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Finding An Agent: Tips From Christina Berry

As a single mom and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time out of her busy schedule to write about the heart and soul of life. She lives with her family in rural Oregon. The Familiar Stranger is her debut novel. She’s visiting today to share her tips for finding an agent.

1. What was your agent-hunting experience like?

Let me check my file. (You all DO keep a file, right? The IRS considers a file of rejections to be proof your writing is a career and not a hobby. Casual writers don’t get rejections!)

All told, we submitted to agents nine times before receiving an offer of representation. I say “we” because my mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, and I were pitching our joint projects and were a package deal.

We first submitted to Natasha Kern in 2002, garnering our first agent rejection. Our last rejection came from Steve Laube on August 3, 2006—the very day the Van Diests asked for our full manuscript!

2. Every writer dreams of getting The Call. How and when did you get your Call?

It’s a little hard to remember exactly how that call played out because I’ve been with the Van Diest Agency for three years, which is a testament to their belief in my writing. I often hear stories of agents and authors parting ways when a sale has not occurred within the first year.

Let me jump in my time machine and go back … back … back to 2006 … I’m pretty sure we wore leg warmers and had huge bangs with side ponytails then, right?

My mother and I pitched a book called On the Threshold to Sarah & David Van Diest at the Oregon Christian Writer's Summer Conference. They told us to run through the entire plot, then asked to keep the proposal. Unusual, but definitely a good sign.

The next day, just as Randy Ingermanson was promoting his workshop from the podium ["What do we want to do? Create a Powerful, Emotional Experience in our reader." Yes, we want PEE], Sarah Van Diest poked her head between our shoulders and said, “That’s what you did for me.” Despite knowing the plot, she had cried in the first chapter of the book.

The Van Diests requested the full manuscript shortly thereafter and offered a contract within six days, which was before several other interested agents could even reply.

I read their email at about 2 AM. The adrenaline rush hit so hard and stayed so long, I only got about an hour of sleep. I remember lying in bed with my eyes refusing to close and my body literally humming.

3. What tips do you have for writers searching for representation?

  • Follow agent blogs. It amazes me how much Chip MacGregor, Wendy Lawton, and Rachelle Gardner (among others) share about the business on their blogs.
  • Attend conferences. If you don’t meet with potential agents, how will you know if you “click” or not?
  • Hire a professional editor. Getting an agent is almost as hard as finding a publisher these days. If spending some money now takes your craft to the next level and garners the attention of an agent, isn’t that money well spent? Consider it getting a jump-start on your publishing career.
  • Accept feedback. If you are fortunate enough to get ANY feedback in a rejection from an agent, thank the Lord and pay attention to what he or she has said.

Summary (Jody here): It's interesting to note that Christina and her mom looked for an agent for approximately four years. Four years is a LONG time!

While we're waiting on agents, it's often hard to know what's causing the hold up. Sometimes it's the nature of the game; there are so many factors outside our control (poor economy, busy agents, tall slush piles, etc.). However, sometimes our stories just aren't ready; agents are rejecting our work because we need to improve our writing skills.

If only we knew what was REALLY going on with those manuscripts we've sent out, then we'd have clearer direction on how to proceed. Have you ever been frustrated by the agent-hunt delays? If you're waiting for agent responses, do you have any guesses on what is causing the hold up?

Thanks to Christina Berry for sharing her agent story! Here's a little more about her debut novel.

The Familiar Stranger: Craig Littleton has decided to end his marriage with his wife, Denise, but an accident lands him in the ICU with fuzzy memories. As Denise helps him remember who he is, she uncovers dark secrets. Will this trauma create a fresh start? Or has his deceit destroyed the life they built together?

If you would like to learn more about Christina visit her here:
http://www.christinaberry.net/
http://www.authorchristinaberry.blogspot.com/

50 comments:

  1. So, if the IRS stops by, I show them the rejection wall.

    My biggest problem in my agent hunt is that I'm not hunting enoough. I'm not proactive enough and I need to up the number of agents that I contact.

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  2. I love Christina's story! And her book sounds intriguing! I'll definitely be checking out her blog and website!

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  3. It seems that the waiting I had to do mostly related to the amount of work agents and editors must slog through. I did get "helpful" rejections, though, so that's encouraging. Much better than a "sorry, just not a good fit."

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  4. Very cool! Thanks Jody and Christina!!

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  5. I am looking forward to laying in bed, my body refusing to go to sleep after hearing the news :)
    Great interview. Hopefully I won't be wallpapering with rejection letters...hopefully :)

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  6. This was great!! I loved hearing that it might take me four years and many rejections--in a good way! Cause someone finally believed in their story! I will remember this when I am discouraged:)

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  7. Excellent interview! Very entertaining, but helpful, too.

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  8. Thanks for the tips, Christina!

    I have no clue what the hold-up is, but I'm having to guess that either the plot is good but the agent isn't sure about the writing, or vice versa. Either way, I'd be surprised if I get representation on that manuscript.

    Thank goodness I have more! LOL

    And the time it takes, well, that makes sense. You have to wait sometimes up to three months on a query, then there's the partial and the full... it just all adds up. That's how it works though and I'm not frustrated because I really want things to go how God wants. I don't want to rush publication, you know? It's a commitment, like you already posted about. :-)

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  9. Oh, great story! Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Can I ask why the projects were submitted to only 9 agents in 4 years? I've submitted to around 75 agents since April...

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  11. Same question as CKHB. Also, I've got requested work with eight agents now. The waiting is definitely the hardest part!!!

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  12. Perhaps I gave up too soon. I spent 2 years and only received one request for the actual manuscript. This tells me maybe my query letter was the problem.
    Thanks.
    karen

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  13. Wow, the Familiar Stranger sounds like an awesome, emotional read. I'm definitely adding it to my wish list!

    I never thought of keeping rejections for the government, but that's a great pointer. Thanks!

    Jody, you share such valuable information on your blog--I really appreciate YOU!

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  14. I keep wondering if the agent who has my MS is waiting for me to improve. I'm on it. :D I'm also getting to the point of having 2 polished like you wrote on your last blog.

    Excellent interview w/ Christina. I enjoy her blog and it has been fun to read how exciting this process has been for her.

    ~ Wendy

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  15. Such a great story. Thanks, Christina for sharing. And thanks Jody for the introduction.

    You both are such an inspiration!

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  16. Wow, I need to put that file together! I never thought about that!

    Definitely! I'm trying to use the waiting period to my advantage. Hopefully it'll work out!

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  17. In my experience, the agent query wait is much shorter than the editor wait. I've had two manuscripts with editors for almost a year before getting rejected. Two currently will hit their year mark next month.

    The waiting is agonizing. I am not a patient person, so it's funny I write!

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  18. Ah, the rejection folder. I call it my three ring binder-filled-bookshelf proof that I'm earning my way there ;)

    great interview.

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  19. Wow, 4 years is a LONG time. That was a great interview.

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  20. Loved reading your story, Christina. And your book sounds intriguing! I'm adding it to my Christmas wish list.

    Thank you, Jody, for this excellent post! I will not grow weary in well doing. I will not. I will not.

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  21. great interview. christina's story is so unique (as they all are, i suppose) and her heart is so open. love that. :)

    jeannie
    Where Romance Meets Therapy

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  22. Great interview! I love your point, Jody, about sometimes our writing isn't ready. This is so true. The best thing we can do is improve our writing.

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  23. Great interview! You know what? I never kept any of my rejections. I figured once I got them, I'd learn from it and move on. So I tossed them in the trash! Ahh! Lol...thanks for the tips, Christina.

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  24. Nice interview. Oh! A couple more agent blogs to check out. Thanks.

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  25. Great interview and tips!

    I think it's much harder to find an agent than a publisher. I was published before finally landing an agent.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  26. Wonderful interview, Jody.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Christina. And for the little tip about keeping all the rejections as "proof" I'm not just some hack who doesn't want to work (because there are some people who don't believe writing is hard work!).

    Jen

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  27. I think I once claimed my writing expenses with the IRS but there was some rule that you could only claim a loss for so many years?

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  28. I loved this interview! I can't wait to get Christina's book (big congrats!) And I absolutely love hearing about the call. Amazing and inspiring!

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  29. Great interview! Talk about sticktoitiveness!

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  30. I love the Finding an Agent stories. They always have a happy ending, right? Love the keeping at it for four years. Stopping would be losing, right.
    Such good advice.
    Thanks!

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  31. Great interview...and very helpful information! I especially love the PEE reference, I laughed so loud I almost woke up my napping toddler!

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  32. Thanks for sharing your story with all the girls :)

    God's blessings
    marthanadnny(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  33. Great post!

    Well, I'm not looking for an agent, but my crit partner is having a very frustrating time. (And she has a two book contract with a major NY publisher!)

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  34. Great interview! Always love to hear other's stories.

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  35. I'm encouraged to hear that Christina's perseverance paid off. Hard as it can be, we have to keep putting our work out there.

    I've saved every one of my rejection letters. I consider them proof that I'm a writer who's serious about her profession.

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  36. Jody and Christina - that was a cool interview. I LOVE reading about agent/call stories, especially since I'm going to start querying agents in a couple weeks (after the conference). Yikes!

    Christina - my friend and crit partner, Jeannie Campbell, read your book and emailed me to tell me how awesome it is. So yay for you! I know I can't wait to read it!!

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  37. Thanks Christina and Jody... an interesting peek at the process and some good tips!

    Carol

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  38. Thanks to everyone for the encouraging comments! Funny how many of you latched onto the rejection file idea. ;) Writers do tend to have a sadistic streak, right? Why else would we choose an occupation with insane hours, crazy odds, and relatively little pay ... if we make a sale??

    But what else can we do in our jammies while hanging with our kiddos? Or write off a trip to Hawaii as "research?" ;)

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  39. @CKHB-Great question! Jody specifically asked me agent-focused questions, so I left out a bit of those four years. During the same time frame, we submitted to dozens of editors we'd gotten to know through conferences.

    Also, we knew the market we were trying to break into--Christian fiction--had only a handful of top agents, so we went after those with the best reputations!

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  40. @Stephanie Faris-Of course I must give the usual disclaim that I am not a tax law expert, so each writer should consult with a professional to get a REAL answer to this.

    But ... ;) I have filed my own taxes all my life and try to keep up on all the changes and qualifications of self employment laws and writing-related write-offs. My understanding is that 3 out of 5 years should show a profit.

    Unfortunately, writing is a long-haul career and often takes years of expenditure to bring a return.

    My advice is to wait until you have sizable expenses to write off before using your two "losing" years!

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  41. @jdcoughlin-I agree! There were many times I could have quit out of discouragement, but the calling was so strong ... I couldn't help but keep writing.

    While I'm sure there must exist a few delusional souls (with no talent and no ability to hone their skills) who should quit writing, for most of us, the only way to fail is to quit.

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  42. @Katie Ganshert-Woohoo! I hadn't heard she'd received it, so that's fantastic. I can't wait to read her review, especially her therapist take on my characters' issues ... of which they have many!

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  43. I love victory stories like these; they encourage us to not give up.

    I'm hosting Christina on my blog on October 21st. Isn't it cool that she and her mom work together?

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  44. I love "how I found my agent" stories. Thank you for sharing.

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  45. Thanks for a great interview with my daughter! I loved walking down memory lane!!

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  46. Good thing to know how long it takes to find an agent. Less frustration.

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  47. Thank you for sharing! I now need to put this book on my "to read" list!!! It sounds great!

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  48. Hi Jody and Christina -

    As writers, we sometimes think of getting an agent as an arrival point when it's a step on the journey. I hope someday to find an agent that believes in my work as strongly as the Van Diests believed in yours.

    Great interview!

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  49. As a thank you to each of you who left a comment, all the names will be entered in the ten-book giveaway I'll be holding on Sept 30, my birthday!

    However, if you absolutely do not want a chance to win THE FAMILIAR STRANGER, let me know and I'll keep your name out of the drawing.

    Again, thank you for making my visit to On the Path such a wonderful experience!

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  50. CKHB and Beth!!! You won a free copy of The Familiar Stranger by commenting on this post!

    Send your mailing address to christina [at] christinaberry [dot] net and I'll get that puppy right off to you. :D

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