Wednesday, January 14, 2009


So you're asking yourself, do I really need an agent?

All I can do to answer this question is share my own experience.

When I started really working hard to improve my fiction skills, I had this dream: I wanted to be that golden treasure some unsuspecting editor unearthed from the slush pile. I wanted to have one of those magical stories to tell about getting discovered. Amazingly, children's literature and poetry are two genres where this actually happens. But it didn't happen to me.

After submitting various manuscripts to various editors, all of whom I "met" at SCBWI Southern-Breeze conferences, and getting very warm feedback from editors at houses like Tricycle and Jump at the Sun/Hyperion and Milkweed... BUT still not getting any offers, I was feeling a bit impatient and wondered if perhaps I had chosen the wrong fork in the road. So when the registration form came in for Writing and Illustrating for Kids 2006, I marked a session entitled "Agent and Author: the road to representation." Or something like that. Honestly, I can't recall. But what I do recall is how much I liked agent Rosemary Stimola and her brand-new client Hester Bass. Ro (as I've learned to call her) also represents much-admired authors like R.A. Nelson and Suzanne Collins, knows the business inside and out, is a straight-shooter AND is super quick to respond to e-mail (my preferred method of communication). So, I thought, okay. Maybe.

About a week later, I got brave enough to send her my manuscript, which was a story set in Gee's Bend but told in verse. (Poetry is SO my comfort-zone, and wow, have you read Out of the Dust??) She shot me an e-mail right back that said she was interested in the story but already had a novel-in-verse sitting on her desk that she'd been unable to sell. In short, thanks, but no thanks.

So. What did I do? I re-wrote the darn story in prose. Then I shared it with a writing buddy who shredded it. Absolute total annhiliation. Or at least that's the way it felt. I wanted to give up. I wanted to throw the whole story in the garbage and never look back. And I almost did.

But then I had a lightbulb moment. I suddenly knew what to do with my story: Change the boy main character to a girl (who was a minor character in the earlier version) AND switch it to first person. Major, major changes, right? Ones that take sweet time. But when I finished that first draft (can I still call it a first draft??), I knew I had turned a corner. I knew THIS was a story worth writing.

So what did I do? Oh, impatient impulsive me. I zipped off that first draft to Rosemary Stimola. My raw, chapped poor little newborn who was still recovering from surgery. I didn't bother to mention that I had previously submitted a manuscript to her -- I just sent the thing straight-up, as if I had never ever contacted her in the first place. (Like if I didn't mention it, it hadn't happened?? Something like that.)

This one she liked. This one she said, yes, I think I know just the editor for this story. How 'bout I send it out?

Which she did, of course, and after some drama I'll save for another day, I had an agent and an editor and a book contract wonderfully negotiated by a real live professional who is so worth her commission. Who knows how much longer it might have taken me to get a contract without her?? And now I have her sheperding through the whole process, and I couldn't be more grateful.

So to those of you wondering about agents, I say YES. Go for it. Maybe it doesn't have as much magic as a slush pile miracle, but it's still pretty amazing.

"One's own self is well hidden from one's own self; of all mines of treasure, one's own is the last to be dug up.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche


  1. I just completed my book proposal yesterday and sent it to my mentor and once she looks it over and gives me some advice on how to make it better we will then be making the big trip to NYC where she is introducing me to her agent. I love that word, "agent"!!!

  2. I think your experience with your drafts and your agent sounds so exciting. And it proves that writing isn't just receiving from a muse--it's working, revisions, re-seeing the words you put together, and then reworking again. Your dedication shows in how beautifully crafted your poems are. And I know your novel will show the same talent and effort. I'm eager to read it when it comes out.

  3. im sorry about you baby :( glad about your journey!

  4. My very first SCBWI Conference to attend was the one where Hester Bass and "Ro" led one of the sessions. They are both delightful, and their presentation was such crazy fun!

    I'm thick in the agent search, and I was about to switch gears and query some editors. After reading this, I'm wondering if that's the right thing to do . . . it's all such an emotional roller coaster.

    Karen Hesse came to Oxford two years ago and spoke to our fifth graders about Out of the Dust (quite possibly one of the best books I've ever read). I was able to have lunch with her, and she is truly one of the most humble, brilliant and wondeful people I've ever met. I hung on every lovely, poetic word she spoke.

    I love hearing your story--Sarah Frances

  5. Thanks Kirie-- you have no idea how much I appreciate you. And SF, how I would LOVE to meet Karen Hesse! You lucky dog... and are you ever right on th emotional rollercoaster aspect of trying to get published. Exhausting, and fraught with anxiety. But you WILL get through it...

  6. I know this is YEARS later, but I was wondering--because I'd like to query Rosemary since I've heard so many wonderful things about her--whether she was a hands on agent or not.

    Anyway, this post was informative, and she sounds like a great agent. I wouldn't mind being a client of hers.


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