literary agent

My Path To A Literary Agent

When I was 36, now five and a half years ago, I decided I wanted to get serious about publishing children’s picture books. I’d written, revised, and received feedback on my work. I began submitting my stories to publishers that would accept manuscripts directly from authors (many only accept submissions through literary agents). And I waited. 

I knew the process could take a long time, and that was fine with me. When my first rejection letter came, I honestly wasn’t that discouraged—every writer gets a whole lot of  “no” before they get the one “yes.” I thanked God for rejections, because that meant I was that much closer to acceptance. I told everyone I knew about my new venture. I tried to approach it like I was going back to school—I went to conferences, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and sought out a writing mentor.

But at the end of four years, though my writing was better, my cover letters were more polished and my platform of other writing was more established, the “no” letters continued to pour in (now from publishing companies and literary agents) with few differences from the letters of years one, two, and three. It was harder to thank God for rejections now. Why had I spend so much of my time on nothing? I could have painted my entire house or finished a degree or trained for multiple half marathons or organized my entire house in the time I had spent submitting my work. If I believed God gave me the desire and ability to be a children’s author, why hadn’t it actually happened? 

I didn’t quit writing or praying or submitting to publishing companies and agents or working as a freelance magazine writer/editor, but I no longer told many people about what I was pursuing. I’d see posts about others’ enthusiastic writing goals and New Year’s resolutions and think, good luck with achieving that in one year. I told a fellow writer friend sarcastically that I had a new book idea: It’s about a sad, lonely piece of paper that falls to the bottom of a pile, and never, never gets read. The end.

I wondered if perhaps God’s plan for my children’s book career was that I wouldn’t write children’s books at all—maybe it was all to help make me a humble person. And while I believe this is a good thing, I sure wished it was a lesson I could have learned another way, and not at the expense of the thing I most desired to achieve.

But the ideas in my head wouldn’t go away. I was constantly telling my children, “that would make a great book!” In the beginning, they’d laugh and say, “you always say that!” and offer ideas. By year five, they’d widen their eyes like I was crazy. Or just say nothing. 

Then one very regular day in November five and a half years after my first manuscript submission, an agent I’d found on The Writer’s Digest New Agency Alerts blog replied. (I’d checked this blog regularly, and submitted to agents found on it regularly, for about four years.) She asked what else I had written, asked me to write a detailed proposal, and a few weeks later, offered to represent me. “I can tell you’ve prepared to be represented by an agent,” she said. I didn’t know that I had, actually, but I guess I had kept working. In the end, it was perseverance that made the biggest difference.

Everyone always says, “Don’t quit!” and  “Go for it!” when it comes to writing. To be honest, I don’t know if this is always good advice. I don’t think you should write because you want to be well-known or wealthy or want to see your name in print.  I believe you should keep going if it’s truly what’s in your heart. If the stories in your head keep coming, and try as you might, you can’t get rid of them. Then you won’t quit writing, because you can’t.

I know that getting a literary agent to say “yes” is just the beginning. I know there will be hard work and revisions and more waiting ahead. But right now I am grateful for this milestone and hopeful that what I told my kids would make a great book will actually become one. Or two or three or four or five.