What I wish I’d known about literary agents

Jane Baird Warren

When this author’s first agent didn’t work out, she struggled to get back on her feet and finish her novel. But once she did, everything turned out even better than expected.

by Jane Baird Warren

I thought I’d “made it” when I got my first agent. Sure, she was a junior agent, but she was also kind and clever and worked for a prestigious New York literary agency. Best of all, she loved my book. What more could a writer ask for? After twenty subs, the book hadn’t sold, so I did what my more experienced writing peers suggested: I began a new project. What no one told me then, and what I wish I’d known, was that not all agents want to hold your hand through your new novel development.

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Instead, I shared those early chapters with my agent. She was friendly and encouraging. At first. But over time, our communication dwindled. It became clear that she lacked enthusiasm for this new project, the middle-grade novel that eventually became How to Be a Goldfish. My partner suggested I call her, but I’m not terrific with spontaneous conversations. I’m the person at the party who sits in the corner observing. Or the person hiding in the bathroom reading a book on her Kindle. So, I wrote her instead of calling.

What no one told me then, and what I wish I’d known, was that not all agents want to hold your hand through your new novel development.

I said I was pretty sure she wasn’t as in love with the new MG novel as I was and suggested that perhaps we should part ways. She agreed. I’d expected that answer, but it was still a knife to the gut that she didn’t fight to keep me as a client.

Picking myself up after that and getting on with the business of writing was really hard. But I did it—one day at a time and with the help of an amazingly supportive kidlit community. I kept working on How to Be a Goldfish until I had a polished version. And that version got me a fantastic new agent who … drumroll … sold that book!

Jane Baird Warren is a first-generation Canadian with an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Her short fiction and poetry have been featured on CBC radio and in more than a dozen literary magazines in North America and the U.K. She currently works freelance as an editorial consultant and volunteers as a developmental editor for emerging writers.

Find out more about Jane and be sure to leave a note at her website.

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