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Monday, August 31, 2015

How I got my Agent ~ Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency

I've been publishing for 16 years and over those years my readership has grown, but not moved far beyond the LDS market where I began. I have published 25 books with three publishers, negotiated my own contracts, and improved my writing. In a word, I have been successful at this writing stuff.

I have never had an agent.

The short answer to the question of "Why" is that the LDS market doesn't typically utilize agents. Writers in the LDS market work directly with publishers and relationships between the two parts are usually pretty amicable, though contracts tend to favor the publishers. I've been very fortunate to publish 18 books with Shadow Mountain, we have a good relationship and have worked well together for several years--they have certainly helped me take my career to the next level. With the last book I published, A Heart Revealed, we launched into the national market. We hadn't done that before, even though my culinary mystery series was mainstream and not faith based. It's been exciting and taken things to a new level for me but also made me aware of the benefit of an agent. Agents help negotiate contracts for the author, they oversee financial statements, extend marketing opportunities, facilitate relationships with national publishing houses and give overall advocacy for authors. They handle the "business" (i.e. busy-ness) of an author's career and I was kept plenty busy with that part (which, BTW, I hate and am not particularly skilled at.)

I have felt as I entered the national arena that an agent would be an asset for me. I've attended classes on querying and "How I got my Agent" panels for years. I know the basics of how to find an agent based on having a book they choose to represent toward getting a publishing relationship. But having a book represented wasn't what I was looking for, not really. I wanted someone to help me with contracts and opportunities, but I already had a publisher. I talked with one agent in the spring of 2014. She gave me some good advice and read my manuscript but in the end didn't resonate with the story enough to take it on (it went on to get two starred reviews, but that's neither here nor there :-)) To try and fail with this agent was insecurity-inducing enough that I backed off save for following some agents on Twitter and trying to keep abreast of the agent world. Yes, I know that's wimpy compared to the work that other writers put into getting an agent. But I didn't know the right way to try and get an agent for my situation, and maybe it was just too weird.

In July I attended Romance Writers of America's National Conference in New York. I had only been a member of RWA for a few months and never been to a local conference, let alone a national one. I didn't know anyone who was attending this one. The closer it got the more I second-guessed this decision. My family was coming along which was great, but made it crazy expensive. Some marketing things I had expected to accompany my trip didn't come together, therefore not adding justification to this investment of time and money. I was going to spend a ton of money, my family would enjoy New York without me, and I had no idea what to expect from the conference. I was anxious. Very anxious. And unsure how to make this worthwhile.

A few days before the conference I posted about my attendance on Facebook; two people I knew turned out to be going. Annalissa Hall and Stacy Henrie. I had met them both in writerly circles, but we'd never actually conversed. They gave me their contact numbers and we determined to meet up when we were all in New York.

I met up with Annalissa first and she was fabulous. She had been to a national conference before and was great at taking me under her wing and helping me understand the ins and outs of RWA. Stacy told me about a meet-and-greet for other Utah authors and that's where I saw her for the first time. I got to meet some other authors from Utah there as well, which was great, and we all gave updates on ourselves and our books. I had just that morning picked up an agent appointment, which was 10 minutes to talk with an agent later that afternoon. I followed the agent on Twitter and figured I could get some advice from him about my situation--but he was not looking to represent my genre. I left the meet and greet and about fifteen minutes later, one of the Utah authors I had just met--Jennifer Beckstrand--found me (which in and of itself was a mini-miracle with, I think, 5,000 attendees and 5 floors worth of meeting space.) She'd felt like I should meet with someone from her agency. She writes for the Christian Market and felt her agency--The Seymour Agency--would be a comfortable place for me since I write sweet romance. She helped me find an open spot with an agent and even though he didn't represent my genre, maybe he would have a referral to someone in his office. So, now I had two meetings with two different agents. Awesome (and intimidating.)

I met with Lane Heymont from Seymour first. I explained my situation and he gave me some advice, agreeing that an agent would be helpful for me at this point in my career, but confirming that he wasn't really looking for new historical romance. After that I had my second meeting with the other agent and he said essentially the same things Lane had said. I wasn't terribly disappointed that I didn't seem to be a good fit for either of them because I felt I benefitted from their feedback and their helping me better understand how to "pitch" myself to agents as an established author. All in all, I was glad for having met with them both and more encouraged toward finding an agent.

I was on the town with my family that night, got in late, and then woke up early to get uptown to the conference on Saturday. I was in the opening general session when I decided to check my email. There was an email from Lane. He'd been intrigued enough to get my book once he returned to his hotel room the afternoon before and liked it. A lot. He wanted to meet with me that afternoon about possible representation. I was stunned. And thrilled. And terribly anxious. So I texted my husband, Lee, (do you see him in the background of this picture :-) )and close friends Nancy Allen and Jennifer Moore, and got oodles of support and encouragement from all three of them. I went to lunch with Annalissa, Stacy, and Jennifer, who gave me even more support and encouragement. And then I met with Lane that afternoon and it went great. He was very validating, helped clarify a few points I needed clarification on, and was willing to step into an unusual situation. I was in current negotiations with a contract for a book he had never read, but he was willing to help me with it as a starting point for us. He was supportive of my maintaining a relationship with Shadow Mountain while still helping me move forward with other opportunities.

I returned home a few days later, reviewed his contract--which was blessedly straight forward and easy to understand--and talked with my husband, prayed, thought it through, and talked with another Utah author Chantele Sedgwick who was also represented by The Seymour Agency. After all the due diligence, I felt like this was the right step for me. I signed with Lane on July 28th and he took over the current contract negotiations I was in the middle of. That quickly I was freed up to write. Just write (or, well, mostly write.) What a relief that has been.

Now, a month later, were finishing that contract, I'm finishing up a new book, and I'm looking at an exciting future with help from someone who can help me make the best decisions possible for me, my career, and my family. I am so excited!!

I'm so very grateful for all the people who have shared their stories and situations over the years so that I knew where to start and the friends, and my sweetie, who have always encouraged me to keep moving forward. I'm grateful for Annalissa and Stacy for helping me navigate the conference and Jennifer for following the impression she had that day in New York. I'm grateful to RWA for creating these kinds of opportunities and I'm so grateful for Lane taking the time to read my book that night, for believing in my future and taking on such a unique situation.

I am not someone who always knew she would be a writer. The joy of storytelling took me by surprise some 17 years ago and though it has not been a straight shot,
as my journey has continued the Lord has laid things out for me one step at a time rather than with some picture I have navigated towards. I'm not complaining, it has worked well for me, and I am so grateful for the career I have had. Having had so many good "steps" behind me, I'm excited about this newest step and where it will lead me now.