesitant by nature, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to ask. I’d have been afraid of being presumptuous, as Carol said.

    However, since I am agented and that agent has sold my story, I can look at things from the perspective of someone who could conceivably be asked. I know how much courage it would take the one asking and would be truthful as well as compassionate when I replied. In all honesty, due to the limits on my time the more likely scenario would be that I would extend the offer to look at someone’s work if I believed it showed promise, taking into consideration contest wins, etc. I hope that helps to clarify what I shared in the post.

  14. I didn’t go through the typical way either. I didn’t send very many queries out at all. Once I knew I was going to the ACFW conference, I determined to wait to pitch in person. While there, I pitched to Rachelle and Shannon Marchese with Waterbrook and now I’m working with both!

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