Friday, June 17, 2011

Sometimes a Little Stalking Is a Good Thing

A new post from my hilarious client Robin O'Bryant. This one is a great reminder to do your homework. Robin queried me because she knew who I represented and she knew my tastes. She figured, correctly as it turned out, that if I liked a certain kind of humor writer, I might also like her book. Robin is hugely talented and a dream to work with. If I tell her in the morning to go out and raise her profile, by 5:00 pm she's added a couple thousand twitter followers and a new blogging gig. She's my favorite kind of writer--hardworking, talented, and someone who goes out and makes things happen. Here's Robin...

I've been an avid reader and writer my entire life. As a child it was common for me to have dark circles under my eyes from staying up into the wee hours to read. I've journaled since I could write a complete sentence and throughout my life I have been told repeatedly, “You should write a book.”

I wanted to, I really did. I wanted to be a writer but I had no idea what to write about. I was good at expressing myself in words but I wasn't creating new worlds or going all J.K. Rowling in my free time. Reading and writing were private passions until my third child was born. Three daughters in four years, it's all a blur. Do the math, people. That's a lot of crazy.

I was writing about my kids extensively, because that's what I do. I am compelled to write about my life. But because my husband and I lived hundreds of miles from our families, I was also sending out mass emails on a daily and weekly basis to update our families on our shenanigans. And I heard it again and again, “You should write a book.” (Please note: this doesn't always mean you should and I realized that this was my mom and she might be a little biased.) I thought I might have an audience when my family members started forwarding my emails to everyone in their contact lists and I began receiving feedback from people I didn't know. I started a blog and somehow convinced the editor of our local paper to let me write a weekly family humor column.

I realized I had plenty of material and a subject matter that I loved. I started writing furiously. I wrote while I fed my baby. I wrote while my two-year-old and four-year-old napped. I bugged the crap out of all my book whore friends-- because avid readers make great betas. I asked for feedback from anyone who was willing to give it. I joined my local Writer's Association and started going to group meetings to get feedback from people who weren't my mother.
I ordered books about writing query letters. I quietly stalked the Query Shark and any other resource I could find online and started writing drafts of my letter. I purchased 'The Writers Market' and started looking for agents who represented non-fiction humor and women's interest books. And I sent out my first few queries.

I queried widely and was rejected widely. Every time an agent was kind enough to tell me why they said no I did what I could to change that part of my letter. I read as much as I could in my genre and poured over the acknowledgments to see if the author had thanked her agent and I made a magical discovery. My three favorite humorists all thanked their agent-- Jenny Bent. And when I say “favorite” writers, I mean like The-Beatles-Favorite. Like if I saw them in person, I would hyperventilate and pass out.

I began stalking Jenny. Not scary-stalking, let's all remember that I had three kids under four years old. I didn't have time to wipe after I peed, much less be threatening and what not. But I began reading interviews with Jenny online, learning what she was looking for and what she liked to read. I read her client's blogs and one of them even sent me a copy of her query letter.
By the time I wrote my query to Jenny, I felt like I knew her. The letter I wrote to her was more personal and more reflective of my writing style than any of the others. But still, before I pressed, 'Send,' I almost chickened out. Jenny Bent was totally out of my league. As other agents had pointed out my one little local newspaper column wasn't a big enough platform. This was my first book, and many authors never get their first book published.

Another agent had a requested a partial and a book proposal and I was waiting to hear back from her. My last thought before I sent the email was, “It's not going to hurt anything to send it. She'll probably never read it anyway.”

I received an email within the week from one of Jenny's readers saying Jenny wanted to read the full manuscript and I almost blacked out. I sent the manuscript and tried not to think about the fact that the agent who represented three of the funniest women on the planet had my manuscript and was actually reading it.

I received an email from Jenny's assistant only a couple of weeks later saying (this is burned into my brain forevermore) “Jenny is on a plane, doubled over in laughter reading your manuscript. She wants to offer you representation and would like to set up a time to talk to you.”

I screamed so loudly I woke up all three of my sleeping children. (Waking children during nap-time is a mortal sin and I've almost popped a cap in the UPS man for ringing my doorbell before. Even though he was bringing me magical under-eye makeup from Sephora.) I ran screaming through my yard to my neighbor's house and almost gave her heart attack.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Authors don't get signed from the slush pile. Not to high caliber agents. But I did. Jenny Bent is careful with her queries, people. She doesn't want to miss anything.

For the last two years, Jenny has been an amazing mentor and editor. Her first revisions, though VERY kind and 100% accurate, hurt. We cut over half of the material and did a major rewrite. But she saw my strengths and my potential. Her advice helped me find my voice. She encouraged me to focus on my strengths and to throw away what was subpar. She helped me shape my manuscript into a book that we both love.

My platform has grown. I have self-syndicated my column in three states. I have found outlets online and in print for my writing. And while I've been “waiting for something to happen” I wrote another book. I have learned that publishing is a slooooooow business and I haven't published anything, yet. But I know I will. Because I believe in myself, and so does Jenny Freakin' Bent.

Read the best of Robin's Chicks, Robin's blog about about surviving motherhood with three daughters and a sense of humor. Learn helpful tips such as: how to breastfeed behind your back*, how to talk to your daughters about male genitalia, and how to write a pet obituary.

*Only applies to lactating women with a DD cup or larger.


  1. Laughing! Very delightful post, Robin. I did enjoy reading it.

    And, please, please, you must take a moment to wipe. Ahem. *cough*

  2. I love this! Finding out the intelligent, pragmatic methods of other writers seeking representation has been so useful. It makes getting an agent seem less like luck and more like hard work. Hard work I can do. Luck.... can't say that I've had a lot of experience with that.

  3. Pretty sure I'm not Robin's target audience, but that post was great - she's one funny lady.

  4. Thanks guys!!

    Rachel, DON'T give up!! And seriously, aim high! I was scared to death to query Jenny and LOOK WHAT HAPPENED!!

  5. That was a great read! Congratulations, Robin, and I hope things just keep getting better for you.

  6. What a great story. Best of luck! Can't wait to see you published.

  7. Great post! I feel the same way about Jenny. I will stalk her and keep writing books until she either takes out a restraining order against me or signs me.

  8. throughout my life I have been told repeatedly, “You should write a book.”

    I know that feeling well. I think that the worst part about novel writing is the query process. It is nearly impossible to include all of the twists and turns and underlying themes of a complete manuscript into just one page. I've never lacked for being able to come up with a story line, but I struggle with the query.

  9. Robin is as funny as she is generous. She will give your her third arm right off of her back, just as soon as she finishes wiping.


  10. "I quietly stalked the Query Shark"

    I must admit, this made even the Fierce Finned One smile.

    Also, Jenny is the cat's pjs and when your book is published I will be right there to buy it.

  11. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Though I did get a visual of your Cirque du Soleil breastfeeding technique, I am truly inspired. Thank you! *pulling out the quill

  12. SHUT UP JANET REID!! I got a SMILE?!! Gonna go check that off of my bucket list! And really THANK YOU for all the free info and instruction you offer to our community!

    @Joani, I definitely I have a second career as a contortionist if this whole writing thing doesn't pan out...

  13. Writing while napping, the kids not me, was the best. Quiet house, dog asleep on couch, my Selectric Electric humming, me tapping out a was grand until I found a dead frog, as flat and as dry as a piece of rice paper, under the pile of laundry on the basement floor. It was February and at the bottom of the heap were our bathing suits from the previous summer. I never told the kids I killed Kermit.
    Robin, cherish these early wacky years...blink...and they are gone.

  14. Hi Robin- Thanks for the great post. I have a couple of questions for you- Did you get your writing start as a blogger and is your blog a series of "blogs" or funny stories? I'm curious as to what sort of format you submitted with your query to BA. Thanks for all the info, it was very inspiring!

  15. Robin,
    You just did a terrific job reminding all of us yet-to-be-published authors how important it is never to give up.

    I, too, am a Mom of young-un. I quit full-time work in 2009 as a Boston Globe editor/reporter not long after my son was born. I also wanted to pursue my dream of finishing a memoir.

    I have and I now am in the querying stage. After nearly 25 years of always getting yeses on nearly everything I pitched, I'm learning how to take it when someone says no. My response - while my son's napping or in his few days of day-care - I try again - and again!

    I love how you write about 'stalking' agents. I suspect, though, that you did it with aplomb and respect. Well, I know you did or you never would have gotten the coveted yes.

    I look forward to reading your books. Then again, phew! My son is pretty much done with potty training now.

    All the best,


    Your writing is clear and ever so funny.

  16. I queried Jenny, but haven't heard back yet...of course it's been all of two days! I'm not above a little stalking if that's what it takes...LOL This is just the most frustrating part of the experience! I want to jump up and down in this sea of people and scream, "look at me...look at me! I blog! I write! I'm funny!" Oh well...time will tell. It's not like I'm giving up on this little quest of mine!

  17. Hi MarryMead! Click on the link above and pop over to my blog. You can see what it looks like and shoot me an email and I'll send you a copy of my query letter!

  18. Linda,
    I TOTALLY feel you. Rejection totally sucks. (That was deep, no?) Don't give up! I would think that with your experience, it won't be long until you'll find a new niche for your writing!

  19. What an incredible story! I really enjoyed reading it. I'm glad your querying process ended in success, Robin. Your voice is funny and down-to-earth. It's no surprise Jenny scooped you up.

  20. Ahhh, but your stories bring back so many memories! I'll look for you in print; can't wait to read you! You have the type of humor that tickles my funny bone. Is there anything funnier than raising a child?

    I would LOVE to read your query letter. My husband, the novelist, has been frought with rejection and I think it stems from a bad letter (the book is, of course, FAB!). We sit up nights re-writing his query over, ad nauseum.

    Much luck with your book(s); there will be many, I'm sure!


  21. Wow...I loved this post! Thank you, Robin, for finding the time to tell your story about how you found representation with Jenny Bent.

    I completely understand the trials and tribulations of wanting so desperately to write that book while also being a full time Mom. I had three kids in twenty months and I know the kind of crazy of which Robin speaks. As a mom and writer, I find great encouragement from her humor, persistence, hard work and success.

    Like Robin, I've also read so many inspiring words from humor authors I love who are also represented by Jenny Bent. She is the first agent I'm sending a query letter to once my manuscript is complete!

  22. This was utterly hilarious and I share your stalkerism. I've interacted with Jenny on two occasions and she's my dream agent, too :-) I can't wait to hear you've gotten the deal because I'm betting the book is an uber gem.

  23. And... your Twitter account calls me an idiot. Venturing Amazonward to acquire said book. SMH