Before Beth Hull retired as ACORN editor she had a great idea: How about a series devoted to how members got their agents? Genius. I loved it immediately. Our first installment comes from Kim Zarins. Take it away, Kim!
You’ll hate me, but I wasn’t trying to get an agent. It just happened.
I was at SCBWI Asilomar in 2006. Rachel Orr was there as an editor with HarperCollins. I’d just published my first picture book. I gave a talk on the different opening drafts of Charlotte’s Web. (In a nutshell, White didn’t get that famous opening line or scene on the first try—not by a long shot!).
By the way, I highly recommend speaking at conferences. I’m not the most outgoing person, but people praised my presentation and made me feel famous. They wanted to sit with me at lunch! I felt mildly extroverted from the experience.
On the last evening, Rachel and I struck up a conversation. She asked one of those questions that usually ends in a big “nope”: “I know Cornell [my grad school] is a huge place, but do you possibly know Person X?” And because I was living a charmed life for the weekend, I could gush that I indeed knew this person very well and ate some of her pies! So it was THAT kind of evening. Rachel was so fun to talk to, we just kept on talking until past 1am…oops! She had her talk to deliver first thing in the morning! She said later she hadn’t stayed up like that since she was younger, and that was true for me too. She gave me her email so we could stay in touch. It’s the first time I met an editor and came away thinking I’d made a friend.
Over a year later, she’d left Harper and started working as an agent for Prospect Agency. We’d stayed in touch all this time, and I’d been emailing her some of my projects. At some point she emailed and said she’d like to represent me, and would that be okay with me? It was the most low-key, nice way to get an agent I can imagine. And I love working with her. She put in a TON of editorial work and contract negotiation work with my newest project, Sometimes We Tell the Truth. It’s a YA contemporary retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with modern American teenagers, and now that I think about it, I worked in some Charlotte’s Web into the story, haha! (Book plug: Pre-order it today!!!)
All this is to say that going to conferences absolutely helps, being brave and talking to people helps, and it’s also good to make the effort to get to know editors and agents as people. You never know where a real connection with someone may lead.
OHHH…two more things: (1) Rachel told me she’s found one-third of her clients through conferences, and (2) and if you want to get to know Rachel really well, she’ll be on the faculty for one week at Cal State University’s Summer Arts program, found here: http://blogs.calstate.edu/summerarts/courses/writing-novels-for-kids-and-teens/.
In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.
Kim Zarins teaches medieval literature and children’s literature at Sacramento State University. Her debut novel, Sometimes We Tell the Truth, retells Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with modern teens. She also published two picture books.
If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.