Today, WU friend Eileen Flanagan has stopped by to share a post with us about her experience changing literary agents–a frightening and sometimes necessary step. Enjoy!
My new book is about the Serenity Prayer —you know, accepting the things we cannot change and finding the courage to change those we can. The funny thing is, I never would have published this book on change if my writer’s group hadn’t convinced me to change literary agents.
I had already published one book and had been happy with the job my agent had done in selling it, though I couldn’t help suspecting that she was disappointed when I wasn’t catapulted to bestseller status. After the book’s release and my son’s subsequent birth, I never heard from her, which was fine. I was home with two young children, writing during nap time, but not focused on sales. A few years later, however, when I was ready to pick up my career and send out a new proposal, I found I had been handed off to her assistant agent, a very nice woman who was a great editor, but not as assertive as the senior agent. I accepted the demotion and worked with the junior agent, feeling stuck when my new book proposal didn’t sell. I knew part of the problem was the book idea itself, and part was market timing, but I couldn’t help feeling that part of it was the agent, who liked but didn’t love my book. I wanted someone who LOVED what I was writing and who understood my Quaker spirituality.
Along came my writing group, nine talented women who decided to gather monthly—not to critique each other’s work, but to support each other professionally. Our check-ins became notoriously long, agents being a common topic. Over tea, wine, and cookies we could ask the questions we harbored: Does your agent call you back? How many proposals does she sent out before she gives up? Do you have a written contract? Is the same agent right for every project?
Listening to each other, a few of us came to the same conclusion: we could do better. We deserved better than the representation we had. As I crafted a new proposal for a book called The Wisdom to Know the Difference , I started combing the Internet, searching for agents interested in the kinds of spiritual topics I write about. I asked around. I was given one name and initially got a very positive response. We had much in common, and I was sure in my gut she was “the one” (a mistake I frequently made in my single, dating years). When she asked me to cut ties with my old agent before she read my full proposal, I didn’t hesitate. I sent friendly but professional letters to both the senior and junior agents, certified mail, severing their representation of my work. The junior agent sent back a nice acknowledgment. I was free.
Then, quite unexpectedly, I received a form rejection from “the one.” I was shocked and felt like I had leapt from a plane without a parachute. My writing friends consoled and encouraged me. A mother I knew from our sons’ baseball team told me it was just because “Mercury was in retrograde”—a time when astrologists say you shouldn’t send out new work—and although I don’t really believe in astrology, I found comfort (and humor) in that.
I resumed looking for a new agent and found a name listed among those whom had presented to the International Women’s Writing Guild  Big Apple conference, the place where I had met my first agent. I checked out the new agent’s website and thought she seemed a good fit. I read her agency’s instructions on submission and sent off another query. Not only did she love the query, she loved the proposal, which she responded to in a week. Five minutes into our initial phone call she asked, “I’m just curious, did you know I was a Quaker?” I did not, but our common spiritual path felt like confirmation that I was with someone who would really be behind my work, which she was. The new agent sold my new book proposal and has continued to stay in touch with encouragement and publicity ideas as the book hits the shelves, as has my writer’s group.
The final chapter of my book  is on community, which I’ve found is one of the keys to serenity and courage. We need other people to boost us when we face struggle and disappointment, and sometimes we need their encouragement to make a needed change.
Isn’t that a wonderful story of perseverance and success? Thanks so much, Eileen, for stopping by Writer Unboxed to share with us.