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Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent

One year ago I sat writing at my computer when Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe popped into my inbox. Under the heading “People, etc.” I saw that a new agent, Katie Shea, had moved from the Johnson Literary Agency to Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her interests included my main areas: women’s fiction, commercial-scale literary fiction, memoir, and young adult. She had listed several of her favorite titles and, of the ones I had read, I liked them all.

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.

I had two other requests for the full manuscript at the time, but due to Katie’s interest and personal passion for the topic I told her I’d give her a two-week jump on the manuscript before sending it out to the other agents. When I sent the full manuscript to her she said she’d get back to me by the end of those two weeks.

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
Next: Countdown to a Book 4: Developmental Editing

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, 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.


  1. "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."

    That's a great tip, Kathryn. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  2. This is a great blog, Kathryn! It's chock full of wonderful information about how to break into the world of agents, and through them, publishing. You did everything right.
    And, you obviously had a salable book to begin with!
    Good for you, and thank you for putting all of this so succinctly. I'm going to send it along to my writers, and my social media as well.
    Nicely done!

  3. Thanks for the whole series. Always good to have the mental checklist up to date!

  4. Congratulations, Kathryn ... a well deserved accomplishment ... when I read your 'What went right' list, I was mightily impressed ... but it also reinforced that my chances of landing an agent are pretty much what I thought: zero. I can't even read Publisher's Lunch lite (the version for cheapskates) without falling asleep.

  5. Such a helpful post, Kathryn. So many time writers, in their eagerness to publish, forget that it takes a real professional approach to land an agent and/or editor. Good for you for taking the time to do it right.

  6. And the rest is history! Congratulations again!

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your tips.

  8. Hey, so sorry to be late to my own party! I had a full day of editing for clients and my own work and I kept my eyes on the prize. Done and done!

    Thanks everyone for reading, and commenting.

    Elle: I know plenty of people who start with agents at the top of their game, and I sent to plenty of them. But then you start to hear the stories that they barely have time to speak to their own authors, and you realize they aren't answering you back at all because they don't have to... I realized that I'm an untested author hoping someone will take a chance on me, and it made good karmic sense to take a chance on a new agent I believed in. I've been most satisfied so far.

  9. Susan, I'm glad you think this will be useful for your writers. Writing the post helped me put this all in perspective, too, in the "we make our own luck" department. If only we could control when luck kicks in...

    And James, a mental checklist—like that! I will continue to tune. :)

    Thank you for your kind words Christopher, Maryann, Morgan, and Liza!

  10. Kathryn, I love reading your entire path to where you are now in this one post. It brings it all together to get to where you are now: from years of digging into "the trenches." I especially love your bullets on all you did right to saturate yourself in the business and craft of writing. These are points writers need to follow. It may be a long road - but a worthy one. Thanks for sharing!

  11. P.S. Would be great if you linked all previous posts in each new one so we can see the entire series. Countdown...1 and 2



  12. Kathryn, what a great journey (albeit the scenic route)! :-)

    Your willingness to share your experience with our followers gives us a bit of insight into your giving character. The information in your posts may well save writers who learn from it several years in their quest to land an agent.

    Donna Galanti has a great idea about linking all your "countdown" posts for easy reference. Is it possible for you to put these together somehow on BRP? Or on your website?

  13. Donna, great idea! I'll go put those in now.

    And Linda, I'm always happy to make everyone's mistakes for them, lol.

    As for the scenic route, there is much to be learned by taking in the view. :)

  14. Excellent blog, Kathryn. You work hard and you're also a generous writer who helps other writers.

    Catherine DePino

  15. "I drew professional boundaries around my submission without being a jerk about it."

    What do you mean by this? Are you referring to the two-weeks head start you gave her?


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