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How I got my agent

Friday, February 26, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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While I was still writing my memoir about my life and work as a UN peacekeeper and human rights advocate in Afghanistan, I started reading agent advice blogs and following agents on Twitter. I started filling a new notebook dedicated to information about agents and the query process. I began making a list of the agents who seemed like a great match for my book.

On many agent blogs I read that, unlike other forms of non-fiction, you generally need a completed manuscript before you can query agents for representation for a memoir. So I diligently set about completing my manuscript.

Once I was close to finishing the manuscript I shared my synopsis and my first three chapters with my beta readers. One of them is a published author who thought the synopsis was fantastic and asked whether I had considered starting to query agents. I explained why I was waiting. She wasn’t convinced and offered to ask her agent for advice.

Her agent’s advice was that because the subject matter of my memoir (i.e. Afghanistan) is so newsworthy at the moment, I should query as soon as possible. She wanted to see my first three chapters. I decided that if I was going to send the chapters to her I would also take a risk and query the five agents who were at the top of my wish list.

So I queried six agents. Two of them were agents to whom I had personal referrals from their clients (including the one who encouraged me to query early). Three were agents with whom I had no connection. The sixth agent had approached me after she read my blog, which she loved, and saw that I was working on a memoir.

I had my first response, a request for a full manuscript, the next morning. I had to explain that I didn’t have a complete manuscript. She still wanted to see whatever I had written. I took another risk. I sent her ten more chapters despite the fact that they had not been through the purifying fire of my beta readers’ insightful critiques. She eventually passed on the manuscript.

The first agent also asked to see more. I sent her the additional chapters. She came back saying that it was a fascinating and well-written story but that the market at the moment demanded more grit in its war stories. She would be interested in seeing another draft.

I got two more requests for full manuscripts. I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of querying early but I decided to give the draft chapters two last outings before I regrouped.

I’ll never forget the day I woke to my first offer of representation. I was stunned. It was such a surprise after the first two rejections that I almost accepted the offer on the spot.

Instead I asked for a little time and wrote to the one remaining agent who had my partial manuscript. She wrote back almost immediately, also offering me representation. Now I was spinning.  Two New York literary agents wanted to represent my book!

I set up phone interviews with both of the agents. I got in touch with all the published authors I knew and asked them for advice. I prepared my questions. Each of the agents did a fantastic job of answering them. Both gave me referrals to clients who gave them rave reviews. I knew that I couldn’t go wrong with either of them.

In the end the deciding factor was that when Laura (Laura Nolan of The Creative Culture) talked about my manuscript it was as though she had been inside my head as I wrote it. She got to the heart not only what I had written but also of what I was trying to write but hadn’t quite pulled off.

I broke one of the cardinal rules of querying, which is: ‘Never query until your manuscript is complete, beautifully polished and the best that it can possibly be.’

In this instance, it paid off. I was very fortunate to find two agents who were willing to work with
me on a promising manuscript that needed work. Not all agents do that.
Not all writers need that. Maybe it worked for me because of the timeliness of my subject matter. Maybe it was because I found the right champions for my project. In either case, I’m grateful.

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19 Responses to "How I got my agent"

  1. Susannah says:

    so very well deserved, baby xo

  2. Tara Bradford says:

    I’m so pleased for you! As in any worthwhile endeavour, persistence is key. And your talent and stories deserve a good agent to guide you to the right publisher. xo

  3. Farida says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the information. I have been following your blog for a while now,you really share so much inspiration. Wishing you tons of success on your book.

  4. just awesome, friend. thrilled to follow you each step of the way and can’t wait to hold that book in my hands. xx

  5. Alexis Grant says:

    Great story that will help others hoping to query. I think it’s worth noting that even though your ms wasn’t complete, it was *nearly* complete when you queried. You weren’t at the beginning of your thought process… You had an awesome synopsis, etc. Can’t wait to hear what comes next! Love following along on your journey.

  6. Erin says:

    I have followed your blog for awhile now and just wanted to congratulate you and wish you luck on your new endeavors.
    Peace 🙂

  7. Karine says:

    thanks for sharing your experience. I am impatient to read your book. Hope it will be published soon. I am a UN LO. I have learned a lot about myself and how I see the world since I started working for this organization…

  8. sassy says:

    Wonderful. It is so interesting hearing how things came into place… almost as if it were meant to be. I’m really looking forward to reading your book.

  9. Thanks for your transparency about the process. Onward ho! Hope we’ll get to meet at this year’s European SUmmit. Do you have a publisher? If so, when’s the book out?

  10. Thanks everyone!
    I don’t have a publisher yet. Laura and I will work together to edit and polish the manuscript to perfection and then she’ll get busy selling it to publishers. The great things about having an agent is that as soon as the mss is ready for sale I can forget about that book and get started on my next! Well, until it’s time to start promoting this one, once it comes out.
    If all goes really well I hope the book will be published in 2011. It’s a long, slow process. Lucky I’m a Taurus, huh?

  11. tiny noises says:

    so awesome! and so very much deserved!!

  12. I love this story! Congrats!

  13. Bea says:

    This is so very inspiring. Honestly, it is a lucky agent who has the privilege of representing you and your incredible writing. I cannot wait to read your words in print.

  14. stacy says:

    so very thrilled for you! thank you for sharing your story. xo

  15. Inspiring post. Thanks for sharing how you got your agent. I’m debating too how complete to have my memoir manuscript before I query.

  16. Congratulations! Looking forward to hearing more about your process and reading your story.

  17. […] however, your idea is particularly timely or you’ve got a great platform or there’s some other reason your story will stand out, […]

  18. […] out with me for a while know that I started by sending my manuscript out to some agents (and got signed by the wonderful Laura Nolan), launching a new website (this one) and starting an online yoga course (which has grown in ways I […]

  19. Hi Marianne,

    I first read this post in 2010 when I had just moved to Sydney to start working on my memoir of my time volunteering in Uganda. A friend from Wellington who had attended one of your yoga classes sent it onto me and I found it really inspiring and I have often returned to it over the years. I have now finished my manuscript (with a few years off along the way) and am now working on my proposal having at last launched my own blog – ileftmyheartinuganda.com. I continue to follow you and just wanted to thank you for the inspiration!

    Emma

    PS I loved reading you book!

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