Sunday, May 18, 2014

How I'm Building a Career with an Agent

So um… you know that whole plan on giving updates regularly about the querying process for an agent? Yeah, that’s not going to be necessary. A few days ago, I was officially offered representation by Ella Kennen of the Corviserio Literary Agency, and I couldn’t ask for a better agent going into the next step of the process, submissions to publishers.

I wish I had a really long inspiring story to share about the process that went into querying, that I preserved by going to writer’s conferences for years, used professional services and critique centers to sharpen my query to a razor point, that I hit low moments where I stuffed my face full of cookie dough ice cream while watching Game of Thrones, but sadly I don’t. I spent three years writing the best manuscript that I could, then I sat down and wrote the best query I could for that manuscript, and I sent it out. That’s it, nothing more.

My final total success rate went something like this: 

24 rejections, 4 partial requests, 1 full manuscript request, and 1 offer.
I don’t want to make this post about the process of how I got my agent, as if an agent is some prize you find out of the bottom of a Cracker Jack box that you can wag around to your friends and say “Hey, I’m a writer!” Instead, I want to talk about how I found an ally whom I’m excited to share a career with.

Before I started sending out my batch of queries, I began with a "wishlist" of what I was seeking most for in an agent, beyond just representing my genre. The usual suspects were a given (needed to be a good agent, part of a good reputable agency, good sales, and so on), but I was also seeking qualities and experiences in a person’s life beyond their resume. This would be someone I would be working with for decades, an entire career even, so I wanted someone who would be passionate about all the issues that I wanted to address in my future work. So I sat down and drafted the qualities my dream agent would have, and here’s the list I came up with before my agent search. I wanted…

  • Someone who's worked as a teacher, who has a deep love and appreciation for education.
  • Someone who's traveled often, who understands that the world is much bigger than their own country's borders.
  • Someone who's lived in a foreign country, who knows the challenges it presents to do even the simplest of things like paying bills or taking public transportation.
  • Someone who speaks more than one language, who knows the frustration of what it's like to be in a culture where you might not understand what's being said.
  • Someone who's a strong editor, who isn't afraid to do what it takes to revise a manuscript to make sure it's ready for submission.
  • Someone who's progressive, who feels deeply about women, minority, LGBTQ, and human rights.
  • Finally, someone who I can get along with easily, who doesn't feel like it's an inconvenience for me to ask them about any concerns that I have.

I'm pleased to say that the agent I finally signed with, Ella Kennen, had every single one of those qualities on that wishlist, and more.

I think what I learned most about the querying process is to choose the agent that is going to fall in love with your manuscript. Choose the agent who writes back the very next day after your query and asks for the full. Pick the one who then reads through that full manuscript in two days and then comes back ready to start revisions. Who then proceeds to stay up until 2AM and gets only five hours of sleep, because she/he is excited to polish that manuscript with as much passion as you put into writing it in the first place. Because this is going to be your leading advocate who’s going to put your work in front of an editor and tell them, “You’re going to buy this book.”

It’s been three years since I left the US to start researching and writing The American Immigrant, and while the road to the publication is nearing the end for this book, there’s one more major push to clear. In the next few weeks, we’ll be finalizing our submission packet and collecting information on various editors of some of the largest publishing houses in the world. After that, we submit, we wait, and we hope that the book arrives out on bookstore shelves soon, so that readers can learn what they can do to reclaim and preserve our education system. 

Cheers Ella, let’s go get ourselves a book deal!

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