Diary of a Storyteller

How I Found My Agent

May 18, 2020

Amber Morrell

  Amber is a writer, librarian, and educator. Follow her on Twitter

When I wrote my post about being on submission, I realized I’ve never shared the story of how I got my agent. You’ve probably heard that there are a lot of different paths to getting an agent or getting published. The most common is to send agents query letters until you find one who connects with your book. This was the path I’d intended to take, but reality played out a bit different. 

I wrote a novel in November of 2015 as a NaNoWriMo project. I’d written many novels before this, but this was the first one I’d written with the intention of revising and publishing. It was around this time I discovered book Twitter, MSWL, and all the other resources out there for aspiring authors, and so it was the first time I had a serious go at publishing. After I finished drafting, I began to revise—and trust me when I say that that book was a trash fire at first and needed a lot of revision. 

As part of this whole “taking myself seriously as a writer” thing, I attended my very first conference—the 2016 AWP conference, which happened to be in Los Angeles that year. I bought a student membership and stayed at my aunt’s house about twenty minutes away. That conference showed me the value of conferences, not necessarily for finding agents but for its networking potential. 

Before the conference, I heard on Twitter about an off-site Kidlit meetup, and decided to crash it. I bought myself two glasses of wine and decided to talk to every single person. This took a lot of courage because before this event, I considered myself an extremely shy and anxious person. I still do, in many respects. But I told myself I might not have an opportunity to network like this again—after all, the conference is in a different city every year—so I forced myself to talk to people. 

I met a lot of really awesome writers, some of whom I’m still friends with on Twitter. This is where I got added to some really amazing Facebook groups, which have made a big impact on my career because of the support they provide and are honestly the only reason I still use Facebook. But the big connection I made was with the editor of a small press. He asked me to pitch him my book (I never pitched it without being invited to, because that felt tacky, but I did have an elevator pitch prepared). He asked me to submit it to him when I was done revising, and I connected with him on Facebook and Twitter.

I spent the next year revising my novel (most of that time spent procrastinating revising my novel, but you get the idea). Sometime in spring of 2017, he posted that his small press was open for submissions. I finished revising as quickly as I could and sent it in. 

And then crickets. I graduated college in spring of 2017, so I was very busy. I got my first post-college job as a library assistant, which is still my current job. I didn’t write much until that November, where I wrote the first draft of what would eventually become MAGIC BOOK, which is now done and on submission. 

In December of 2017, in that weird week between Christmas and New Years, the editor of the small press sent me an offer letter. He wanted to publish my book, with revisions, at his small press. He sent me a contract. 

It’s an understatement to say that I was freaking out. This was it! I was finally going to be published! My career was going to take off!

But wait. I’d done enough internet research about publishing to realize that I can’t just sign the first contract put in front of me. I’d always wanted an agent, and I realized that already having a publication offer gave me a leg up in my agent search. I consulted those Facebook support groups and crafted a query letter with a big ol’ OFFER OF PUB in the subject line. And I waited. 

The great thing about already having an offer from a publisher, even a small one, is that agents paid attention. I think I queried a total of seven agents—a fraction of what people usually query—and got two agents that read my book and offered me representation within a few weeks. Ultimately, I signed with my current agent, Travis. 

Now remember—this all happened in the first few months of 2018. It’s 2020, and I still do not have a book deal. So what happened?

After signing with my agent, he consulted the other agents at his agency and told me that the contract I received from the small press wasn’t the greatest. There was no advance, first of all, and no guarantee that I would ever make money off my book if it was published with them. He gave me a choice: he would represent me and shop my book elsewhere, or I could walk away and sign with the small press. 

Ultimately, I chose to sign. I talked about this in my last post, but that first book never did sell to another publisher. However, as an agented author I have a lot more resources at my disposal and a lot of hope for my future. And that book might not be dead—it can still sell in the future, but I’ve moved on to other projects in the meantime. There’s obviously no way of knowing how my life would’ve played out if I did publish my book with the small press. There are many authors who are published with small presses and have wonderful careers. But I didn’t feel like it was the right choice for me. If you’re ever faced with a similar choice, you may decide differently!

So that’s how I got my agent. It was a very roundabout way to get one, but a lot of things in publishing are. I find it helpful to read about all the different paths, because if you hyper-fixate on doing something just one way, you might shut yourself out of new opportunities. I definitely have a “plan” I try to follow, but I’m also flexible and try to keep an open mind. Especially with a global pandemic going on, no one really knows what the state of publishing will be like in six months, a year, or five years from now. The only thing I can do is keep writing, and keep moving forward. 

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