How I Got My Agent

I’ll be honest: part of me didn’t think I’d ever write this post. I used to dream about doing so, especially on the days this dream felt furthest away. Please allow me to scream:

I’VE SIGNED WITH A LITERARY AGENT!!!!!!

Okay, now that the shrieking is out of the way (for now, because who are we kidding?), I’ll focus on sharing my path to securing a literary agent. If you’d like to go straight to the query stats, scroll down!

This is the third manuscript I’ve queried, though I often consider my first book (a YA contemporary sci-fi) more of a trial run in learning how to write a novel, and just as importantly, learning the discipline needed to become an author. It taught me so, so much, and while I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day, that first book walked so my future stories could run.

My second book took two years to complete, and I finished it last summer, July 2020, at 29 years old. I’d spent countless hours working on it, breaking it down, and building it back up. I got close to getting into some mentorship competitions, something I didn’t even know existed while working on my first book. I found amazing beta readers and critique partners, and I was learning so much with every story I read and every revision round on my own work. I felt this was the one, and I was going to make it: I was going to sign an agent before I was 30. 

I did not.

I talk a LOT about what happened in this post, but the short version is that it wasn’t the right time for that story and the market. Before bombing in the query trenches with it, I didn’t understand just how much the market played into what books get picked up. My book was mocha ice cream when the industry wanted peppermint. I could have the best mocha in the world, but if people aren’t feeling it, they’re not feeling it.

Yes, it’s possible my book wasn’t as well written as I believe it is, but based on everything I’ve experienced and have learned about the publishing industry, I genuinely believe it’s a timing thing.  It was hard letting go of that book, but I told myself that it wasn’t a good bye, it was a “see you later.” The industry has a habit of swinging back around, but I knew I had to let go for the timing being. I had to write something else.

By September 2020, I knew what I wanted to write. I’ll remember it forever, the moment I thought of it. I was standing in my kitchen, thinking about The Mummy (1991), one of my all-time favorite movies. I randomly thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if they were gender-swapped?”

I paused. Gasped. Holy crap, wouldn’t it be fun to write that? I was buzzing like no caffeine high had ever given me. I reached for my phone and immediately started writing notes on the Notes tab, random thoughts that were flying into my head with dizzying speed. This maelstrom of half-sensical notes included the line, “I always knew I’d die hunting for treasure.” That’s the book’s very first line, and I hope it never changes.

After putting together a proper outline and speaking with a few very trusted friends to help me find any plot holes, I started my first draft on September 15, 2020. Like my second novel, I was set on drafting it in 30 days, and I’m proud to say I accomplished that again. It was amazing seeing how…not bad it was? Compared to my previous first drafts. It needed lots of work of course, and by the halfway mark, I knew I wanted to turn it into a dual POV novel, but it was thrilling to see how much my skills had grown. My dedication over the years was paying off.

I want to say I knew I had something special with this novel, but I was scared. I was still receiving query rejections on book #2 at a painfully frequent pace, and though I was pretty sure timing and the market were the culprits, it’s hard to always have ironclad confidence. Maybe my writing really wasn’t great. Maybe this story wouldn’t work out either.

Maybe none of my stories would work out.

This was six months into the pandemic, and like many people, I was struggling. I was experiencing loss, isolation, and grief. My anxiety was spiking. I had an unexpected medical complication months before that where I needed surgery, and it’s still taking time to get over the trauma of that experience during the height of the pandemic. I felt very, very alone.

Despite everything, this adventure story was like a flame in my heart. It let me mentally get out of my apartment when the borders were closed, and it let me travel when there were no adventures to be had. I poured my hurt and rage into my main character, Aris, a girl brimming with fire who refused to let the world break her. I poured my grief and heart into my second main character, Killian, a soft, anxious scholar who still believed the world could be better.

I wrote this story for me, at a time when I needed it most. I wrote it knowing it may never hit shelves, or help me get an agent. I wrote it for every emotion I was feeling through one of the most challenging times of my life, and for that, no matter what happens next, I’m forever grateful for it.

When I started drafting on September 15, 2020, I was determined to write and complete the full story within a year. I believed I could do it, and I wanted to train myself for success if I ever got an agent. My first book took six years (on and off), my second took two, and I wanted this to take only one.

It did. ❤

I kicked off querying on September 15, 2021, with equal amounts excitement and trepidation. I had failed so spectacularly in the query trenches only the autumn before, and there was no guarantee of success with this book, either. Still, I was feeling somewhat confident: I’d been chosen and mentored through WriteMentor, and I’d gone through several rounds of revisions with critique partners and betas. I knew my skills had grown, and I hoped the market would be more in my favor than the last time. I knew the market wasn’t drastically different, but I still hoped it wouldn’t be quite as bleak. And I spent time working on my mental health, partially to help the blow of inevitable rejections.

The first few weeks were slow. I could tell I was in a few maybe piles thanks to QueryTracker, which was more than I could say about my previous book. In mid-October, I participated in the #PitDark Twitter event and received several agent likes, and I was absolutely over the moon. One of those happened to be Bethany Fulk of Holloway Literary, and since she didn’t have specific guidelines posted if she liked a tweet, I followed Holloway’s normal query submission guidelines but put #PitDark in my subject line and noted it in the first paragraph. That was October 14, a month into querying, and I expected to wait a while for a response.

On October 24, I got a response back from Bethany, and my brain immediately assumed it was a rejection. Thanks, brain! It was not! It was a partial request for 50 pages, so I knew my opening pages were doing a good job at hooking people in. At this point I had another couple of requests, including several full manuscript requests, and I was feeling GOOD. 

By October 29, I received another response back, and once again assumed it was a rejection. But once more, the response was asking for more pages, this time the full manuscript. I’d never had a partial turn into a full, so I wasn’t sure how common it was. I was really excited!

I now had several fulls out and a partial, which was a billion times better than my previous experience in the query trenches in 2020. But I was incredibly cautious, too — I’ve had amazing writer friends have 10+ fulls out and not receive an offer, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I also knew we were quickly approaching the holiday season, and I’d resolved to spend the first couple weeks in November querying before stopping and resuming in January. After all, most fulls take months for responses, so I wasn’t expecting anything.

On November 12, Friday afternoon, I got the email that made my heart stop.

Bethany was asking for a call. A call. I knew enough/frankly lived vicariously enough to know that a call usually means The Call, and my brain stopped processing. I stared at the email for at least a minute, stunned, before I swiftly messaged my husband. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like, “I THINK I GOT AN OFFER!!??” Even with everything right in front of me, I didn’t want to accept it in case it was a different call, such as a request for revisions (an R&R). He was on an important call, and I was freaking out waiting to talk to him. I messaged one of my friends, who couldn’t respond right away, so I was like a live wire, brimming with too much energy.

I messaged my CP group, with one word: “LADIES.”

They IMMEDIATELY responded with one word back. “OFFER??”

Thus began the happy shrieking, the wiping away happy tears, the feeling that my heart might burst. I was a ball of energy with my husband and a few very good friends, but I happened to be getting my COVID booster and flu shot within the hour. So yeah, you could say I celebrated with SHOTS SHOT SHOTSSHOTSSHOTS! (The medical kind only, jokes aside).

Before the shots, I emailed back, and we settled on speaking Monday afternoon. I spent Saturday resting up from the booster, and Sunday, my excitement turned to genuine terror and anxiety, which I wasn’t expecting. What if it wasn’t an offer of representation? What if we didn’t connect? What if she saw massive changes to my book that I wouldn’t want? What if she wasn’t interested in my career?

I have anxiety among other things, so it was an effort to keep my thoughts under control. When Monday mercifully came to put me out of my self-induced misery, I couldn’t focus on anything else. One of my agented friends told me how nervous she was before her own call, and that helped me feel less alone.

Looking back, one of the core reasons why the last few weeks have been a complete rollercoaster is because I felt completely out of my element, as I was now navigating something entirely new. I wasn’t alone, but this was the first time I’d ever had this experience as a writer, and it’s different from being in the query trenches together. Suddenly I was thrust out of my comfort zone–for years, I’d been working toward this moment. It just hadn’t totally occurred to me what would happen once I got there, or the sheer weight I would feel to make the right decision.

When the call finally came, I admitted to Bethany that I was pretty nervous. She said she was nervous too, and that helped me break the ice. From there, we spoke for nearly 90 minutes about my book, her thoughts on it, my career goals, possible editors we’d pitch together, and so much more. I had a list of questions I wanted to ask, many of which came from this unbelievably helpful post from VP agent at DG & B Jim McCarthy, and with every question Bethany answered, I felt so much more at ease with the idea of working together. She really understood my book and my goals beyond it, and I felt like we’d make an amazing team.

Following the call, I emailed every agent who either had my full manuscript, partial, or my query (unless it had been rejected). I used the same email chain or went through Query Manager if that was their preferred method, only I had updated the subject line to say OFFER OF REPRESENTATION at the beginning. It’s usually standard to give agents about two weeks to consider your work after you’ve received an offer, but because mine cut through Thanksgiving, we extended the time by several days to accommodate for the break. The last thing you want to do is cut any other potential offers short simply because you don’t give enough time! Bethany was very understanding and encouraging, and she wished me the best no matter which way I went. 

The next few weeks were strange. Suddenly, my inbox was brimming with emails from agents, either requesting the full manuscript or politely passing, most often because they didn’t have enough time to commit to reviewing the full manuscript, even with the additional time. This is common! But it was odd because I’d gotten so used to form emails from agents that getting very quick, personalized responses back felt surreal. Everyone was incredibly nice and wished me well, told me how much they loved the concept, and congratulated me on my offer. 

It was also strange because I felt so great about Bethany, so I both wanted more offers but…not? I felt like I had someone who understood my vision and goals perfectly, and who I connected with on a personal level, and I found myself already imagining working together through revisions, going on submission, and all the next steps. Still, I wanted to do due diligence and take the proper time to let everything come in. This is a massive decision, and as much as I wanted to make it and be done, I made myself stay patient. I’d waited years for this moment, what were a few extra days?

A side note: if you receive an offer you know you don’t want, I’d highly recommend not emailing agents about an offer. You may not receive another offer, and many agents may not have time to review your work under your shortened deadline. Think carefully!

In the end, after nearly three looooong weeks, I asked Bethany for a video chat to tell her I was accepting her offer. Watching the joy light her face was priceless, and it solidified everything I’d already been feeling. We’re going to make an incredible team in 2022, and I truly can’t wait for this next step!!

QUERY STATS FOR BOOK THREE: 

Total queries sent: 50
Full requests: 7
Partial requests: 4
Likes from Twitter Pitch Events (two total in October): 10
Offers: 1
Days spent querying: 57

Queries sent on book two before pausing (fall 2020): 34
Queries sent on book one (2018): 17

If you’re querying right now or are feeling down about the journey, I see you. I’m sending you so much support, and I’m here to talk if you’d like. It’s hard out there, and it’s taken me years to get here. I know how much it hurts sometimes. I know what it feels like to have tears in your eyes even while wishing someone else congratulations. I know what it feels like to think it’ll never happen. To feel foolish for trying.

No two timelines are the same, and there’s no expiration date on your dreams. It’s okay to take breaks, to feel what you’re feeling, to need time. Just know you’re not alone.

I also encourage EVERYONE to read Maria Tureaud’s recent Twitter thread about the publishing industry and the difficulties of querying right now. It’s a little tough to swallow, but arming yourself with knowledge is one of the best ways to keep from feeling like you’re a failure if you haven’t reached your goals yet (at least for me). If querying feels even harder lately, it’s because it IS. Same with sub. Now, it doesn’t mean we should all give up, but it does mean that understanding the landscape and how it may affect you will help you have more realistic expectations about your goals. For me, I’m mentally fortifying myself to not become a runaway hit on submission. 

But that’s all for 2022 me. This is my last week of work, and I’ll be spending the last part of 2022 relaxing, recharging, and being with my family. It’s been a LONG year, full of some incredible highs and some very low lows, and I want to come into the new year refreshed. I’ll also be spending some time learning more about the submission process, something I’ve only known about on a high-level up to this point. So many new adventures to come in the new year! 

Wishing you the absolute best holiday season as we close out 2021. Remember, there are no deadlines on your goals! 

Sending you hot cocoa with extra whipped cream and sprinkles,
Valerie

Note: photo is one I took of a letter I wrote myself ❤

2 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s