By Karen Dionne
My “How I Found My Agent” story is one of those rare cases in which the author does everything wrong, but things still turn out right.
The things I did wrong:
Mistake #1. I was querying agents with my first draft.
Mistake #2. I didn’t check agents’ reputations at sites like Writer Beware (www.writerbeware.com) and Preditors and Editors (http://pred-ed.com/), and thus queried agents I later learned were scammers.
Mistake #3. I waited six months for an agency to make a decision on representation before querying other agents.
Despite those mistakes -- any one of which could have been enough to ruin my chances (and should have, in the case of Mistake #1) -- after querying 53 agents, I signed with Jeff Kleinman (then of Graybill & English, now one of the principles of Folio Literary Management). How did this come about?
After the agency mentioned in Mistake #3 finally passed, in February 2009, I decided to give these new-fangled "e-queries" a try and emailed 19 agents on an optimistic Thursday morning. Within the hour, I had two requests for the full. One agent’s email began, “Dear Ms. Dionne: I would be pleased to consider your novel.” The email from Jeff began, “Dear Ms. Dionne: Your novel sounds wonderful!”
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Jeff (see Mistake #2), but I loved Jeff’s enthusiastic response. I printed the manuscript per his instructions and sent it off. The following Monday evening, I received an email. Mr. Kleinman had begun reading the manuscript as soon as it arrived, but the manuscript was running into some snags. (See Mistake #1.) Would I call him the next day at my convenience?
I fretted all night. Is a snag bigger than a problem? I wondered. He said “snags” plural. Does that mean there’s more than one? If you’re a writer, you know the drill.
I called the next morning at 9:00. Jeff assured me he loved my novel’s premise, and thought my writing was strong. The plotting, however, was a mess. As he explained where I’d gone wrong, it quickly became apparent that he was being charitable when he called the problems “snags.” However, I knew immediately that he was right. So when Jeff said he wanted to take me on as a client if I was willing to rewrite the book in line with our discussion, I immediately said yes.
It was a bittersweet moment. I’d gone from having a book but no agent to having an agent but no book. However, I now knew what I needed to do and couldn’t wait to dive in.
But it was early days for me. I still had to learn how to write a novel. Jeff has a marvelous editorial eye but, even with his help, it took me three and a half years and three rewrites to finish.
Ultimately, that novel didn’t sell. But eight years later (yes, you read that right -- eight years!) the next novel did and, lucky me, so did the next.
Boiling Point, my second environmental thriller -- about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher and a radical scheme to end global warming -- will be published by Berkley on December 28.
And, yes, I’m still with Jeff!
Karen Dionne is the author of two science thrillers. Her first novel, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. She is co-founder of the online writers community, Backspace, and organizes the annual Backspace Writers Conferences in New York City every year. Karen, online at www.karendionne.net , is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the Board of Directors as Vice President, Technology, and as Managing Editor of ITW's monthly publication, The Big Thrill.