Because I had pitched to an editor from Penguin at the 2010 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (where I was also a board member), and because she had requested my first three chapters, and liked them enough to then request the full manuscript, I was able to add a tantalizing line to my query that my full manuscript was currently under consideration at a Big Six publisher. Further, I was at the time revising the manuscript yet again per ideas gleaned from Donald Maass’s workshop at the 2011 Write Stuff conference.
Within five minutes of this announcement my query, synopsis, and first five pages were in her inbox.
Within three weeks she requested the first 50 pages. At that point I was still finishing up my Maass workshop-inspired revisions, but she was interested enough to shoot a few e-mails back and forth asking about what else I was writing. She shared with me that she had a very personal reaction to my story on many levels—things she loved that would never show up on an official list of work an agent was looking for.
In ten days she offered me representation. By New Year’s I had achieved a goal a decade in the making: a signed contract saying I had an agent.
I had moved so far up the ladder that I was now at the starting line. Now, selling this manuscript was possible.
Sounds simple, right? On the surface, it was. But many factors had to click into place for this transaction to succeed.
What went right
1. I had been subscribing to Publisher’s Marketplace and staying current on what was happening in the industry.
2. Because I’d served for several years as Agent/Editor Chair for The Write Stuff conference, I already knew to be targeting new agents who are just starting to build their lists, but who also have the support of experienced staff at an established agency.
3. I had read Don Maass’s books on writing, had met him the previous year when he keynoted at The Write Stuff, and trusted his reputation.
4. I knew my genre and had read widely within it.
5. I was pre-qualified. Agents love any sort of pre-qualification, such as published short work (check), literary prizes (I had conference wins but nothing major enough to mention), or an editor at a major house considering your work (check!).
6. I remained steeped in gratitude for her interest, since I had capitalized on the fact that the Penguin editor had my submission by querying many agents, and while I received more personal responses, others had passed—it takes a strong connection to a novel for an agent to want to take it on, and a clear sense of how she’d go about selling it.
7. I’d been continuing my education in my field.
8. My submission package was in tip-top shape. I had a query letter that had evolved with my project and communicated its essence succinctly, pointing out why I was the person to write this story. My synopsis was in equally good shape. I knew my manuscript was fully revised, again, but did not assume anything—I took the additional time to send it off to two trusted readers who double-checked my work.
9. I drew professional boundaries around my submission without being a jerk about it.
10. Because I had submitted widely and received a lot of valuable feedback from agents, I trusted and appreciated Katie’s personal reaction to my work. When I saw that her vision for the book was the same as mine, I wasted no time signing with her.
Just catching up? Here are links to the other posts in this series:
Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands
Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her article, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," co-written with Janice Gable Bashman, is in the Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her essay Memoir of a Book Deal tells the larger story while also serving as a primer on story structures. To follow her writing please "Like" her Facebook Author Page. She follows back most writers on Twitter.