I was living in Japan the year I finished my book. After months of editing, it was finally time to send my private project out into the wide world. I was an American in Okinawa, but the publishing industry was far more foreign to me. My friends and relations very helpfully warned me to watch out for bad agents, but what I needed was a clear way to pick a good one. How can you tell if a total stranger will be passionate about your project, if they will push through hell and high water to make it a success?
I did my research and wrote a query letter. I committed myself to sending one query per day for a month, more to force myself to get over my hesitation than because it is a good way to find the right agent. By the end of the second week I had gotten much better at researching, and was becoming more discerning about which agents I queried and which I skipped over. I sent my 13th and 14th letters on the same night, and woke in the morning to find that both had replied with requests for a full manuscript.
I was ecstatic. This is a first step, but it is a huge step. I sent the drafts out and waited, knowing that either one could open the door for me to become a published author. This was my big break. I was half-a-step away from crossing that threshold, and nothing could stop me now!
That’s when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.
In case you’ve forgotten “Superstorm Sandy,” it was the largest Atlantic Hurricane in recorded history, wreaking havoc up and down the eastern seaboard. The east coast, incidentally, is where America keeps its literary agencies, stacked like sandbags along the coast. I found reports of trees uprooted and facades ripped off of buildings within a few blocks of the agencies I had queried. I began to spend slightly less time hoping that the agents would like my book, and more time hoping they would survive long enough to read it. The storm killed power, phones, and internet, so they had no way to open the document, even if it did cross their minds to do so while huddling in a basement, getting pummeled by hundred mph winds.
The day after the storm finally passed, disappointment had settled in, elbowing hopeful anticipation callously aside. With reports still flooding in about the damage and the state of the blackout, I was more than a little surprised to find a message in my inbox. Agent 13, still without internet or reliable phone lines, had sent a message through an associate, requesting to speak with me. After maneuvering time zones and bad connections, I finally got through. She had just reached a home with electricity to keep her phone from dying. I was using a spotty internet service to make the long-distance call from Japan to New York, but I could hear a muffled group of people around her, and she told one of them to go use the shower first, because she had an important call.
Agent 13 had literally reached me about my book before reaching running water during an emergency. She had, I learned, printed the full manuscript and finished it by candlelight during the blackout. She had not only fallen in love with the project, but had already developed some good ideas, showing thoughtful understanding of the characters, tone, and central themes of the book, and had then navigated a damp, post-apocalyptic New York just to get a message along to me.
I don’t know how other writers determine if an agent is right for their book, but Agent 13 crawled through wet hell to represent mine. She has, indeed, remained its stalwart ally every since. Within two months, she had attracted several major publishers. We held an auction, and I had the unbelievable opportunity to turn down offers beyond my wildest dreams, and sign with the very best publishing house for my story. My book is JACKABY, soon to be released by Algonquin Young Readers, and Agent 13 is the inimitable Lucy Carson, of the Friedrich Agency.