I can’t believe I actually get to write one of these posts. I can’t believe it’s going to pop up in someone’s Google search as they’re looking for guidance/solace/inspiration while on their own querying journey.
I can’t believe how much has changed in the past ten months.
I’m not going to go all the way back to the beginning when I was seventeen, a senior in high school, and writing my first book. If you want to read about my writing journey, my self-publishing career, or any of part of this ten-year process not covered in this post, feel free to peruse this blog, which I’ve been keeping since 2012.
What I will say about self-publishing is that while it was a great choice for my earlier works, especially my paranormal romance series, there was still something about the dream of seeing my books in an actual bookstore that I just couldn’t let go of.
So when I finished the initial version of Pen & Xander and realized that it was by far the best thing I’d ever written, I started to feel this spark, this itch to take a risk. To try something new. When the initial feedback from beta readers was resoundingly positive, I knew for certain I was ready for the next stage of my career and that this was the book that was going to get me there.
I spent a couple of years completely re-writing the story, interrupted constantly by the demands of my new teaching career. By year three of teaching, I finally found my footing, and as a result the time to write. By October 2018 I felt ready to query.
I didn’t do a ton of research. Instead, I focused on agents who were very vocal online about the inequities in publishing and who were also actively working towards addressing these inequities by signing clients from marginalized communities and championing books from diverse voices.
That October I sent out two query letters to two agents of color who I really admired. One sent me a form rejection. The other gave me some incredibly helpful feedback about my opening chapter and also commented on the overall word count being too long for YA. She was right. I knew I needed to cut several thousand words but I was still underestimating the amount of revisions I still needed to do.
Between November and December I re-wrote the opening chapter using the agent’s feedback and slowly began the process of making cuts.
December was a revelatory time for me. I’d been feeling like I was stuck in limbo in terms of my writing career, not sure if I was still on the right track; if I was actually talented enough to keep doing the work. I doubted myself. I doubted my life’s choices. I realized that most of them had been made out of fear. But I didn’t want to keep doing that. All of the sudden I felt this desperation to be brave. To make a declaration to the Universe that I was ready to go full force after this dream.
By January I took another step forward. Another agent who I was interested in querying, but who was closed to submissions at the time, was offering a manuscript critique through The Manuscript Academy.
The price for feedback on the first 100 pages was pretty steep. It felt like this enormous risk. But declarations to the Universe are no good without action behind them. Dreaming requires doing. And I’m so glad I did.
That agent’s feedback and encouragement lit a fire under me and I cut 30,000 words from the manuscript in two months. Then, in March, I stumbled across some information about DVPit, a Twitter pitch contest created by agent Beth Phelan to highlight writers from marginalized communities. My manuscript was ready just in time to participate and the whole thing felt meant to be.
I had one week to come up with my pitches and I used the videos and resources on the DVPit website to help me craft each of them. It was my very first pitch that got the most likes.
I made a list of all of the agents who’d liked my pitch, narrowed it down to agents who I thought would be a good fit, and then waited for the weekend to start querying.
Meanwhile, I was still working on manifesting my dreams. On setting specific goals and giving the Universe a specific timeframe by which to deliver them. For weeks, I kept a sticky note on my computer at work forecasting that I’d have an agent by Thursday. Why did I pick Thursday? I’m not sure, but like I said, it’s important to be specific.
As you can see below, several Thursdays passed before I got my wish. But I got it!
After querying, it didn’t take long before agents began requesting the full MS. Then an agent wanted to schedule a phone call.
That agent was Andrea Morrison at Writers House!
I want to pause here to say that I really didn’t know much about the differences between specific agencies. I couldn’t name any offhand, which meant I certainly didn’t know who represented which authors.
If you’re interested in doing some of this homework before you start querying (which, you probably should) I would suggest checking out the following resources:
- Query Tracker: This provides detailed agent info, as well as how long they typically take to respond to queries.
- Manuscript Wishlist: This profiles agents’ tastes and what they’re looking for.
- Publishers Marketplace: This shows how many deals an agent has represented, what kind of deals, and sometimes for how much.
What mattered most to me in an agent was working with someone who wanted to champion work from diverse voices and someone who was kind. Other authors may prioritize the business side of things more and that’s totally okay. But I wanted to feel safe in the relationship, safe to be vulnerable with my work, and supported emotionally as much as professionally.
What really helped me make my decision was speaking with Andrea’s current clients, who all adored her, and talked a lot about how kind and patient she is. I had a rough year concerning my mental health and there were times when my symptoms felt really out of control. So kindness, and especially patience, mattered a great deal to me. I’ve been doing better lately but I will deal with mental health issues for the rest of my life and I’ve yet to attempt to manage them under the stress of traditional publishing. For that reason, feeling emotionally supported was at the top of my list.
After signing with Andrea, I celebrated with cake, of course. But it still felt very surreal. I knew my manuscript was polished but I wasn’t expecting to get an agent that quickly after the contest. At first, my anxiety tried to convince me that it was a total fluke. But now I realize that it just meant I was ready. That the Universe had been waiting for me to get out of my own way so it could start to deliver those things I desired. Like a team. Connection. An awesome agent. Oh, and a book deal!
Just four months after #DVPit, I got an agent (a dream come true), and I got a book deal (my biggest dream come true). Was there luck involved? I’m sure. But was the entire thing a fluke? Absolutely not. Because I decided in December of 2018 that this would be my new reality. And from that moment on, I didn’t just wish for it. I ran towards it, arms out wide, scared but still reaching. Until those things I longed for reached back.