Agents and Anxiety

After Sarah Reck’s blog post on The Agent Game, I thought I would talk about what I did pre-agent and how I wound up with the wonderful Rosemary Stimola. I’ll warn you, this is a long one, because like most writers, there’s a lot to tell.

My introduction into the business aspect of writing fiction came in the form of the Maui Writers Conference and Retreat (now the Hawaii Writers Conference). I went when I was seventeen, and it opened my eyes to what the publishing process really meant. I’d had a vague idea of what publishing took, but these were professionals who lived and breathed this stuff.

They had one-on-one meetings with agents and editors, and I met with a few, having no idea what I was getting myself into. A few took interest, so when I got home, I sent them requested materials. Easy, right?

Not even close. One agent – let’s call him Agent A – took an interest, but asked me to write something else. Awesome, right? That’s supposed to be a huge compliment, and it supposedly meant my writing was good enough. I wrote another story over the next several months and sent it, but he wasn’t happy with that either, so he had me write something else. He liked that, but it wasn’t quite what he was looking for, so could I revise it?

He kept that offer dangling while asking me for more and more rewrites for almost two years.

Fast-forward to the beginning of my first year of college. When I was eighteen, I decided to send out regular queries for another manuscript. Lo and behold, I got an offer of representation from an agent – let’s call her Agent B. Agent B was terrific – very kind, supportive, and extremely enthusiastic about my manuscript. We spoke over the phone once or twice, and I debated whether or not to take her up on her offer and drop Agent A .

Finally, I did. The agency Agent B was with had a few best-sellers, and they seemed to really know what they were doing. Awesome, right? I mean, at eighteen, I was going to be represented by a real, live agent. And after only three years of writing original stuff, too!

I signed the contract and sent it off. Finally, I felt a sense of accomplishment. All of my writing hadn’t been in vain after all. We celebrated, I told my friends, and everything was great.

The next day, I received an email from Agent B apologizing, but the senior agents at her agency decided that she couldn’t represent me after all.

I was crushed. At eighteen years old, I thought I’d completely failed as an author, and any chance I had at becoming successful were so miniscule that I shouldn’t bother trying. I’d also withdrawn my manuscripts from Agent A as well, so this left me with nothing.

From 2003-2007, I attended the Maui Writers Conference (and occasional Retreat). During this time, I queried agents I’d met with who were interested, thinking that that was the only way they were going to pay any attention to my stuff. Some of my work was decent; some of it wasn’t. When I was nineteen, another agent, Agent C, was so excited about a prologue that she insisted I send her the entire manuscript right away. The only problem was, I didn’t have the entire manuscript written. I didn’t have more than that prologue done. I’d written it in the Retreat just a few days earlier, which I’d mentioned, and while I had the story planned out…yeah.

So I wrote the story, revised it, and sent it to Agent C. She was very apologetic about it, but it just wasn’t what she was looking for. Translation: it wasn’t good enough. Part of me had known that when I’d sent it to her, and I’d done it anyway because she’d been so excited. Another really stupid mistake.

That was my beginning. Lots of hope, lots of reasons to hope, but nothing ever panned out. Unfortunately all I ever got was disappointment, over and over and over again. I questioned whether this was what I really wanted to do, but a funny thing happened. I kept writing. Whether I was published or not, I was going to keep telling stories any way I could.

I tried plays in college and found a small amount of success. I tried screenplays afterward and fell in love. For the next few years, I concentrated on college, switched majors twice, and tried in vain to come up with something I wanted to do that didn’t include writing, since it was clear I was never going to get published.

And then I wrote a story called Persephone. It took countless outlines and several revisions, but everything clicked into place. I loved writing it. And the more I wrote, the more I realized that this was a story I would read. I still wasn’t convinced it was good enough, but when I gave it to my father to read, he insisted it was the best I’d ever written.

Armed with the kind of hope I hadn’t let myself feel in years, without telling anyone, I wrote a query letter and sent it out.

The first batch was about Persephone. I knew the title didn’t work, but I’m not very good at them. Every single agent who bothered to respond said no thanks.

After a brainstorming session with Dad, we came up with The Goddess Test, and on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08!)  I sent out a new batch with only the title changed, nothing else. Would you believe that over 70% of the agents I sent it to asked for a partial or a full? I didn’t, not until later, when I looked over my list and counted.

Rosemary was one of the first to respond. She asked for a partial, then a full, and she gave me a list of revisions. Once again, I was getting my hopes up, and I was also simultaneously preparing to hear the words “thanks, but…”. Every email I opened from the agents who’d requested it, every ding of the inbox, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach. Expecting disappointment is so ingrained in me that to this day I expect bad news every time I open an email about my books.

But you know what? Rosemary never said “thanks, but…”. To my utter shock, she and two other agents offered me representation, and having done all the research I possibly could during those few weeks (yes, weeks! Not months! Not even one!), I knew Rosemary was the best for me.

In early September 2008, I signed a contract, and this time it stuck.


About Aimée Carter

THE GODDESS TEST series is in stores now! PAWN, the first book in the Blackcoat Rebellion series, was released November 2013, and CAPTIVE and QUEEN, the sequels, will be available in late 2014 and 2015, all from Harlequin Teen. SIMON THORN AND THE WOLF'S DEN, the first book in a middle grade series with Bloomsbury US/UK, will be released in Fall 2015.

Posted on April 25, 2010, in Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Aimée, what a crazy journey! I’m so glad that it’s finally working out for you, you have no idea. I know I haven’t been in the querying stage for all that long comparatively, but I have piles of drafts and manuscripts behind me. One thing I really like that you said is that when you wrote Persephone you felt like you had something special, something that you’d really like to read. I feel that way about IN-BETWEEN & EVER-AFTER.

    With MOONSTONE, I wrote it to fulfill this gaping whole left in the wake of vampires. It was kind of a challenge to myself: can I write a slightly new version of the old werewolf story. But with this other one, I feel like — it’s the one. It’s weird. I knew as I was writing it that it was something and as I worked through all my revisions, the story (even though I’d wrote it!) surprised even myself. So I guess what I’m saying is, I know the feeling.

    Now I haven’t done the conference scene (yet! but we’re going to go, right? somewhere?) but I feel like I’ve done my research. i have two query letters out right now for AFTER (ha, gotta love shortening titles) and my successes (so far) have both come from the same letter. It was a letter I wrote on a whim because I felt like my first felt too stuffy.

    So who knows. Persistence and luck and timing and that great novel are what matters, yes?

  2. Aren’t writers’ conferences and retreats a bit expensive? I would LOVE to go to one someday. It sounds like an awesome time. That, and just going to Hawaii.

    Thanks for sharing your journey on how you got your agent! There’s a blog I follow called Guide to Literary Agents that occasionally has a writer’s story on how she or he got an agent and I always enjoy reading about it. It’s different for a lot of people! I’ve noticed a lot of conference stories though. And just being lucky. 🙂

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