The Agent

Katherine Longshore 1 Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Imagine a reality television show like The Bachelor, only instead of hot tubs and romantic lobster dinners and quiet conversations on the settee,  the prospective groom has to trawl through blog posts and mini-biographies and tantalizing bits of information online. (I know, it wouldn’t make very good TV, would it?  But bear with me.)  He knows the girls’ names, he knows where they work, who they interact with, what their preferences are.  He knows who says good things about them, how many people they’ve dated recently, and even how well those dates went.  He knows what they say they’re looking for, and what they’re least interested in.

Maybe he met a few of the girls at different parties or at a speed-dating service.  Maybe he heard one or two speak about their jobs and their interests and how they want a relationship to work.  Maybe he even got to talk to one once for fifteen minutes about something important to him, important to a future relationship together.

Now imagine that this Bachelor has to enter into what he hopes is a life-long committed relationship with this girl, based only on those few things.

That’s what finding an agent is like. 

You can find a lot of information online – client lists and previous sales and statistics.  You can read “How I Got My Agent” columns in magazines.  You can go to lectures and workshops at conferences, enter query and first page critiques, try out agent speed-dating, and enter contests like The Baker’s Dozen.  You can learn a lot about someone online.  But can you learn what that person is really like?

I queried agents two years ago.  I made up a list of names based on people I’d heard at conferences and rumors I’d heard around the lunch tables and bar stools at those same conferences.  I sent e-mails to my top ten list first – I figured it was better to be rejected than always to wonder what might have been.  Every time I got a rejection, I sent out another query.  And I got a lot of form letter rejections.  I told myself agents weren’t interested in historical fiction – that it was one of those words that shut people down immediately, like vampires or rhyme.  But I knew that if what I had was good enough, someone would pick it up.  Just like there are still vampires and rhyming picture books showing up on shelves.

I had full manuscripts out with a couple of agents when enough rejections came in to bring me to the end of my researched list.  I turned to Talia, who had just gone through the same process.  And Talia does all the research.  She suggested Catherine Drayton.

There’s not a lot out there on the Internet about Catherine.  She rarely tweets, doesn’t blog and if you Google her, you get interviews from three or four years ago.  InkWell, the agency she works with, has a stunning client list, however.  And so does Catherine – including Becca Fitzpatrick, Tara Hudson, Lisa and Laura Roecker , John Flanagan and Markus Zusak.  My first thought was, “She’s never going to want to represent me.”  But I queried her anyway, noticing that her turn-around time listed on QueryTracker was pretty quick.  (and a quick rejection means another query can go out!)
I was lucky to end up with more than one offer.  Including two from my original top-ten list.  Agents I had met personally and liked both as people and professionals.  I didn’t know Catherine.  Knew I may never get a chance to meet her face-to-face, since she lives in Australia.  Knew she keeps a very low profile, and I wouldn’t be getting a big, shouty I LOVE THIS BOOK boost from her in the Twittersphere.  From what I’d learned over the barstools and lunch tables, I knew that a great client list doesn’t always mean great compatibility.  But neither does a great blog or scintillating personality.  And what one person loves and cherishes might be cited as irreconcilable differences by another.

I was dating blind.  As are we all when choosing agents.  It remains to this day one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made. 

And one of the best.

I loved Catherine because of her matter-of-factness.  Her dry and rather irreverent wit.  And because from the very first conversation we had, I knew she would never blow smoke.  I love her now for her single-word e-mails, her sage and unflinching advice and her uncanny ability to call me right in the middle of some kind of insanity at my house (like, it’s full of pre-adolescent boys, or I’m in the middle of a writing session and can’t remember what year it is, much less what day, or my cell phone has decided that my entire house is a no-bar zone).  Best of all, she loves my writing, she gets what I’m trying to do and she gets behind it.

Ultimately, that’s what you want from an agent.  Someone in your corner.  Someone who is looking out for your career.  Someone who loves your writing. You also need someone with whom you’re compatible – in work ethic and communication and strategy and stick-to-it-iveness.  Those are all things that are almost impossible to tell from a few blog posts, a bio and a single phone conversation.  So the best you can do is go with your gut.  And believe in luck.  I did.


I think you have the beginnings of a compelling reality show here. Maybe the agent-search should involve lobster dinners and hot tubs?

Nah, maybe not.

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