Friday, September 14, 2012

Agent Appreciation Week Continues with a Celebration of Poelle Power

When people hear the word "agent," they often envision weaselly men in dark suits and sunglasses or pushy, chain-smoking women with brash voices, à la Estelle from Friends:

Or, if an author is struggling to find a literary agent, he or she may be imagining stern individuals who revel in typing the word "NO!" while seated in lofty New York skyscrapers. Most aspiring authors are picturing Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada:

And if an author is reeling from the pain of dozens upon dozens of rejection letters, he or she is undoubtedly envisioning agents looking like this:

Yes, I too once felt intimidated by the daunting word "agent." In fact, after I worked like mad for years and finally signed with my first agent, I ended up needing to part ways with that particular individual, because we couldn't sell the type of book I wanted to sell. The perfect agent-author relationship still felt like an enigma to me.

Then, in 2007, I signed with a hardworking, entertaining, loyal woman who looks and acts nothing like the agent myths pictured above. Barbara Poelle of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency took a chance on one of my manuscripts, and when that particular book didn't sell, she stuck by my side and told me we'd eventually find a publishing home for one of my novels. We refused to give up on one another. We looked a little something like this:

Fast forward to 2011: We sold a novel that I had started writing in 2009: In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a YA ghost tale that's coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books/Abrams. I went from being a writer who used to break out in a sweat when sending out query letters . . . to an author who finally got to celebrate a first sale with the indefatigable person who helped me meet my goal.

A good agent will understand a writer's strengths and weaknesses. You'll be able to hear the excitement in her voice when she's madly in love with your book and fully committed to selling it, and her suggestions for improving your manuscripts will more than likely make all the difference in the world. I can't tell you how many times I hear Barbara's voice saying "Up the stakes!" when I'm working on one of my projects. She'll push me to go further and knows when I'm not producing my strongest writing, which in turn makes me work all the harder to create a book that will have a fighting chance in the competitive world of publishing.

An agent isn't a terrifying, callous entity who knows nothing about an author's delicate self-esteem. When all goes well, an agent is an essential member of your creative team who's entirely on your side, working as diligently as you are to get your book soldand making sure all goes well when you get that deal.   

Thank you, Barbara, for sticking by my side all these years! You are my publishing superhero.

Thor, attempting to look like Barbara Poelle.

Cat Winters was born and raised near Disneyland in Southern California, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA tale set in 1918 that's part love story, part ghost story, and part dark mystery—is coming April 2013 from Amulet Books/Abrams. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Cat's haunts:, Twitter, and Facebook. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads and Amazon.


  1. Love this! Barbara's part of an elite group. Wonder if she and Kerry are friends? ; )

  2. This is great, Cat. So glad you kept at it and found the right agent match!

  3. LOL. Love that Thor is trying to be Barbara. Congrats on your pub! Can't wait to read it, sounds really cool.

  4. Thanks so much, Ara, Elisabeth, and Monica. Barbara is truly that amazing.