How I got an agent

So before Movie Title Typos, I wrote novels. Plural, because I wrote two. The first I finished three or four years ago. It was about sidekicks in a world where superheroes had been wiped out. I got more than 20 rejections from agents, all with the same feedback, “You’re a good writer and we like your voice, but this won’t sell.” I was also told at least a half dozen times to turn it into a graphic novel. That had me like:

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Which, yes, fine, it would make more sense as a comic, but at the time I really wanted it to be a novel. Still, I had been to enough writing conferences to see more than a few of those mid-50s writers holding on to that one manuscript they’d written over 20 years ago, convinced it was just one more revision away from getting published. You know the type. Just this in repeat:

I didn’t want to be that, so I shelved that book and considered my time spent on it a learning experience.

Then I wrote another novel, this one a contemporary take on Aladdin. It’s set in high school, and there’s no princess, or magic carpet, and the genie is kind of an ass. I finished this one in late 2012 and started sending it out to agents.

Quick aside, I’ve been asked how I found agents and how I queried. I used agentquery.com, which would often lead me to Publisher’s Marketplace or an agency’s website, and then to a specific agent’s twitter feed or personal site. I would look for agents that represented work like mine, then I’d send out personalized queries, no more than five at a time. It’s a long process, and it can take months to hear anything back from agents, but that’s how it goes. 

I had some early readers going through my Aladdin book while I was sending it around, and one of them came back to me and told me I needed to change the perspective from third to first. That would mean rewriting the entire book. At first I was like:

But then I rewrote the first chapter and was like:

So I spent the next year or so slowly rewriting the book. Turns out it’s more than just doing a find and replace on pronouns. Every description was now coming from the main character, so if it wasn’t something he’d say, it had to be changed to fit his voice. It took a while. 

While I worked on that, life happened. I left Red Ventures, then went back three months later. I had another kid, I took a bunch of art classes online, and then there was this:

I’ve always been a writer who liked to draw, but for many, Movie Title Typos swapped my talents. People thought of me as an artist who could write, despite writing being my main profession for nearly a decade. I bring that up only because it’s still crazy to me that my first published book was a bunch of illustrated jokes, not a novel.

So I got through the book launch, finished off that novel rewrite (and totally included a link to Chronicle Books' Movie Title Typos page in my query, to show I'm a legit maker of things), and started sending it out again in October 2015. This time I was trying to be even more deliberate and picky with who I sent it to—I wanted an agent who could rep me as an author and an illustrator. Normally when people see author-illustrator they think children’s books. While I’d definitely like to do those, I didn’t want to be pinned to them. I needed someone who could rep me as a creative person, someone who could support my whole career, not just my current project. 

That’s where Allison Devereux of Wolf Literary Services comes in. I sent her a query immediately after getting a rejection from another agent (protip: when you get a rejection, immediately send out a new query, or at least start researching who you’ll send it to next. For me, it helps me move on and not take it personally. An agent has to be pumped about your book, and if they’re not, you don’t want them anyway).

Allison liked my query and my sample pages and requested the full manuscript just a day or two after the initial query. I got her request right after landing in Arkansas for a visit to my brother’s house. I got off the plane like:

I sent her the full thing on a Thursday night, then on Sunday night got an email from her. She’d bumped my book to the top of her to-read list and blew through it over the weekend. She loved it! She wanted to talk on the phone Monday morning! I did a bit of this:

Then responded all cool like:

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The next morning I borrowed my brother’s office and talked to Allison. She really did love the book! If it seems like I was surprised it’s only because the only people that had read it so far were the people who rejected it. I mean, I thought it was good…but I’m biased. Allison loved all the things I’d hoped people would love, and she also totally nailed the themes I was going for. For the first 15 or 20 minutes of our phone call she told me all the things she thought were great and I just sat there with a mixture of this:

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And this: 

Then we got to talking about her and her agency and how we might work together. As thrilled as I was to have someone pumped about my book, I needed to make sure this would be a good working relationship. 

Allison had no problem with my “do all the things” approach, in fact she said I was her favorite kind of client to have. She said the agency would be happy to help with illustration stuff if I wanted them to, they’d even help me with big contracts if I needed some assistance. This was looking pretty good, but what sealed the deal was when I asked Allison about herself and career and she told me the first book she ever sold was a book of illustrated parodies. 

Huh. Where have I seen one of those?

I told Allison I’d like to work together, and she said she’d get right to work on line edits of my novel. She said my book didn’t read like it was my first, and that most of her suggested edits would be small—no big sweeping structural changes. That’s pretty cool. 

Once I get those back and make the revisions, we’re off! Allison will send it out to editors, and hopefully we’ll get this book sold. Then I’ll have a novel AND a book of goofy illustrations on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

No big deal.