How I Got My Agent: An Interview with Samantha Joyce

I can’t tell you how excited I am to interview Samantha Joyce today. Not only is she a ridiculously awesome person (with an equally awesome bunny), but she agreed to have me interview her about the moment every author is waiting for: how she got her agent. Super-long post ahead, but absolutely worth the read.

Tell me about the book that got you agented.

It’s called Silent Fiction, and it’s the story of nineteen-year-old Elise, a secret best-selling author who was deafened and scarred in a freak accident years ago. Elise is so self-conscious about her scars, she sent her publisher another girl’s picture instead of her own for the back of her books.  When Hollywood decides to make a TV show based on her books (starring a hot young actor, of course), she tracks down the girl from the back of her books and convinces her to pretend to be her. Of course, it’s not so easy to have someone else be you, especially when said hot actor is involved.

 It’s a love story that is sort of a combination of Cyrano De Bergerac meets Fangirl. Really, it’s about learning to be comfortable in your own skin, no matter what challenges life throws your way.

Ah! I’m so excited for it! It sounds really good. How did you get the idea for it?

I actually had been toying with the idea for a couple years. I was thinking about pen names, and about how authors are able to hide a bit behind them. I wondered what would happen if someone went the extra mile and used a fake photo as well, and what circumstances would cause someone to go that far. That was when Elise was born.

 I also knew there had been a push recently for diverse books, and I’d wanted to write from the point of view of a deaf character for a while. I was fascinated by the idea that Elise’s world was silent, except when she heard the voices of her characters in her head. They, essentially, made her world loud again.  But it was also important that her deafness was only an aspect of her personality, as opposed to the main focus of the book. Her disability does not hinder her in any way. If anything, it makes her stronger.

Is it the first book you’ve written? What about queried? What were your previous experiences like in the Query Trenches?

This was the third book I’d written, and the second I’d queried (the first is hiding in a trunk somewhere). The two querying experiences were VERY different.

The first book I queried was a YA paranormal (angels/demons), which was a tough sell in a very saturated market. I got about 70 rejections in total, with a few requests and an R & R scattered throughout. I queried it for about seven months before coming to the conclusion that it just wasn’t that book’s time. Besides, I’d just finished another book I was crazy in love with.

Querying Silent Fiction was the polar opposite. I knew who I wanted to target this time. I had a killer query letter. I knew to expect rejection. I had this down to a science. I started querying at the end of September. I sent out my first batch of queries, and by the end of the week, I had four full requests and three partials. Most of the requests came within twenty-four hours of sending the query. Things were happening FAST. In the meantime, my pitch and first 250 were accepted into PitchSlam, garnering three more partial requests the next week. I sent off the requested materials to all the agents and held my breath. This book felt different from the first, and the response was great, but rejection and I were old buddies. I was ready for whatever came.

I still got rejections, of course (it’s all part of the process), but then this magical email came in from this awesome agent, telling me how much she enjoyed my book, and she wanted to know more about me and my writing. What else had I written? What else was I working on? I think it took me two hours to compose a response, and I had at least three people read it before I hit “send” with a shaking hand. I pretty much wandered through the rest of the day blindly, wondering what it all meant. Maybe she kind of liked the book but was hoping I had something else instead. Maybe she was just being nice. Maybe she would hate my idea for my next book and wouldn’t want to work with me. The possibilities were endless in my self-doubting writer brain. The next day, I got a reply. Was I free to take a phone call?

I know you were involved in Pitch Wars 2013. Tell me about your experience. How did that help you now?

The manuscript that was accepted in last year’s Pitch Wars was actually the YA paranormal book I queried (the one with all the rejections). Querying the mentors in Pitch Wars were actually the first queries I’d ever sent. I knew the market was tough for my genre, so I was shocked when the amazing Molly Lee chose me as an alternate for her team. Working with Molly was fantastic. Although I was an alternate, which meant she only had to look at my first 250 words, Molly asked if she could see the whole book. I was floored when her critique rolled in not long after. She loved my book, she loved my writing, she believed in me. She was so encouraging. Even when the alternates over all received very few requests, she cheered us on and told us not to give up.

After Pitch Wars, she stayed in touch, asking how things were going with querying. When I was drowning in rejections, I was tempted to quit. But Molly wouldn’t let that happen. She asked what else I was working on. I told her my idea for Silent Fiction. She loved it, and offered some suggestions (like putting the main character in college) that made everything click in my mind. I wrote the book in about two months, with Molly cheering me on the whole way. She eagerly critiqued it for me (she’s excellent with her critiques). And when requests started rolling in (along with more rejections) she taught me that brownies are great for both celebrating and drowning your sorrows. She was there every step of the way both before, and after, the call. I’m not sure she knows how grateful I am for that. I had no idea, when I entered Pitch Wars that the mentor/mentee relationship would extend beyond the contest, but I am now honored to call Molly both a CP and friend. I tell her this a lot, but it bears repeating: Molly Lee rocks.

 What are your querying stats for Silent Fiction? (Queries/Partials/Fulls/Offers)

Yay stats! Here you go:

Number of queries sent: 32
Partial requests: 7
Full requests: 16 (including 5 partials bumped to full)
Rejections:8
No response: 6
Offers: 3

I started querying the book on Sept 30th, and received the first offer Oct 27th. Like I said, it all happened REALLY fast.

Hooray for multiple offers! That’s awesome! What were the phone calls like? What sort of questions did you ask? Did you manage to keep your cool (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to…)?

Oh gosh, I was a WRECK for the first one. The agent emailed me on a Thursday, saying she wanted to talk that week, but she was away on a conference. She wondered if we could speak on Monday. I already had the Monday off work, so that seemed perfect. The only downside was I had three whole days to agonize about the call. I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to be THE call. It was possible it was a revise & resubmit (which is always cool, too). Or it might have been a very personal rejection. Or perhaps she just wanted my brownie recipe. Seriously, my mind is a scary place sometimes.

 The good thing about having all that time was I was able to talk to agented author friends about their calls, research questions I should ask if it WAS the call, and try to figure out how I was going to sound calm and cool when I picked up the phone (friends suggested alcohol). I barely slept all weekend.

 I was a basket case by the time the phone rang. I was shaking. I couldn’t feel my extremities. I had no idea how I was going to take notes since my hands were numb. But the nerves dissipated within moments of talking to this agent. She was excited about my book. She wanted to offer representation on it. She had fantastic revision ideas. She knew how she wanted to pitch it. And she was easy to talk to. She’d obviously done this before, as she answered most of my questions before I even had the chance to ask them. By the time I’d gotten off the phone with her about an hour and a half later, we’d not only discussed the book, but also talked about where we lived, our pets, and life in general.

 I’d like to say I was less stressed out about the other two calls that followed that week, but I was always nervous before, and always put at ease by the agents during. Seriously, they know how to make it easier. I have to say, all three calls were a pleasant experience, even if they started out completely nerve-wracking. I cannot stress how incredible all three agents were.

 What made you choose Kathleen as your agent?

Deciding between three amazing agents was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They all loved my book. They all had wonderful visions for it. And they were all cool people I loved chatting with. When I made a pros and cons list, it was almost impossible to find cons for any of them. Knowing I was going to have to say no to two of them was nausea inducing. I would’ve been lucky with any one of them representing me.

 I spent the time I had to make my decision pouring over Publisher’s Marketplace, talking to author friends who’d been in the same predicament, googling everything I could about each agent, and sometimes talking to their clients. I‘m also pretty sure I drove my family and friends crazy, since it was all I could talk about. I didn’t sleep for a week. In the end, my gut kept insisting on Kathleen. I agreed with her vision for the book, and her clients were over the moon happy with her. She was also incredibly excited for my next book idea, and I could see having a career with her. I’m thrilled with my decision.

 What are the next steps for you and Silent Fiction?

I’ve just started revisions based on Kathleen’s suggestions. Once those are done, I’ll have a couple of my trusted CPs take another look at it. Then, I’ll send it back to Kathleen to see if anything else needs to be done before submission. I’m both excited and terrified by the submission process—kind of how I felt about the querying process. I’m pretty sure more brownies will be involved when we go on submission. Brownies have no calories, right?

Absolutely not! Nothing as delicious as brownies has calories. Do you have any advice for those who are still in the query trenches, or getting ready for them?

Research, research, research. Find agents who are looking for books like yours (https://mswlparagraph.wordpress.com/ is fantastic, and is actually how I found Kathleen. You also cannot go wrong with QueryTracker). Learn how to write a proper query and synopsis. There are so many resources out there for these things (Query Shark and QT are two of my favorites), and so many critique contests to help make them better. A well done query is your first step to getting an agent’s attention. The second is a polished manuscript. Get beta readers and critique partners. Read and edit your manuscript until you’re sick of it, but it’s so shiny an agent will need sunglasses to read it.

 Keep writing. By the time the last few rejections for my last book came in, they no longer hurt as much because I had Silent Fiction to love. Having something else to focus on makes the wait less difficult. And there’s a LOT of waiting in this industry.

 Don’t give up. A rejection isn’t an indication of your talent. Remember this industry is incredibly subjective, and agents have many things to consider before taking on a new client that go beyond how good the writing is. This includes things like market trends and similar books on their list. It may not happen for this book, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen (see: keep writing, above).

 Lastly, I’d advise you have a really great brownie recipe on hand for rejections and celebrations alike. You’ll need it.

 Good luck!

Could you share the query that got you your agent?

Nineteen-year-old Elise Jameson may live in a silent world, but that doesn’t stop her from hearing voices in her head.

Deafened and scarred in a freak accident when she was younger, Elise forgoes the probing eyes of her peers in favor of the characters she creates on her laptop. What started as a coping mechanism shockingly turned into a career when her novels hit the best-seller list. Society has since become obsessed with the books and their author, a striking girl on the back cover who bears zero resemblance to Elise. That’s exactly what she wanted when Elise sent the randomly Googled photo to her editor after only a minor panic attack.

When they begin filming a television pilot of her books starring heartthrob Gavin Hartley—a lickable God of a man who makes her tingle in all the right places—Elise is horrified to learn they expect her on set. Elise tracks down the anonymous girl from the back of her books and begs her to take her place in the spotlight. To her surprise, Veronica Wilde has spent years reaping the rewards of her fake writing career. She jumps at the chance to continue the charade and hires Elise as her “assistant”. However, Elise soon realizes it’s not easy to watch someone else live her life and get everything she desires, including the surprisingly sweet actor of her dreams.

As she finds herself edged further and further onto the sidelines, Elise reconsiders her choice to stay in the shadows. But revealing her true identity could come at the cost of her career, her fans, and the only man to ever see beneath her scars.

More about Samantha:

Samantha Joyce is a self-described nerd, who spends far too much time discussing shows like Doctor Who or Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and their adorable rabbit, Spike (see: obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Samantha is a sucker for romance and adorable pet videos and/or pictures. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter @SamJoyceBooks

Comments

  1. These success stories make me want to try! The prospect of it is so scary, but the whole experience sounds so rewarding. Thank you for the inspirational story!

    • You’re welcome! I am right there with you! I love success stories like Sam’s, where the first book queried wasn’t the one that ended up with success. Mostly because I’ve already queried and shelved a book. Seeing her have a miss with one book and then hit it out of the park with the next is definitely inspirational.

      • I have yet to query, and I’m fully expecting crushing defeat, and trying to accept that crushing defeat is part of the process… the thing that scares me more than the probably soul-crushing rejection I’ll face after pouring my sweat and tears into my very first novel ever, is the uncertainty that I may or may not learn the right lessons from that experience!

      • Go in expecting crushing defeat, and with an excellent brownies recipe, and you will do fine. If you’re worried about learning the right lessons or not, you’re sure to learn the right lessons. 🙂 I’m surprised at how well I have been handling facing rejection for my first MS. When you have a new idea you’re excited about, it makes it easier.

  2. well, now I want brownies…
    What a fantastic interview, ladies! I must say Samantha, I am in no way surprised you got 3 offers. For starters, you know how much I loved your paranormal idea and was so sad for each R that received. I knew it was only a matter of time before you’d get agented. I had no idea what this MS was about; …brilliant concept!!! I feel like I could just pick this up off a shelf in Barnes and Noble right now. I’m going to go ahead and predict that this will go to auction (or get a pre-empt). SO HAPPY for you. <3 and I'm so glad you found your agent match. I relate so much to how you felt before The Call. I hardly ate or drank the whole day I was so nervous, and when she called I just paced in circle around my room while we talked. I never knew a heart could beat so fast and not pop out of my chest! But the second we began chatting I felt like I knew her forever!

    • Yes. Brownies sound excellent. Sam, can we have that recipe???

      I’m not surprised at her offers, either. I second everything you have to say about it. And I’m backing you up on the auction/pre-empt prediction. It sounds So. Good.

      If/when I ever get The Call myself, I’ll be a pile of nerves, I’m sure. I’m scared to death. So happy both of you mention how easy it was after you get to talking. But I’ll still forget to eat and make myself sick with nerves. 😉

    • Aw, you’re so sweet! And fingers crossed for that…
      Oh gosh, the pacing during the call! Totally! I’m surprised I didn’t burn through the floor. I also think I sat in every single seat I owned, just to get up in two seconds and start pacing again. So good to know it isn’t just me!

  3. you’ll be there before you know it! between your incredible ideas and the tightness of your writing, it’s only a matter of time. I’ve told this to Samantha before but the fact is, I normally gravitate toward contemporary stories like Sarah Dessen type books, not really high concept, just summer romance things. but since reading the snippets you guys have posted on QT I CANNOT STOP thinking about your stories. I want them pubbed so badly. My mom followed one of the pitch madness contests on twitter once and saw Samantha’s pitch for her paranormal in the contest feed and was like “that devil story sounds fantastic” lol and I was like “I KNOW HER!” lol..that’s how I know you guys have got “IT” …and yes the call is a breeze 🙂 the agents are really nervous, too! Mine told me she’s always a wreck to make The Call b/c she wants the author to be someone she can gel with. Remembering that they get antsy too helps!

  4. This was a GREAT interview! I loved every sentence. Also, high five for Samantha! (Sammy? Sam? I’m calling her Sammy from here on). And yes, Rochelle, i think it’s only a matter of time for you

    • Thanks! So did I. Sam gave me permission to trim it down, but I couldn’t because I loved everything she had to say. 🙂

      And thank you! I sure hope so, but it’s definitely not ONLY a matter of time because I should probably finish this book first. 😉 Okay, so I’m being pedantic. I guess it comes with the territory of editing all the time. Oh well.

      Stories like yours and Sam’s keep me encouraged, how your first queried book wasn’t the first to sell.

  5. Loved reading this, and it’s definitely super inspirational! And I think Beth’s right- this is going to get MAJOR attention! It’s such a great premise. Congrats to Sam!! I also now wish I’d ate that brownie on my lunch break…

    • So much yes. She will get so much attention and we’ll all be clamoring around like “I knew you when you were just your bunny avatar!”

      Why didn’t you eat that brownie? Or mail it to me? That would have been acceptable, too.

      • I’m going to say a dirty word, ladies, you ready? Dieting… Or at least I was back on the 25th- but tonight, w/my Subway sandwich, I had a brownie!! Haha! (btw, my waist is not chuckling…) Subway brownies surprisingly are pretty good. Chocolatey and chewy!

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