How I Got My Agent, In the Time of Pandemic
First Things First
I never thought I’d be writing one of these. For a couple of reasons. But the one I want to talk about is that I used to find these posts upset me more than they helped me to move on in my own agent search. I also know myself. And I know what works for me doesn’t work for everyone.
A friend suggested I started writing this to figure out what I wanted.
I didn’t listen to this friend. Not at first.
The Query for THE SUMMER LOU BROKE OPEN
THE SUMMER LOU BROKE OPEN is YA Contemporary with two scoops of romance and sprinkles of suspense. Complete at 84,500 words, this novel will appeal to fans Nina LaCour and S.K. Ali because they write contemporary stories with heart. Significant aspects of the novel are #OwnVoices as I am a queer Métis woman who is bi and demi-sexual. I hold a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of South Dakota and write novels for adults and young adults as well as personal essays. I am the author of a collection of linked flash fictions, Border Markers, out now from NeWest Press.
Content warning for discussion of sexual assault below.
Before Métis teen Lou—always Lou, never Louisa—can pay for university and begin her real life, she needs to survive one last summer on the Canadian prairies scooping ice cream at her family’s struggling business.
But survival gets complicated when days before high school graduation she breaks up with Wyatt, her first boyfriend, because she didn’t feel anything all forty-six times they kissed. At home, her family never talks about the man who raped her mom and became Lou’s biological father—except in whispers. And after Lou’s uncomfortable adventures in dating, she’s positive that her origin story has left her fundamentally broken when it comes to sex.
Even worse, King Nathan—Lou’s once BFF—is back in town and Lou’s uncle mysteriously hires him for the season. But Lou’s the reason King left three years back, when her constant lies burned their friendship to the ground. Real estate is tight in her family’s ice cream shack with King, Wyatt and Lou’s new best friend scooping too, and there Lou must reckon with the consequences of her old lies and a weird, completely new feeling: actually, maybe, wanting to kiss someone.
This summer is painful enough now that they’re splitting tips four ways—and then a threatening letter arrives from a man claiming to be her father. Now, Lou has to learn how to keep a person she doesn’t want in her life out and how to invite someone she does want in, all while discovering if she’s actually broken or totally normal.
Maarsi for your time and consideration,
Jenny Ferguson (writing as: Jenny Legend)
Um, stress and more stress, and thinking about how to get groceries to my house while I was at a writer’s conference that should of cancelled because of Covid-19 but wasn’t cancelled, all while I was getting sick with a weird virus/cold monster.
I got the email on a Friday evening, while in Vegas with my extended family. Yay, travel!
I didn’t believe the email, but I did believe the email, but I couldn’t believe the email. That was my weekend.
I had my first call the next Monday—and it went really well, and I felt a vibe and connection.
Then I nudged the other agents with my full, and agents I wanted to work with who had my query. Then I waited.
Then the pandemic got worse in Europe. Then it got worse here.
The day before my agent deadline I had no other offers, and a series of passes. The of my agent deadline I had several offers, and several agents begging me for the weekend to get their thoughts together. Covid-19 had interrupted our lives. As it should. Social distancing is the right move, y’all.
Four other offers came in over the course of a matter of days.
I was overwhelmed, emotionally, and otherwise. I was struggling to know myself and what I wanted. I was unbalanced. And my depression was kicking my ass.
For those of you who know me well, I’m usually very good at decisions, very balanced, and I’m the one other people come to for help making decisions. Yes, you can lol at me right now. It’s totally cosmic. And the universe has a sick sense of humour when it comes to me.
To make the decision harder, every agent who offered was kind, got my book, sells well, is a good human, and works for an excellent agency: Curtis Brown, Marsal Lyon, Bradford Literary, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Regal Hoffmann & Associates.
What I Wanted From An Agent
My offers really helped me to decide what I wanted from an agent. Anyone who has been in the query trenches knows how hard is it to want an agent. And a lot of us struggle to think beyond that. The desire for an agent overwhelms your ability to know what you want and need—at least the first time you sign with an agent.
But with offers on the table, you have to decide what you really want.
And yes, no agent is better than a bad agent, or a bad fit. Know this. Hold onto this.
What I realized I wanted/needed over the course of the past two weeks+:
-Someone who was at least willing to represent my whole career: YA and Adult in different genres, and my in-progress collection of essays.
-Someone who challenged me. This means someone whose revisions would push me to become a better writer. Not simply someone whose revisions were things I could accomplish in a weekend. I wanted someone whose strengths are not my strengths, and someone who knew what my strengths were and what theirs were.
-Someone who sells books.
-Someone whose clients are happy.
-Someone who is good at sales and who is confident in their ability to sell across my career.
-Someone who is a career agent and not in it for one fast book sale.
-Someone who respects diverse writers, supports us, and isn’t out to simply make a dollar off of us as a trend. Someone who is well versed in sexuality, and in issues of race/ethnicity, in issues of ability, and in privilege.
-Someone who is a strong communicator.
-Someone I vibe with. This doesn’t mean a best friend. This means someone who gets me on a level that matters, and someone I get on a level that matters. This is a business relationship. It’s also a relationship. And one I hope would be long-term. Hey, maybe forever.
I’m happily now represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.
Patricia hits all my wants/needs.
I cannot wait for the books we’ll bring into the world together.
I’m utterly thrilled.
THE SUMMER LOU BROKE OPEN was finished in September 2019. I revised it through the fall of 2019.
74 Queries sent, starting on January 13, 2020.
First full request arrived on January 13, 2020.
22 Full or Partial requests.
5 Offers of Representation from Awesome Agents.
This is the 5th manuscript I’ve queried.
Sarah White: you’ve kept me going.
PW15 Team: You’re my emotional and editorial support.
Tracy Gold: You’re the bestest.
Jamie Pacton: <3 <3 <3 now and always.
Amanda Reaume and Katherine Crocker: For decision making skills!
Laura Weymouth: Your support is <3
Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill: All your wisdom is much appreciated
Mike Mammay: You know what you do!
Find Jenny's interview with the Oyster River Pages staff here.
I'm thrilled to announce I'm taking over as CNF editor at carte blanche. Here's a little sample of what I'm interested in:
Now, I’m joining the team as the new CNF Editor. I’m ready to read all your nonfiction—but I have a particular fondness for the lyric essay, the flash essay, striking memoir, non-consumptive travel writing, interviews with surprising people, critical essays that teach us something, care about language and can be appreciated by a general audience, and mixed-or-hybrid prose pieces that actively redefine what creative non-fiction can be and do.
Feel free to read more of my introduction post here.
Are you local?
You are cordially invited to help me launch Border Markers at The Box of Delights Bookshop in Wolfville, NS from 1900-2030.
Fellow NeWest writer, author of Meadowlark, Wendi Stewart, will be joining me. There will be copies of both my book and Wendi's on-hand at the launch.
I am so pleased that Border Markers is now available to pre-order. This is something people generally don't know: pre-order sales are extremely important and help the author, and the press.
Please consider pre-ordering Border Markers. I hope you'll enjoy it.
I will be reading selections from my novel The Intersection[s] at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's Women's and Gender Studies "No Limits" Conference on Friday, March 11, 2016.
I am very much looking forward to sharing some of my recent research and writing.