Thank you so much for everyone’s kind words about Part 1. I really hope that my journey is helpful to other writers out there. So as promised, here is Part 2!
In case you don’t know this about me I hail from the sunburnt island of Australia. In Part 2 I want to talk about some of the choices and challenges you face when you live and write outside of the US.
When I begun researching literary agents I was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of information out there (not to mention the amount of agents). I adjusted my search parameters to sites within Australia and this glut of info quickly thinned out. There are hundreds of agents in the Sates and only a handful in Aus. Narrow that down to agents I thought might like my work and I had 4. Four. I don’t even need all my fingers to count them.
These were some of the thoughts I had: do I really need an agent? Could I have a US agent? I’ve heard people do that. What do I want my career to look like?
Do I really need an agent?
Most of the big publishers in Aus have ways to get through the submission pile without representation. Competitions (Ampersand, Text Prize), monthly or weekly open pitches etc. I could do that. But what would I do once I got there? How do I know I’m making the best deal? There was too much up in the air for me to be comfortable. (This is fine for some people but I know my capacity.) I also wanted to know my book would be as successful as it could be, not to mention my career. While a publisher is interested in your book, your career is what agents are primarily interested in.
So, yes I needed/wanted an agent. But could I have a US one? Look, there are so many and I’ve heard people do that.
I could certainly have a US agent. But this was my fear: what if my book didn’t get published in Australia. For some writers this isn’t a big deal but for me it’s a deal breaker. Let me rattle off some names: Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar, Vikki Wakefield, Melina Marchetta, Fiona Wood, Leanne Hall, Simmone Howell, Paula Weston, Laura Buzo. And that’s just the ladies, and not even all of them. My point is these women floor me with their beautiful, powerful words. Of course you don’t have to be aussie for me to love you *cough* Courtney Summers, Trish Doller, Lani Taylor *cough*. But this is my home and I’m fiercely proud of our young adult authors. And I want to be one of them.
What do I want my career to look like?
Here be my mumbly dreams. I want to talk to anyone I possibly can about writing and about YA. I want to go for drinks with all the ladies listed above. I want to write books that hurt your heart and make you fall in love. I want readers to see themselves in my characters and feel relieved and a little less alone.
Hmm? What were we talking about? Stop looking at me. *shuffles feet*
So I researched my four Aussie agents. There wasn’t much out there. I was thinking about the opening of my query letter and why I wanted to query them. You will find a lot of info about one agent in particular: Sophie Hamley. What? Who’s that? *cough* Melina Marchetta *cough* (sorry I’m obviously coming down with something.) I read all her interviews and noticed she was on a couple of panels at Sydney Writer’s fest. And off I went. It was wonderful hearing her speak (she is so wise!) and made me really excited to query her.
So I did.
Around this time I also attended another festival: WriteOnCon. This is one of those fantastic online conferences that don’t require getting out of your pyjamas. One of the components is to upload various amounts of your work and query letter. I wasn’t going to…but then I did. And I woke one morning to see I had a request from one of the ninja agents, they wanted my first 100 pages! They were from New York! Be still my tiny aussie heart.
I looked again at the amount of US agents and I thought, you know, people do do that. A few aussie authors are repped overseas and still published here. Maybe it could work.
I entered Pitch Madness. I got more requests (hooray!). I started researching the crap out of US agents and got myself onto QueryTracker. I got lots of rejections (will post stats at the bottom) and some positive responses. Check out my post on query resources to see how I did most of my research.
Then Sophie Hamley requested my full manuscript.
At the same time I’d just received feedback from a 50 page critique I’d won (seriously, you guys, enter everything). And I knew I had some changes to make. I emailed Sophie to see if I could have 2 weeks to make my changes before I sent the manuscript. This is generally frowned upon but Sophie was very gracious. I made my revisions and sent off the MS.
I got other requests and sent them off as well. Then everything went quiet. Waiting is the worst. I began to doubt and question everything. My letter is terrible no wonder no one is responding, my story is secretly terrible (no!!), I should scrap everything and start again. Thankfully a few lovely writers offered to read my MS in this time and, if only for my sanity, were very encouraging.
Then something else happened. I was interviewing Trish Doller on Skype for the podcast. We got to chatting and Trish (who’d read one of my many drafts) asked how the agent hunt was going. She offered to refer me to her agent, we both got excited and then both realised her agent was currently closed to submissions. And then we got excited again. Trish told me her editor from Bloomsbury, Victoria Wells Arms, was leaving editing to start up her own agency. And it was starting up in like a week. Trish said: I’m going to email her! I said: !!!!!
I wanted to add a side note here: please don’t go around asking authors for referrals. I asked Trish if she was okay with me naming her in my tale and she said it was fine but to add that she wouldn’t do it for just anyone. I don’t say that to make myself look all fancy. But you need to respect an author’s time. Also make friends, not so one day they can refer you to their agent but because they are wonderful people. I completely adore the writing community and have been fortunate to have a few of my most respected authors read my work and offer feedback. It’s totally fine to ask but please be gracious about it. I hope this rambly paragraph makes sense.
Back to the story! I emailed Victoria making sure to note in the subject line and opening sentence that Trish was referring me. She requested a full and I tried really hard not to count my chickens. She commented about my being Australian and if I wanted to be published in the US first. I said actually I wanted to be published in Australia.
Oh, never did I want to take back an email so bad (okay maybe that one I sent in high school to that boy). What if that was a deal breaker for her? At this point I was veering into ‘I just want an agent and I don’t care anymore’ territory.
A few weeks went by. Some other stuff was going on in my life, like I lost my job. That was kind of heartbreaking. I remember driving home with my husband and just being in a daze. What was going to happen now? I drank lots of wine that night and stayed up way too late researching freelance design and redoing my portfolio. Then I woke up to an email.
I just finished LUCY and think it is just fantabulous. I would love to represent you with it…
I fell out of bed. It was Victoria! I think I cried…I’m not sure, it’s a blur. We set up a Skype call for a few days later. It was lunchtime here, I was sitting at the dining room table. It was veering into midnight there on Halloween and Victoria was walking her dog around the streets of New York. It was surreal.
She wanted to discuss US vs Aus. She had concerns, I had concerns. I tried to back out of my concerns a little bit but she wouldn’t let me. Her main concern was not having the connections in Aus to get me the best deal. She said there was something we could do, it was called co-agenting. I could have a US and an Australian agent. It sounded great but since I only really had one agent I was looking at in Aus…it sounded slim.
That same day I contacted all the agents I had outstanding queries or pages with to let them know I had an offer and gave them a deadline to get back to me with where they stood. A few backed out wishing me luck and a few more requested the full.
Almost a sleepless week later I received this email:
I don’t need to finish this manuscript to know that I love it…
It was Sophie Hamley! It took me five reads of her email for it to sink in she was offering representation. Cue more crying and falling over. We spoke the next day. Sophie was gracious with my gushing. She is very gracious and wise. I told her the other agent interested was US. She said you know something we could do would be co-agenting.
And I said yes, yes, that’s entirely what I want to do.
This is how it works: Sophie represents me for Aus and NZ and Victoria reps US and overseas. I’m not too sure what else to say about it (let me know if you have questions). I email both of them, they talk to each other.
I still can’t believe I am represented by two such amazing agents! I can’t believe they both thought it was a good idea! I just…*cries and falls over*
I told them I was doing this post and asked if they had anything they’d like to say about my submission. And what hooked them.
‘I just love Trish, and her writing, so that was a big hook for me. And the fact that you are writing contemporary fiction that seemed to have a grounding in a very real and gritty place—which turned out to be true in the story itself. It’s harder to pull this off than people think, and you have.’ Victoria Wells Arms
‘For any reader it’s impossible to define exactly what makes the breath catch in the throat, or the heart slow as a beloved character goes through twists and turns. We just know it when we see it, and feel it – and I knew it when reading this manuscript.’
So there you go. That is my story. I wish all the writer’s out there on the agent hunt all the luck in the world!
And as promised my stats (they look a bit skewed because I didn’t include my contest requests as ‘query sent’):
Queries sent: 35
Positive responses: 8
Submissions sent: 15
Negative responses: 37
Offers of Rep: 2