There are a lot of steps that go into publishing a book, which is why it takes so long. There are also a lot of people involved throughout the process. All of whom are working towards making the book profitable once it hits the market, because all the investment is put in up front. The book has to be produced before it can hit bookshelves and e-readers.
I did not want to navigate this process alone so for me, the first step was getting a literary agent. The simplified role of a literary agent is to represent an author’s work to publishers. This may sound like a simple task, but it’s not. Agents have to know which editors work on what types of manuscripts. They have to predict trends and know how to identify talent from as little as ten pages of work. Agents have to know how to sell not only manuscripts, but also the writers they represent. They develop strategies for keeping their clients top of mind with editors who specialize in their client’s genre. They champion the book before, during and after publication. Agents see potential in books and turn that into sub rights sales. An agent plays a huge role in whether or not a book makes it to publication. A good agent helps you establish a career in writing.
Becoming published is such a lifelong dream that it has terrified me and therefore I have avoided it for decades. It wasn’t something I envisioned as a possibility for myself. It is still hard to believe that I’m pursuing it now. Because it is so personal, I want a partner in the journey. I want to have someone by my side who believes in me, sees talent in me, and can encourage me along the way if I doubt myself. Notice, I didn’t say I want someone to hold my hand, do the work for me, make things easier, or tell me what to write. That’s not what anyone should look for in an agent. But, those are the core reasons I decided that I want an agent. On the practical side, I want to focus my time on writing and revising, not on the tasks I outlined above that are the role of an agent.
There are several ways that one can go about getting a literary agent. Some people are lucky enough to win writing contests and get attention from agents that way. Others meet agents at writer’s conferences and retreats. Others send queries, which are letters that describe your writing and provide a brief synopsis of the plot. All agents have guidelines for how they want to receive queries and how long of a writing sample they want to see. Others like me find their agents via a referral.
My agent is Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle Literary. She is one of the few Latina agents (maybe the only one but I’m not 100% sure of this) who has extensive experience in children’s and YA books in English and Spanish. In fact, she was the Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children's Books, where she was the first Latina to manage the children's division of their imprint, Rayo. Before that she had years of experience editing via CRITICAS magazine and has done editorial work for twenty years. Her experience is beyond impressive and she represents a lot of Latina writers I admire. A classmate at Vermont College of Fine Arts (a BIG thank you to my Ally, Linda Camacho) knew I was querying and suggested Adriana. I had heard her name at a Latina writers conference I attended years ago, and when I Googled her and saw her client list, I was immediately intimidated. Why would someone with her vision, experience and client list want to work with me? I’ve never been published nationally. I don’t have connections in the publishing world. How could my stories compare to the brilliant writing she’s worked on with award-winning authors?
I had to give myself a pep talk and get over the “I’m not worthy” jitters. For starters, I asked myself, Christina, what do you have to lose? The worse that could happen is that she felt that my manuscript was not for her. But, a voice inside me said that wasn’t reason enough not to try because at the heart of my manuscript is a Puerto Rican teen who fights for survival. It is the type of heroine found in many of the books published by her clients. Then I reminded myself that I have always aimed high when going after anything else in my life, so why should this be any different? I like a challenge. When I was young my favorite challenges came in the form of academics. Today they are more complicated and this was no exception. If my writing was good enough to get the attention of an agent of Adriana’s caliber, then it would serve as validation that perhaps I have a shot at this writing thing. Also, I had the safety of name dropping. Even if my writing sucked, (which I felt sure it did not) I was banking on Adriana’s relationship with Linda to entice her to take a look at my manuscript.
After having this long discussion with myself, I followed the querying guidelines on Full Circle Literary’s website and sent Adriana a message. I name dropped in the subject line. I was honest in my note about what I was looking for. I wrote and re-wrote my synopsis. I sent the email and then I purposely packed my schedule for the next few days so I wouldn’t obsess over her response. To my amazement, she responded a few hours later and asked for the full manuscript.
This was huge. It meant the first ten pages captured her attention and that even though she probably had a gazzillion queries in her inbox, she wanted to take the time to read more of my work. I sent my manuscript and then did a happy dance.
About ten days later Adriana requested we have a phone call to talk about the work. I had a previous agent request a call before and never actually call me, so I wised up and said that I would call her. I was ecstatic and nervous beyond belief. In the days leading up to our call I spent hours researching what to ask a potential agent; reading past critiques of the work I submitted so I’d be prepared for her feedback; reading about her clients and following them more closely on social media; and asking other authors about their experience with agents. In the end, I was glad I did all that work, but what really led me was my gut.
Someone had told me that finding the right agent is like dating. There has to be chemistry there, a connection from which to build trust, or it won’t work. An agent can say and do all the right things to sell books and sub rights, but if you don’t connect with them and trust them, it won’t be a lasting relationship. I was already impressed by Adriana’s career. I knew she had valuable connections in the industry and understood the market. She was Latina and that was certainly a huge plus because it meant that she understood me from a place of shared experience. What I didn’t know was whether or not she would understand why I feel compelled to write my stories, why writing is at the center of who I am.
I had high hopes for our call, but our conversation blew me away. We spoke for two hours. She wanted to know about my writing, but she also wanted to know about me. She asked questions that made me think and shared about herself. It felt like I was having a conversation with a friend. When we got off the phone, I was so relieved that I wept.
I got offers from other agents to read my work and consider representation but I was set on working with Adriana. I want to see where we will go after that wonderful conversation about so much more than writing. I want to learn from her and be challenged by her expertise in the business. I feel in my heart that I made the best choice for me.
So, now that I have an agent, what’s next? Well, there’s a long road ahead of me before I see my story in print. It has to be refined so that it can be sold. Once I am paired with an editor they will want to make more revisions and polish it some more. Then it will need a cover designed. It will need a publicity plan. It will need to be copy-edited and reviewed more times that I can count. It’s a long road, and I promise to write updates about it as it happens. For now, I’m just happy that I am not facing this journey alone.