Monday, August 12, 2013

Being in the Driver Seat: Getting An Agent (an interview in 14 questions and 2 parts)

Well, I just returned from LA SCBWI and I had an amazing time!  I have to say, it was a huge confidence booster to attend a conference as an agented author.  It still seems so surreal.  However, around every corner it seemed that someone wanted to know how I got my agent.  And to be honest, I don't ever tire of telling the story.

The fabulous Rena Traxel
Rena Traxel is a member of the online critique group I belong to.  She is a very talented picture book writer in her own right and has started to navigate the world of querying.  I have no doubt Rena will be sharing her own agent story someday soon. 

In addition to her picture book writing, Rena's curiosity and inquring mind makes her a talented interviewer.  When I signed with Susan Hawk, Rena came up with some great questions about my process in landing an agent.  Immediately I thought it would be fun to invite Rena onto the blog to interview me.

Below is Part One.  Be sure to stop by Wednesday for Part Two.

Please give Rena a big Write Routine welcome!
Rena:  My awesome critique partner Marcie Colleen recently signed with her dream agent Susan Hawk from the Bent Agency. I was pretty impressed by her level of cool headedness. I also peppered her with questions throughout the whole process (pitch, considering multiple offers, contracts etc). We thought we would share those questions and answers here with you so that you too can find your dream agent.

What qualities were you looking for in an agent? Why?

I really love that we are starting with this question.  I think it is so very important that authors get really frank and decide what kind of agent they want upfront… even before querying a single agent.  Ideally an agent is going to be someone you work with for the entirety of your career, and therefore you want to make sure you find someone who is a good fit.  Therefore, do the research and ask yourself, “what do I want?”  Not all agents are equal.  They vary as much as we do as writers.  Be honest with yourself.  You are in the driver’s seat.

That being said, I created a short list of what I was looking for.

1)      An editing agent—someone who will help take my manuscripts to the next level.

2)      An agent who has worked in the industry…preferably as an editor or in marketing (as authors are expected to do a lot of their own marketing these days and it’s something I am not totally good at).

3)      An agent who has a varied list, with no one similar to me. 

4)      A fairly new agent with a small growing list.  I wasn’t looking for a rockstar agent.  I wanted my agent and I to become rockstars together.

5)      Someone in NYC, if possible…if only so I can occasionally say, “Sorry, I can’t make it.  I have lunch with my agent.”

6)      An agent who is as excited about my work as I am…maybe more.

7)      An agent I connect with as a person.

What did you do to prepare to pitch to agents?

Honestly, I worked on my craft more than I worked on my pitch.  I spent the better part of 2 years focusing on honing the craft of picture book writing, networking with other writers and people in the business, reading and writing blogs, attending conferences, participating in critique groups and roundtables, etc.  All of these experiences helped build my confidence as a writer so that I knew when the time came to start talking to agents I was ready.  I knew that I had every right to take some of their time and focus.  I belonged in the children’s book world.  That for me was more than half the battle.  I mean, sure I have my moments of bad self-esteem or self-doubt, however, arming myself with the knowledge and experience needed to make it in this business was invaluable to me.

How many stories did you submit? Do you think having multiple stories ready helped land your agent?
Susan Hawk, my lovely agent!

Upon first query in late February, I sent only one manuscript.  However, Susan contacted me in early April stating that she loved my manuscript and wanted to see more.  At that time I sent one more.  And then in June I sent 2 more and even pitched my newest idea to her over email.  I wanted to be sure she knew that I was not a one hit wonder and that I was still actively writing and creating story ideas.  And yes, I do think that agents want to see that you are building a career.

How long did it take to find the right agent? How did you know Susan was the right fit?

Up until this past January I decided to spend one of my time on craft and so I did not let myself start querying agents until 2013.  So I deemed 2013 The Year to Get My Work Out There (and land an agent)!

That being said, I knew Susan was “the one” right away and she was the first agent I queried.  However, it took a little longer than that to get her attention, so I did query other agents.  But Susan was the one who seemed to be everything I was looking for on my list of agent qualities and therefore my “dream agent”.

So, for timeline’s sake, I queried Susan on February 26th and signed with her on June 14th.

You received multiple offers how were you able to keep your cool?

Depending on who you are, you might not think I kept my cool.  I seem to remember some conversations with friends in which I was truly overwhelmed.  However, I had done my homework.  I put the time and effort into my craft.  I had been through countless rounds of revision and critique so I knew that what I wrote was something worthwhile.  I had an honest conversation with myself about what I wanted from an agent and where I wanted my career to go.  So, I totally felt like I was in the driver’s seat.  I knew that it was ultimately my decision.  I didn’t let anyone let me feel pressured.  It was all about me.  And if for some reason no one seemed to be a good fit, I knew that I would turn them all down and continue the search.  It was more important to me to find the right agent than just any agent.

How did you prepare for the call? What kind of questions did you ask? What kind of questions did Susan ask?

OK.  Here’s a good example how I felt like I was the one in control.  Susan and I did not have a phone call.  Because we are both in Brooklyn, NY I seriously pushed the in-person meeting right away.  Kinda bold, right?  But I am a “people person” and I knew that I wanted an agent who I could hang with and feel comfortable with.  So it was important to me to see if we had that chemistry.  Of course, not everyone has that luxury, but we only live a few miles from each other so we both decided it was a good idea.

How did you prepare for the in-person meeting? What kind of questions did you ask? What kind of questions did she ask?

Well, first off, there was the very girly scenario in my closet in which I tried on several outfits. But I don’t quite think that is what you are asking.

Seriously, though.  To prepare to meet in person I talked to some of my agented friends.  I asked them for advice in what to ask and look for.  I also used this post at Literary Rambles about what to ask during “The Call”. I did not ask all of these questions, it did help me get some thoughts together. 

But again, the most important thing to me was that we connected and that I felt that I could work with Susan.  I needed to like her.  So simply having coffee and chatting told me that.
End of Part One...stop by Wednesday for Part Two.
And please know that all comments are moderated by hand.  Your comment will not appear immediately below.  Sorry for the confusion.


  1. Thanks for doing these interviews, pardners! I appreciate your level of confidence, Marcie, and that you wanted to be on solid grtound before you ventured out on your search. Would love to know what outfit you finally did pick out for the meeting - surely that says something about a person and their intent! Thanks for the link too!

  2. Thank you so much for this. I so appreciate hearing that you did your homework first, and made sure of your craft before querying, then focused on your want-list rather than querying every agent that might possible work. (This affirms my process!)

    I am impressed with the timeline involved. Wow, it was quick compared to many stories I've heard about the agent search. That says something about both your method and your talent. Well done, Marcie! I just know you're going to have great success.

    Looking forward to Part Two!

  3. Thanks for giving us the inside scoop, Rena and Marcie. I can't wait for part 2.

  4. You don't tire of telling the story and honestly - I don't tire from hearing it. I'm so happy for you. You worked incredibly hard and deserve it.

  5. Congratulations, Marcie! What a great post- thanks for sharing the process with us!! :)

  6. You don't ever tire telling your story just as I never tire of reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing! There is always a tidbit of info that is new so I look forward to part 2.And thanks for the link!

  7. This is a fabulous interview with info I need myself right now. I am polishing a MG novel at a Highlights Foundation Kid's Lit Revision workshop led by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. I know who I want for my agent,so I have to think about how I will approach her.
    First I need to polish many manuscript, but I'm getting close. Can't wait to read part 2.

  8. Great story, Marcie! Can't wait to read the rest.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story, Marcie! Looking forward to reading the rest. So helpful to read all the back work you did before querying, and how important it was to you to get the right agent for you.

  10. Thanks for sharing your agent-finding process, could you possibly expand a little more on your querying process? That time between Feb. 26th and signing with Susan Hawk on June 14th? I have recently sent out queries to some agents and am in the middle of that right now.

    1. My timeline is a very quick one, Lauren. I sent the query to Susan on Feb 26th. In early April I heard back from her. She loved the first piece and wanted to know if I could send her anything else. I then sent her one more manuscript, but then didn't hear from her again til I nudged her in late May, once another agent had made an offer. Once Susan knew that another agent had offered she asked to see my work again and I sent her a total of 4 manuscripts. It was based on those 4 that she offered rep. Hope this clears things up. And best to you in your search.

  11. Great interview ladies! I get a little more helpful info every time I hear the story.

  12. Interesting way to share your experience with us. Thanks, Rena and Marcie!