Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guest blogger Courtney Summers on
How I Got My Agent

When my agent Amy mentioned Colleen was looking for guest-bloggers and would I be interested, I was like, really? Guest-blogging on The (amazing) Swivet? YES! I'm so there! I would never pass up the opportunity to potentially embarrass myself on someone else's blog! And since I know you Swivet readers are pretty cool, which I find fairly intimidating, odds are good this will happen. I no longer know if this is an introduction or a disclaimer, but in any case, I'm really excited to be here. Thanks, Colleen!

My name is Courtney. I write young adult novels. My first novel, Cracked Up to Be, is due out in January 2009 from St. Martin's Press and I keep a blog over here, where I often write about zombies and volcanoes with an urgency that might suggest I'm constantly threatened by both. Maybe I am. Hi!

At first, I was going to do a guest-blog about why I write YA, but realized my reason for writing YA is so simple, I couldn't stretch it beyond this sentence: I love it and there's nothing else I'd rather be doing. But since a sentence does not a proper guest-blog entry make, instead I thought I'd talk about how I went about finding my agent and give some advice that will hopefully be helpful to those of you who are actively seeking representation for your own novels.

(But this IS a disclaimer: I don't claim to be an expert on anything, except maybe sleep.)

Cracked Up to Be is my fourth completed novel, but it will be my first published novel. The three novels that preceded it have all been banished beneath my bed, where they stay, quietly biding their time until Halloween night, at which point they rise up and go on a killing spree throughout the neighbourhood (true story!). Anyway, those novels were not retired until after I sent a bunch of queries out to agents about representing them, and by a bunch, I mean a ton. So when I finally did get my agent, I was no stranger to the process.

There's not much I can say about the agent hunting thing that hasn't been said and said better by others. It hurts so good! Except when it doesn't! How I came to land my agent, Amy Tipton--as exciting as it was and has turned out for me!--is, I think, a pretty straightforward account. I wrote the novel. I edited the novel. I drafted what I hoped was a passable query letter and researched agents who represented YA novels on (researching agents is always a good idea).

I decided to query Amy, not only because she represented YA, but because the word 'edgy' was in her interests (Cracked Up to Be is an edgy YA), I liked the sound of her bio and I especially liked that she was a newer agent at an established agency. I've noticed some writers will make a list of what they want in an agent and a lot of the time 'must have at least a trillion years of working as an agent under their belt' is somewhere near the top of it.

When I was querying, I actively looked for newer agents because I knew they were actively looking for new clients, and those who worked with established agencies had the benefit of the agency and their colleague's years in the business behind them (and don't forget--a 'new' agent doesn't necessarily mean they're new to the business). There's nothing wrong with querying agents who have been agents for decades--I did that too--but I wasn't going to potentially miss out on a fantastic advocate for my work simply because they were 'new.' So here is my first bit of advice: neither should you. You owe it to the manuscript you've cried, bled, sweat over, torn up and pasted back together to find the best possible fit for it.

I sent Amy a query, she requested the full, and shortly thereafter, she made an offer of representation. I accepted and am happy to report I've been VERY well looked after ever since. She rocks.

My second piece of advice to offer those of you looking for an agent is to Be Professional. I promise I don't mean that in a condescending way. Sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to forget. Sort of like saying 'please' or 'thank you' or asking someone how they are when you meet them on the street. Wanting to fire a mouthy email back at an agent who rejects you is probably a good time to remind yourself to be professional. Airing out your agent hunting grievances and naming names on your blog is probably a good time to remind yourself to be professional. When I communicate with people on the internet, I tend to !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and CAPITALIZE and ~*sparkle*~ at them way too much, so in my case, reminding myself to be professional prevented me from sending this email to Amy when she requested my full:
Dear Amy!!!!!!!!,





... Although, I just realized those are the types of emails I send her now.

So that's how I got my awesome agent. Not very dramatic, I know. I wanted to lie and tell you the ghost of Jacob Marley visited me and was like, "YOU MUST QUERY THIS AGENT BEFORE THE CLOCK STRIKES THREE OR ELSE DOOM etc," but you'd probably be able to tell I was lying and that would totally undermine all the advice I put in there about querying agents, since we all know no one takes advice from blatant liars.

(But there really ARE murderous manuscripts under my bed, I swear).


cindy said...

yay courtney! congrats on your awesome debut!!

Little Willow said...

Oh, Courtney, how you rock.

I challenge you to write a picture book (...cautionary tale?) about zombies that crawl out of volcanoes. Your (human) heroine can be named Em Urgency.

Joya said...

I was looking around your blog, and it's really inspiring! I'm excited that you'll be blogging here on occasion, too.

Also amused you use "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and CAPITALIZE and ~*sparkle*~" way too much. I do that, too! :)

brad said...

Yay courtney!

starrynite said...

Courtney you continue to kick butt in just the best possible way.

When the manuscripts under your bed rise up to take lives I will be by your side, paper shredder at the ready, willing to risk papercuts - or worse - for you!!


Emily said...

Courtney- Informative, as always, while remaining ~*ENTERTAINING*~


courtney summers said...

cindy: thank you so much!

little willow: no, YOU rock. and I think that is a challenge I am going to have to meet because... !!!!. you had me at volcano zombies.

joya: thank you so much! and ~*sparkly*~ CAPITAL & !!!!! using people represent! I'm glad I'm not alone. :)

brad: yay x 2!

starrynite: aw! thank you. and also thank you for having my back. should your manuscripts turn evil, I've totally got yours too.

emily: ~*sparkle sparkle*~

Angela said...

Thanks for sharing, Courtney!

I can totally picture those MS's rising up on Halloween, wandering the streets in a drooling, carnivorous rampage. Do you crack the window open and then hide in the closet until they leave?

ChristaCarol said...

Courtney, you are ever so entertaining and managed to make me crack up before 8am!! Let me tell you, that's a feat in and of itself! I'm no morning person. Thanks for sharing, putting a smile on my face, and congrats!

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

congrats on your first novel and landing a cool agent. Yeah I guess that's some good advice you got-- querying new agents. I'm working on some novels and I'm hoping to query around agents soon, but my novel is kinda pornographic, hateful and filled with racism and redncks. So I hope I can find an agent who's into "edgy" literature as well. Someone who's younger than older agents and can relate to my characters, hopefully.

i wish you luck with your published novel!!

DeadlyAccurate said...

I challenge you to write a picture book (...cautionary tale?) about zombies that crawl out of volcanoes. Your (human) heroine can be named Em Urgency.

And do it in 1st-person past tense. I double-dog dare you!

My writing quirk is parenthetical asides. I have to make an active effort to avoid them in my professional writing.

Susan Adrian said...

Woot Courtney!

I concur with the difference on emails to agent before/after representation. Now there are never too many exclamation points. :)


C.K. said...

Solid advice, Courtney! And I'm not just saying that because my agent was a new agent at an established agency when she signed me.

Looking forward to keeping up with you here. And I like Little Willow's idea :)

sruble said...

Courtney: Zombies, homicidal manuscripts, and volcanoes?! I knew there was a reason we get along!

Colleen: I've been reading your blog for a while, but have never gotten up the nerve to comment before. I love the pictures of your cats, your great advice on writing and Pimpin' Your Book, and your apartment hunting stories (I'm a NYer, so I can totally relate - I actually kind of miss the craigslist ads).

Little Willow said...

Make the volcano zombies sparkly and fond of jazz hands.

courtney summers said...

angela: I totally crack the window open and hide in the closet until they leave. I am not standing in the way of their murderous rampage. I wish I was that selfless but. no.

christacarol: thank you! And I'm totally glad to have made you crack a smile before 8 am. because any time before 8 am is an UNGODLY HOUR. :D

deaf brown trash punk: thank you so much! best of luck with finding the perfect fit for your novel!

deadlyaccurate: I NEVER SAY NO TO A DOUBLE-DOG DARE. *rolls up sleeves* oh my gosh, parenthetical asides--my quirk is italics. I have to delete so many italics in the the editing. may we both conquer our quirks.

susan: hee. totally. ~*sparkle*~

c.k.: thank you! people with newer agents represent!

sruble: zombies, homicidal manuscripts and volcanoes: bringing people together one apocalypse, murder, and eruption at a time.

little willow: brb laughing too hard to compose proper reply!!! !!!!!!

Briony said...

Killer manuscripts coming out at Halloween and going on a murderous rampage = movie waiting to happen.

courtney summers said...

briony: we need to get on that!

Jill Corcoran said...

Congrats Courtney on getting Amy as your agent, selling your debut novel and having the guts to let go of your three other novels and move foward with your writing--may they rest in peace :)

courtney summers said...

thank you so much, jill! and they will. except on halloween. ;)

Kelly Pollard said...

Great post Courtney! Thanks for the dose of inspiration and hope.