Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

How I Met My Agent

As I mentioned last week (or maybe it was Monday, which would make it this week), January saw the anniversary of me becoming an agented writer, as it was late last January where I signed on the dotted line with Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency. I have very much enjoyed working with Carrie thus far and am quite hopeful that 2015 is the year that I will join the ranks of the authors who are sold and are in the publication pipeline. So, how did it come to pass?

On the surface, it’s not all that different from the typical story: author writes book, author searches for agent and queries many, is rejected by many, finds agent. But there is a little wrinkle in this story.

Back in the spring of 2011, I was finishing up the first draft of a manuscript (PARALLEL LIVES) and learning about what it took to get published. I was, I admit, operating under the delusion that I would soon have a deal and be published, but then I re-read the manuscript and crashed to earth. However, I did start combing through blogs and author sites and agent sites and Query Tracker and Absolute Write and on and on, and for Christmas that year I received a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents, and a year after typing ### at the bottom of my manuscript for the first time, I was ready to start querying. By then I had amassed a list of agents to submit to. Carrie was on that list. Her agency had a good reputation, and from what I had seen of her online presence, she had a good personality and was still a new agent building her client list. Some people may not be comfortable with new agents; I had no such qualms. It looked like she was doing good things, and doing right by her clients.

A note about the list: the list was generated primarily by finding agents who took what I was selling, and then priorities were built based on sales record, reputation, and personality. Personality is a tough one, because there are a few agencies out there that have no web presence at all, but have a great reputation. It’s also tough because I remember submitting to one agent who looked really good, but afterwards, I found some of her twitter posts and found myself wondering if this was really a person I could work with.

Now, there are many different approaches you can take to sending queries. Mine was to release 10 of them at once, then I was going to release roughly five more each month until I got an offer or ran out of names (hint: I’m not sure it’s possible to run out of names; there are a lot of agents out there). I didn’t quite stick to that plan; there was a little more space between query batches, and that space included continued research, continued query revising, and much angsting. I did not actually query Carrie until December of 2012. Somewhere between unleashing my queries on the agent world in April, 2012 and December, I found Carrie’s blog and started leaving comments. You may remember this causing me some doubt (of course it did)–will it look like I’m sucking up? What if I leave a really stupid comment, or accidentally offend? Blah. Anyway, it turns out in this instance, it was a good thing.

About a month after querying Carrie, I was rejected. A form rejection. Ouch. Ah, well, part of the process, pick myself up by the bootstraps and carry on, right? However, as spring wore on, I was facing a depressing reality. Two queries in that first batch of ten received full requests. Both were rejected, one without any particularly helpful comments, the second one after 9 months with a note that essentially said, “I didn’t get to read the whole thing, not for me, sorry.” Other than those two fulls, I was like Charlie Brown on Halloween:

Naturally, feeling rather bad about the whole thing, I did what any writer would do: I blogged about it.

It was only a passing reference, a short note that said, “Maybe it’s time to bury this.” I honestly didn’t know if it was the query, the pages, or something else. And then it happened. A few days after, an e-mail turned up in my box notifying me of a new comment.

“Jeff, have you ever sent this to me? If you want to email me the query and first 3 chapters I’d be happy to take a look and provide feedback if you’d like it!”–Carrie Pestritto



Who even knew this agent was reading my blog? Not me, though when I looked at my followers, she was down there in that sort of “hidden section” of followers, along with my wife and one of my closest friends–who knew they were reading this blog, too?

Now, as they say, my momma didn’t raise no dummies (although when I sent the query to Carrie, I told her she had in fact already rejected the query, so maybe she raised one). The query and chapters went, and Carrie sent me some feedback on both the query and the first chapter, along with an invitation to send the first 100 pages once I’d done some work on it.


Naturally, I put off my current project in order to fix up PL. I sent it, thinking, “Yes, this is it!”

No, this was not it.

Carrie rejected it, with some helpful feedback. It wasn’t quite right, I don’t think she even  got through all 100 pages (or she stopped commenting after a certain point, recognizing a sinking ship of a manuscript), but again she offered to look at it again if I ever did a substantial revision, and she told me to send my next project directly to her e-mail, skipping over the Prospect Agency’s online submission form. We had an exchange or two about PARALLEL LIVES, then I backed out the door, not wanting to abuse the relationship. I should also point out that at this point I developed an even larger degree of stage fright about commenting on her blog. I decided to continue doing so. When the manuscript formerly known as BARTON’S WOMEN was finally ready for query, Carrie got it, and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s been just over a year and I like the way Carrie works. She’s doing a great job, is pleasant and positive, and I’m confident that we will have a long and productive relationship.

That’s it, that’s the story. Note that I’m not suggesting you go out and start spamming your prospective agents’ twitter social media sites, but interaction can work out. Also, it’s another good reminder that you never know who’s reading. That’s it, have a great weekend, everyone!

8 Responses

  1. That's a great story, Jeff. What struck me was that while you were commenting, she was able to see a bit of you. It's interesting because it's usually the writers who stalk the agents (not that that's what she was doing, of course, but you know what I mean). But with your exchanges, it taught you both a little about each other and how you might work together. It can be tough for some authors to take input from an agent or editor. Or that you could take it and not ruin the project with your changes. Congrats and good luck!

  2. Okay, I want to know where that "hidden section of followers" is at! 🙂

    You know, I follow and read several agent blogs, but I just can't ever seem to comment. The few times I have didn't go well (not from the agent, but from other commenters), so it's more like self-preservation, I guess.

    In any case, I hope 2015 is the year you say, "I'm published!" 🙂

  3. That is a little different route to finding an agent. Great story. I'm usually too shy to interact with agents online. I'm more of a lurker. 😛

    But, yeah, that's the hardest part for me while I query — learning a little about the person I'm writing to. I read as many interviews as I can find, watch their Twitter feed, check in on what people are saying in forums. Like you, there've been a few cases where I just knew our personalities might not click. But it takes a lot of time to research those things. The slow pace is what's so discouraging. But I've got a couple of agents I like reading my full ms right now, so fingers crossed I hear something soon. 🙂

    And fingers crossed for you too that your novel lands in the publishing pipeline this year!

  4. This is the first time I've every heard of an agent requesting pages through a blog! And giving feedback and suggestions, too? Awesome! That's an amazing story – thanks so much for sharing it. 🙂

  5. Donna W.–When we spoke on the phone last, she mentioned how she felt like she knew me on account of the blog, plus all of my comments on hers.

    Stacy–I suppose it's not exactly hidden, but if you click on your followers in the Blogger dashboard, you get the list of names and little avatars. These 'hidden' followers can be found by clicking "Next" until you reach the end. They have names, but no avatars. I suspect they're just not following publicly, so they may not show up on the page. And it did take some screwing up of courage, not just on Carrie's, but other agent blogs I have commented on. I think you just have to be yourself and not worry about it, and certainly don't expect what happened to me to happen to you (or at least don't count on it).

    L.G.–Good luck to you! Personalizing the query is one of the hardest things, unless you can say, "We met at such-and-such a conference" or something. And it's funny, some agents (Janet Reid comes to mind) will say, in effect, "Just get to the query and skip all that." It always felt kind of rude, though, you know?

    -Lexa and Donna: thanks! I think there are probably a lot more unusual stories out there!

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