“Take advantage of the networking opportunities at writing conferences.”
I met my agent, Stephen Barbara, at the SCBWI Bologna conference in March 2008, but he didn’t become my agent until nearly three years later.
Back in 2008, my husband (illustrator Daniel Jennewein) and I went to the conference because we had created a picture book together and realized we needed to learn more about the industry. We knew we were not ready to query or pitch agents, so when I met Stephen, I stuck to asking him about his list and talking book recommendations. It turned out we have very similar taste – high concept literary works.
Bologna 2008 lit a fire under me and I began blogging about books, mainly the YA titles I had begun to devour. I sent off an e-mail to Stephen offering to read and review some of his clients’ books and he put me in contact with a couple of them, including Lauren Oliver, who would go on to be a big early supporter of my writing. I met Stephen a few times after that and our contact was always friendly – and never included any pitching on my part.
Fast forward to SCBWI New York 2011. I signed up for the Writer’s Intensive - which gave me the chance to pitch the latest Daniel/Lenore picture book to an editor and an agent. The agent ended up loving our picture book enough to offer us representation on a project-by-project basis, but before we could think about accepting, we wanted to give Stephen a chance to look at our work. My query* was not a query in the traditional sense – simply an explanation of the situation.
Stephen responded that he would like to throw his hat into the ring and ended up being ready to discuss an offer to rep us based on our picture books alone. However, he had also heard that I was working on a YA novel and because he is a "whole career" agent, he wanted to see that too.
What to do? I only had 5 chapters of the YA done and no one had read them other than my critique partner. I was incredibly nervous, but decided to send him the chapters. A few hours later, I received a reply from Stephen. The subject line was “Holy Sh*t!” and the content of the e-mail seemed too good to be true. Not only would be love to represent me, he needed to represent me. I walked around in a daze until THE CALL where Stephen officially made an offer of representation.
Stephen had me write four more chapters in the next month with a plan to submit to publishers on a partial at the end of March. But that is another story for another day ...
*And yes, this means I got lucky and got to bypass the dreaded query letter. So I don’t have one to share.