Chick Chat—How we met our agents/editors/publishers

Everyone has Significant Others in their lives, but today the Chicks are looking back on how we met our Publishing Significant Others.

Lisa Q. Mathews

I was an in-house editor in NYC for many years, so I’d met and worked with zillions of agents–who handled YA/children’s authors. The first “grown-up” ms. I wrote, about an oddball sleuth team of a senior and a 20-something running around Southwest FL, was titled Sweet Way to Go (later Ladies Smythe & Westin #1: Cardiac Arrest). I didn’t tell anyone from my old publishing life that I was doing it, but I signed up for a ms. critique at the Unicorn Writers Conference in CT. When I nervously sat down at the table, Stephany Evans (then of Fine Print Literary) held up the ms. and pointed to the note she’d written at the top: “Love it!” And that’s how I met Stephany, who is now at Ayesha Pande. (This happy experience totally made up for the snickers from other attendees when I thought the fake horses in the stables (the venue was designed as a castle) were real. (But c’mon, who puts fake horses in their stables?)


 Ellen Byron

I met my agent, Doug Grad of DG Literary, the good, old-fashioned way – via a nine-month slog through querytracker.com and Publishers Marketplace. I’d won the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. This, along with my creds as a television writer on hit (and non-hit) sitcoms, made for a great cover letter. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the manuscript I was trying to sell wasn’t exactly a cozy, but wasn’t exactly any other category either. So I got a lot of “great writing but’s…” from agents as I moved down the list. Then Doug said, “I’d love to read it.” Afterwards, he said – or emailed – those magic words, “I’d like to represent you.” Because life works in mysterious ways, this timed with three other agents asking to read me. But Doug was the proverbial bird in the hand, and I’ve never regretted it. Even he couldn’t sell that first manuscript, but while it was on submission, I wrote a second book that became Plantation Shudders, the first entry in my Cajun Country Mystery series. Doug’s been in the publishing business for years – he’s a former editor – so he knows a ton of people. He got Plantation Shudders to Matt Martz when he was launching Crooked Lane and it was one of Matt’s first buys. When it came to my second series, the Catering Hall Mysteries, Doug knew it was the perfect fit for a publishing buddy he met when they both interned – John Scognamiglio, the editor-in-chief of Kensington.

I’ve had agents or managers since I was twenty-five. With my Hollywood agents, despite the fact everyone insists “they work for you,” there was always the underlying impression they were doing me a favor. I’ve never felt that with Doug. It’s the most sold relationship I’ve ever had with my representation.


Vickie Fee

I had queried scores of agents with two previous manuscripts, mostly working my way through Writers’ Guide. I hit up almost everyone who said they represented mysteries, only to discover in many cases that they did NOT represent cozies. And I got zero requests for manuscripts. A decade after I’d shopped my first manuscript I took a different approach with what became the first in the Liv & Di in Dixie series. I looked at the acknowledgments in the front of cozies I enjoyed reading, especially ones I felt played to the same audience I thought would enjoy my manuscript. Happy authors mention their agents, especially in the first of series. I quickly compiled a list of 18 agents. These were agents that I knew represented cozies, and who had made recent sales. I checked out their blogs and did a bit of online research about them. I ended up only querying about a dozen of them and got three requests for full manuscripts. I eventually got a voicemail from Jessica Faust of BookEnds saying she wanted to talk to me about my manuscript! She offered representation and I quickly accepted, and I haven’t regretted that decision. By the way, she also represents Krista Davis, Ellery Adams – and Jennifer Chow!


Leslie Karst

I’d queried over 100 agents with the manuscript that eventually became the first in my Sally Solari series, Dying for a Taste, and was beginning to lose hope of ever finding one. But rather than give up, I hired a developmental editor, the fabulous Kristen Weber, who not only helped make the manuscript into a better book, but also provided some much-needed encouragement: “Remember,” she said, “you can get hundreds of rejections, but it only takes one yes.”

Heartened, I began to query once again, and within weeks my letter landed on the desk of Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management, who had just learned that Crooked Lane, a brand new mystery publisher, was on the look-out for cozy mysteries. She read mine, loved it, and made that miraculous phone call offering representation. And yes, Crooked Lane subsequently offered me a publishing deal.

So my advice is, never give up hope: you never know when the stars will align and whatever you’re wishing for will come true!


Becky Clark

If you’ve known me for more than eight seconds, you know I’m, ahem, a talker. A people person. Interested in everyone and everything. Or, as my kids describe me, nosy. Therefore, you might not be surprised when I tell you that I met my first publisher and my current agent because I was talking to people. At the mystery conventions, the organizers post a sign-up sheet for attendees to sit with the author of their choice at the banquet. I’d been hearing about Jess Lourey for a while and I thought it would be fun to meet her. And it was! I was sitting on her right side, and her friend and editor Terri Bischoff was sitting on her left side. Terri and I had met several times before, at writer’s conferences. Everyone at the table had a good time because Jess is an excellent host. Long story not much shorter … a few weeks later, I was devastated by a rejection that I thought was going to be a slam-dunk and was whining to my friends about it. One of these friends contacted Terri on my behalf after I said I couldn’t submit my manuscript to her because I was unagented. Terri gave me the go-ahead because we’d met at so many conferences. She read FICTION CAN BE MURDER and offered me a three-book deal. Other friends told me it was the perfect time to get an agent, so I had three agents on my short list. As I researched them more fully, guess who I saw was a client of my top choice? That’s right, Jess Lourey. I asked her for more info about the agency, she made an introduction, and within a couple of days Jill Marsal offered to represent me. The moral of the story? Talk to people, get to know your peers, stick your neck out, don’t be shy. Then some day, people will be signing up to sit at your banquet table.


Jennifer Chow

I did everything backwards. After I wrote my first cozy mystery, Seniors Sleuth, I self-published it for various reasons, including dealing with family health issues and wanting to explore the indie world.

A few years down the road, an editor from Penguin Random House contacted me. (I honestly thought it was a scam and went to author friends to ask their opinion.) Turns out it was the real deal, and the editor was looking for a new cozy series with an Asian American female lead. Amazingly, they’d found me because of Seniors Sleuth. After submitting some sample chapters, I got the book deal—and immediately panicked. I wanted more expert advice, so I asked around for literary agent recommendations, from the offering editor and all my writer friends. I read through recent Publishers Marketplace deals, exchanged emails, and placed phone calls. Eventually, I chose Jessica Faust at BookEnds Literary. It continues to amaze me how each author’s path to publishing is so different and uniquely wonderful.


Cynthia Kuhn

I didn’t query agents for the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries–I submitted directly to Henery Press after having a delightful chat with them in person at Bouchercon–but I decided to give it a try when I wrote the first book in a new series. The whole thing was extremely daunting, so I dove into research mode at Publisher’s Marketplace, agency websites, and querytracker; asked writer friends about their agencies, experiences, and recommendations; made a list; polished the submission materials; and began querying. I made some mistakes at first, like trying to submit a proposal instead of the full book (oops *blush*), but I encountered kindnesses as well, like people sharing thoughtful advice or making introductions. During the process, I spoke to several lovely agents whom I also would have been thrilled to work with, but when Lesley Sabga from The Seymour Agency called, something just clicked: it felt like we’d known each other forever. She’s incredibly enthusiastic, supportive, and wonderful. Before long, the Starlit Bookshop Mysteries had a home at Crooked Lane with the fantastic Terri Bischoff and company. Very grateful all around.


Readers, tell us how you met YOUR Significant Other, personal or professional!

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46 thoughts on “Chick Chat—How we met our agents/editors/publishers

      1. Thank you, Lisa.

        My publishing career seems to be done. I dont have enough money or trust to move forward so my books will die on a memory stick int he drawer.

        Like

    1. Having had agents and managers on both coasts, it’s my personal experience that the s-bag to decent ratio is about 90/10 in Hollywood, and about 10/90 in New York. The character of Ari Gold in Entourage is based on a real agent. And is extremely accurate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My problem was and is I’m a penniless nobody. Which means no decent agent or publisher will touch me. The only one’s I’ll get are those you have to pay several grand to get to do anything. Even then they screw you and disappear before you make a penny back.

        For me publishing is impossible.

        Like

      2. I didn’t know that, El, about the character of Ari. Did love when he said “hug it out” though.

        Mason, so sorry to hear that–sounds like what you’ve gone through has been rough!

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I had been querying agents without luck for over two years. I’d moved on to small presses, where you didn’t need an agent. Still no luck. A friend of mine and fellow member of my Sisters in Crime chapter had just signed with Level Best. I asked another author friend for advice and she said “Go for it.” I decided that would be my last submission for that series before moving on. Right before Christmas 2017, I got that magic email – “We’d like to give you a three-book deal.”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. So great you stuck with that series, Liz! Keep submitting everyone, and keep the faith–I believe the expression is “Hope is in the (e)mail.”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Liz, you’re doing great! Some publishing journeys don’t need agents. In fact, I just had a convo with a neighbor about how a lot of Hollywood creatives are skipping agents entirely and only using lawyers to negotiate deals.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Love hearing about everybody’s journey. I signed up to read at a Pitchapalooza hosted by the Book Doctors. Twenty people read a one-minute pitch to the audience at UNM’s Summer Writer’s Conference in Santa Fe. I won, and on my way back to my seat a woman walked up to me and gave me her card, saying she wantied to read my manuscript. I sent it to her and six month later I was de-planing to attend Sleuth Fest and turned on my phone to confirm my Uber ride when I noticed an email from Jane von Mehren, saying “I’d love to represent you.” Although I was out of the air by that time, my feet never touched the ground during that whole conference.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I did the query route with my first novel from 2004-2006 before giving up. Then sometime between 2006 and when I started writing again in 2012, self-publishing became an option. Doing everything myself sounded like a perfect fit for me, so that ended up being the path I took.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Marla, you do it really well too! I self-pubbed my first book in 2001, back in the stone age. I tell people it gave me a PhD in publishing, but with a Roman candle up me bum!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ll have to tell you how I met my personal significant other- I don’t have a professional one yet. I met Kathy at… a bar! Never in a million years did I think I’d find love at a bar! I wasn’t “looking,” I was there talking to a male friend when she walked in. Yes, the world did stop- there was no one else in the room, every cliche you can come up with happened. She was supposed to go to a cast party that night, and instead, something “told her” to go to Diamondz- the local gay bar (predominantly for women, but everyone was warmly welcomed.) So, I guess you can say I picked my chick up at a bar, and we had almost 20 beautiful years together and one amazing daughter. Our family was just like any other, and we both got what we wanted out of life for all of those years.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. After finishing the first novel in the Natalie McMasters Mysteries, I queried for a year with no luck. Since I was 65, I decided I really didn’t have the time to play the game, so I published with KDP and began promoting. Shortly there after, I received a response from an agent who wanted to see the ms. I wrote one of the most satisfying responses of my life — Sorry, you’re too late. Because I believe in my series and myself, I’ve published Stripper! — I appended with a link to the book. I’ve since written four more Natalie McMasters novels and am on the cusp of finishing the first draft of the fifth. I’ve also written an H.P. Lovecraft pastiche under the name of Silas K. Henderson, entitled The Legacy of the Unborn. And I did get traditionally published after all. I saw a call on Facebook to write Sherlock Holmes stories for charity and sent a story to David Marcum, the editor of the MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes stories. He accepted it, and I’ve written four more for the MX Books and two I got paid for for Belanger Books. And I’ve got another in this quarter’s issue of The Strand Magazine – you can buy a copy in your local Barnes & Noble (bucket list!). So there is more than one way to skin a cat. (oops! Apologies for the metaphor to all you cozy readers.)

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories. And thank you, Leslie, for the editor recommendation. I emailed Kristen Weber yesterday to find out what she would charge for a developmental edit of my manuscript.

    I have written a traditional mystery with a working title of Murder in the Absinthe Room at Lake Tahoe that I want to start querying for as soon as possible.

    I started this manuscript during NaNoWriMo in 2018. I wrote over 50,000 words of my manuscript that month. I finished my manuscript in December of 2019 and began querying agents in January 2020. I received one request for a full manuscript that didn’t pan out. I got lots of polite form rejection emails.

    I stopped querying when the pandemic hit. During the summer of 2020, I took three 3-week long intensive writing classes put on by Sisters In Crime Guppies: 1) Creating Characters That Live Off The Page; 2) Crime Scene Investigation; and 3) Writing Strong Scenes.

    I have attended many webinars on the craft of writing by Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America. In 2019, I attended the California Crime Writers Conference. In 2020, I attended Virtual Bouchercon.

    I have read several books about the craft of writing 1) Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden; 2) Stein On Writing by Sol Stein; and 3) Story Trumps Structure by Steven James.

    After taking the Guppies classes last summer and finishing reading Story Trumps Structure, I decided that I needed to do some major revisions to my manuscript, which I have done.

    However, I would really like to have a professional developmental edit. Kristen Weber has an impressive background and lots of nice testimonials, so I am looking forward to hearing from her.

    Liked by 2 people

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