Monday, August 22, 2011

my agent, practically perfect in every way

So it's my turn to tell my agent story. I should rewind a few years to 2008, when I completed my first real novel, DRAWN TO YOU. I'd written bits and pieces of stories before, but this was the first one that had a plot that sort of made sense. I cranked out the rough draft in a month, printed it off, and fixed the typos. Time to query, right? Yeah, well. I queried around 100 agents *cringe* and got a decent number of requests. But the story was obviously not ready.

In 2009, I took some time off writing to have a baby. When the munchkin started sleeping through the night, I decided to start something new. I was teaching a creative writing class, and we were doing a month-long novel unit. One of the ideas I came up with while brainstorming with a colleague kind of stuck. What if you could literally see through someone else's eyes? And what if they'd just done the most terrible thing... committed a murder? That was the seed of the idea, and I wrote alongside the kids for the whole month and kept going until I finished. Again, I didn't revise enough before sending the manuscript off to agents. But it was a strong enough idea that I ended up getting several offers.

Sarah Davies called me unexpectedly one evening. She said she'd spent Memorial Day reading my manuscript, and she told me the parts she loved. I wasn't sure if this meant she was offering representation, so I asked her, and she kind of laughed and said in her lovely British accent, "Yes, this is me offering you representation." After weighing the pros and cons of the agents, I decided to go with Sarah. It wasn't a hard choice. She's had many years of experience in the publishing business, her clients raved about her, and she had about a zillion deals posted in Publishers Marketplace.

A few weeks later, we had a phone conversation. She'd reread SLIDE (then called OTHER PEOPLE) and decided it needed MAJOR work. Like a complete rewrite. She told me she'd understand if I decided to go with the other agent if I didn't want to put in that amount of work. I thought long and hard about my decision. Sure, it would be easy to go with the agent who thought my manuscript was already strong, but I wanted to work with someone who would make me stretch and grow as a writer. Sarah's agency IS called THE GREENHOUSE, after all. I finally emailed her back and said, "I'M IN." Best decision I ever made.

I'm not going to lie. Sarah's first editorial made me cry. Eleven pages, single-spaced, in small type. The last line was something like, "Now, take some time to digest these notes. Open a bottle of wine. Breathe." I took her advice. And then, over the next few months, I sketched out a master plan of how to attack the revisions. I worked long hours, every day, until I got my story to the place it should have been before I even queried agents.

The hard work paid off.

After Sarah read my revision, she wrote that she was standing on her chair, applauding for me. Now isn't that the kind of agent you want to have? Someone who makes you work your butt off to be the best you can be, and cheers you on every step of the way?

She was just as amazing during the submission process. I'll never forget the day she called me up and asked if I was sitting down. (I wasn't. I was standing in the hallway at school. Instead, I leaned against a wall.) When she told me about the offer, I started to cry. That was the moment all my dreams came true. Well, almost all of them. I still have to see my book on a shelf in the bookstore. But that moment is coming, and it's all because of Sarah.

My mother once said that Sarah is practically perfect in every way, and I have to say I totally agree.


  1. Oh, this is such a lovely post, Jill! I love to hear about awesome agent-author synergy. I am sure SLIDE is going to be a winner as a result!

  2. That is a great agent story! I've been looking forward to Slide for a while now.

  3. That is an excellent agent story! My agent also asked if I was sitting down...I wasn't. :) Obviously things worked out wonderfully--congrats!


  4. It's so lovely to hear a story like this. And I suspected that Sarah would be like this from the moment that I first came across her blog, read books by her clients, and met her in person at a conference. I'm standing (okay, a little metaphorically) on my chair for both of you. You deserve each other, in the best possible sense!