“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Melissa Guion, author of the fun picture book BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Melissa Guion is the author-illustrator of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE
(Philomel), which Publishers Weekly calls “adorable…exuberant.” The hardcover
edition was published on December 6, 2012; the board book will follow in Fall
2013, and a second baby penguin book arrives in 2014.
I GOT IMPORTANT STEPS DONE EARLY
Eight years ago, I set out to become a children’s book author-illustrator. I took three important steps right away: I joined the SCBWI, I set to work on an illustration portfolio, and I began to familiarize myself with literary agents, because everyone knows you can’t get a book without one.
I knew at the time that my chances of landing an agent were small. I had no track record as an illustrator, and I’d never written a book. Everyone knows you can’t attract an agent until you’ve done a book.
Then, something strange happened. A former-literary-agent friend sent my website to a colleague at Writers House named Steven Malk. Steve contacted me, saying he really liked my work (what work?) and was I interested in doing children’s books? Steve and I had a long conversation about life and art and granola, during which my beautiful dreams were recast as achievable goals. And that was it. Someone wanted to represent me, and I hadn’t done anything to make it happen besides answer my phone and say yes.
Why am I telling you this irritating story? Because it beautifully illustrates three important points:
- Go to Yale
- Have long dinners with former literary agents; while in their house, do not insult their decision to use a “salt pig.”
- Something else I’ve never figured out.
(1) and (2) are just silliness. The last statement is a profound truth. No one will ever map the turning points along my path to my agent or his route to me. It’s just how it went.
WHAT I DID RIGHT ALONG THE WAY…
Of course I like to think I earned the honor of working with Steve through a lifetime of creative righteousness. It’s true that I write nearly every day. I make drawings and paintings for my friends instead of buying them traditional gifts, though it’s because I’m cheap. I improvise stories for my daughter at bedtime and almost always keep the names of the characters straight. I genuinely like talking nonsense and I will happily do it for hours, for free, and to the exclusion of everything else.
Does this sound a bit like you? I have good news. You are on the path to finding an agent, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And when that agent finally calls, maybe because who knows who pulled some strings, you are going to have a wonderful first conversation because of who you are. You won’t hang up and think Is this person going to drop me like a hot potato in a year? Can I really do this? Should I drink the whole bottle or leave half, for the sake of my self-respect? You’ll think those things in 20 minutes when the euphoria wears off, but until then, you’ll feel respected and deeply understood. And that’s a great place to begin a career.
So enjoy who you are. Sure, go ahead and hustle. Craft that query letter. Study that guidebook. But waste an hour imagining for every fifteen minutes you spend researching. Enjoy a day at the museum for every night you dedicate to networking. For one thing, it’s a good use of the hours you’ll otherwise spend wondering why you don’t have an agent. More importantly, it’s the best guarantee, in a world without guarantees, that when the agent comes calling, you’ll be primed for a wonderful conversation, the kind that turns into a long and fruitful partnership.
And if that phone call never comes, write a Kindle Single.
Writing books for kids? There are
hundreds of publishers, agents and
other markets listed in the latest
Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Buy it here online at a discount.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Create Great Characters in Your Young Adult Novel.
- Literary Agent Interview: Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary.
- A Children’s Book Query That Worked: “The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic.”
- How to Write Middle Grade Fiction.
- “How I Got My Agent,” by Young Adult Writer Robin Mellom.
- 6 Tips on Writing Plays For Kids.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.