Once upon a time , I got a literary agent. This is one of those things that if you’re not (A) a writer (B) the parent of a writer or (C) married to a writer, you just probably don’t care about. But if you are (A) (B) or (C) (Mostly A, let’s not kid ourselves) then you know that’s a pretty big deal.
For those of us who are (D) (other), here’s the thing. A writer writes and writes and writes, cringes and revises and swears to never try again, revises and cringes and laughs out loud, dares to share the words with readers, cries for a while, revises some more, attempts to maintain composure and refrain from out-loud offensive language, and finally has a “finished” manuscript.
So what then? How does this thing that the writer alternately adores and despises become a book? With pages (or pixels) that someone can buy or borrow?
Enter the Agent.
The Agent is the go-between for author and publisher.
*Question: Does a writer need to have an agent?
*Answer: No. Or else Yes.
I didn’t have an agent until last week. And I’m an author, right? I have books — published, bound, for-sale books (and ebooks, too). I didn’t have an agent for the first years of my writing journey, and it was great, and it worked. But then I did what I do best and decided that I wanted more. Even though I’ve had a great experience with my first publisher, and through my interactions with them have made some Very Dear Friends, when my contract was fulfilled, I knew it was time for more. Here’s the more: I want my next thing to be bigger in scope, more national, from a bigger publisher with a longer reach. I want hardback (but, you know, I’m flexible). I want to stretch to the next level.
And in order to Next-Level it, I need an agent. In general, the Big Guys national publishers don’t accept submissions without an agent. (Not always true. I know. That’s why I said “In general,” you see.)
* Question: Where do you even begin to find agents?
* Answer: The Internet, my friends. The Internet.
See, there’s a wealth of agent-related information out there. Several years ago, I started with AgentQuery.com, where I looked up agents based on books I already liked, authors I knew, and the two agents I’d heard of. Then by genre, then by recommendation, then I sort of started getting the hang of it all. This time around, I knew a little more. I’d had a very kind agent send me a list of possibilities (who I then began to stalk [politely, you know] around the internet). There are agents who blog regularly, who have FaceBook profiles, who answer a great many questions that I don’t actually ask, but I wonder about these things. And there’s the Writer’s Digest website in general, and the Guide to Agents section in particular.
And then there’s the keeping it all inside my head, which is, obviously, never going to happen. So I tried out QueryTracker.com. It’s not the world’s most beautiful site, but it has what I needed to organize. It’s useful, you know, to keep track of everything. And it does keep track of everything. And there’s a community aspect to it (which I never used) where you can chat with other people who are in the Query Zone, compare notes on agents’ replies and response times, and give virtual high-fives and pats on the back.
* Question: So how does a writer get an agent?
* Answer: I’m glad you asked.
Here’s a short list of things you need in order to make it happen: A “finished” novel, a query letter, a thick skin, and a vast deal of patience.
First let’s talk about the “finished” novel. Are you tired of the “quote marks” yet? Me, too. But the thing is, you’re not really finished writing your novel yet. BUT. You should get to the point where you can’t make it any better yourself or with the help of your Very Helpful Critique Partners . Then you sit on it for a while — a week or a month. Then read it again and polish. Trust me, you’ll be surprised how much there is to polish.
Then you do a query letter. This is painful and horrifying, I’m not going to lie to you. HERE is a place I talked about this once before.
Thick skin. Yeah. Writers talk about this one a lot. Because, apparently, you really need it. Here’s the thing. It’s PERSONAL. The book you just wrote was pushed out of your pores like sweat, and it is a little (or huge) part of you. Then a whole bunch of very nice agents and their assistants tell you it’s not (not even in the slightest) interesting to them. Ouch. This is why I went with the Large Pool theory. I submitted my query and pages (whatever the nice agents were asking for, exactly as they asked for it) to a whole lot of agents. I had a goal for 5 a day on non-work days and 3 a day on days I had a job. Then, when the rejections started coming in (and coming, and coming), there were moments of surprising pleasantness, too, like a request for a partial manuscript, or (insert Angel Choir) a full manuscript. 
The patience goes along with the replies. Some people (me?) might spend hours and days glued to the email, waiting for that magic reply. The one that says, “You’re brilliant! I love it! Send me more!” But the chances of the instant reply being a “no, thanks” are much higher, in my little experience.
And even the ones who tell you it’s brilliant and they want more… well, they have to do their jobs, so it takes a while. I decided before I started this process that I wanted to work with an agent who would be careful and aggressive with my story, once I was his or her client. But that implies that I understand that the current clients get first dibs on the agent’s attention, see? And as a querying writer, I was low down on the totem of the agents’ priorities. And I should be. I was lucky. I got replies and responses now and then. A request for a partial, then a different agent would request a full. Then a few form rejections. Then another request for a full, or more from the partial, then another handful of rejections. An excited response from a reading agent, then a few more rejections. And it really only took a couple of months. Agent Meredith and I had a phone conversation after she finished reading my full manuscript (three weeks or so into the querying process), in which she answered my questions, asked some of her own, and requested a fairly light rewrite . I crossed my fingers for luck and plunged back in. The rejections and long pauses in replies were much easier to take at that point. Are you surprised?
Fast forward a few more weeks, and Agent Meredith made me an offer of representation. At which point I contacted the few agents who still had my manuscript and (this is protocol, no matter how weird it feels) let them know I had an offer. I think some people would have contacted all the agents who didn’t actively say no, but I just went with the ones who bothered to try me out. I told them that someone was interested. They replied, congratulations — go for it. Actually, I did get the nicest rejection at this point. It was so nice, in fact, that it felt like an acceptance.
Hi Becca, I am so sorry to have taken so long. I have been torn. There really was so much here that I admired– especially your writing and style. But something is holding me back from being confident enough that I am the perfect fit. I am so glad you have found an agent, and not at all surprised. Will be watching your career with interest! Thank you for considering me. All my best, (The Nice Agent Who Has A Bird Name)
Then I waited a few more weeks while Agent Meredith got settled in her new agency (she’d been six years with one and is now with another), and then we spoke on the phone again, and now we’re ready to hit this thing. She’s preparing another (more deep, more encompassing) editorial letter (some agents do that, some don’t — I’m happy to have her help) and then I’ll rewrite again. When I get it right, she’ll begin submitting to editors, and that will be another long story, I’d imagine, with another hefty dose of patience required.
And I’m ready to go. Working on some other writing, in the mean time. Reading. Playing. Dabbling in poetry . Finding joy in the new laptop. Like that. But I wanted to share my story, because it’s really happy-making for me, and exciting, and Next-Levelish.
 last week
 Once you’ve written and revised your book all by yourself a few times (I usually do 3 or 4 passes before I inflict it on my friends), you let someone else read it. Then you tape your mouth shut and listen to their questions, comments, and concerns. You can nod your head at this point, but no talking back.
 If you’re interested in numbers like I’m interested in numbers, you may be interested to know that I sent queries to 29 agents. There were more on the list, but those are the ones I started with. Seven of those (eventually) asked for full manuscripts. Many of them sent polite (form email) rejections. A few sent personal rejections. Many didn’t send anything at all, which is accepted code for “no thanks, unless we lost your submission, but you’ll never know unless you pester us, which we wish you wouldn’t.”
 It was a DivaCheck. She was seeing if I would be willing to take editorial direction. I was.
 Don’t worry. I’m fine. It’s happy poetry.