The "How I got my Agent" Post

Well, I can finally write this post. One day there will be an even bigger post, if all goes to plan, but this is a topic I’ve seen my fellow writers in the YA community write about, and I’ve always read their stories with a sense of happiness, a little bit of jealousy (c’mon, let’s be honest!) and with the belief that when they say don’t give up, to believe it.

I've always enjoyed reading these "getting an agent" posts, so maybe someone out there will stop by and enjoy mine and get a little inspiration.

(I'm afraid I don't have any funny gifs to go along with this post. (Where do these writers find them!???)

I'll just have to add this photo for visual interest. You certainly won't see one of me signing, but I like seeing other people do it.

I've always been a writer. When I was a kid I enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy, but as I got older, I drifted more towards literary fiction. My formative years were spent around a lot of writers, painters and visual artists, and this world inspired me in many ways.

I also had very many drinks.

My favorite writers were people like Martin Amis, John Irving, Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin and Francine Prose. I read a lot of short stories by Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, Mary Gaitskill and others.

Yes, I was a literary snob.

I wrote a lot of short stories. I sent them to the Paris Review and other literary journals. Some even came back with hand-written notes on the rejections! This was before the interwebs, kids.

Anyway, I needed to make some money so I went to a well-known school for advertising. 
After a few years  I landed a job as a writer at a huge ad agency in Chicago. Like, real huge. I worked on all kinds of big corporate brands, wrote a bunch of TV spots, flew to LA and Europe and stayed in expensive hotels and ate at expensive restaurants and, well, pretty much became an ad guy, a term I now loathe.

So I worked on ads for years. (I still do this for a living but at a smaller firm.)

So during this time I wasn't writing fiction. 

At all. 

I just sold crap to people. But one day, a few years ago, my brother, who was working in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore at the time, turned me on to some great middle grade and YA books. One of them was Sabriel by Garth Nix. Another was the Lemony Snicket books. And another was Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. And there were many more.  Hmm, I mused. These books are awesome. And they're not dumbed-down for kids, either.

After reading these books, I was like, Hey, I should start writing again. But I should write what I loved as a kid--you know, books of fantasy and adventure. That kind of thing.

As soon as I discovered that, and started taking pen to paper--or fingers to laptop--my voice just kind of came. I wasn't supposed to be writing for adults. I was supposed to be writing for kids and young adults, ya'll!

A year or two passed. I joined a critique group. I joined SCBWI. My writing got better. I sent out queries on my first book: a MG fantasy. Got a few requests, no offers. Hey, it was my first time out!

Wrote another book, YA this time. A lot more requests. A few close calls, but no solid offer. I still love this book and want to revise it.

Started another book, a middle grade southern gothic horror called Hoodoo. I kind of felt like I really had something with this one. The voice and setting really just rang true for me. I sent it out and got several requests. A fair amount of no-responses and rejections, too. 

Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary was one of the agents I queried. I read her bio and found out as much as I could about her. I liked her references. She said she was looking for a good middle-grade story, so I sent her the query and 50 pages, which her bio requests. (Always follow agent preferences.) 

A few weeks later: 

She really likes it! But wait--she has a few issues with it. But she's cool enough to tell me what they are and invites me to send again if I revise.

So I spent the next few months--seven actually--revising and doing other life stuff. I also took a class by Nova Ren Suma at Media Bistro. She is an awesome teacher and fantastic writer. Read her.

So, after the big revision, I wrote back to Adriann and said, Hey, remember me? And she's like, NO. 

Just kidding. 

She says Yeah. Sure. Send it along. 

I send. 

I wait. 

A week later I get an email saying she totally loved it. And do I have time for a call!

Do I have time for a call? Nah, sorry.


I told my crit partners.

Poured a glass of water.

Stared at my phone.


I was nervous at first, with all my printouts about “The Call” spread out around me. But after a few minutes, I realized that what many writers have said really is true. Hey, agents are just people. Book lovers like us. And they see something in our work that they really like. Or love, as I should say. 

That word love is an interesting one. Before I took the call, I did some research on Adriann’s writers. One of them, Peter Brown Hoffmeister wrote this:

The first thing you need to do is to listen for the word “LOVE.” You need to hear that word. Not “like” or “interest,” but “love.” And if everyone’s saying the L-word, think back to high school and decide who really means it.

I know I'm over-analyzing, but when I sent Adriann the manuscript after the revision, she said she totally loved it. So I took that as a sign. Now, for all I know, maybe she didn’t even mean it in that way, and was just saying “really like,” but I obsessed over it all night, as any obsessive writer would: "Wait, she put a comma here, so that must mean that..."

Adriann reps some amazing YA and MG writers, so I feel like I'm in great company: Kendare Blake, author of the Anna Dressed in Blood books, Mindy McGinnis, author of newly released Not a Drop to Drink, Michelle Krys, whose YA novel Hexed comes out next June, Lee Kelly, author of Manhattan Savages (great title) out in 2015. Writer and Illustrator Cyndi Marko, whose Kung Pow Chicken series is for little kids.

Her adult and non-fiction titles are quirky and interesting, too.

Ok. Enough. Longest post ever. Duhhhh....

I'm doing some minor revisions and will send back to Adriann soon. She's really cool, easy to talk to and totally accessible.

One last thing: I'm not going to post how many queries I sent or how many offers I had or did not have. I think that what's important to remember is that it only takes one person to say Yes to your book. 

Because once you get that, all of those stings of no response, all of those curses for FULL manuscripts that come back with a NO without any comment, all of those times when you say, “But this is exactly what she was looking for in her bio,” they all don’t really matter anymore. It just goes away.

Because when it comes down to it, I have to say what everyone else has said and you’ve heard it a million times: It only takes one Yes.



Suze said...


Absolutely, Ron.


Read the whole post and am very happy for you. It quite appears you've earned it. May it be love from here on out!

Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Suze!

Um, it is a rather long post, isn't it?


Thanks so much for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

So excited for you and Hoodoo. Pretty sure we all knew in class that it wouldn't take to long for you to find an agent. :) I can't wait to see what changes you've made.

Ron Smith said...

That's so sweet of you, Susan.

Thanks for your great comments on my pages. It certainly helped make the book better!

Writefully So said...

Congrats Ron!! Such exciting news.

Anita Saxena said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog today, even though I'm not the best at posting regularly. I'm at a place where you were recently, which is revising for an interested agent while I'm concurrently taking a media bistro class. I'm learning so much. But it's crazy busy right now. But thank you for sharing your agent story. It's always inspiring to hear. Hopefully, we'll be reading your "How I sold my first book" story soon. Congratulations.

Ron Smith said...

Thanks so much, Colleen!

Karen Strong said...

So happy for you and glad that you're able to finally share the news! I enjoyed reading your agent story.

Looking forward to hearing even bigger news in the future about Hoodoo.

Connie Keller said...

Congrats, Ron!

Can't wait to read about "the sale." Hopefully, it will be quick. :)

Ron Smith said...

Hi Anita. I'm not the best at being a frequent blogger either, but I certainly knew what to write about this time:) Thanks for coming by. Good luck with the class and the agent.

Thanks, Karen, for reading the longest post I have ever written and for your good wishes.

Connie,we shall see what the future holds. Thank you. Thanks for popping over to my blog.

Marcia said...

Ron, I've yet to see the "How I Got My Agent" post that is too long. :) I'm still giddy over finding my agent in June, and I love these posts just as much as I did pre-agent. Big congrats!

Ron Smith said...

Ha! Thanks for coming by, Marcia. I guess most of my posts are short so this one felt like a novel in comparison. Congrats to you, also!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Huge congrats! Adriann seems like a great agent and the perfect fit for your book!

Lydia Kang said...

More than just yay! That is fantastic news! I hope you're totally celebrating. I know Mindy and she is a fantastic person as well as a fantastic author. I think you're in good hands!

Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Elizabeth!

Thanks, Lydia. I'm really looking forward to reading Mindy's book after this revision.

Thanks for stopping by.

K. M. Walton said...

I'm thrilled that you got to write this post!!! Excellent.

Ron Smith said...

Hi Kate! You've always been such a big supporter, ever since we met at that SCBWI NYC convention all those years ago!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Ron! Here's to more great news on the way. :)

Ron Smith said...

Thanks so much, Medeia!

Thoughtful of you to stop by.

Tracey Joseph said...

This was a wonderful agent story. Thanks for sharing it with us. I can't wait to read more about Hoodoo when the time comes. MG fiction is awesome.

Ghenet Myrthil said...


Ron Smith said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, Tracey. I do love middle grade when done well. And YA, of course!

Hi Ghenet! Thanks for coming by and responding to this post.

Lexi G said...

RON. RON. THIS IS SO EXCITING. Congratulations! HOODOO is so well written and magical, I knew you'd find an agent sooner rather than later. Good luck with your revisions - can't wait to see it in print!

Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Lexi G!

Is that you, Alex?


Ruth Schiffmann said...

Wow, my first visit to your blog and I get to read this great news! Thanks for sharing, and congratulations! Wishing you all the best with this and future projects.

Ron Smith said...

Hi Ruth! Thanks for coming by and thanks for the congrats. Very thoughtful of you.

I'll pop by to visit your blog.

prerna pickett said...

congrats on getting an agent! Hope your revisions go well :)

Kim said...

Okay, a Southern Gothic Horror MG called Hoodoo? You've sold me. I love reading about query success stories :)
I'm also really jealous of you for taking a course with Nova Ren Suma. She's soooo amazing and I absolutely love her books.


Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Prerna, and thanks for coming by.

Kim, I saw on your blog that you're really into the creepy horror stuff. So cool we have that in common.

Thanks for your enthusiasm!

TOI said...

I'm one of those who love to read how I got my agent posts (I hope to write a post like that one day :).

I'm so happy you have an agent and working on your MG novel.

Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Ron Smith said...

Hi, Toi. Thanks for coming by. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. It was certainly fun to write.

Keep your head down and keep writing!