the call

I received the call a year ago. I was sick of spending my cash on countless photocopies, lugging my manuscript to the post office, only to receive a handwritten rejection letter months later. I started taking notes. The same comment: "Loved your book. Not sure if I can sell it." What the hell did that mean? Either they lacked the right connections (which was possible, considering it's a young adult novel) or they didn't fall in love with my book (sad but true) or it simply wouldn't sell (which I refused to believe).

Like matchmaking, finding an interested agent can take eons. And that doesn't guarantee that they can sell your book. I had already spent a year writing and revising it. Then I spent the next six months waiting for a top-notch literary agent to finally say, "Thanks but no thanks." I had to phone him to hear the answer…after he had strung me along for the entire summer.

It was time to take action.

Instead of waiting for the mailman to deliver the bad news, I polished my query letter (plot synopsis, word count, target audience) and made sure to include the names of the editors who had met me at conferences or asked to see the book.

I sent it via email…to as many New York agencies as I could find—a definite no-no in the business. In a matter of hours, I received a slew of "yes" and "no" replies. Weeks later, more followed. Many asked for a partial (the first three chapters). A few asked for the complete manuscript. Although most insisted on mailing it the old-fashioned way, I saved a lot of time and money on the initial queries.

I kept track with a list. By December, I had narrowed it down to a handful of agents. I compiled all their feedback, looking for a common complaint. Strangely, they all had something different to say. For example, some felt that my characters sounded too old for their age. Others said the opposite. Many asked me to "trim down all that description about Miami." The hip young woman who would become my agent said, "Give me more of the city."

We hit it off. She got my story. And she gets me.

Agents are human. Like any reader, they choose the books for their lists according to their own personal tastes (and how easily they can sell it…based on the relationships they have fostered with editors in the city, the so-called "do lunch" crowd). Without my agent, I never would have sold my novel at auction. It's difficult for a first-time novelist to capture anybody's attention. You need somebody to do your dirty work.

"You're working with me now," said the voice on the phone. Could I call her my literary agent? She hadn't sent me a contract. In fact, she wanted another revision: something I'd heard all too often. But she asked for an exclusive read, which meant that no other agent or editor could consider it. From an unpublished author's point of view, this sounded risky. I closed my eyes and said, "Yes."

I received the call on December 18th, the day before my 30th birthday. This year, I received a Christmas card.