I just love sharing these stories. What could be better than a dose of happiness and inspiration! Thanks to Kara Seal for showing us what writing contests and conferences can do for you.
I found my agent through a good old fashioned writing contest. After unsuccessfully querying multiple novels and entering Twitter contests that (for me) didn’t pan out, I decided to try a different avenue. Because, why not? There is more than one road to any destination.
In 2014, I entered the Colorado Gold writing contest organized by my local writing organization, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I became a finalist, and researched the final judge, agent Shannon Hassan, who would read the finalist entries (first 20 pages + 5 page synopsis) and announce her pick for winner at the annual conference. At the conference, I met her in person and she gushed about how much she loved my entry and requested a FULL!! After nothing but lukewarm responses from querying and a couple partial requests that led to eventual rejections, I was sooooo excited! And to boot, I felt like we really connected on a personal level. So, I won the contest and sent her my full manuscript a week later. Mind you, I was tempted to send it right away but I did the wise thing and did one last read through to make sure it was in tip top shape.
Then I waited on pins and needles while she read it. I refreshed my email inbox more times than I care to admit. She emailed me a few weeks later to say she was enjoying my manuscript, and asked if I could send her sample pages from other projects so she could get a sense of the kinds of stories I like to tell. This, of course, was very exciting and nerve wracking because I’d never gotten such a positive response before! I polished some sample pages from old projects and sent them. And waited some more. And pestered my best friend and husband with questions like “Do you think this means she’s interested? This is a good sign, right?”
Maybe a week or so after that (not like I kept track, pfffft), she emailed again and asked if we could speak on the phone. When she called, I was so nervous I paced around the house while we talked. She gave me excellent feedback on my writing, I asked her a few questions, and then she offered me representation!!!! Since we’d already clicked in person and I’d done my research I said yes right away! She had a track record for selling books, she was a hands-on type of agent, and most of all she was genuinely passionate about my characters and my writing. She had all the qualities on my agent wish list.
After we hung up I was in a daze. Did that just happen? Was it all a dream? I’d been working up to this moment for so long it felt surreal. I called my husband, my Mom, and my best friend immediately to tell them the fantastic news. (This seemed a much more sane and practical alternative to singing it from the rooftops). My husband was thrilled, but said there was no way he could top getting an agent as a birthday present, seeing as this all happened two weeks before my big 3-0 birthday.
Signing with Shannon was a turning point in my writing career, and I am so excited to experience everything that comes next, including the good and the bad, because getting to this point has taken an insane amount of dedication and hard work, so now that I’m here I don’t want to take anything for granted! I encourage anyone still in the querying trenches to consider other alternatives. Sure, query, but enter Twitter contests, enter writing contests, go to conferences and pitch to agents in person. You never know which path will work for you until you try. And whatever you do, keep writing, keep improving, and keep striving towards your goals!
Kara Seal holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. By day, she's a Programming Assistant at a public library district. By night, she's a writer of young adult and middle grade fiction, and an active member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and SCBWI. Kara is represented by Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary. She lives in Colorado with her husband and their dogs, Link and Zelda.