How I Ditched My First Agent and Found the Right One for Me

I thought I'd write a follow-up to yesterday's agenting DON'Ts. I made a quick mention of this in the list, but wanted to expand on it so people really got the gist of what I was talking about. :)
  1. After being a freelance magazine writer for years, I got the itch to do something more.
  2. I had always wanted to try my hand at fiction but it was daunting and scary and I didn't know what I was doing.
  3. I saw a news bit on a woman a few years ahead of me in my alumni magazine who was publishing her second or third novel.
    Sarah Dunn - wherever you are - thank you for the kick in the ass...and I really liked your books!
  4. And I figured: if she can do it, why can't I?
  5. It took me three or so years to finish that novel.
    I actually think it was four, but doing the math, maybe not. Anyway, it was a long time.
  6. Starting it was easy...finishing it was not. The second half is really what took me the longest.
    It was too autobiographical, a mistake a lot of newbie writers make, and I struggled to make the leap from reality to fictional on the page.
  7. Anyway, when I finally finished it, I started my agent hunt.
  8. I applied all the same advice that I've offered here in various lists: the How to Get an Agent List and the DON'Ts list.
  9. I got a lot of rejections (of course), but I also got some interest, specifically from a newer agent at a very established agency.
  10. Which felt like a home run for me!
  11. I wanted someone young and hungry (like me) but with the support of a great agency.
  12. I signed with her, and I was a writer with representation!!!
  13. Except...
  14. She shopped the novel around, and...it didn't sell.
  15. We got a lot of fairly positive feedback about my writing but no one bit.
  16. In hindsight, it is SOOOOO easy to see why.
  17. The book was terrible.
  18. I mean, fucking awful.
  19. I cringe when I think about it now, and thank the sweet lord that it was never published.
    At the time, let's be clear: I thought it was BRILLIANT. This is why it's so important to have objective readers you can trust. Because often times, you CANNOT see the truth of your work.
  20. Anyway, I took the blow on the chin and started something new.
  21. Rather than feel dejected, I was actually inspired: that the editors had nice things to say about my writing gave me hope that I just had to...get better. That I was close.
  22. Having learned from my mistakes (eventually, I came to think of that first manuscript as my grad school...it taught me how to and how not to write a good book), and having stumbled upon a subject that inspired me, I wrote an entirely new book in three months.
  23. It was so much better than the first book, and despite what I said above about being objective about your work, I DID know it.
  24. My agent...did not agree.
  25. She hemmed and hawed and took a really long time to get back to me with notes and thoughts.
  26. I incorporated her notes, which did make the book stronger, and returned it to her and waited some more.
  27. She hemmed and hawed again.
  28. I started to feel sick, like, I knew she didn't like it, and after all this fucking work - writing two books and going through the exhausting agent search - I might be back to zero.
  29. Finally, after weeks of stretching it out, we got on the phone.
  30. She said that she liked the manuscript well enough, but she didn't love it, and more important, she thought "that it would do me more harm than good" to go out with it.
  31. Twelve years later, and that quote will always be crystalized in my brain.
  32. She didn't want to part ways, but proposed that I revisit the failed manuscript and revise it, or perhaps start something else.
  33. But I could hear it in her voice: she had lost faith in me when those editors turned me down.
  34. I was a failed client, and she didn't want to invest in a product that had already proven shoddy.
  35. I told her that I would take a few days and think about it.
  36. I called her back 30 minutes later and fired her.
  37. Because: SCREW THAT.
  38. I knew that this new book was good; I knew that it wouldn't do me "more harm than good;" I knew that she was a sinking ship who would never be my strongest advocate again.
  39. She had jumped on the bandwagon of editors who didn't think I was good enough, and if your agent doesn't think you are good enough, then they are the wrong agent for you.
  40. That evening, I started my agent search again. Literally, minutes after we hung up.
  41. It was the only thing to do: to keep going.
  42. I didn't have time to ruminate, and I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself.
  43. If anything, I was pissed that this shitbag of an agent had caved so easily to the editorial winds.
  44. This agent search was easier than the last. I can't remember exactly how many I went out to, but I only queried for a couple of weeks.
    Again, the book was better, which certainly helps.I keep saying this in all my lists about agents, but your book has to be as good as it can be.
  45. I got two offers from two very good agents.
  46. I signed with my agent who is still, six books later, my agent today.
  47. My old agent got out of the business shortly thereafter.
    And I have no idea what happened to her after that. I have no hard feelings, btw, it all worked out for the best.
  48. My new agent sold this book - the one I believed in and my old agent did not - at a four way auction a few weeks later.
  49. It went on to be my debut novel, and still, to this day, finds readers and also earns me a bi-annual royalty check.
  50. So all of this is to say: one person's opinion is just ONE PERSON'S OPINION.
  51. And having an agent who makes you second-guess yourself is worse than having no agent at all.
  52. This doesn't mean that your agent can't offer constructive criticism or steer you away from poor writing or poor ideas.
  53. But you do have to be able to do a gut check and trust yourself. You also have to be able to trust your agent. I KNEW, from her lagging enthusiasm, that we were done. I seriously hate to think where my career would have gone if I didn't trust myself enough to walk away.
  54. SO. Remember: rejection is not the end of the world. Every writer has a story like this. It's what you do with what comes next that matters.