The Bumpy, Twisty, Pot-hole Ridden Journey to my New Agent

Erin Murphy

I am over-the-top excited to announce that I have signed with the incomparable Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This has been a bumpy, twisty, pot-hole-ridden journey but the destination offers a humbling panorama through my rear-view mirror.

It doesn’t seem fitting to simply say that I’ve got an agent. Sometimes the journey is as sweet as the destination. I’ll skip the minutia, but the highlights of my agent journey went something like this:

Erin and I met at a 2008 SCBWI conference where I had scheduled a ten-minute verbal pitch. As a conference volunteer, I had an opportunity to observe her interactions with other hopeful writers. I could tell she was sincere, honest, savvy, and full of heart. (Her recorded sales record didn’t hurt, either.) By the end of my ten minutes with her, I knew she was the agent for me. We clicked. She liked my projects. We both had a good feeling about it. But, she wasn’t going to make it easy.

A year after that first meeting, Erin suggested I rewrite my middle grade nonfiction (Book Thing One) as a picture book. I mentally suggested she jump off a cliff, but how could I ignore her advice? She did not offer representation.

(I spent the next year learning how to write a n.f. picture book. I read, dissected, disassembled, analyzed hundreds of picture book biographies to learn what makes them work. I had years of research to sift down to an impossibly short text. See my related blog posts.)

Two years after meeting Erin, while Book Thing One was being reinvisioned, I rewrote Book Thing Two as a picture book biography (see, I was paying attention.) Erin loved the subject, but the writing was too predictable. Too journalistic. She was right. She did not offer representation, but her door remained cracked.

(I needed to learn more about narrative storytelling in my nonfiction. I read more, signed up for related workshops, and began to imagine my stories with an audience in mind, rather than mere words on a page.)

Without realizing it, Erin had set me on a course of self-education. Even I didn’t know how much I needed to grow as a writer. But, I had never been more determined and committed, so I continued to study, analyze, rinse-repeat.

Three years, a million rewrites and revisions, and multiple projects, after meeting Erin, I re-submitted Book Thing One to her. She loved it. It was ready. I was ready. But, she did not offer representation. And, after all this, believe it or not, I understood why. It had nothing to do with my work this time. Rather, it reflected a shift in her existing client base. Here’s the thing about literary agents; they have to diversify. If their client list is top-heavy in any one genre, it opens up a heap of potential marketability problems for them and their clients. I had grown enough within this industry to understand the ebbs and flows. Dagnabbit! It was an agonizing, business-based disappointment for both of us. After all, by now, we had built a level of friendship, too.

Six weeks later, I signed with another agent. Temporarily. When it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work and, within a few short months, I ended the relationship. Though Erin and I kept in touch, it took even more months for me to tell her about my agent divorce.

Four years after meeting Erin (here’s where I cleverly pull the reader in closer by switching to first person pov,) she comes to the Austin SCBWI conference. We hug. We laugh. We catch up. I ramble about what I’m working on. Then, she makes me happy. She asks to see Book Thing One and, now, Book Thing Three. I want to jump up and down. On one hand, her request makes me smile. On the other hand, I’ve submitted to other agents by now and Erin’s request, after all we’d been through,  makes me want to lovingly yank her hair out.

The day Erin finally read my latest works, all these years after our first meeting, she offered representation!
Happy dance!
Astonishingly, she wasn’t alone. Two other  agents offered as well. For the first time ever, I had a choice. When Erin and I spoke by phone, I tried to play it cool. I’ll admit that I felt a surge of unfamiliar control. And, for the slightest moment, I thought, “Move over Thelma, Louise gets to drive for a change.” But, playing hard-to-get lasted all of two minutes. It was such a no-brainer decision. For four years, I knew she was the agent for me. Now, I had finally grown into the right client for her.

So, there you are. Proof that mentors sometimes don’t know they are mentors. And that, if you’re willing to pay your dues, stay the course, and invest the energy in honing your craft, you really can navigate some rough terrain toward your destination. Eventually, you might face an old familiar door. Where just the right agent will welcome you home.

A happy time!  Squeeeeeeee!


12 Responses to “The Bumpy, Twisty, Pot-hole Ridden Journey to my New Agent”

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    I'm so, so, so happy about the outcome of this circuitous story. I've bumped along with Donna for much of this route and am tickled that she's now a gango. YAY, for Donna. YAY for Erin. YAY for EMLA.

  2. Meredith Davis

    I love, love LOVE this story, I'm a big fan of happy endings! I'm looking forward to hearing how your journey continues . . .

  3. Janet Fox

    Donna – this is such an inspiring post – and a testament to your perseverance. Congrats!!!

    plus – Erin is lovely. 🙂

  4. Donna

    Thanks so much y'all. It's been a long journey. So glad it brought me full circle back to Erin. I feel truly blessed.

  5. Kimberley Griffiths Little

    Wonderful post, Donna, and congratulations! (I'm here by way of Cynthia Leitich Smith).

    Reminds me of my 3 year agent journey with lots of queries and rewrites to snag Tracey Adams of Adams Lit – after meeting her at the 2007 SCBWI National conference (I actually followed here there just to meet her; that's how much I wanted to be her client! 😉

    I always knew I wanted her, it just had to be the right timing. And once the manuscript was ready and she was ready, it all went terrifically. A month later we had a 3 book deal with Scholastic, and she recently sold my YA trilogy to Harpercollins in a pre-empt. Tracey was definitely worth waiting for!

    Hope your book deal goes swiftly and wonderfully for you!

  6. Luke Reynolds

    What a fabulous post and such a happy, happy ending (read: beginning) to this journey! Thanks so much for sharing it; it was great fun to read (and also inspiring).