How I Got My Literary Agent

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After years of writing, and a failed round of querying my first novel a few years back, I started querying my second book a few months ago. And…

IT WORKED.

I HAVE A LITERARY AGENT!!!

I signed with Caryn Wiseman, Senior Agent at Andrea Brown Lit, last month and I’m already amazed at how enthusiastic and insightful she is when it comes to my book!

I’ve been trying to temper my excitement, because I’m well aware that getting an agent doesn’t guarantee publication, but also, this is a huge, HUGE step towards my goal of becoming a traditionally published author. So screw it, I’m excited ūüėÄ

I would not be where I am without the help of other writers along the way. So¬†I wanted to share my process in the hopes that it may help you, if you are thinking of querying soon or in the distant future OR if you’ve already queried and it got you nowhere. Because BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.

So! Here is the long and winding road to how I got my agent.

1. I wrote a first draft.

I started writing my manuscript, now tentatively titled¬†Where the Water Meets the Sky, in 2014. (Yes, five years ago!) I started it around the time I was querying my first manuscript and getting partial requests, but no bites. It was the fourth¬†fifth manuscript I’d started writing, but only the second one I completed, after the one I’d been querying.

2. I took a break from that book.

Unlike my first manuscript, which I wrote and rewrote pretty much nonstop for five years, I took a break when I finished the first draft of this one and worked on something else. Why? It’s essential to my process. I needed objectivity in order to edit properly, and that’s something I can only get with time away from the work.

3. I found critique partners who were not friends and family.

A huge mistake I made with my first manuscript was only getting advice from people I knew and trusted. More on that here, but long story short: it’s essential to get outside eyes on your work. They spot things you don’t. Normally I say there are no hard-and-fast writing rules, you should do what works for you, but for this one I’ve got to say, I don’t know a single writer who’s written anything worth reading and not had outside help.

4. I revised.

And sent that draft out to more critique partners. And took another break. And revised again. I painfully killed several darlings. I can’t tell you how many times I did this over the past five years, because I lost count. Writing is rewriting.

5. I found a mentor (via #AuthorMentorMatch on Twitter).

I’m including this step not because everyone¬†has to enter this specific Twitter contest or even has to enter any contest at all. But while critique partner feedback was great, my story got the real boost it needed when I found my incredible mentor, Rebecca Barrow. She’s a published author who writes in the same genre as me (YA Contemporary) and she’s also just incredibly smart and insightful when it comes to seeing what’s wrong with a manuscript. Rebecca suggested I entirely rewrite half my book — and after initially balking at the amount of work it would be, I realized she was right. I rewrote half my book. Then sent it to Rebecca again. She sent me more feedback. I revised again. Then again. You get the idea.

6. I wrote a query letter.

Rebecca helped with this part, too. (I honestly don’t think I’d be here writing this post without her.) I’ll post my exact query in another post. She also helped me write a synopsis, which I was terrible at, as some agents require them (the one I ultimately signed with didn’t, but it’s good to know how to do in case you need it.)

7. I made a list of agents.

I started with a list of fifteen I really, really wanted. I made this list by looking up the agencies that represented all my favorite writers. Then I didn’t necessarily choose the specific agent who represented my favorite writers, but rather looked at all the agent bios on the agency sites and picked the agent who’d be the best fit for me and my work. That is how I found Caryn: Andrea Brown Lit Agency was on my list because I adore Maggie Stiefvater and they represent her. But she writes very different YA than mine, so when I went through the agency’s list of agents, I picked Caryn to query because in her bio she appeared to want exactly the type of story I wrote.

8. I queried.

Everything was ready around mid-October, but I wasn’t sure if I should query right away because of a looming life change. But I actually asked this question earlier on in my pregnancy on Janet Reid’s blog (a¬†resource if there ever was one)¬†and from her response as well as those of her readers, I decided to go for it.

9. Rejections rolled in. And then…

I was used to this from my first time querying. Did it take the sting out of it? No. It sucked. I got a few requests for partials, and then more rejections. But then I got an email from Caryn. She requested the full manuscript.

… And¬†then I got an email saying she loved it, she’d stayed up past midnight reading it, and she wanted to talk on the phone that week.

That week was also the week of my due date. But I threw caution to the wind and scheduled the call. (On my due date.)

I also freaked out.

10. THE CALL

Caryn was wonderful and warm and so enthusiastic about my story over the phone. It felt too good to be true. We had a candid conversation about my career, my book, her process. I compiled a list of questions to ask her (which I’ll also share in another post). And at the end of the call, she offered representation!

11. I waited a week (and had a baby in the meantime.)

Of course it happened that way. When it rains it pours. But after reading through a sample contract and talking to a lawyer friend, some of this done from the hospital bed post c-section (ugh), I told Caryn yes! She sent over the physical contract, I signed it and mailed it back, and voila, I have a literary agent.

And that is how I got my agent and lived happily ever after.

Just kidding. There’s a ton more work to be done on the road to publication, and right now I’m making major revisions to my “perfect” manuscript¬†yet again.

The biggest takeaway from this? Producing something good enough to garner the interest of an agent takes TIME. I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but most people I know were writing for years and had queried a failed project (or two, or five) before they wrote something that got them representation. If you’re looking to become a traditionally published writer, I firmly believe you have to play the long game.

Are you querying? Are you thinking of starting soon? Let me know if you have any questions!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

15 thoughts on “How I Got My Literary Agent

  1. I keep coming back to read this because it’s nice to see that other people are living the dream. I had two full requests that both turned into passes and I debated tossing the manuscript. But I went through a similar process (taking a break, revision, critiques, requery) and here’s hoping for the best!
    And on that note, Congratulations!!

    Like

  2. Enjoyed reading about your journey and congratulations! My manuscript is in the hands of 2 agents, and I‚Äôm sweating it. The waiting…maybe a pregnancy would distract me! Haha! At my age it would nigh kill me, but congrats on that too!

    Like

  3. I have been on a similar path with a book that I began in 2015, and am in the “still revising” stage. At one point I almost had an agent but they ended up not wanting it in the end (after several months of communication and partial, then full, manuscript requests). I have always enjoyed creative writing and am certain that not getting that agent was just a sign that I needed to spend more time working on my craft, and this particular story, before sending it out into the world again. Congratulations on landing an agent and doing so at such a pivotal moment in your life! I will definitely be perusing some of the blogs/posts you mentioned!

    Liked by 1 person

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