How I Got My Literary Agent
I've been represented by a literary agent for a few months now, but never wrote my obligatory "How I Got My Agent" post. If you're in the writing world, you know it's a victory post for any writer who's endured the query trenches. It's meant to inspire and give others hope that out of hundreds of rejections, an offer could be coming soon. I didn't keep track of my querying stats, but I can attest to the length of time and endurance it takes most writers to acquire a literary agent. Saying that odds are poor is an understatement. However, the more you write, and the longer you try, your odds improve.
I started querying my first manuscript when my daughter was a baby. She's about to turn TEN now. It wasn't even the first novel I wrote. The first one was so terrible I pretty much pretend it never existed. The first novel I queried also ended up being the third novel I queried, but more on that later.
When I first started querying, I didn't know what I was doing. My word counts were too far off the mark, my story needed extreme edits. Not to mention, my query letter was terrible. I sent out large batches of queries using Querytracker, and received boatloads of rejections (except for one full manuscript request one year later!) Even though the writing was essentially good, the rejections made sense in hindsight. That's when I realized I needed revisions and this wasn't going to be easy.
So, I wrote another book. I sent out about 100 queries or so for that manuscript in batches of 10-15. My word count was right. I had a freelance editor edit it after the first batch of queries. Therefore, it was in much better shape. I received a handful of full manuscript requests. I entered contests and received requests in some of those contests, but ultimately nothing came of it.
At that point, I dug into working on my craft more. It's not that I hadn't prior to this; I read as many blogs from successful authors that I could get my hands on. However, I committed more to it (after writing 3 full manuscripts it was worth the investment). I began taking online writing workshops. I learned how filter words weakened sentences and adverbs were poor substitutions for strong verbs. I edited, and edited some more. Then I kept writing.
I went back to my first manuscript (okay second, but we'll say first palatable manuscript.) It was really starting to become something special. To be honest, that one still holds a place in my heart. I revised heavily. I entered it into the first Pitch to Publication contest. It became a finalist, selected out of thousands of manuscripts. Ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe how I felt the moment it was chosen. I got to work with an editor during the contest as well. She started working on it. I began revising. Then she disappeared. I tried to apply her advice throughout the rest of the manuscript on my own, sent it to critique partners, etc. I felt pretty discouraged because it didn't seem like a great sign that the editor had stopped editing or responding to emails. However, during the agent round of the contest, it received three full requests. and I was receiving a 10% request rate or so from the query trenches simultaneously. I queried over 100 agents, receiving amazing feedback: they loved the story, loved the writing, etc. Ultimately, I was told by an agent that she wasn't sure she could sell it, and as a marketer that made sense to me. It wasn't just about the quality of the work, it was also about the sell-ability.
I wrote yet another manuscript. I took a first page writing workshop with Manuscript Academy to make sure the beginning shined. I had multiple meetings with agents to get their feedback through MA. Before I was even done writing it, I had agents telling me to send the full manuscript when I finished. "This will be the one," I thought. But it wasn't the one. I entered it in a contest called Nightmare on Query Street. It was selected as a finalist. I didn't receive any agent requests from the contest. Then I received discouraging feedback from an agent who had the full. She said the writing wasn't good enough. I was crushed. I'd spent several years working on my craft. I had been told my writing was strong and I had a future in the industry when querying the previous manuscript. Was I just fooling myself? Was I really just not good enough?
I quit. I was done. I wasn't going to write anymore. I apparently wasn't a strong enough writer to make it in the industry, and had been querying for probably six or seven years by then, receiving hundreds of rejections.
But the journey didn't end there. The thing about being a writer is, it's innate. You have to write. It's not something you can just walk away from. Even though I was trying to avoid it, story ideas were floating in my mind. Characters were starting to make appearances and talk to each other. One day I pulled out my phone and started writing the first page to my next manuscript. Gradually, I wrote scenes that were playing like movies in my mind. It was just on my phone at first. Suddenly, a plot was emerging. I returned to writing on the computer, pulling the pieces together. Before I was a quarter way through, I plotted out the entire book.
I enrolled in a query writing workshop at MA before my manuscript was complete. I usually needed some help with queries and so I wanted to be prepared. I set up meetings with agents to receive feedback on my first ten pages. Then I paid an editor and an agent to help edit the first fifty. I was excited about the concept. I was also pleased my writing group was excited about the concept (thank you Mid May Writers!) Once the manuscript was completed, I started querying. In my first batch of five I got a full request. It ended in a rejection but the agent replied, "This is an amazing manuscript, but I'm going to pass. I just can't take on everything I love. But this one has been very difficult for me to let go of." It hurt to be so close and yet so far, but it also provided hope and fueled me. I continued revisions through critique partner suggestions and MA feedback. Then I sent out a few more query batches of five and got a few more requests. Before I had even queried forty agents, I had an offer of representation.
After a couple months of editing the manuscript with my wonderful agent, I went on submission. Just having the opportunity to have my book in the hands of big five publishing editors is an amazing feeling! It wouldn't have happened if I had stopped writing, stopped learning, and let those hundreds of rejections keep me down. Keep on writing my friends!