Thursday, May 26, 2011

From spreadsheet to book deal--#2 in the series of How I Found My Agent

This post is from my lovely and incredibly talented client Lori Roy, whose first novel BENT ROAD published in April. I love stories like this one because once again it disproves the notion of "overnight" success--Lori had been writing for 12 years before we decided to work together to sell her book. I didn't know about a lot of the things that were happening behind the scenes until I read this: I love how Lori approached the process with such determination and organization!

And yes, I did tell Lori her query letter wasn't very good! In retrospect, I probably could have been a little more tactful, but it's further proof that writing a great book and writing a good query letter are two completely different skill sets. Asking for the first ten pages as part of my query guidelines is my way of looking beyond a query letter that might not adequately represent the genius of the book that is being pitched.

Now, over to Lori:

April 16, 2009 5:06 a.m.

From: Lori Roy

To: Jenny Bent

Query – Bent Road

I attack the querying process with a spreadsheet. It’s seven columns wide, several rows long and must be printed on legal paper. The names of literary agents run down the side of the spreadsheet and the columns are labeled name, address, genre, email, snail mail, submission guidelines, miscellaneous. I approach my queries as I approached the audit workpapers I prepared when I was a tax accountant. I label my spreadsheets, tick and tie addresses I have confirmed, highlight my research with a yellow marker. I wore blue suits and pantyhose in my accountant days. Now I wear Levis with holes in the knees, but I can still format a nice spreadsheet.

After all my research and all my organization—each printout three-hole punched and stored in a two inch binder—it is a connection who helps me land an agent. I met her four years earlier at a writers’ conference. She lives in Sweden. We’ll call her the Swede. She emails with news that Jenny Bent has recently started her own agency and is accepting submissions. The Swede has followed Jenny’s career for years. You should give her a try, the Swede says. I scan my spreadsheet, and there she is. Jenny Bent. I check her submission guidelines, attach the first ten pages of BENT ROAD, my query letter and press send. Jenny is the ninth agent I query.

April 19th, 2009 8:52 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

Could you please send the entire manuscript for BENT ROAD?

I read all the blogs, so I know I have a few currents to navigate. Two partials of BENT ROAD are currently with other agents. I believe in common courtesy, and while my insecurities make it difficult for me to believe the other agents will care, I email them that I have had a request for my full manuscript. They respond promptly with their appreciation. My first instinct upon receiving this request from Jenny is to press reply, attach and send, but I resist. Instead, I stay up most of the next two nights to read and re-read my manuscript. The second time through, I read it out loud. I’m hoarse by the time I email it to Jenny on April 21, 2009.

May 4, 2009 9:26 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

I loved reading this book. Could we set up a time to talk tomorrow? Do let me know.

I’m still wearing my PJs when I read this email at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of May 5th. I run upstairs to tell Husband who is sipping his first cup of coffee. She wants to talk tomorrow, I say to Husband, and then turn and run back to my computer. The email was sent the night before, which means she wants to talk today.

I email the Swede to share the news. I email another friend for advice on what to ask an agent. Again, I’ve read all the blogs. I know what a writer is supposed to ask, but because I’ve highlighted my research, labeled my workpapers, three-hole punched my printouts, I already know the answers to those standard questions. The smartest thing I did when setting out to find an agent—I only queried the agents I would be privileged to work with.

We trade a few emails throughout the day, Jenny and I. I send my phone number and times when I’m available, which is any time because it would take a crowbar and a book of matches to pry me away from the phone. She emails that she is having a crazy day and won’t be able to call until tonight. In the mean time…

May 5, 2009 11:29 a.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

…So as not to keep you in suspense, I am calling to offer representation.

I’ve been writing for almost twelve years by the time I open this email. I’ve collected countless rejection letters from literary journals—really they were rejection slips of paper. I’ve attended several writers’ conferences, lectures and readings. I’ve read books on writing, studied with gifted teachers, met great friends. I’ve struggled to understand the four fallacies, humbled myself to the concept of plot and beaten the adverbs out of my vocabulary. I’ve spent hours sitting at a desk, ashamed that I’m wasting my time. I’ve written badly, very badly. I’ve written two other novels that hide on the lowest shelves in my office. I’ve spent a year and a half writing BENT ROAD. I can’t say how many drafts I’ve been through. I lost track after the sixth. I’ve read it out loud so many times, looking for and listening for the clunkers, that the manuscript induces nausea. And there it is in a single line in a single email. Representation.

The phone rings in the early evening. Husband answers it. He calls the person on the other end Ms. Bent and hands me the phone. To avoid the chaos in my house, I take the call on the deck. In front of me lies my list of questions. I ask none of them, because when the moment arises, they all seem ridiculous. I already know who Jenny represents. I know how long she’s been an agent, where she’s worked, and because of blogs and online interviews, I have a good idea of her personality and work ethic. I know she will represent me and my book with professionalism, enthusiasm and perseverance. When the phone call ends, I am represented by Jenny Bent.

June 11, 2009 12:29 p.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy


I start this day blow drying my hair while crying hysterically. Husband asks me what’s wrong. It’s auction day for BENT ROAD, and I fear the auctioning block will turn into a chopping block. I’m afraid no one will show up for the auction and that BENT ROAD will be unsold at day’s end. I fear I’ll have to show the determination and belief that so many other authors have had to muster. I fear I won’t have it. “It’ll be a good day,” Husband says.

I’m at work—a part-time tax gig—when I receive this email from Jenny. CALL ME. I make up an excuse to leave the office for a few minutes. I write fiction. It isn’t hard to come up with something. I know it’s best that I not make the call while driving. Instead, I pull into the parking lot at Haslam’s Book Store. (Almost two years later, I will hold my first book signing at this store.) Jenny picks up on the other end immediately. We have an offer, she says. The auction continues throughout the day. I go back to the office. Don’t get much done. I pick up Daughter from tennis practice. She’s hungry, so we stop at the drive-through at Checkers. Husband brings homes roses. The family takes me to dinner. By Monday morning, the deal is done. Bent Road by Lori Roy is sold by Jenny Bent to Dutton Senior Editor Denise Roy. (No relation.)

June 16, 2009 3:59 p.m.

From: Denise Roy (Senior Editor – Dutton/ Penguin)

To: Lori Roy


Denise emails me her contact information, and we get acquainted over the phone. We laugh about the coincidence that has brought our three names together under this book deal. We discuss revisions. She sends me notes. A writer friend offers me advice. You don’t have to make all the changes your editor suggests, he says. But she’s always right, I say. Denise and I work our way through two rounds of revisions. I don’t appreciate how wildly insecure I am until I experience the revision process. Denise is aware long before me. She is kind and tempered with her suggestions. She is always right.

Three months after the auction, the contract is final. Jenny handles the negotiations, informing me along the way. She looks out for my best interest, while I would give away the deed to my house. I cower in the corner, watch through my tightly knit fingers. I exhale when the ink is dry.

October 27, 2009 10:21 a.m.

From: Jenny Bent

To: Lori Roy

MS Accepted ….Hooray

The revisions are done and the manuscript is accepted just in time for my visit to New York. I am reading a Harlan Coben novel when I begin my descent into LaGuardia. I see the Statue of Liberty, look down on the Coben novel—also published by Dutton—and feel a bit queasy. It occurs to me that people will read my book, too.

I meet Jenny for lunch—a cute little restaurant in Soho. We talk kids, next book ideas and about my query letter that she tells me wasn’t very good. She soothes my ego by reminding me that I’ll never have to write one again. Jenny leaves me in the lobby at 375 Hudson Street—Dutton’s corporate offices. Denise and I find another Soho restaurant and we toast BENT ROAD with a cabernet.

At year’s end, the copyedited manuscript is delivered. Copyeditor catches my dangling modifiers and suggests I use sit instead of set. In April 2010, I secure my domain name. I’m a website now. The proofreader has a few questions for me in May, and on May 26, my baby gets a face when Monica Benalcazar distills 368 pages into a beautiful, haunting, perfect image.

October 27, 2010 3:29 p.m.

From: Ava Kavyani (Publicist—Dutton/Penguin)

To: Lori Roy

Hello from Publicity

I’m blogging every week, have a facebook page and dabble in Twitter. I’m not as good at this as others, so I watch and learn and try to spend my time wisely. Many things are happening on behalf of BENT ROAD within the halls of the Dutton/Penguin offices. I only work with a handful of people and ask them to thank the folks I won’t ever meet through an email or phone call.

It’s a rainy Sunday morning in December when I find my first review. I’m googling myself and there it is. Kirkus—a starred review. I cause a thud when I jump out of bed. Husband comes running. I check again. And again. Yes, a starred review. Other reviews will follow—The Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, AP, People Magazine, St. Pete Times, The Sun Sentinel. I am working the concession stand at Son’s baseball game when I pick up another email from Ava. BENT ROAD launches in two weeks. Marilyn Stasio will be reviewing it for the New York Times, Ava writes. Why are you crying, Daughter asks as she makes change for the Gatorade she just sold. “It’s Marilyn Stasio,” I say. “It’s the New York Times.”

March 31, 2011

It’s publication day for BENT ROAD. I start my day being interviewed by the Tampa Tribune. Husband sends flowers. They’re waiting for me at the coffee shop where I meet the journalist. I spend the rest of the day at home. We’re under a severe weather warning. The windows are leaking. I stuff towels in the sills.

My first signing is well attended. We sell all but a few copies. There are more signings. I arrive thirty minutes early at each one. At my first reading, a photographer perches on the floor about three feet in front of me, and as I read, his camera goes click, click, click. Shoulders back, I tell myself. Chin high. Breathe. Don’t read too quickly. Click, click, click.

There will be more book events in the future. I have a few book festivals planned, a few more in the works. I’ll continue to blog and tweet and facebook. I’ll meet with my writing group and skype with my writing friends. I’ll continue to read great writers and study with great teachers. And now that I find myself with a book sitting on the shelves of many book stores, I am quite certain of the most important thing a writer can do after selling a book. Write the next book and when that is done, write the next.

Lori's website is Follow her on twitter: @Loriroyauthor.


  1. Thank you for posting this. It helps.

  2. Wow, that is some really encouraging reading! I know well how long and painful a process it is, and it's really neat to see some insight on the process from the other side of things.

    Thank you!

  3. So cool to get an idea of what goes into getting an agent and putting out a book. Thanks!

  4. What a great story, and well-told! What about the Bent-Bent coincidence? I keep thinking about that when I read Jenny's blog. I need something to read and will get this book now. I've been meaning to for months, ever since Jenny started blogging its praises.

  5. A fabulous story, complete with happy ending! Though it's really just the beginning, isn't it?

    I see that my local library (I'm in New Zealand) has eight copies of "Bent Road", but it's so popular that they have five more on order.

  6. As Stella says ... Bent Road/Jenny Bent/Lori Roy/Denise Roy ... too may co-incidences for it not to happen!

  7. I'm really enjoying this series, keep the stories coming :)

  8. What a lovely post. So well-written and gives the rest of us hope!

  9. Sigh. Smile. Sigh again.
    It's so nice when dreams become reality.
    Oh wait.
    It's so nice when hard work pays off.
    That's better. Sigh.

  10. I'm just beginning my own journey and stumbled across this beautiful story during my researching. I'm in tears as I finish reading. Joy is so much more intense when we've struggled to find it.

    Thank you for sharing this. For so many reasons.

  11. Wow. I feel almost normal now. Great post!

  12. This was gorgeously written and so honest, I wanted to read more. Thank you, Lori, for sharing your story and thank you Jenny, for posting it!

  13. Wow, that's amazing. I'm in awe, and super super envious. ;)

  14. Lori,
    Bought your book today. You are an amazing writer and Jenny, you are one smart agent.

  15. Hi everyone,
    Thanks for the kind words. Best wishes to all as you continue writing. And many thanks to those who bought BENT ROAD.I appreciate your support.

  16. WOW!

    This is one of the most in-depth behind-the-scenes sneak peak into the publishing process I've come across & its fantastic! As an aspiring author just reading about other author's journeys inspires me.

    Many congrats to Lori and thanks very much to Jenny for sharing this.

  17. What a lovely step by step, honest and open. Thanks for sharing!

  18. What an eye opening piece! I worry so much about my query. Its tough to condense the whole idea of a book into a one page letter.

    The back and forth process was very interesting and the fact that Lori tried for twelve years is inspiring!

    Thank you for this!

  19. That was rather a gripping read. I just looked up and realized I was glazed, mesmerized, and doing not a lick of work at my actual job. Thanks for the respite!

  20. Big sigh... Six years at this isn't so far from the mark! Thank You for sharing your journey ;-)

  21. Very enjoyable look behind the scenes. Amazing about the name sharing :)

    And it was very good to know that an okay query letter did not prevent Jenny from going forward.


  22. I'm so glad you posted this. And now, another book for my reading list.

  23. Looking forward to meeting you at the St Pete Times Festival of Reading. I am a Florida writer from Orlando, bringing my 2 books to the Festival. Really enjoyed your insights. Continued success. DD

  24. Thanks for sharing your agent/client experience. It was fascinating to read! Now, I must read Bent Road. I've heard from a friend that it's great.