Everyone has Significant Others in their lives, but today the Chicks are looking back on how we met our Publishing Significant Others.
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?)
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 I’d won the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers.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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to Chicks on the Case and never miss a post. Just click the button on the top right side of this page and let the fun begin!