Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Feel The Fear – Do It Anyway

STATUS: Hum, I thought August was suppose to be the slow month in publishing. Not so much.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU by Foreigner

Last Thursday, Angie and I spent the day doing round-table chats with the graduates of The Denver Publishing Institute. The intensive month course ended and these 100 or so graduates are now making their way into a job market that is one of the toughest I’ve seen in years.

It’s true. But let that just be white noise as you move forward. You know this info but you aren’t going to let it rule what you will do. If you are determined enough, you can make something happen.

The year 2000 changed everything for me. I was a corporate trainer in my mid-30s making 6-figures doing training for fortune 500 companies. I worked 8 days a month. And I walked away because I didn’t love the job.

Folks thought I was crazy.

That was the year I had teamed up with a fellow corporate trainer and we did an awesome nonfiction book proposal. We had a well known literary agent. Our proposal was aggressively shopped and turned down all over New York (so I do, indeed, now what rejection feels like). But that was incidental. It was my “aha” moment that I wanted to be in this field but not on the writing side of things. But on the biz end.

But I was a corporate trainer. I lived in Denver. This was not the mecca of publishing in the year 2000 (and one would argue that Kate Testerman, Rachelle Gardner, and I do not a mecca make in Denver now)! I started researching what it would take and that showed me that I was going to have to work for an agent first to learn the ropes.

Not exactly a lot of possibilities available in my immediate geographic region. My husband and I sat down and formed a plan. If I had to, I would take a job at an agency in New York. We rock as a couple. We could commuter marriage for a year, two if necessary. That’s how important this was to me and I was determined to make it happen. I started applying for jobs. I went to New York and sat down with several agents who didn’t hire me but were awesome to talk to and encouraging.

Then I went to a local writers’ conference simply to meet the agents and network about jobs. I met an agent who had recently moved to Denver (previously with HarperCollins before having to relocate). She was looking for an assistant. I was looking for a job at an agency. Luck Luck Lucky.

Absolutely. But I was willing to do what was necessary and if New York had proved necessary, I would have done that so stay open. Work outside of “can’t” or “I can’t afford it” or “I don’t want to live in New York City.”

So I learned the ropes at that agency. I did the Denver Publishing Institute as a way of bolstering my network (which was very effective by the way as I sold my first book to a Penguin Editor who was a former DPI grad).

The day the program ended, I was ready. I had a $20,000 business loan and a five year plan and I opened my own agency on August 15, 2002. I gave myself five years to make a profit.

Year 1 – took a loss
Year 2 – took a loss
Year 3 – took a loss, did another business loan (my husband didn’t sleep at all that year as he was pretty stressed about the debt)
Year 4 – small profit so I hired an assistant.
Year 5 – took a loss because of the salary I paid my assistant (another sleepless year for the hubby)
Year 6 – a respectable profit!
Year 7 – an even bigger profit so hired a marketing director
Year 8 – stunned myself on how profitable we were becoming
Year 9 – a really stunning year so hired two more employees (our royalties and contracts manager and our digital liaison)
Year 10 – it’s our anniversary and we are celebrating on August 25th with our clients coming to town to join us. We are on track for our best year ever.

In 2002 for my first trip to New York to network with editors, I bombarded every friend I knew and asked if they had any relatives or friends who lived in Manhattan. They did. I slept on the couch in the apartment of people I had never met because they were family of friends of mine and they graciously opened their doors to me.  (HUGE THANK YOU!! You know who you are.)

Make stuff happen. You’d be amazed at how many people love to be enrolled in what you are doing if you just simply ask!

If I knew then what I know now, I probably would never taken that first step. Thank goodness I was blindly optimistic.

Feel the fear. Do it anyway.

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57 Responses

  1. XiXi said:

    This is really inspiring. A five-year plan for a profit sure makes the first four years a scary thing. Congratulations. I guess dreams do come true? 🙂

  2. Marie Lu said:

    Oh Kristin, this made me smile from ear to ear! I am SO extremely happy for you (and your hubby!)–what an incredible journey!!! Cheers to you and everyone at NLA for all the amazing success! Can’t wait to celebrate in person! <3

  3. Rachel Bates said:

    Thank you so much for this post. It’s inspirational for those of us still starting out, and congratulations to you on your anniversary and your success!

  4. Luke said:

    Really great story and one that should be read by people on both sides of the equation, the wanna-be writer and the wanna-be agent. Congrats on reaching the ten year mark and hope the next ten are even better.

  5. Julia K said:

    Thanks for sharing your story! Your husband seems fantastic and you must be one of the hardest working women out there 🙂

  6. Lauren B. said:

    I always admire people who are willing to take risks, whether they pay off or not. But all your clients and blog readers are just as grateful that it did!

    Side effect of this post: wondering what kind of corporate training you did. And I bet some others are thinking ‘where can I sign up’? 😉 Though agenting does sound more rewarding!

  7. Fred said:

    Not completely “blindly” optimistic. You have to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, you’re never “blind”.

  8. Jen Zeman said:

    What an amazing ride Kristin! Thank you so much for sharing, as it is proof-positive that if you want it bad enough and you’re persistent, anything is possible. So encouraging! :-)BTW, happy anniversary!

  9. KCallard said:

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story and congrats on celebrating your tenth year!

  10. michelleziegler said:

    This is very good to hear! I am glad to know people do make it in a career change. I myself am looking to change but I can’t afford to start at the bottom; so I am at a crossroad of what to do. Glad someone else made the transition and is making it!

    Even better I am so happy for you, finding something you love to do.

  11. Pandora Swift said:

    Very inspiring! I must be right on track, as my first three years writing full time have matched yours in terms of material success. I’m three months into year 4, having just completed my third novel. Oh boy!
    More importantly, I’ve found my passion, and sleepless nights aside, know that I’m on the right path. It’s all about persistance…

  12. Sherry Thomas said:

    I am so thrilled and proud for you!

    Now that is an example of doing things right. And of course, as a romance writer, it always makes me “awww” to see a couple who rock together.

    (The word verification process below, however, is going to give me fits, I suspect.) 🙂

  13. Colin Smith said:

    Huge congratulations on your tenth anniversary, Kristin! It took a lot of courage for you (and your husband) to step out and follow your dream like that. But often, that’s how dreams are made. Note to self there. 🙂

  14. Eleanor Van Natta said:

    Sometimes the best results come from ignorant/blind optimism. Great post, so glad I came here and read it. I especially liked the chronological part – it even brought some wet lashes. I love courage and happy endings. Happy anniversary :).

  15. Lea said:

    Fabulous post, thanks for writing such a helpful blog and sharing your insider perspective with such candor and professionalism. Your success is well-deserved!

  16. David Ramirez said:

    Congrats Kristin! Wish I could be there for the party, but it’s been too stressful around here to try to fit in an August trip with my wife taking the medical board exams and the storms and stuff. I’ll be traveling to the US probably a couple of times next year, so we can meet in person for sure at some point =P

  17. Maya said:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Kristin! It’s amazing; I had no idea that you hadn’t started in New York. What an inspiring climb.

  18. Jacqui Lim said:

    I love reading your posts and this one just reinforces why. My husband and I have gone through some difficult times, financially and otherwise and we have recently made decisions that have life benefits as opposed to financial benefits. But your story just helps me realise how important it is to look beyond the financial to the other gifts that life can give us and who knows but one day the financial woes may be a thing of the past too.
    Have a happy anniversary party.

  19. Lisa Joyce said:

    Congratulations on your anniversary! What a great achievement! I love the sentiment in your blog: Feel the Fear – Do It Anyway. I’m taking your advice! Hope to see you in Columbus at the 2012 COFW Conference.

  20. Ted Cross said:

    You’re still my dream agent. My fantasy may not have quite been what you wanted, but I think my sci-fi thriller will be the one that grabs you!

  21. Michael G-G said:

    Congratulations on following your bliss, and on your tenth anniversary. I remember sitting in on an agent panel at Willamette Writers conference (you must have been newly open at the time) and being inspired by your positivity. Good things come to those who work.

  22. Lucy's Mom said:

    Wow congratulations Kristin!! I’ve been following off and on for about seven of those years. I didn’t realize it had been so long. You have great taste, and I look you up every time I need a new book to read! I’m a career switcher too and it’s so nice waking up in the morning excited to get on with my day! Here’s to continued success for you!!

  23. Natalie Aguirre said:

    This is so inspiring. You’re so knowledgeable that I always thought you’ve been an agent for 20 years or more.

    Thanks for inspiring the rest of us to keep on taking risks to follow our dreams.

  24. Wm. Luke Everest said:

    This is a great reminder of how good things don’t come to those who wait, but to those who strive. A personal case in point: a little while ago I was frantically practising my craft at home, waiting for my stories to look as good as Ray Bradbury’s, when in a fit of despair I sent some work out into the world. A couple of weeks later I received my reply, along with representation by one of the biggest agents in the world. (I can still hardly believe it.) The lesson? Don’t agonise and don’t despair, just strive. I tell the whole story on my blog for helping aspirant writers, if anyone is interested: everestbyfog.blogspot.com

  25. Laura Lee Nutt said:

    I love this post, Kristin. “Feel the fear. Do it anyway,” can apply to any field. It’s going up there with my favorite quotes.

    Thank you for the inspiration, and congratulations on your success. May you enjoy many more years with even greater rewards.

  26. Anonymous said:

    First line: “supposed” (not trying to be rude — I do it all the time when I’m working quickly). Thanks for a great post otherwise!

  27. Farmer Kidd said:

    I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this was the best post ever – especially from an aspiring novelist’s point of view. Having a dream, clinging to it, getting rejected, making sacrifices, having zero guarantees and so on is what we live every single day. Thank you for continuing to inspire me, and have a wonderful (heartily deserved) celebration. Cheers from Down Under 🙂

  28. Andrea said:

    Wow! What a great story! Thanks for sharing it and reminding us all to have the courage and fortitude to follow our dreams. Congratulations on your success!

  29. moonduster said:

    What an inspirational story about how hard work and determination (and facing your fears) can help you achieve your dreams! I used the same approach to losing weight and succeeded at losing over 145 lbs and reaching a healthy BMI. Dreams are possible but they do take determination. 🙂

  30. chriskellywriter said:

    Very inspiring…you followed your “bliss” and succeeded while helping others do the same.

    Congrats on your well-deserved success. (LOL, I first mistyped “sell-deserved.” Maybe more appropriate?)

  31. chriskellywriter said:

    Very inspiring…you followed your “bliss” and succeeded while helping others do the same.

    Congrats on your well-deserved success. (LOL, I first mistyped “sell-deserved.” Maybe more appropriate?)

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