Learning the secret handshake: what happens after the agent? – Rena Olsen

By  |  0 Comments

By Rena Olsen

When I was a baby writer, fresh-faced and full of hope for my future books, I looked at agented writers as some sort of demi-gods. They had found it, that elusive formula that made an AGENT fall in love with them. Surely, if I could just figure it out, everything would be smooth-sailing from that point on. Oh, Baby Writer Rena.♥

Four years, three unpublished manuscripts, and one agent later, I am on the cusp of seeing my book baby released onto shelves. I can’t tell you everything that I learned during that time. I have a limited number of words here, after all.

That time between signing with a literary agent and a book showing up on the shelves was always a bit of a mystery to Baby Writer Rena. Once the author learned the secret handshake, what other rituals did they do? How did that mess of words turn into a real live book? Everyone’s journey is different, but I will share just a bit of what the last twenty months or so has looked like for me.

After signing with Sharon Pelletier of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management in late 2014, there was no time to sit back and enjoy what I assumed would be a smooth ride to the next stage. Sharon and I worked my manuscript through several rigorous revisions, moved scenes around, added words, and changed the title before sending it out on submission mid-January 2015. Less than two weeks after my manuscript went out to editors, I had a book deal with Putnam (Penguin/Random House).

Now was my time to rest, to bask in my new author status.


The editing process with my publisher was even more strenuous. The initial edit letter was eight pages long. My first editor left the publisher, and thankfully someone equally as fabulous took over. Fabulous as she was, she worked both me and my story hard. We changed the title again, and in a few months we were done!

Or so I thought.

I have no idea how many rounds of edits there were. Different cold readers and copy editors would send notes. The galley pages had to be proofed (after I stared at them for a good while because I was holding my GALLEY PAGES in my HANDS). There was a cover to give input on, acknowledgements to write. I started working with my publicist on marketing ideas and interview training. So much of what I was doing had nothing to do with actually writing, and I had the thought more than once that Baby Writer Rena had no idea what she was getting herself into.

And yes, that’s true. But I wouldn’t change it. I just received my box of finished copies of my book, and I cried. I have a feeling there are many more tears to come. Happy tears, frustrated tears, disappointed tears … but I will be grateful for each one.

If I took anything away from the past two years, and even beyond that, when I was still just writing to write, it’s that no matter where you are in your journey, the people you surround yourself with are just as important as the words you’re putting on the page. I would not have made it this far without the support of my family and friends, my amazing agent, my incredible editor, and the entire wonderful team at Putnam. There will always be people who want to bring you down, but as long as you’ve got a good system holding you up, you’ll be fine.

I will be leaning on these people extra hard as I dive into the release of The Girl Before while trying to draft my next book. But if one thing remains unchanged from the days of Baby Writer Rena, it’s that unbridled hope for every book yet to come.

Rena Olsen is an author of adult thrillers who believes in healthy amounts of pizza and sarcasm. When she’s not saving the world as a therapist, she’s exploring alternate realities on the page, filling the cheering section for friends, and pretending to be an adult. She lives and works in Des Moines, Iowa, with her two beloved house plants. Her debut novel, The Girl Before, is available now from Putnam (Penguin/Random House).


Leave a Reply