How I Got My Agent
I have always loved reading other writers’ stories of how they found their agents. When I was querying I absolutely DEVOURED every post I could find on the subject. As a writer with no real-life writer friends at the time, and like, ZERO exposure to the industry, these posts were as life-giving as water to me. So, drink up, friends! Here’s one more writer’s account of their querying process.
Ever since elementary school I have loved writing. Over the years I wrote (terrible) short stories, binders and binders full of poems, and several thick journals’ worth of diary entries. But I didn’t start writing my first real novel until 2014. It took me about six months in all to write and edit it, and in the end it was a 70k word bundle of overused tropes and flat, cardboard characters. But at the time I was CERTAIN that this book was IT. My bullet to writing superstardom.
Shocker… it wasn’t.
Though that story never got me an agent, I did develop some solid querying habits with that first project that might be helpful for writers about to dive into the trenches:
I researched the living HELL out of every agent before I sent them a query. Are they reputable? What are their query requirements? What about special interests - do they have something listed in their bio that might relate to my project, or me as a person? It’s all about personalization, friends!
I STAYED ORGANIZED
I have always been a bit of an Excel nerd, but the query process was the first time I ever brought it into my writing (though now I also use it for outlining). I had a big spreadsheet with columns for the name of the agent, their pronouns, the agency they were with, their email (or submission form link), and their submission requirements. Additionally, I had columns containing whether or not their agency was a “no from one is a no from all” agency, the date I submitted to them, and the date of rejection. This spreadsheet became MY LIFELINE.
I STARTED TALKING TO OTHER WRITERS
Before querying, I was writing in a bubble. It wasn’t until I started the query process that I realized I might need some allies in those trenches with me. I started on a writing forum that I won’t name, that actually ended up being pretty toxic and full of some pretty rude people, but ended up finding the writing community on Twitter, where I’ve made some real, legitimate friends.
During that first trip into the query trenches, I drowned in form rejections. I was disconsolate, and honestly for a short while I considered giving up altogether. But, as I’m sure my fellow writers here know, writing is in your blood, and giving up isn’t really an option.
After my first failed attempt at querying, I focused all my energy on improving my craft. In fact, I wrote three more books before I even queried again. That may sound insane, but I’m going to tell you, for the second book I attempted to query, I got two offers of representation. Guess how many agents I submitted it to?
Part of the reason for that was definitely the fact that I took a few years off to hone my writing and pitching skills. Another part of the reason is the strategy I used this second time around, which I’ll outline below. Of course, the third part of the reason for my 100% offer of rep rate on that project was just some good old fashioned luck.
For my second attempt at querying, I sent zero cold-call query emails. Instead, I went for a more targeted approach:
LOCAL WRITING CONFERENCES
This one is tricky because it costs $. The conference I found was less than 30 minutes from my apartment at the time. There was an overall fee for the sessions and entry, and then you could purchase slots for face-to-face pitches with real-life agents! I didn’t have a ton of spare cash, so I only purchased one pitch slot, and that agent was interested enough to request my manuscript. A few weeks later, she ended up calling to offer me representation.
TWITTER PITCH CONTESTS
I started participating in Pitch contests on Twitter! The concept is simple, if you’re not familiar. On the day of the contest, you tweet out a short pitch of your novel with a designated hashtag. Agents and small presses then browse that hashtag, and Like any pitches they’re interested in seeing more of. I didn’t get a lot of Likes. I got a few from small presses, but I really wanted an agent to help me through the process. Only one agent Liked my pitch. I sent her the requested materials. She offered rep a short while later, and now she is my wonderful agent!
There are hundreds of different paths to getting an agent, and this is just one example! I guess the biggest piece of advice I have for querying writers is to take the advice “never give up” with a grain of salt.
Never give up on the dream of publication, of course! But sometimes it’s okay to give up on a project, take a step back, and recalibrate. If I had just kept throwing queries at the wall for that first project, I might still be querying. Or I might be so bitter and defeated that I would have given up on my dreams altogether.