I have hoped I would have the chance to write a “How I Got My Agent” post for a long time, and, friends, that time has come.
*deep breaths* Here we go!
The Role of Contests
Entering pitch/mentoring contests certainly isn’t a mandatory stop on the path to signing with an agent. But it is a huge part of my story, spanning two manuscripts and over two years.
This blog post will focus primarily on the Agent Showcase in Pitch Wars through signing, but if you’d like to learn more about the entirety of my journey from start to finish, please click here to learn about my journey to Pitch Wars, and click here to learn about my Pitch Wars experience.
The Pitch Wars Agent Showcase
For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, it is a well-respected mentoring program that matches unagented authors who have a completed manuscript with a mentor or mentor team who will help them with revisions. The revisions are done over a specified period of time and the experience ends with an Agent Showcase.
During the Agent Showcase, which took place this year in early February, participating agents read a pitch and short sample from the mentees, and can request partial or full manuscripts by commenting on the mentee’s post. Here’s my entry.
My mentors passed along requests to me as they came in, but they weren’t made public until the showcase was over. I was so excited to have received 24 requests! But, as this wasn’t my first time querying, I also knew that just because an agent liked my pitch and the excerpt, didn’t necessarily mean they would fall in love with my entire story.
Still, I also knew I was sending a much stronger manuscript out into the world than my first one, and that meant I had a better chance of finding the right agent match along the way.
I sent out my requests the minute I was allowed to, and just hoped at least one agent would fall in love.
Some of the mentees in our class started getting agent offers really quickly. Like, the agent showcase ended and we all blinked and then there were some offers on the table. It was a flurry of excitement, and truly wonderful to be able to celebrate with those who were in that first round.
I was not one of those with a super early offer, and it was an interesting task to manage my excitement for fellow mentees with the fact that I wasn’t a part of that first flurry… especially when the rejections started coming in, some only days after the showcase ended. A couple of agents read quickly, but decided my manuscript wasn’t for them, which was disappointing.
But, again, I loved my manuscript and believed it was strong enough. I just had to find the right fit.
Every time I got a new email in my separate querying email account (I highly recommend this! I only checked it when I wanted to and didn’t get nervous over junk mail.) my heart skipped a beat. Occasionally I had a request or an upgrade from a partial to a full, and more rejections continued to trickle in.
Normally, the advice is if you are getting similar feedback from several agents, then it’s a good idea to stop querying and revise before sending more out. But none of my rejections had a trend in why they had decided to say no. The vast majority of them were subjective “just didn’t fall in love” reasons, and the ones that had feedback were isolated in their opinion. That let me know I was okay to keep going.
The ‘just didn’t fall in love’ rejections were hard in their own ways. But I get it now better than I once did. An agent has to not only enjoy a manuscript to sign it; they have to want to read it multiple times. They have to be prepared to be a cheerleader for that story to as many editors as it takes over however long it takes to give it a chance to find a home. There are plenty of books that I enjoyed but wouldn’t feel like reading again, or that I wouldn’t think to tell all my friends about. Basically, an agent has to want to tell all their friends about your book. And when that happens, it’s something special and you get an offer of rep. But just because every agent doesn’t feel that way doesn’t mean your book won’t find an agent who does.
So I sent a lot of queries out. Between the showcase and my offer, I hit 69 queries in about 5 weeks. Querying can last months and months, and since I felt like my story had a good shot, I was comfortable sending out that many in the hopes that it might speed up my own timeline, even a little. I tried hard to send to agents I thought would be a good fit, and viewed researching agents and agencies as my writing work during those weeks.
The Moment That Changed Everything
I love my husband. After the agent showcase, he started answering the phone anytime I called him in the middle of the day sounding excited… because he was expecting me to tell him I had an offer from an agent. How sweet is that?!
It took many calls that were about other non-writing related things, but the moment I got to give him that phone call was one of my favorite moments of this whole experience. He had confidence in me when my own confidence was waning, and he has been my main supporter in pursuing this challenging dream from day one, in so many ways.
Here’s how it happened:
I was in a parking lot, about to head into one of the schools I work at, when I thought I’d just quick check my querying email on my phone, about 5 weeks after the Agent Showcase. I had one new email from an agent.
She had requested my full, and was completely loving my story. She wanted to set up a time to talk the following week. I gasped as tears welled up in my eyes. She didn’t outright say it was an offer, but it sure sounded good. I called my husband, told my mentors, and let immediate family know, and we prepared to wait the few days until The Call. Everyone was thrilled. My husband said he knew it would happen. Sharing that moment with him was pure gold.
The following day, mid-morning, I had another new email in my inbox from a different agent. She had read the whole manuscript and really enjoyed it and Would Also Like To Chat.
Holy smokes, I ran downstairs and told my husband I had another call. This one even sooner than the agent who emailed me first. A CP of mine, who I adore very much, believed I was about to get multiple offers. I was a bit in shock.
It was happening. At least, I thought it was happening. And only a few more days to know for sure.
Spring Break and a Bunch of Calls
Our whole family was going on a road trip to the Georgia coast for spring break, so we packed up the minivan and drove to warmer weather. Winter had been long in Illinois, and it was so nice to see some warmth and sun. Though, the events that transpired made it a bit less relaxing than I originally thought, I also had some time to reflect and think carefully about the decision I was going to have to make.
My first call was with the 2nd agent who emailed on a Monday night. And it was an offer of representation! I felt so happy and excited, and just tried to let it sink in that this was really happening. I had an offer from an agent who wanted to sell my book and make it real.
That evening, I sent out emails to everyone who still had my query or a full or a partial, informing them of the offer and giving them about 2 weeks to let me know if they were interested as well.
Querying is, for most, a long, slow process. But once you have an offer on the table, you start hearing back quite quickly. The nice thing is, at this point, you no longer have to call agent passes ‘rejections.’ You get to call them ‘step-asides’ which is much more pleasant. The ‘no’s’ don’t hurt quite as bad, either, because you know someone loves your story, and that was the whole point of this process to begin with.
I also got several upgrades to full requests, with promises to read before the deadline.
The following day, I got an email from another agent who said she had been immersed in my story when she got my email of the offer, and that she’d finish and be back in touch with me soon. A couple of hours later, I had another email from her, offering rep on the spot and wanting to chat with me later that day!
I officially had a decision to make.
I’ll go into more details about how I chose my agent from all who offered in a later post, but suffice it to say the decision was incredibly hard. Over the course of that first week, I ended up with 5 offers of rep, each from agents who were incredibly passionate about my story and who wanted to help make it a real book. I looked at it from every angle I possibly could. There were pro-con lists, analysis of the phone calls, soul-searching into whose feedback resonated the most, client references, agency research, and a lot of gut checks.
After all the querying and hoping, I found it was really difficult to make such an important decision based on a couple of emails and a phone call and my own research. I felt like my book and career would be in excellent hands with more than one agent, and I felt so lucky that they wanted to be a part of my journey.
And I wasn’t looking forward to saying no to 4 people. Not at all. That part was especially hard.
Once I had given agents the time allotted to get back to me, and let the other agents know about my decision, I emailed the agent I chose and let her know I was excited to accept her offer of rep! That email was fun to send.
And so… I signed with Chloe Seager at Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency in London! *cue celebration!*
We are doing some revision work together, and I will likely be going on submission relatively soon, which I’m sure will be another journey all it’s own in this multi-phase process to fulfilling my dreams.
And that’s it! From beginning querying to signing with Chloe less than 2 months passed since the Agent Showcase. Each day felt long when I was in it, but I also know that in the scheme of querying, mine is one of the quicker stories. I often looked up these articles when I was in the querying trenches, and loved reading about all the different timelines, from the overnight successes to the ones who took incredible perseverance. I’m so thankful to be able to be at a point today where I’m ready to share my own story, and I can’t wait for what comes next.
Here are the stats, for those who enjoy them!
Manuscript 1: YA Dark Fairytale Fantasy (did not sign with an agent)
Wrote and revised the manuscript multiple times between January 2017 and Spring 2018.
Total Queries Sent: 28 (between March and June, 2018)
Of those: 13 were cold queries, 13 were Twitter pitch/pitch contest requests (#PitMad, #SFFPit, #PitDark, Authoress Birthday Blog Pitch), and 2 were in-person pitches at a conference.
Total Full Requests: 7 (Request rate of 25%)
Full Requests outstanding when I withdrew due to getting into Pitch Wars with REVERIE: 3
Manuscript 2: MG Contemporary Fantasy (REVERIE)
Wrote and revised the manuscript between July of 2018 and Jan 2019.
Total Queries Sent: 69 (over the course of about 5 weeks, February-March 2019)
Of those: 33 were cold queries, and 36 were Twitter pitch/pitch contest requests (Pitch Wars, #PitMad)
Total Full Requests: 33 (Request rate of 48%)
Total Offers of Representation before deadline: 5 (2 from Pitch Wars requests, 2 from cold queries, one from #PitMad request)
Offers Accepted: 1
Feel free to drop any questions below, otherwise I wish everyone who reads this luck on their own journey, and hope you’ll visit here again soon!