I received a few gentle reminders from fellow writers that it's customary to post a "How I Got My Agent" story. (Optional: stuff full of gifs.) Happy to oblige!
Hopefully my story can show how much each journey toward publication varies. As I'm typing this, I still can't believe I found an agent who is excited and determined to see my story published. I mean, I haven't even started querying yet.
See, I had this master query plan. I'd already tagged potential agents in Query Tracker. I intended to start querying after I entered a few blog contests for feedback. Only, the contests ended up being my entire query process! Agent pitch contests essentially mirror querying, with the bonus of a third party blogger to slag through the slush for the agents, presenting them with a collection pitches and first pages to request from. So while I never sent a query letter, I did use my query when I submitted requests to agents.
After working on my novel for a year, I decided to dip my toes in the submission world by promptly signing up for three contests: Pitch Madness run by YA & MG writer Brenda Drake, Gearing Up To Get An Agent (GUTGAA) hosted by YA writer Deanna Barnhart, and CAGI at Cupid's Literary Connection. All of these contests had their own submission guidelines, format, and deadlines. And this got competitive. Submission windows closed out in minutes. We adjusted timepieces to the world clock and pressed SUBMIT precisely 8 to 12 seconds after the submission window opened BUT NO SOONER!!
Very slowly those responses (rejections) trickled in.
Some agents offered polite one-liners that told me nothing specific, but many provided at least one sentence or two with why they were passing. I noticed a pattern. Their responses gave me focus to make more edits.
The Authoress' famous Baker's Dozen contest rolled around in November on the Miss Snark blog (you must check it out if you don't already read it). I've been an avid commenter during the monthly Secret Agent contests (where I always lurked, but never submitted. Lurk and learn, lurk and learn.) Since I had a pitch, query and polished first page, I entered (on my birthday even!) and made it through to the final round; I want to say it was just under 300 entries pared down to 75.
Now, because I had a bit of contest knowledge from my busy September, I assumed (wrongly) that the day the BD contest went live, the agents would leisurely peruse and comment on the entries throughout the day. I was quite proud of myself for having just set an appointment for an HVAC company to clear out the ductwork in my house,
when my twitter feed started heating up and a fellow writer emailed me: Are you seeing what's happening with your entry at Miss Snark's blog?!
The Baker's Dozen is set up like an auction, with agents bidding in page request increments up to the Full MS. Bidding for my entry closed out in 3 minutes, thanks to fast and furious bidding by agents who'd scoped it ahead of time.
I received 5 more agent requests from Baker's Dozen, with the idea that the top bidding agent gets first dibs. Meanwhile, I was knee-deep in a revision based on previous agent feedback. I certainly could have sent it off to the new agents as-is, but the feedback I received was so valuable, I couldn't ignore it. Soon Authoress was emailing me that the agents wanted to know why I hadn't sent the MS (HUNGRY AGENT. WANT MS. WHEN YOU DELIVER?) This was like, days later, not weeks or anything.
The winning agent suggested I take my time and send it in the new year, given December is a slow time for publishing. She agreed I should offer up my best work.
Right in time for the holidays, I holed up in my house and forgot about shopping for gifts. I bought cards but sent them with barely enough time to arrive by Christmas. Sometimes my husband would speak to me and an hour would pass before I acknowledged him. Once I found him sitting alone in the dark eating tuna from a can. He wasn't even using a fork.*
*did not actually happen
In January, I tracked down a few writers to read through my whole MS with a tight turnaround time. I cannot exaggerate how generous the writing community is. One of the writers I'd traded pages with previously--a result of Miss Snark's critique partner swap--and another I connected with online. Can you feel the love?!
I submitted mid-January to the 5 agents. The first rejection I received included the same comments I'd heard prior to my revision. I admit, I had a dark week. I fully expected to overhaul it again, but I held off given the MS was out with four more agents. (To pass the time, I played a lot of Halo multi-player and read non-fiction books on American wars--I had some latent aggression to deal with...)
OK, now this part is a little sad. My grandmother became very ill, and we knew it was the end for her. Probably 20 minutes after hanging up with my mom, who drove through a snowstorm to get to her ailing mother's bedside, I get an email message from Agent 1 that she wants to offer representation. Shock! Only, the east coast was prepping for a blizzard, so could we set up a call Monday? My emotions were all over the place, but the news was a bright spot during a tough few days (my grandmother ended up passing away that weekend.).
I nudged the other agents, and received a request for a call with Agent 2, which resulted in an offer. Both agents seemed really great--awesome actually. I sent frantic twitter DMs and emails to writers I knew, friends, and the agent's clients to glean as much information as I could before deciding--DECIDING--which agent I wanted to work with. Who ever thought I'd get to decide?? They didn't make it easy either; each agent's clients LOVED them. Gushing, raving, exploding with joy kind of affection.
In the end, I chose Agent 1. She'd won the Baker's Dozen bidding war, she'd hounded Authoress about when I was sending my MS, she'd given me the luxury of editing through to the new year, and her enthusiasm practically reached out through the phone.
Last week, I signed with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd!
I couldn't be happier. Her clients love her, she loves my story, she wants to work with me long-term, and she has a vision for my MS and where it will sell.
While I didn't follow the traditional query process, I did a LOT of research on agents, agencies, publishing contracts, self-publishing--you name it. I think it's really easy to get sidetracked by all the agent stuff and the business side of it all, but what really matters most is the writing craft. I learn every day and I don't plan to stop learning. That's my one slice of advice: above all, put your efforts into becoming a better writer. OK two slices: celebrate other writer's victories!
Now for some stats:
Contests entered: 4
Total MS requests: 16
Partials: 6 (including 2 requests for the dreaded synopsis)
No response/did not send to/or bowed out after nudge email: 5