The process of submitting to literary agents—called querying—is many things. Difficult. Time-consuming. Stressful. Often accompanied by anxiety and depression wondering whether you’re good enough to make it in the industry and, even if you are, whether you’ll submit your work to the right agent at the right time and they’ll fall in love with it the way they need to.
These were all reasons I enjoyed reading about others achieving the dream I was so desperately hoping to reach. As such, I’ve decided to record my own little story of how I signed with my literary agent in the hopes that others who enjoy these stories will find hope and know that sometimes, the right time is just around the corner, even when it feels impossible.
The book that started it all
I’d been writing fiction for a long time, but in 2019 something changed. I attended a writer’s conference hosted by my university and met six other amazing writers who wanted to form a group where we would discuss our ideas and help each other achieve our goals. I was stoked! To this day, the seven of us meet weekly to discuss our writing. None of this would have been possible without the support of my dear writing friends.
From August 2019, when we started meeting, I was submitting parts of a novel I was working on for critique. The novel was a dystopian, young adult fiction project that has since been abandoned (whoops) because in October that same year, I was struck by a sudden idea I didn’t expect. It felt so promising that I immediately began outlining and decided to work on a first draft for NaNoWriMo in November. If I hated it, I’d just go back to my other project.
Spoiler: I didn’t hate it.
November 2019 was one of the most insane months of my life. I literally wrote the entire first draft of my novel during this month. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t GOOD by any means, but it existed in its entirety. A story I had written. I was ecstatic.
I spent the next year and a half rewriting that book (not editing, rewriting from scratch) five different times before I finally felt like I got it right. I had never been prouder of anything I created. After having it read by the same writer’s group friends who’d pushed me to work on the project when it started, I knew I was ready to start querying.
For those who don’t know much, or anything at all, about the publishing industry, let me explain querying. You search for reputable literary agents who represent the genre(s) you write in, and then find their submission info. In most cases, you send in what’s called a query letter (essentially a page with info about you, your book, and why you’re interested in that agent) and some sample pages (this can range from 5 pages to 50 depending on the agent). Agents read their submissions and if they like what they see, they’ll request to read more or all of your manuscript. An agent who has read your full will then offer representation if they both feel passionately about your writing ability and their own ability to sell your book in a very crowded market.
I started submitting and immediately started getting rejections. I revised my query and my opening pages and submitted more. More rejections. It was disheartening to say the least, but what is the life of a writer without endless rejections?
Still, it felt like all of the other querying writers I was connecting with on Twitter were getting full requests left and right, while I had…none. For a long time. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world, but shelving this book felt like an impossibility. I looked at my spreadsheet from those months to give some numbers: over the course of six months, I received over 85 rejections, two full requests, and one partial request from an agent who wanted to read the first 50 pages of my novel.
Both full requests ended in rather quick rejections. By this point, I was finishing another manuscript that I wanted to query. I decided to leave the partial request with the agent who had it, just on the off chance they might want to see the full, but essentially moved on, leaving my book behind while I moved on to another project. If I wanted to, maybe later I would consider submitting it to small presses that didn’t require an agent in order to offer publication. Perhaps that was the route my book was meant to take.
My partial request came in December 2021. I had essentially given up on querying my manuscript come the end of January 2022. In February 2022, I was surprised to receive a request for my full manuscript from the agent who had asked for the first 50 pages. I convinced myself it was going to end in rejection, but sent in the pages regardless and promptly forgot about them.
I queried my second project with more success than the first, though request rates were still stunningly low. This manuscript had a more commercial hook that I felt would really call to agents. However, I started thinking about my first novel again and decided in May 2022 that I wanted to send it out to a few small publishers who accepted unagented submissions just to see what happened. And surprise, surprise…that’s when the magic started.
The happy ending
On June 3rd, 2022, I FaceTimed my mom in the afternoon and made up a song with lyrics that said, “I really want someone to publish my novel!!!” (Great song, add it on Spotify.) That evening, I called my mom again to tell her that somehow my singing had worked—I’d just received an email from a small publisher who wanted to publish my book!
At this point in the process, it’s considered common courtesy to let everyone who has your manuscript or query letter know that you’ve received an offer so they have two weeks to request and read, and potentially make a competing offer of publication or representation. I sent out the notice and received a couple more requests from agents and one from another small publisher.
Then, the agent who had requested my full manuscript in February got back to me. She wanted to hop on a call! We chatted and she told me about her working style and her vision for both my book and more of my career. When I told her about the other book I was querying, she said she wanted to represent that one too. Cue even more excitement!
I let everyone with my second manuscript know that I had an offer and received a few more requests to read that. In the end, I had two offers of publication for my first manuscript by small publishers, one offer of representation based solely on the first manuscript with interest in the second, and one offer of representation based on the second manuscript. After a lot of thinking, I decided to take the first agent offer. It felt like the best move for my overall career and Bethany’s vision for my book was just too good to be true. How was it possible that someone else had fallen head over heels for my characters the same way I did?? It felt like a dream come true, and in many ways, it was. I signed my contract and the rest, as they say, is history!
While my querying journey was not that unusual in many aspects, there are parts of it that are more rare than others. It’s rare for your first full manuscript you’ve written ever to get you an agent. It’s rare for people to spend less than a full year querying. Querying falls into an odd category: you won’t succeed without enough skill, but even having the skill doesn’t ensure that you will succeed. It takes a lot of luck to land a literary agent. And as much as I would like to think I’m a great writer who would have found this kind of success regardless, it’s also true that a lot of my own success boiled down to perfect timing.
Reading posts like this can feel hopeful, but if you’re having a hard time, they can also be discouraging. It’s my hope that querying writers reading this will know that the saying “It only takes one yes” does ring true, no matter how overused it is. Playing the waiting game sucks, but in some instances, it pays out. Please just know that not getting requests or offers of representation doesn’t TRULY say anything about your writing ability. Often, it just means timing and luck aren’t on your side.
I plan to post more about querying and the wild ride it is, but this is where I’ll leave you for today. If you have any questions about the process, please reach out and I’d be happy to answer!