Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Think It's Love

Happy Valentine's Day!

Getting the call from an agent offering representation is kind of like signing up with the perfect obstetrician or midwife (or, this is a stretch, but since it's Valentine's Day … perfect partner in this baby making business?!). You have a feeling you could be pregnant, you want to find the best person to help you bring this baby into the world. The one that says, "Yep, you've got a book in there! And I can help."

photo credit: hugrakka's Flickr photo stream by creative commons license
As an unagented writer, I spent hours combing the blogosphere for stories about “The Call.” It was a great way to research the process. But these posts were also like little pep talks. Success stories gave me butterflies in my stomach. Realizing dreams, it seemed, wasn’t impossible.

In 2008, I read author Therese Walsh’s post on the fabulous Writer Unboxed blog: “Home Run! Therese Finds her Perfect Agent!” I knew Teri online and admired her determination, attitude, and transparency. I also liked what I saw on her agent’s website—who Elisabeth Weed had chosen to represent and what kinds of books they were writing. I added Elisabeth to my list, dreaming of when I’d send my first query.

In May 2009, I sent that query to the agent at the top of my list—Elisabeth Weed. I sent two more … just to be on the safe side. I was thrilled the next day to receive my very first partial manuscript request from Elisabeth.

My first rejection also came from Elisabeth Weed—one of the nicest I ever received.

There would be more. I queried several more months, not a huge number of letters, perhaps 25 or 30 in all. I received requests, each followed by another rejection. And I was getting a sense that maybe this manuscript wasn’t “the one.” While I loved the story, while the characters lived on in my mind and heart (still do!), I suspected it was time to move on.

Another story had started tugging at me and just wouldn’t let go. I’d learned a surprising bit of family lore, one line, basically, with no more hints of what happened: As a teen, my grandmother had fallen deeply in love with a young black man, and their families tore them apart.

Of course their families tore them apart. It was the 1920s. It was Kentucky and interracial marriage was illegal there. That was all anyone knew—none of the involved parties were living—so it’s all I’ll ever know.

But I began to imagine what might have been. I chose a time and setting slightly different from when and where my grandmother lived. I researched the area, laws, and anything else I could find on the subject.

In April 2010, I wrote the first 30 thousand words of Calling Me Home during a Backspace writing marathon, added another 45 thousand over several months, and in November, I did my own version of NaNoWriMo—NaNoFiMo: National Novel Finishing Month, to write the final 30 thousand.

After the holidays, I began revising in earnest. I set beta readers upon it, and after feedback from my marvelous critique group, some non-writers, and several more months of fiddling with the thing, I decided it was time to query.

When I sent my first few letters at the end of June, I didn’t query Elisabeth. I wanted to be sure my query letter was effective. I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. Because she was still at the top of my list.

I received a request for a partial immediately, and was thrilled, but by then, the last members of my critique group had read my manuscript. I realized I had more work to do. I was relieved I hadn’t sent more queries into the ether.

When I was ready to query again, this time in mid July, I sent my first letter to Elisabeth. I sent a few more a few hours later, just to be on the safe side. (Is this sounding like the movie Groundhog Day? Keep reading!)

I received a request for a partial from Elisabeth Monday afternoon, which I promptly sent. The next day, I received an email from Elisabeth herself. “I just read the first three chapters of Calling Me Home and think they are terrific! Will you send me the rest? I can't wait to see how this love story unfolds.”

Let me think about that ... OF COURSE I WILL! I sent it off late that night after madly making sure all my i‘s were dotted and t’s were crossed.

The next day, a published friend who had read and loved my manuscript asked if she could recommend it to her agent, who graciously agreed to read it. I believe this was providence.

Because when I let Elisabeth know another agent was reading, she replied that she hadn’t received my full. “Please send so I can read the rest. I'm loving it!”

Needless to say, I was allowing myself to hope at this point. Just a little. But trying to keep my cool. And I was also so very thankful I had a reason to check in with her and find out she hadn’t received my manuscript!

I heard from Elisabeth the next Tuesday by email, asking if we could talk by phone. Was I around the next two days? Of course I was. And was this … The Call? I was dying from anticipation. It felt like it was going to be The Call. But I wasn’t going to count my chickens before they hatched.

The next day, July 29, 2011, Elisabeth set me at ease almost immediately in our call with these words: “In case it’s not clear, I’m calling to offer you representation.”

We spent more than an hour on the phone, discussing my manuscript, how she saw it positioned in the marketplace, how she typically worked with clients, and so on. By the time we finished talking, I’d ticked all the questions off my “things to ask potential agent” list without even having to ask most of them. And though most articles you read say to take some time to think about the offer, I had a gut feeling. I told her, “I’m just going to go ahead and say now that I feel good about this. You’ve been my top pick from the day I sent my first query two years ago, you’ve answered all my questions, and I can’t see any reason not to say yes today.”

I sent the other agent a note letting her know that while I appreciated her offer to read and admired her for doing such a truly fabulous job for my friend, I believed I was making the right decision in accepting Elisabeth’s offer. She was gracious and full of good wishes.

Less than two months later, my manuscript, Calling Me Home, sold not only in the United States at auction to St. Martin’s Press, but in nine foreign territories. We’ve added a few since then, as well as some exciting foreign book club opportunities. Calling Me Home will be published sometime in early 2013 in the U.S.

It seems that gut feeling was right on target. I think it's love!


  1. What a fabulous story, Julie! And I can't WAIT to read your novel!

  2. It was fate! Obviously! I love my agent too although I think of her more as a shrink than a midwife. Although I guess midwives are kind of shrinks too...

  3. What a wonderful story! Congratulations on landing the agent of your dreams and on the swift sale of Calling Me Home. Can't wait to read it!

  4. Great story, Julie! I got all happy just reading about your experience! Ain't love grand!

  5. Great story Julie! I loved reading about other people's journeys, especially my fellow BPer's!