Here you'll find current musings, as well as the archives from two blogs of yesteryear: YoungMarriedMom and What I Learned While Writing a Novel. Please comment and share. We love well when we are in conversation with one another.
Before I was a freelancer, I worked in the editorial department of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, for two imprints, Margaret K. McElderry Books and Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Down the hall, a woman named Alexandra Penfold worked for Paula Wiseman Books in a similar capacity (and also shared delicious cakes she made).
Alex and I were both pregnant with our first children at the same time. During the time between her maternity leave and mine—which I didn’t come back from—we met up a few times and talked about work, motherhood, books, and food. After I left S&S, Alex and I stayed in touch. When our boys were old enough, we started getting together semi-regularly for our kids to play.
At one point, I mentioned I’d been working on a novel. At another point, Alex offered to read it. Free professional editorial feedback? Yes, please! From the recognition her books had received, I knew she was a good editor, but to see her editing first-hand—she’s brilliant. Totally opened up doors I couldn’t even see existed.
Fast-forward, and Alex tells me she’s leaving S&S to become a literary agent. In the middle of the playground, she said I could submit to her, if I wanted to. I’d already worked up a list of agents to submit to and drafted a query letter, but now these seemed gloriously unnecessary. I said that would be great, and then tried to maintain composure for the rest of the morning. I was so excited later that I couldn’t write a thing for something like three days.
I tried to remind myself that she’d offered to have me submit to her, not to officially represent my novel. I continued editing, and a few weeks later, asked if she was serious or if it was just an offhand comment. I didn’t want to take advantage of a friendship or read too much into anything . . . but why in the world would she suggest I submit to her if she wouldn’t be willing to take my manuscript on? She had read the whole thing before I even knew she was crossing over to agenting.
Turns out, she was serious. The papers have all been signed, and I am officially represented by Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary (an agency on my shortlist to start with!).
Yes, having worked in the industry did give me a serious advantage in landing an agent. I won’t deny that. But I think there are some lessons here that just about anyone can apply:
My story is a little out of the ordinary, but I was prepared to play the game the typical way. I polished my manuscript as best I could. I researched agents. I wrote a query letter. Life took me in another direction. Something good came of it because I took my time, didn’t rush into anything, and was ready for whatever happened next.