After more than a year and a half of looking and a number of close calls, I finally found an agent for my books (fiction and non-fiction). I started searching for an agent for my novel, Moving (A Life in Boxes), in January of 2009. In October of 2009, I also started querying for my middle-grade novel, Buried Treasure. Last month, I signed with agent Regina Brooks, of the Serendipity Literary Agency--it was Buried Treasure that caught her attention.
According to my querytracker account (a tool that I highly recommend if you're looking for an agent), I sent 104 queries about Moving and 80 for Buried Treasure. I tended to send them in batches--starting with batches of 5 or 10 at first. Though with Buried Treasure, I went through a period where I was sending out quite a few. That's a lot of high hopes floating out in the ether.
I also attended Grub Street's The Muse & The Marketplace conference twice during my search--the first time, I thought it looked like I'd met an agent who was going to sign me, but it didn't work out.
So, I sent queries to people who wrote books that seemed like mine, I sent queries to agent who had blogs I liked, I sent queries to agents of my friends and contacts. I read a lot of books by prospective agents, so I could start my query letter with a personalized sentence or two (though I eventually quit that, because there are only so many hours in the day, and it didn't seem to matter. At first, I was reading a book or two books sold by every agent whom I approached).
I have several close friends who found agents in the past year, and each found her agent just by going through the front door, with no specific contact or recommendation. And my friends were all very kind about reading my query letter and making suggestions. (Thanks!)
In the end, it was a recommendation (actually two) that landed me my agent. And oddly enough, the key first recommendation came about because of the Huntington Playwriting Fellows (HPF) program (that's right--I got an agent for my books because of the Huntington. Now I just need an agent for my plays).
Here's how that worked: I was at a fancy library gala talking to a highly successful detective novelist, who happens to also be a very nice lady. We'd met once or twice before, but I'd never had much to catch her attention (I was a struggling playwright, writing a novel, wishing for an agent, blah, blah, blah). This year, however, I had just gotten into the HPF program and was eager to talk about it with anyone. Turns out that she used to be a playwright and the mention of the Huntington really caught her interest. We had a lovely chat, and at the end, she said, "If you need anything, if you're ever looking for an agent, let me know." Me: "Ah, it just so happens..." So I told her about my middle-grade novel, and she thought her agent might be interested and gave me her contact info. At the agent's request, I e-mailed the complete manuscript. This was in March.
And then I waited. Looking for an agent requires a lot of waiting. This is good, because the publication process (which I've been through) also takes a lot of waiting. Next I'll wait for the my agent to give me comments, and then maybe wait for a second round, and then wait for submissions to editors, and then more waiting. You get the picture. So I waited.
In July, I got a phone call while I was on my bike home from a theatre gig at MIT. I thought it was the kids (maybe they'd set the kitchen on fire or the cat was making weird noises), so I pulled over and answered it. It was the agent. Very cool. Agents don't call just to say Hi. They call because they're interested. And this was a very good time, because I'd been waiting (see above) for some good news, even a speck. And my friends had just gotten agents and book deals and I was feeling a little low.
So the agent liked Buried Treasure, but wanted to read a bunch of more of my work. She emphasized that she'd be representing all of my book work, so she wanted a sense of my body of work. Which made sense to me. It wasn't an offer, but it was feeling like it might be pretty close. So I sent out a whole bunch more stuff. And then waited.
After another week or so, she called again. This time I was at the garden, trying not to collapse from heat stroke--it was 95 and felt like 100. I don't know how coherent I was, but the thought that I might have an offer of representation brought some clarity, or at least adrenaline.
She liked Buried Treasure, but wasn't so sure about the other stuff. But she was still willing to represent me. Which seemed like a good thing. (Since a couple weeks prior, I was thinking I'd never get an agent.) But I explained that the manuscript was out with two other agents, and asked to have a few days to contact them, out of courtesy, and make sure they weren't also interested. She agreed. (This is standard practice.)
So I contact the other two agents, both of whom I'd been referred to by friends. One never got back to me. The other asked for a few days to read the manuscript (which had been in her e-mail box since January). I said okay. She got back to me on time and also offered to represent Buried Treasure.
That's right, I ended up with two offers. Odd how it all works. The second agent is a friend of a friend, whom I'd been trying to reach for a while, and my friend was insisting that the agent read my stuff, and I was worried that he'd push her away by pushing too hard, and I figured she was thinking "Oh, great, this guy again." But I also met her at the Muse & the Marketplace conference, and she was very smart and I'd liked her a lot, and I'd left thinking she'd be a great match for my work.
In the end, after a couple phone conversations, I finally made my choice, mostly based on chemistry and the level of enthusiasm for my work, and with Regina. I'm excited to see what happens next.
Finding an agent requires a lot of patience, work, and luck. And the luck part isn't small. You just need one agent to say yes. Sometimes that right match might happen after just your first dozen queries. But a lot of times, it'll take a lot longer and require a lot more queries and waiting. (Or it might never happen, and you'll just have to write another book and query about that one.) It's not easy to guess who will be the exact right match. But if you get lucky, the right agent will read it on the right day.
Okay, I've got to go do some more waiting. (Though it feels a little different now. Better, I think.)