Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 22, 2014

How Does a New Agent Find Wonderful Writers?

By Nalini Akolekar

For those of you who don’t know me, I started my publishing career back in the Stone Age as an editorial assistant at Silhouette Books.  I loved my job and was strongly encouraged to stay in the field, but life and children intervened and I wound up taking a hiatus from the business that lasted several years.

When I decided it was time to get back to doing what I loved, I started off with some freelance reading for Karen Solem at Spencerhill Associates.  I had come full-circle.  Karen was my first boss in publishing years earlier at Silhouette.  It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted to learn the agenting side of the business and get back to the industry that I love.

Authors frequently want to know how to find an agent--wanting to be an agent meant I had to find some authors!

Queries, client recommendations, conference pitches – these are all excellent ways to find great writers to represent.  Ultimately I think finding the right authors is 25% good instinct and 75% good luck.  So far my instincts have been pretty darn good, but my luck has been even better.  Signing each new client requires a mix of artistic, business, and personal compatibility—each author and situation is as unique as the writing that drew me to them in the first place.

Here are just three examples of some ways it’s all come together:

I was living North Carolina at the time and decided to stop into a local writers’ group meeting in the coffee shop section of a local bookstore.  It was a small group of unpublished writers, and they had exchanged pages before the meeting for critiquing.  I stuck out like a sore thumb as they discussed the work they had all read.  I kept quiet and listened, then asked if I could get copies of the pages.

Barbara DavisBarbara, the striking blond sitting across from me, handed me an extra copy of her chapter.  She was skeptical, but friendly, and holy cow could she write!

We stayed in touch, and over the next year I gained some clients and experience while she finished her book. I loved the completed novel as much as I had loved those first few chapters, and so I signed her up.

A few months later she was choosing between two offers and ended up signing a 2-book contract with a Big Six publisher.  How’s that for a fairy-tale ending…I mean, beginning?  The best part is that it’s a true story.  For real. You can ask her-- Here.

Barbara Claypole WhiteOne of my favorite queries happened to come from another North Carolina writer.   Just one among the hundreds in our submissions inbox, the email caught my eye, the query caught my attention, and the book knocked my socks off.  Coincidentally this query was from another Barbara – Barbara Claypole White.

The opening line of her letter was “DOGWOOD DAYS is a love story about dirt.“  How could anyone not read more?  The book was as insightful, poignant, and quirky as she is. It took a little longer for us to find the perfect publisher for the book that became THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, but the journey and the relationship we built has been has been totally worth it.

Laura Drake’s famous contribution to Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog was “My First 400 Queries Were Rejected: How I Persevered and Got an Agent & Book Deal”. (You can read it Here.)

Me n NaliniHer story has been tweeted and re-tweeted a million times.   Laura talks about the editor who introduced her to her perfect agent, and the flip side of that story is that I was the relatively new agent who received the phone call from that editor.

She knew I was taking on new clients and graciously said that while she doubted Laura’s book would work for her particular imprint it was too good not to be published.  This was a lady who knew her stuff so I jumped at the chance.  Not only had a wonderful, talented writer been dropped in my lap, but she’s a fabulous person to boot.

Over the past five years I’ve been able to build a healthy roster of talented and diverse authors and place their work with a wide range of publishers that includes the Big Six, indies and e-first imprints.  The work is challenging and exciting, and the satisfaction is immense. 

These days my biggest challenge is remembering that I can’t possibly represent every talented author that I come across and still do my job effectively.   But it’s hard to remember that when I still get that gambler’s thrill every time a query catches my eye.

What stories do you have about agents and writers finding each other? What do you think makes a great query opener? What do you find most frustrating about querying?

NaliniAbout Nalini

When Nalini Akolekar was growing up her mother would frequently ask her in exasperation, “What are you going to do with your life?  All you ever do is read romance novels!”  Little did she know, her daughter was building a career for herself—one captivating page at a time.

Nalini joined Spencerhill Associates after a lengthy editorial career and several years in advertising sales.  Agenting provided the perfect opportunity for combining her editorial instincts with her sales, marketing, and business experience.

Nalini specializes in romance and women’s fiction in the adult market, but she also loves thrillers. Many of the new authors she’s worked with have gone on to sell multiple books to major publishers.

18 comments on “How Does a New Agent Find Wonderful Writers?”

  1. Thanks for blogging with us, Nalini. The day you called me to offer representation was one of my all-time top 10 wonderful moments! We clicked on the phone immediately - and I've enjoyed you ever since!

    Thanks for taking a chance on me...

    1. Thank for asking me Laura! I know it is really frustrating for writers who are trying to break in and can't seem to find a door. I think the point that I want to make is that there really is no single way to do anything in this business. It is all subjective to some degree and sometimes the most successful people are those who find the most interesting ways to break the "rules." Thanks too for sharing your success story with other writers. You rock!

  2. Hi Nalini

    I love Writers On the Storm and learning how writers and agents find each other. Thanks for the post. I'm preparing my first query and I got the message that the first sentence should tell how my story is unique.

  3. You asked three questions in your blog. I will answer the last one. That do you find most frustrating about querying? I have queried agents many times. I am frustrated that my queries have never gained me representation. That's okay, though. It's just not meant to be for me to have agent I suppose.

  4. Welcome Nalini ... I love to come to this blog to learn about all things of our writerly world. I know Laura's story and often read Chuck's feature on "how I got my agent" or "successful queries." One truth stands above the others ... there is always a measure of good luck in any success story ... but when you peel the layers you also discover that luck is something we make for ourselves. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. And from the other side, follow your gut when searching for an agent. You've got to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince (or princess) who feels as passionately about your book baby as you do. I'd been searching on and off for two years before I saw Nalini on the New Agent Alert. My gut told me we would be a good match, so I researched the heck out of her. That query letter she loved? It took me two weeks to write; no one else ever received a copy. Also, Nalini is the best agent ever. Just saying. 🙂

  6. Nalini, many thanks for sharing your story. You sound like the perfect example of a woman who loves what she does ~ just the kind of agent we all hope to find!

  7. Nalini, we have heard so much about you from Laura -- all good. 🙂 I think as writers we'd all like to find someone like yourself who speaks honestly and stays in touch with her authors -- someone to walk us through the scary publishing jungles. Thanks for blogging here at WITS.

    As for queries, it seems everyone has a different full-proof method. Sometimes I'll start one with a one or two-liner quote from the book, sometimes dialog and sometimes the regimented format of what the book is about and then who I am. I've come to believe two things: One, Yes, the query must me well written and two, there is definitely an element of luck which is often 90 percent of the package.

  8. What I find most frustrating about the query process is that I have to wow an agent in so few words in a formal query letter. I understand agents have an almost impossible job of slogging through huge mountains of boring query letters to find THE ONE. And I've read so, so many posts about how to make my query letter stand out. But in the end, they say, it's all about your book and your writing. But most of the time I can't find but a few agents willing to get past my query letter. Then I have to double wow them with the first 17 lines of my book. AACK! It can be so frustrating, but I power on.
    Thank you for an insightful post.

  9. Nalini, thanks so much for making the time to blog with us here at WITS, and also for helping our Laura make a splash. It's been a very fun journey to watch.

    All I know is when I query, you're on my list. 🙂

  10. First, I have to say I love your name. My mother-in-law's name is Nalani and she loves your name a ton! Second, thanks for the post from an agent's point of view. Sometimes it's a bit tempting to see the first gatekeeper as a block to our goals rather than an individual, but I've met a few agents, and now I know you just keep looking until you find the one who loves and champions your books. 🙂

  11. I imagine the toughest part about being an agent is having to turn down great work because the market is wrong or the timing is bad or some other factor that has nothing to do with the author's talent. I'm glad someone is willing to get out there and do it!

  12. Very glad that Triangle Writers was a bridge for your connection with Barbara. I bet if Borders was still in business she would have had a reading there too to commemorate your meeting! Looking forward to more of her books and your talent for discovering the area's literary gold.

  13. Wonderful, encouraging, insightful, and fun post about being an agent. I love hearing it from your perspective, as opposed to a writer's (and we writers do tend to moan and groan a lot about getting an agent). Good for you, for admitting that finding the right writer takes instinct and luck. That's how I find the best things in my life too!

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