Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The How I Got My Agent stories: This week's guest post by Stephanie Winkelhake.

This week's story comes from a new writerly friend of mine, the lovely Stephanie Winkelhake, so I'll hand over to her!

My aspirations to become a writer began when—as a kid—I attended my father’s book signings. He’d published a novel with an imprint of Random House, and I’ll never forget the amazing feeling of walking into a bookstore and finding my father’s book on the shelves.

My first attempt at writing a novel happened the summer of 2007. It was a young adult adventure story about oracles, magic, and treasure, and it was wrought with all sorts of POV and plot problems. So I had a lot to learn. That was okay. The important thing was that I’d completed a novel. And finishing a novel is like finishing a marathon, right? Once your mind wraps around the fact that you can do it once, you can do it again. (Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never actually run a marathon. I’ve just heard these things.)

I decided my next manuscript would be great. In 2009, I sat down and hammered out a YA dystopian. There was action! There was romance! There was…a lot of info dumping and poor character development. A few agents read it, but of course, there were no bites. But good things came of this experience—I learned more about queries, synopses, and submissions. I learned about the ups and downs of requests and rejections and how to handle them. Eventually, I also learned to let go of a manuscript I had believed in, and I knew that if I wanted to continue toward my goals, I’d have to work harder.

So at this point, I needed to step it up. I bought books about self-editing. I devoured YA novels like crazy. When I finished my third manuscript, I reached out and found beta readers. I joined an online writing community (YALitChat) since there wasn’t a local writing group in my area. I entered contests (there are plenty of free pitch and/or critique contests on online blogs). I joined RWA and entered some of their local chapter contests. As a result, I received a lot of great critique advice I could apply to the rest of my manuscript.

When I started querying for my latest project, I was lucky and managed to get a few requests from agents right off the bat. After several rejections on my full, I paused to re-examine the story. Based on critique feedback, I reworked the pacing in several parts and rewrote a few sections. I started querying again, and then I was encouraged when the next agent to reject my full had good things to say about my writing. She had liked my writing and my manuscript. She just didn’t fall in love with it. It was the best rejection I’d ever received.

Shortly after this, I placed first in a few contests. I added the wins to my query letter and around Thanksgiving, a new slew of requests came in. Marie Lamba of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency was one of the requesting agents.

It was about this time when I realized I’d reached a turning point—I finally felt confident when it came to my writing. It was as if a light switched on inside of me, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to be in this place. And bonus, I found another YA writer in my local community (she’s now my critique partner). We started hanging out, and it was so nice to bounce things off someone who understood things my non-writerly friends might not.

And then, I got THE CALL.

On Jan 2nd, Marie called me out of the blue. I’d slept in that day (we’d driven 16 hours the day prior) and I missed her call. Yup, I missed THE CALL. Marie had left a message saying she’d call back later in the day. So I gnawed on my fingernails for a few hours. The phone rang again that afternoon…and Marie offered representation!

I can’t say I was coherent.

I immediately emailed the other agents who had a partial or full of my manuscript. I told them I’d make a decision on the offer by Jan 9th. Then I waited. In the meantime, I woke up every morning thinking THE CALL had just been a dream. I must have pinched myself over a hundred times that week.

Halfway through the week, I called Marie with a list of specific questions. By the end of the phone call, I was confident Marie and I shared the same vision for my manuscript. Without a doubt, I knew she was the right agent for me.

So on Jan 9th, I picked up the phone and accepted Marie’s offer. A few days later, I signed the contract. I’m still walking around with a silly grin on my face!

Thanks for gracing my blog with your great story Stephanie!

You can follow the rest of Stephanie's story over on her blog and follow her on twitter here. You should probably go and do that now. 


  1. So great to read your story, Stephanie! I love that you took every rejection and made it a positive, something to help you improve. And how cool to have a dad who has published in the past. I'm sure that he is really proud of you!

  2. Another great Agent story. I love reading about everyone's experiences.
    Congratulations, Stephanie :-)

  3. Thanks everyone. And thank you, Ruth, for posting this story. I look forward to reading the rest of the series. :)

    1. You're welcome, I love getting these stories in my inbox!


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