It’s been a year since the release of Jennifer Laam’s second novel, The Tsarina’s Legacy. Let’s celebrate with the story of how she got her agent!
The story of how I got my agent begins with my critique partners. Without their support, I never would have summoned the courage to query an agent in the first place. Writing is a solitary and often lonely business, and my group kept me going. My number one advice for anyone who wants to publish? Find a critique group. Now. (Okay, maybe wait until after you finish reading my article.)
After multiple rewrites of my manuscript, I decided the time had come to query.
I wrote a thoughtful, concise and error-free letter. Normally, I’m not confident anything is error-free, but believe me, every phrase was shredded. Every word was agonized over and examined until I hated opening that document so much I wanted to cry. A strong query is grueling and difficult to write and anyone who claims to enjoy that process must be lying. Nevertheless, as we all know, this is your shot, and it has to shine.
My initial plans for querying agents involved elaborate spreadsheets and a promise to myself that I would not hide under the bed for a week after each rejection. This was a “good” plan, but it wasn’t necessarily the “right” plan for me since I hate spreadsheets and have the thinnest skin ever. I found it easy to procrastinate.
Fortunately, my tech savvy sister-in-law convinced me to join Twitter. This was before I understood that all writers are on Twitter. I started following Publishers Weekly, and through their tweets learned an agent named Erin Harris was actively seeking debut novelists. Erin’s interests aligned with the themes of my debut novel The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. She seemed hungry for new talent and eager to build new writers’ careers. I polished my query and the first ten pages of my manuscript one last time.
And then I froze. I was afraid. Once I started querying, I set up the possibility of facing constant rejection and perhaps never publishing. I remember hesitating over my laptop at a café in Sacramento, wanting to delay sending the query one more day. One of my critique partners sat next to me. She told me if I kept waiting, the query would never get out in the world at all. I hit send.
A few weeks later, I signed on with Erin Harris, then at the Irene Skolnick Agency and now at Folio Literary Management. Within a few months, she sold my book. She has made my dream of publication come true and continues to sell my novels and nurture my career. I was lucky to find Erin so quickly, but I had put in time beforehand to make sure my manuscript and query were ready. And I had critique partners who became dear friends to support me the entire way.
The Tsarina’s Legacy, released on April 5, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press/Griffin, is a companion novel to Laam’s debut The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. In 1791, Prince Potemkin returns to St. Petersburg to restore his legacy and win back the love of his life, Russia’s powerful Catherine the Great. In the present, Romanov heiress Veronica Herrera is invited to the same city as a ceremonial monarch. As Veronica encounters unanticipated dangers, Prince Potemkin provides the inspiration she needs to tackle difficult choices.
If you have an agent and would like to share how all that wonderfulness happened, please send your story (300-600 words) to email@example.com.