How I Got My Literary Agent
Updated: Jul 5
Hello all. So I’m bad at blog posts. Really bad. Which is why we are just going to jump right in. Here’s my how I got my agent post:
I wrote my book in June, finished it in August, and got my agent in September.
Yep. That’s it.
Okay, not really. In fact, that is only a fraction of the story. There’s a long history before this particular whirlwind and I hope sharing about it will inspire others. Or at least entertain you.
As a disclaimer: This post is long. Like, really long. If you want to skip all the struggles and the writing journey I went through and get right to the part where I find my agent, search for "The Day Everything Changed". Anyhow, here we go.
Where It All Started
It all started when I was in third grade and realized I liked writing…
Oops. Too far back? Okay, okay.
It all started when I was in college…
I always loved writing, and in the back of my head, I had a vague idea that I might want to be a writer one day. Like, a REAL PROFESSIONAL writer with books on the shelves and stuff. What it took to get there, I had no idea.
But my freshman year of college, in 2010, somebody told me about NaNoWriMo and I decided to go for it. I wrote a superhero story and was so proud of it. I finished it up, read through it once for edits, and decided it was ready to be published!
Oh, what a sweet, naïve child I was.
At that point I realized I had no idea just how one got published. I started to do some research, and that’s when I learned you don’t just send stuff to publishers. You need a thing called an agent? You have to write a query? What even is a query?
Despite my questions, I wasn’t too worried. After all, I had my book that I wrote for NaNoWriMo and it was brilliant. Who wouldn’t want this book?
I sent it out to a few agents, using a form letter titled “Dear Agent”. I’m pretty sure there might have been typos in my query too. I was hot stuff, y’all.
Shockingly I got rejections. Every single response was a rejection.
It devastated me. All those rejections felt like a knife to the heart. I stopped querying that book pretty soon after.
Truth be told, my superhero story was terrible. I don’t regret writing it. I learned a lot about writing from it and had a ton of fun. Buuuuuut… it was bad.
I recovered quickly from my dissapointment. I had IDEAS for other stories. Throughout my four years of college I wrote a lot of first drafts. I probably wrote the first draft of 5 or 6 different stories, some of which I still have, and some of which are lost forever.
I had a MG fantasy story about a girl in a kingdom with an evil tyrant king. I tried querying that one too (I think I sent 4 or 5 queries for it) and then gave up. I had a YA story about a reporter in a fantasy world trying to find an adventuring party to tag along with. I even had a post apocalyptic story. My writing was all over the place, but I never really went past the first drafts.
At the time, I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know HOW to get past that first draft. I didn’t know anything about beta readers or critique partners. Nor did I understand the importance of editing and revising. I still had a long ways to go.
The Story of My Heart
During my senior year of college, I wrote a Steampunk MG Fantasy. I loved this story and spent a year perfecting it. This time I had beta readers. Kind of. My close friends read it for me. They gave me feedback and I used that to revise and rewrite until I thought it was perfect.
In 2015 I was ready to query. I sent out a TON of queries. Most of them were form queries, but this time I at least remembered to include the agent’s actual name on them. I blasted queries out.
And then came the rejections. One after the other. Some queries got no response, but those that did? It was all rejections.
I stopped querying and went back to revising. I spent the next few years revising and rewriting it. At the same time, I was going into my second year of teaching. While I would work on writing here and there on the side, most my focus went to learning how to be a decent teacher. Writing took a back seat for a couple years. Occasionally I’d convince myself it was ready, send out a query or two, then go right back to revising.
I wrote a few other books too, including one about a Tree School and a silly parody of fairy tales. But in the end, I always returned to my Steampunk Fantasy.
Then finally, I was ready. I had revised it, reworked it, and even had a couple more friends read it. Everyone seemed to like it. In early 2019 I sent out another massive round of queries. This time I researched agents, personalized the queries, and did everything I could to do things right. I sent out nearly thirty queries in the new round… and nothing. No partials, no full requests, nothing. No luck.
The Next Steps
At that point I realized that I needed to do something different. I decided to try and get more involved with other writers, to find whatever that missing puzzle piece was that would make my writing successful. My husband (then fiancé) encouraged me to join SCBWI where I met some of my first writing friends. I found a local critique group that met weekly and joined it. I finally polished off my old, mostly abandoned twitter account, and got active in writing twitter.
At the same time, the world seemed to fall apart. The pandemic started, and suddenly I found myself at home trying to social distance. Without my friends and half my hobbies, I had a lot of time on my hands.
So I wrote. I wrote several chapters of a scifi story. I wrote first draft of a YA fantasy that I might or might not come back to. Then I was getting ready to revise my YA fantasy when an idea hit me.
Did you know there aren’t many fiction MG books about robotics? Most of the ones that exist are either scifi like ones where the robots are characters, or historical type books. There’s not many books where kids are interacting with modern day robotics, and there is only one book I could find that deals with tournament robotics.
I wanted something I could read with my students, and I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find it. So I decided to write it.
This was supposed to be a small side project. Something to work on just a little while revising my YA fantasy. But the idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
The Day Everything Changed
I started writing THE TROUBLE WITH ROBOTS on June 1st. I wrote all the time, every day. I wrote at least a chapter a day, if not more. I spent around 10 to 14 hours a day working on the story, relentlessly. I used writing to keep all my fears and pandemic stress at bay. I used writing to ignore all the things that I couldn’t control, like what was going to happen with my teaching job, and if I was going to have to delay my wedding again.
I’d bring my chapters to my critique groups (I was part of two by that point) and have them pick them apart. I had an outline that I changed and revised as my critique group spotted flaws with the story. I forced myself to keep writing, even as I also went back and fixed it up.
I don’t recommend this approach. For most people, it’s best to just write the first draft before getting into edits. Having critique when you are still telling yourself the story can stall writers out. I don’t know why I was able to do it this way, but I was. And it really helped me. By the time I finished the first draft of THE TROUBLE WITH ROBOTS, it was actually pretty good.
So, I sent it off to beta readers and had a slight emotional breakdown the very next day. Turns out when you use your writing to keep your stress and fears and emotions at bay, they all come crashing back the moment you don’t have writing to turn to. I might have scared my husband a little. It was the first time he ever saw me spend an entire day as a sobbing mess.
But then I picked myself up, went to my first day back at school, and forced myself to keep going. Soon enough, the beta reader feedback started rolling in and I was once again able to lean on my writing to distract myself. I made revisions and changes based on feedback, then sent it out to a second round of beta readers.
Once again, I was getting great feedback. All the changes were minor things. Fix a typo here. Clarify one small detail there. At that point, I realized I was ready.
Only three months had passed since I started writing THE TROUBLE WITH ROBOTS.
I guess I found what I truly wanted to write.
So, now it was time to query. I had an amazing and supportive group of writer friends that helped me get my query and synopsis ready. There was an event called PitMad coming up, where writers could pitch their story in a tweet, and agents like any pitches that catch their attention. I decided to take part.
PitMad rolled around, and my initial tweet did far better than I ever could have dreamed. It got retweeted over a hundred and sixty times, and at the end of the day, I had five agent likes. One agent wanted a full manuscript to read, another wanted my first 50 pages, and the other three wanted the first few chapters with a query.
That night I sent out all the material, as well as five more query letters.
When I woke up the next morning, I had a request for a full from one of the queries. I was off to a strong start, far stronger than I had ever dreamed. I spent the next day constantly checking my inbox, hoping against hope that I’d get more news. I knew it was silly. After all, things don’t move that fast, right?
Except when they do.
The next day, just two days after PitMad ended, I had an email. It was from the Emily Forney, the agent who requested a full during PitMad. She finished reading my manuscript and wanted to connect with me. I spent the day bouncing between excited and panicking. I got the call scheduled and spent the next two days wondering if it would actually be THE call.
I must have thought about a million other things it could be.
Maybe it was a revise and resubmit?
Maybe she just wanted to ask about the weather in AZ?
Maybe I imagined the ENTIRE thing?
Well, the day of the call rolled around… and it was indeed THE call. Emily was lovely. She saw to the heart of my story and was eager to represent me. As we talked about edits and plots and the characters, I realized she loved my story as much as I did, and right then I knew I wanted her to be my agent.
After that call I notified the rest of the agents with my material and gave them two weeks to respond. Those two weeks felt so long. During that time I constantly checked my inbox. Despite really liking Emily, I did have my full out with several other amazing agents, and I was eager to see how they would feel.
Then the end of the two weeks arrived. The last agent with my full graciously bowed out, and I notified Emily that I would like to sign with her.
So yes, Technically I wrote my book in June, finished it in August, and got my agent in September. But there was a long history of writing and struggling before that. I had to fail in order to learn what to do. I had to fail many times in order to succeed.
So if you are out there querying, or writing a story and dreaming of someday being published, don’t give up! It only takes one agent to fall in love with your work. For me, that agent was Emily.
I still have a long way to go in this writing journey, and I hope you’ll travel with me.