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Tips from a Slush Pile Find:
How One Writer Got an Agent

By Ronlyn Domingue
Author of The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel

When people ask how I got my agent, I often respond, "Divine intervention."

In May 2003, I finished my first novel, or thought I had. Within a few days, I mailed query letters and excerpts to five agents, one of whom I'd met at a conference. Three sent polite rejections, one read the manuscript then declined, and the last (the one I'd met) said he liked what he saw but didn't think it was finished yet.

I revised The Mercy of Thin Air one last time, my confidence solid. The manuscript went back to the interested agent -- then he passed on it. Frankly, we were both disappointed things hadn't worked out. And I don't recall breathing for about a month.

Once I emerged from the anaerobic stupor, I approached my agent search like a job.

First, I set my criteria. I only considered agents who were members of the Association of Authors' Representatives. I wanted someone with a track record of sales to major publishing houses. And finally, which was out of my control, I wanted an agent whose faith in this novel was as intense as my own.

Second, I created a database that held the names, addresses, and pertinent information on dozens of agents. They represented writers I liked or novels similar to mine in subject matter or theme. Each was ranked based on how interested I thought they'd be in my work and on how much information I could find. Some were held pending more research; others marked "do not send" because they were allegedly disreputable.

Third, I sent out individually tailored queries and accompanying excerpts to those ranked highest in my database. In total, I submitted to 60 agents. From 50, I received outright rejections. The other 10 read the manuscript. I was surprised to get sincere compliments from several who declined and equally bewildered by those whose soul-testing, awful comments made me question my very existence.

Yet, there was Agent #10. Call it a miracle, indeed, because the first 30 pages of my novel arose from a slush pile into the hands of an intern who gave it to the agent who was, in turn, intrigued enough to see the whole manuscript. In late August 2004, the phone rang (good news doesn't come in an SASE) and on the other end was Jandy Nelson -- an AAR member who routinely sold her authors' work to major houses and who loved The Mercy of Thin Air as much as I did.

Occasionally when I tell this story, an acquaintance will stare in horror and gasp, "You sent to how many? It took how long?" My response is always the same: "It's all about persistence." This is a competitive business we've chosen -- or been dealt -- and only the persistent survive to get published.

Below are some tips I developed that I hope will be helpful to other not-yet-published writers. You might get lucky with the first submission -- or it may take you 50, 100, or 200 attempts. No matter what, you must have an unwavering faith in what you created and be willing to keep trying.

Copyright © 2006 Ronlyn Domingue

Author Bio
Ronlyn Domingue
is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air (Atria Books; September 2005; $24.00US/$33.00CAN; 0-7432-7880-1). She lives in Louisiana and is at work on her second novel. For more information, please visit