Monday, February 16, 2015

The Truth About How I Got My Agent

One of the most frequently asked questions to an author is: How did you get your agent?
My wonderful author friend, Kat Yeh, has graciously offered to share her story.

My debut middle grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, has just come out and a lot of people have been asking me how I came to be repped by my superstar agent, Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. I can't say enough good things about Sarah. I love that she owns her own business and puts everything behind it. I love that along with her lovely and elegant ways, she is a strong and fierce competitor. I love that to read her blogs and to hear her speak, you'd think she is 6'2" but she is, in reality, perfectly petite. I love that she plays the ukulele. And I loved that she made me feel that she believed in me and was behind me 100% from the moment she got my query.
So, The Truth About How To Get An Agent? I can only speak to my own experience and what worked for me.
Here are the stats:
Query letters sent: 5
Results: 4 offers of rep, 1 offer to revise together first
This is what I did.
As soon as I became serious about being published, along with writing every day, I researched agents and editors with the stalker-ish fierceness unbecoming to ladies of a gentle sort. I looked up who repped whom. I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace and studied who sold what. I spent hours on Casey McCormick's invaluable site, Literary Rambles ( and read every single agent interview. I talked to my friends. I asked everyone how they liked their agent - and, more importantly, WHY. I began crafting a list. A Dream List. It stayed fairly small. One thing I knew about myself was I did not want to do a mass mailing. I wanted to do a small personal mailing of submissions. I wanted to really know the agents I was subbing to. And I wanted them to know me.
I went to a lot of conferences. I sought out specific agents and where they would be speaking. I went to their workshops. I signed up for as many critiques as I could. I am shy, by nature, and this part was pretty hard for me — at first. But I found that most people want nothing more than to be helpful during critiques and I learned so much during them.
During this time, I was fiercely revising the manuscript for THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE. I knew that this was the manuscript that I wanted to put out in the world first. This was the manuscript upon which I was going to base my query. And I knew that you only had one chance to make a first impression. I did not want to waste it on a weak submission and risk being written off by someone on my dream list.  I did not want to be the writer who rushed and submitted something that was clearly not ready to go.
Then something wonderful happened. I won the Sue Alexander Award at LA12SCBWI for a YA work-in-progress and suddenly, in a small way, my name was out there a little bit. I knew it was the time to sub agents.
I took my small Dream List of four agents and wrote personal queries. I had either met with all of them — or had a personal connection through a friend who was recommending me to them. I sent out my four and took a deep breath. Then I spoke to my friend (and wonderful writer) Betsy Devaney — who was playing the role of my Submission Therapist during this time. We went over all my choices and then I mentioned there was one more person I wanted to sub to, but it was also the one person that I really did not have any connection to. Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. We had met once briefly, but I didn’t know any of her clients to recommend me to her and she had never critiqued me or read anything I'd written. Without any sort of connection, I felt that, if I subbed to her, I would just end up in a pile and lay there for months…
But I really liked her.
I liked her blog and her writing and her passion.
Oh, and she had the same name as my best friend from high school.
Betsy intervened. "I know Sarah and I'm friends with one of her clients, Sarah Aronson - I'll ask Sarah to tell Sarah to put you at the top of her list —"
Now, I'm one of those people who never cut in line. I felt awkward. Favors from someone like Sarah Aronson (whom I had also never met) made me feel uncomfortable.
But then I gave in. Of course, because - c'mon.
I know that writers are always interested in the Query That Worked. So, this is the query I sent:
Dear Ms. Davies,
We met briefly during this year's NJSCBWI Summer conference. You share a first and last name with my best friend. And we share a favorite book: THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and I love your comparison of writing to music. Your online presence seems to be so much about teaching and discussing the publishing world and your passion to "nurture and grow" your authors is clear. I'm seeking representation for my middle grade manuscript, TWINKIE PIE (AND OTHER THINGS OF A DELICATE NATURE), complete at 52,000 words.
Take two sisters: a brainy 12 year old and a Jr. High Dropout Turned Hairdresser.
Add a Move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York.
Mix in a fancy new school, a first crush, and a generous serving of trailer park food.
Then top it all off with a supposedly dead Mama and her lipstick.
It's the recipe for TWINKIE PIE (AND OTHER THINGS OF A DELICATE NATURE), the story of what happens when 12 year old GiGi Barnes and her big sister, DiDi, say goodbye to their home in the South, leaving everything behind — except their dead Mama's cookbook of trailer park recipes. After all, recipes play a big part in their lives. DiDi has even given GiGi a Recipe for Success that is sure to head her straight for an Ivy League education.
But GiGi figures it's time to try her own Recipes. Like how to make good friends as easily as she makes good grades. How to turn her boy friend, Trip, into A Boyfriend. And especially how to find a tube of Mama's favorite lipstick, Revlon's Cherries in the Snow. Discontinued now for 20 years. On her search for all these things, GiGi stumbles upon a clue that leads her to believe that her dead Mama might not be so dead after all. Filled with recipes, humor, and heartache, TWINKIE PIE (AND OTHER THINGS OF A DELICATE NATURE) is a story about growing up, reinventing yourself, and most of all, figuring out what to make — out of what you've been given.
Pasted below are the first five pages. I would be glad to send the complete manuscript at your request. It was an honor to have the first few chapters nominated for the Sue Alexander Award at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA, last year. I have received editor requests for the full, which I would prefer to send with an agent's Guidance and Wisdom. I have also just been informed that I am the winner of this year's Sue Alexander Award for my work-in-progress, a YA, titled GIRL IN SHADOW.
Before writing children's books, I worked in advertising and sports marketing at Saatchi & Saatchi. My two previously published pictures books are YOU'RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009) and THE MAGIC BRUSH: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2011). I have decided that it's time to start working with an agent (and stop pretending that I know how to read contracts on my own).
I thank you for your time and consideration.
Kat Yeh
(directly below this, I pasted the first chapter of my manuscript)

And that's it. 

Two days after sending in my queries, I received an offer from one of the other four agents. As was appropriate, I let the remaining agents know that there was currently an offer of rep. I heard from Sarah right away. She was heading for the airport at the break of dawn the next morning to attend a conference and asked for the full manuscript and if she could get back to me after she returned from her event in a few days — which I gladly gave her. An hour later, Sarah emailed me to let me know that after reading my query, she was going to read my manuscript immediately. During this time, another offer came in. Sarah began emailing me every few hours to let me know how far she was in the manuscript and how excited she was. That afternoon, in the checkout line at the grocery store, I received an email from her that had me bursting into tears (and confusing my cashier!). She asked if we could speak that evening before she left for her flight in the morning. During that call, she discussed how passionate she was about my manuscript, all the reasons she felt that she and Greenhouse Literary were the right fit for me, and she offered representation. I received another offer of rep. And then the last offer came in to revise together. I slept on it. And it came down to this.

It was a small list. It was a Dream List. No matter which way I went, I knew I was in great hands. I had used my head to get me this far. The final decision I left up to the heart. I accepted the offer from Sarah. After another round of revisions, she took THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE to auction where it sold to Alvina Ling at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

To everyone about to send out their queries, I wish you the best of luck. This is what worked for me, but everyone will find their own way and what works for them. And that's the truth.

THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE available Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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