How I Got My Agent and a Two-Book Deal (After 13 Years)

I’ll never forget the day that one of the members of my very first critique group announced she was sure I’d be a published author within five years. FIVE YEARS? I was nearly ready to query my first manuscript! It was unlike anything else on the market. Agents were going to snap me up! Editors were going to fight for my story!

Imagine my surprise when I queried and … nothing. (To be fair, I did receive requests for partials and fulls but no offers of representation. In fact, one agent wrote to tell me how excited he’d been about the premise and how disappointed he was by the pages. I no longer have the email, but the gist of it was that I had no idea how to write scenes, much less a story.)

Undaunted, I wrote book two. And started reading every children’s book I could get my hands on (I was in my early thirties; I’d been an avid reader as a child, but read only occasionally in my twenties). This time, being a few years older and ever-so-slightly wiser, I realized book two probably wasn’t ready for prime time and I only sent out a few queries (to test the water).

By the time book three was written (seven years after my critique partner’s prediction), I’d read hundreds of recently-released children’s books and could see a real difference in the quality of my writing. Instead of rushing to query, I let the book rest and revised, revised, revised. Finally, I felt ready to share my manuscript. I attended an online writing conference called WriteOnCon and uploaded a query and sample pages. The first agent who requested to see more offered representation, and I was sure my time had come. Nonetheless, I continued working on craft, read voraciously, built a network of critique partners and beta readers, and began volunteering with We Need Diverse Books and PitchWars.

It was a good thing I threw myself into the literary community, because that’s what kept me going when my third book didn’t sell (despite a revision for a big five publisher). I shelved my fourth book before sending it out. When it started to look like my fifth book wasn’t going to sell, my ever-supportive agent and I had a heart-to-heart and made the decision to amicably part ways (after five years together), allowing me to use my (newly written) sixth manuscript to seek new representation.

Around the time I began sending out query letters, Erin Entrada Kelly (of Newbery Medal fame) put out a call to the PitchWars mentor group for manuscripts to workshop at her UCLA writing class. She promised to provide feedback from the class as well as her own thoughts. The chance to receive a critique from a writer of her caliber was a dream come true; I sent off my first five pages so fast my computer practically started on fire. A few weeks later, I received the following message from Erin: We are workshopping your piece tomorrow but JSYK: I am obsessed with this story! I love it so much.

Needless to say, I could have probably stopped writing right then and there and died a happy death. But things got even better! The next day, she said she’d used my work as an example of writing well-done and invited me to send her the full manuscript with an eye toward possibly sending it on to her agent (the brilliant Sara Crowe, who was closed to queries at the time). I sent it off, but didn’t dare hope that Erin would love it enough to share with Sara. Imagine my surprise when I got another message the very next morning telling me that she’d shared it with Sara, who loved the story and wanted to set up a call! (Crying, happy dancing, and anointing Erin my literary godmother ensued!)

After signing with Sara, we did a few quick rounds of revisions and a month later, went out on submission. Being a veteran of the process, I knew better than to hold my breath. Yet again, I was in for a surprise. Two weeks after going on submission, Sara informed me that we had interest from an editor who wanted to know what else I was working on. I sent off a couple of paragraphs about two of my WIPs and settled back in, prepared for the sound of crickets. One week later, I received another email from Sara: I’d received a two-book offer from Martha Mihalick of Greenwillow/HarperCollins! Although my story was in the hands of several other editors, we both believed that Greenwillow would be the perfect home for my work. I was beyond thrilled when Sara negotiated a pre-empt, finally bringing my thirteen-year-journey toward publication to an end. (And a happy new beginning!)

Below: Pure joy! (Plus a little shock!). My 15yo daughter was in the hallway outside my office with her phone when I got Sara’s email containing Martha’s initial offer. She heard me scream, ran inside, and snapped this photo.


P.S. If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive occasional updates as my publication journey continues, you can sign up for email notifications. And if you want to add THE WOLF’S CURSE to your “want to read” shelf, you can now find it on Goodreads.

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  1. Pingback: Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jessica Vitalis! – Kick-butt Kidlit

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