Special Edition: Tourette’s and Lesbian Sex (Or How Jennie Got Her Agent)

By Jennie Jarvis

Ever since I announced that I had signed with my agent on Facebook, Twitter and here on 5writers.com, I have been asked again and again the same question – how did I get my agent? This month, since this blog is focused on getting our work out there, all five of us writers decided that it would be a great time to tell my story. So, here you go. I hope you enjoy it!

Over the years, any time I heard about how to get an agent, I always heard about query letters and networking, two words that have always tasted a bit dirty in my mouth. For me, they felt too formal and cold. I’ve always been a people person, and so I kept putting off and putting off sending out those dreaded query letters, making excuses about how my writing wasn’t quite ready to be sent out into the great abyss.

In the summer of 2012, however, I attended a writing conference in Orlando, Florida that really put the fire under my butt to kick start my writing career. The conference was Ascendio 2012, a Harry Potter fan con that had decided to add a “Quill Track” (young adult writing program) for their final year of existence. As part of the conference, they invited a lot of heavy hitting authors in the YA world, including Veronica Roth (Divergent), Michelle Hodkin (The Unbecoming of Marla Dyer) and Beth Revis (Across the Universe). Oh, and I was there too. I had submitted a proposal to teach a workshop on how to plot a character arc in your writing (my trademark workshop), and I was accepted. So there I was – a newbie in the midst of some of the best selling YA authors.

I knew that I didn’t have a novel that was quite ready to sell, but I attended all of the workshops that featured agents, including pitching and query letter workshops. I drank in all their advice and took notes on everything. But more importantly than that – I talked to the agents. I didn’t pitch to them or try to impress them; I just talked to them like they were normal human beings. As a result, I made a few great connections, including Veronica Roth’s agent, who wasn’t accepting any new clients but who was gracious enough to review my query letter and make detailed comments on it after the conference was over.

At Ascendio, one of the agents that I spoke to was Saritza Hernandez (whose wonderful guest blog on this website debuted last weekend – please be sure to check it out). Since she primarily sold herself as an epub (electronic publication) and LGBTQ/erotica agent, I didn’t think that she was a perfect fit for me or my writing. I write a lot of coming of age fantasy stories with primarily straight white naïve female protagonists (call it own race bias, I suppose). However, when talking to her as another human being, I found a kindred spirit. We shared a love for many things geeky, including Harry Potter, the boy wizard that brought us all together that weekend.

Attending that conference gave me the inspiration to make sure that my book was finished and pitch-worthy by the time the Florida Writer’s Association (FWA) Conference occurred a few months later. Ascendio was in July, and FWA was in October, so I knew that I had a good three months to get ready to go. To force myself to be ready, I signed up for FWA and paid the money needed to pitch to one of the agents that would be in attendance. I didn’t have the money to pitch to more than one agent, so I did my research and made sure that the agent that I was pitching to represented the kind of work that I was writing. And I wasn’t going to waste money on a pitch if I couldn’t send them my book immediately.

And like a good girl, I had my novel polished and ready to go by the time FWA began. I knew that none of the agents would want to carry my book with them on the plane back to NYC, but I made sure to have multiple copies of the first three chapters of my book with me in case they asked. I also used the polished query letter that I had written to create a one sheet that I could easily pass along. My one sheet was pretty simple; it had a photo of me, a one paragraph pitch of my book (taken from the query letter) and a one paragraph bio. It was down and dirty, and I had no idea if I would need it, but I brought it along anyway.

When I got to the conference, I made sure to attend every workshop taught by the agents that I thought might be interested in my book. This gave me a sense of what their personality was like, what kinds of interests they had and whether or not I felt like they were approachable (the most important thing for an agent-writer relationship, in my opinion).

After one of the workshops, the teaching agent offered to look at the first two pages of our books to give us feedback on our writing voice. Can you believe that there were only FIVE writers in the entire room that took her up on her offer? I took up my pages, and after reading the first page, she gave me her card and asked that I submit to her the first fifty pages of my manuscript. I was thrilled! I had set a goal for myself to leave the conference with at least one request, and I had accomplished that goal before the first day was even half over!

The next day, I attended the agent pitch that I had paid for, and sure enough, I got another request. I genuinely believe that the reason that my pitch went so well because 1) I had taken the time to get to know the agent the day before by attending her panel and learning that she was a Nathan Fillion fan like me, 2) I talked to her like she was another human being and not a harsh critic, and 3) I finished my pitch in half the time that I had paid for and spent the rest of the time talking with her about non-book things (such as Stephen Moffat’s inability to write well developed female characters) instead of prattling on and on about my book.

Why did I do this? Because I was told at Ascendio that an agent pitch has three purposes: 1) for the agent to get a sense of what you are writing (and hopefully ask for a writing sample), 2) for the agent to see if you are the kind of person that they want to work with, and 3) for you to see if the agent is the kind of person that you want to work with as well! I made sure to humanize the process in order to make sure that this could be a relationship where we were business partners instead of me fearing or being intimidated by her.

So, I had two manuscript requests, and I was feeling pretty great.

Then I saw Saritza Hernandez, epub agent extraordinaire, looking around for a table at lunch. I had met another writer who was trying to decide how to proceed in her writing career, and I knew that her writing was similar to the kind of work that Saritza represented. So, I invited Sartiza to sit with us at lunch by asking her if she could give some advice to my writer friend.

The lunch was going well, with everyone being friendly and laughing together, and then Saritza threw me the all important question – “How’s your conference going?” Of course, I responded that it was great – I was learning some good information, meeting some wonderful people, and I had already gotten two requests for my manuscript. Immediately, this sparked Saritza’s interest – if two other agents had asked me for my book, then it couldn’t be terrible. So she asked me what my book was about. Since we had all been laughing and joking around as friends, I didn’t treat it as a formal pitch.

“Tourette’s and lesbian sex. But not in the same scene.”

“I want that!” Saritza laughed, and the conversation moved on.

But then, when the next workshop was getting ready to start, she approached me again, wanting to know more about my book. I began to tell her, but the workshop started, and we had to stop talking. So I pulled out my nifty one sheet and passed it to her (along with a pen that had my name and contact information on it, but that’s another blog entirely). She read the one sheet and immediately told me that she wanted the first fifty pages. By the time the workshop ended, she changed her mind. She wanted the entire book.

Later when we met and she offered to represent me, she asked me why I hadn’t pitched to her formally at the conference, since we had already met and knew each other. I admitted that I didn’t think that she was a good fit because she focused on ePub, and I wanted to go with traditional publication. Turns out that she also did traditional publication, and I just hadn’t taken the time to research her properly! Silly Jennie!

By the time the conference was over, I had four agents with my book (or a few chapters from my book) waiting in their email in-boxes. I knew that the fire was hot, and so I immediately did what I didn’t want to do: I started to send out query letters. If you don’t follow Writer’s Digest on Twitter, I highly recommend it. Almost every day, they send out a link to an interview with an agent that is looking for new clients. Thanks to that Twitter account, I wound up querying a few dozen agents, and I had my book out to at least twelve agents when Saritza contacted me, wanting to represent me.

Fortunately, Saritza is the kind of agent that tells her authors that she is desperate to represent you, but that she wants you to take your time and make sure that you find the right agent for your work. She let me sit back and wait to hear from all of the agents that I had submitted to. Once I had that first offer, I was able to contact them, letting them know that I had a pending offer of representation. This sped up the process quite a bit, and I heard back from all of them within two weeks.

In the end, I had a lot of choices, but I chose Saritza for two primary reasons: 1) I knew that she loved my book and that she would bend over backwards to get it into the market the way that it deserves and 2) we were friends. Maybe not the hang out on a Friday night and get pedicures together kind of friends, but we had similar tastes and were genuinely happy to run into each other at the conference. The agent-author relationship is one that should, under the right circumstances, last a lifetime.

So, in a nutshell, how did I meet my agent? Query letters and networking. In non-yucky terms? By being friendly and taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented to me.

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  1. #1 by My Rite of Passage on January 28, 2013 - 10:55 am

    Congratulations, Jennie. Your story is a wonderful example of being yourself, believing in your work, and acting with integrity.

    • #2 by jarviswrites on January 28, 2013 - 1:39 pm

      Thanks Belinda! It would make sense that I would charm my agent with my in-your-face and slightly offensive style of humor!

      • #3 by My Rite of Passage on January 28, 2013 - 3:20 pm

        Totally! I mean, you nearly begged my coat off my back :)

  2. #4 by Richey Lee on January 29, 2013 - 12:50 pm

    Love it! I hope your book takes off!
    Your student, Richey Lee.

  3. #5 by wordimprovisor177 on February 6, 2013 - 1:04 pm

    You have my utter admiration, Jennie! You took a smart, thorough and hard-working approach, and above all, I’m sure, beyond your persistence, your writing sold on its own merit! Very impressive.

  4. #6 by Jon Broderick on April 24, 2013 - 10:01 am

    You never cease to amaze me. You have more useful characteristics than a practicing schizophrenic. As a professor, you were the toughest of the tough. As a critic, you are the consummate perfectionist. As an editor, you are the original “word nazi.” As an expert in the craft I choose to practice to the edge of my grave, you are the benchmark that I seek when I need advice and counsel…and you make me laugh because you have a great sense of humor.
    Thanks Jennie,

    Jon Broderick

  5. #7 by larrydrob7 on August 20, 2013 - 10:48 am

    Truly inspirational! Jenny, I really love how you capped up the entire story with “taking advantage of the opportunities.” Your story reminds me of the personality and charisma it takes to earn a friendship. And by putting perfection aside, there is nothing else stopping you. This word of advice is truly priceless. And while reading your post, I couldn’t help but notice how well written you are. It means so much to me that your writing is structured, clear, and succinct. I’ve found a writer that I will continue reading before and during my success as a writer. Thank you.

    Larry

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