How I Got My Agent
Updated: Jul 18, 2022
I want to start by stating the obvious - querying is HARD.
I imagined for so long that signing with an agent would be the best feeling in the world. And it is, it really is. But the overwhelming emotion right now is relief.
Relief that all the hard work and heartache was worth it.
Relief that there was someone out there who loves my work.
Relief that I don't have to spend the rest of my life querying.
Relief that I have something to celebrate.
But I'm actually finding it difficult to get in the right headspace for celebrating because it feels like I've just emerged from a traumatic experience. Although this is the outcome I want, the one I've been striving for, I really feel like I need to recover from the process before I can pick myself up to begin (and enjoy) the next stage of the journey.
Maybe the brutal toll on mental health that querying authors experience is for another post. This time I'll just tell the story of how I found my agent.
For those who just want the stats, here they are:
57 queries for novels
20 queries for picture books
9 CNRs (closed, no response)
6 full requests (novels only)
28 withdrawn after offer received
I've written all my life - stories forever, poetry throughout my teens, I even wrote a novel back in the 90s - but I had never taken the time to learn the craft properly until I began writing seriously in 2017. I was mostly fumbling in the dark at first, but slowly I discovered the wonder that is the online writing community. A place of infinite warmth and kindness, generosity and talent. I learnt about plot structure and character arcs, filtering language and dialogue tags. But I also learnt about the value of companionship in an otherwise lonely occupation; the importance of external input and critique groups; and the joy of sharing knowledge with other writers, both aspiring and published.
In 2020, after finding the amazing WriteMentor community, I applied for a mentorship with a middle grade novel, and to my delight and surprise, I was chosen by Lu Hersey (whose book Deep Water I had recently discovered and devoured). The 4-month programme was a revelation. Somebody else (an author I admired, no less) believed in my work, and that was a gamechanger. I went from doubting my abilities in a head-in-the-clouds, who-am-I-to-believe-I-can-be-an-author kind of way to believing that if I worked hard enough I might just be able to make my dreams come true. I also loved the collaborative process of revising my manuscript with Lu - having another perspective and someone to bounce ideas off was so helpful and the story was greatly improved.
At the end of the mentorship there was a showcase where you pitch your novel to participating agents with a brief synopsis and the opening 500 words. From this I received six requests from agents. I was blown away! This is it, I thought. Surely one of them will sign me now. I was wrong. Naively, I thought I would hear back from all the requesting agents in a couple of weeks. I was wrong. I checked my email obsessively but the next few months were filled with torturous silence. To calm myself I sent a handful of other queries. I received one champagne rejection from a dream agent, which gave me hope. And then another from one of the showcase agents. And a couple more rejections. But mostly crickets. In fact, three of the requesting agents never got back to me. Everyone's snowed under, I get it. But it doesn't make it any easier on a writer's fragile sense of self-worth.
In late October, six weeks or so after the showcase, I entered #PBPitch and received a like from editor Kayla Tostevin at Page Street Kids. I was astounded! I had a few picture book texts but I'd only written them and entered the pitch event for fun. I never imagined it would lead to my first book deal. Just before Christmas, after a few rounds of revisions, I signed the contract for Mending the Moon. And a few months later, I signed another for the sequel, Saving the Sun. A dream come true!
But despite the euphoria, it seemed such a back-to-front way of becoming a published author - a book deal should come after an agent. I was ecstatic about my picture books, I really was. But imposter syndrome hit hard - I still wanted desperately to be a published novelist. And I still needed an agent.
I spent the early part of 2021 moving from the UK to New Zealand in the middle of the pandemic, which is no light undertaking. I also embraced my new status as a soon-to-be traditionally published author and became a WriteMentor picture book mentor. The experience of being at the other end of the mentoring process was just as lovely (and just as educational) as the previous year. I learnt all about picture books and picture book writers (another subset of the writing community filled with talent and awesomeness). During this time, I entered lots of competitions and anything that offered a chance to connect with agents outside the querying process. I was still licking my bruises after nothing had materialized from the WM showcase, and cold querying felt too hard. Then in the second half of the year, I decided I had to get serious again.
I began to query with some of my picture book texts. I didn't expect it to be easy, but I quickly found out that querying picture books is very difficult right now. Many agents are not accepting picture books at all, many are only accepting author-illustrators, and even those that are open are swamped with vast numbers of queries. I hadn't found the emotional bandwidth to go back and revise my MG novel again, and I had another novel completed but wasn't confident it was ready to query. So without any pre-planning or intention, I was pleasantly surprised when a new novel literally burst out of me. I followed along unofficially with NaNoWriMo, beginning on 1 November. Although I hadn't finished my first draft by the end of the month, I did finish it by the middle of December. And even more surprisingly, it wasn't terrible. In fact, I kind of loved it.
I spent the next two months polishing, tightening and whipping it into shape with the help of one (yes, just one) very trusted and amazing beta reader/critique partner, and by mid-February 2022, I was ready to query. I was tentative at first, sending a couple a week. I built up a momentum, sent more throughout March and by April I was positively feverish. I began to send out more picture book queries too. I even polished up my second novel and started querying that as well.
The logic was that I might as well go for the splatter-gun approach - the more fires in the oven, the more chances of a hit, and also the less the rejections seemed to sting.
I found that as long as there was hope, in the form of active queries that had not yet been rejected, I could keep going. If those started to dry up, my anxiety would worsen, so I just put my head down and kept going.
In the end, I didn't spend that long in the querying trenches, even though it it felt like forever. Sera was in fact the ninth agent I sent to, so as it turned out, the vast majority of my queries were unnecessary, although I couldn't have known that at the time. I sent the query on 8 March, Sera requested the full manuscript on 1 April, and emailed to set up The Call on 22 May. We spoke on 25 May and she offered me representation on the call.
A few weeks later, I'm still not sure I believe it's happened! And I'm still not sure how to adjust - all those endless hours spent scouring the Publisher's Weekly Rights Report and Twitter announcements for a hint of a lead on another agent who might be acquiring new clients and might like my story. Personalizing endless query letters, cutting out sections of my manuscript (a different requirement for each agent, of course), updating my spreadsheet, scrolling through Query Tracker. That took up a lot of time and emotional energy.
So now I can spend all those hours... actually writing? Unsurprisingly, my head's still all over the place and I haven't managed to write more than two sentences! I'm sure in time I will adjust. But will I ever feel like a proper writer?