Thursday, February 10, 2011


Truth time: I did permanent damage to my right foot trying to squeeze my toe into the tiny crack in the door of the publishing world. Took seven and a half years of full-time effort to get to that first publishing contract, after all.

…But how did I snag that deal? How did I manage to see my book on store shelves? Was it through the tireless efforts of an agent? Do you have to have an agent to get that toe in the door?

Okay—here’s the deal. When I got my master’s, in the spring of ’01, I decided to throw myself into my writing full-bore. I had no other job than to write and submit (thanks to financial support from my family). And write and submit I did…

Back then, the advice I was reading was that you really didn’t need to try for an agent until you’d published a novel…so my initial submissions were to editors only.

Over time, my rejections stopped being form letters and became long-winded explanations as to why my submitted novel was not quite ready to be published. Editors were inviting me to resubmit after revisions took place.

…As the years went by, the going advice to writers trying to break in was that you shouldn’t seek an agent unless you’d written a novel—far different advice than I’d read after first graduating.

Still, though, I was getting so close to publication with those editors—I could practically taste it!—that I continued submitting straight to them. And resubmitting. And submitting again.

…Around the beginning of 2008, I decided to take the leap and start submitting to agents as well. (I wondered if a push from an agent wouldn’t be the special-something that finally did seal a deal.)

But I didn’t quit submitting to editors, either. I sold A BLUE SO DARK myself, to Flux, in early 2009 (I also sold PLAYING HURT to Flux shortly thereafter).

And under the heading of, “When Your Luck Changes, Man, Does It Change,” I also signed with an agent in 2009. She sold my first middle grade to Dial (to be released in ’12).

Do I adore my agent? YES. 100%. But my debut novel proves that it’s still absolutely possible to sell a novel on your own. The thing is, the path to publication is as unique as the novel you write. No one can really tell you how to find the right path to publication, because your novel will have its own journey. That’s the gritch and the beauty of it.

…So the worst thing I think a burgeoning writer can do is explore only one avenue, one path to publication. Try anything and everything. The only thing that’s certain when you’re attempting to snag your first deal is that you never know where that first deal will come from.

…Today’s post comes from a question courtesy of Kate Higgins.


  1. Thanks so much for the post, Holly. It is a much better answer than the "Yes, you need an agent but maybe not." kind of answer I've heard before.
    My first picture book (author/illustrator) had a publisher and got as far as going to catalog in the fall of '09. Just before the economy tanked. The PB was orphaned because the niche publisher couldn't risk doing a picture book outside of their main line of pilot, flying and plane instructional books. The book is about a pig who heard the saying, “when pigs fly” and proceed to find how when and how they flew.
    That disappointment made me decide to get an agent...but I did get a publisher once so I could do it again...but I didn't enjoy all the contract negotiations...and an agent would know all that...but I did have a contract all worked out...but...
    So I’ve just kept working at my day job and kept writing and illustrating and wondering and being afraid to try again etc. I now have six PBs polished with illustration examples and one MG in revision. And about 45 ideas for more:)
    Agent or editor or maybe both sounds good to me.

  2. Kate--that's so painful to get your first book yanked! I so admire you for just plugging ahead. I know how heard it gets sometimes...I honestly believe every single writer gets there eventually. The only ones who don't are the ones who give up...


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