In typical Trisha fashion, this post is a million years late. But as a querying writer, I loved reading other writers’ “how I got my agent” posts, so here’s mine! The bottom line: I’ve been writing seriously for over a decade, queried two projects over seven months, and in the end, signed with two AMAZING agents: Claire Draper and Zoё Plant of The Bent Agency! In some ways it was extremely typical, researching agents and sending queries, and in others, it was a bit unusual; I actually knew one of my agents (Claire) before I started querying. Integral to this journey: writing the books that scared me, Pitch Wars, lots of research on agents and pitch honing, knowing when to stop and revise more, and my #llamasquad/CPs.
BEFORE I QUERIED/POST-GRAD
I started writing novel-length work in middle school, taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenges, writing fanfic in various fandoms (to all those early commenters, thank you so much – you gave teen me tons of confidence) and taking creative writing electives/attending writing camps. Although I knew about the process of looking for an agent and getting published traditionally, I didn’t pursue it in high school, and not in college either. I went on a screenwriting detour, although by the time I graduated in December 2017, I was ready to get really serious about writing. I’d completed an internship the summer before at InkWell Management, a large NYC-based literary agency, and really fell in love with the industry all over again. (Remember that name, by the way.) I began with a Hollywood-set adult romance that I still really love and want to resurrect from the dead one day; I queried it a little, but I quickly realized that this wouldn’t be the book that would get me an agent.
YA WITCH BOOK
Next, I got the idea for a YA novel – the initial concept just poured out of me. I was terrified to write YA, but I tried it anyway, and I’m so glad I did; the book ended up being exactly what I needed to write. I finished an initial draft in about two months (March-April 2018) and hardcore began to edit with the help of a good friend/CP. I ended up adding 20K, reworking a bunch of plot elements, and by then it was August 2018 – and I decided to apply to Pitch Wars. Pitch Wars, in case anyone is unfamiliar, is a writing mentorship program where unagented writers are paired with mentors (usually authors) who help them revise their manuscript ahead of an agent showcase a couple months down the road. I applied, and while I didn’t get chosen as a mentee, it was amazing for two reasons: One, it forced me to write a real query for this project and think about how to pitch it, and two, the waiting period of a little over a month gave me the time to write a Middle Grade witch book.
MG WITCH BOOK
I didn’t intend to write YA, and I ESPECIALLY didn’t intend to write MG. But when I started writing to pass the time while I waited for an answer re: Pitch Wars, it became clear that my new narrator was 11, and this was a MG adventure like the stories I’d adored as a kid. I fell into it naturally once I started and I did complete the whole initial draft of the story during that wait. After learning I didn’t get into Pitch Wars, I decided to tweak the YA book a bit more and then try querying just a couple of agents. I was absolutely terrified, and chose an agent closing to queries the next day as like a “whatever, we’ll see” sort of thing; I didn’t expect a speedy response. Instead, she asked for the full the very next day – which happened to be the day of the fall #DVPit – a Twitter pitch contest focused on showcasing marginalized creators. Since I’m queer – and so was my teen witch – I quickly wrote up some pitches, again just to see what would happen. I got several likes, some of which led quickly to full requests. And after that, I kept going. I got a lot of requests on my YA book, and a lot of close calls – agents who loved the concept but didn’t fall in love with the execution, or had other specific critiques. While querying, I began to revise my MG book, and I posted an Instagram story about it in October.
This is when things get a bit unusual.
Remember the InkWell Management internship? Well, while I was there, I connected with one of the associate agents, Claire Draper. We kept in touch on social media, and she responded to my story asking me to submit my MG book to her. I mentioned I was still working on it, but would keep in touch, and as my YA got more and more interest, I decided to take a leap of faith and email her asking if she’d like to see the YA in the meantime. She asked for the full of the YA (!!) in early November. Meanwhile, I was still querying and editing.
Just before Christmas, she emailed to say she was loving the book so far and would like to chat when she finished it. I nearly passed out after reading that email, by the way. I was hosting a dinner party that night, and sharing that news with my friends was one of the best nights of my life so far.
By the way: By this point, I’d become involved with a query support group on Twitter founded by a good friend of mine, Catherine Bakewell. We were all involved with querying in some way, and helped each other out by reading queries and pitches, critiquing projects, sharing agent research, and cheering on the highs while comforting during the lows. We’re still a super tight-knit group – now called the #llamasquad – and whenever I got anxious about querying, or puzzled by an agent’s response, they were there to help. I owe them SO MUCH. I 100% don’t think I’d be this far along without them. (Oh, and this group? Since December, 11 of us – 12, if you include me – have found perfect agent matches.)
So, the new year, 2019. While waiting for Claire, I continued to work on my MG, and I sent that to her too, ahead of querying it. My YA was slowing down; it seemed that besides Claire, it wasn’t going to hit with other agents, and I wanted to keep the momentum going in case it didn’t work out. In February 2019, I began to query the MG in earnest, which led to more requests and eventually a revise and resubmit from a great agent. I set the book aside for awhile before deciding to tackle the R+R; I did that in time to participate in the next #DVPit. In the meantime, I learned that Claire was moving from InkWell to The Bent Agency. I resent my materials there, totally freaking out because Bent was one of my favorite literary agencies in the whole industry. I got a ton of interest for my MG, and even more requests, through the April DVPit. Things moved more quickly then. Claire was the first one to ask for a call, and she shared the novel with her U.K. based colleague Zoё Plant, who had requested it earlier based off of a query. I hadn’t sent the full to her because I’d just learned that Claire was moving to the same agency; this time she read it and both of them offered me representation.
After nudging everyone who had my materials, I ended up with 6 more amazing offers of rep. I took two agonizing weeks to decide, but when all was said and done, I knew that going with Claire and Zoё was 100% the right call – they understood my books, and what I wanted to do with my career, more than anyone else. I accepted on the phone during my last call with Claire, seven months to the day from my first request.
Even though it was the longest half year + a month I’ve ever experienced, I recognize that compared to many querying journeys, it’s short. I think what helped me stand out from the pack was, besides my writing, that I knew how to craft a query/pitch in an enticing way, I wrote that crucial second book while querying my first, and I triple-checked the directions every time to make sure I was sending the query and sample material the right way. Some resources that really helped include:
#MSWL (manuscript wishlist)
The writing community on Twitter
#DVPit, founded by the amazing Beth Phelan
Pitch Wars and #PitMad
Queries sent (over two books): 182
104 for the YA, 78 for the MG; some agents got both queries
Agent Requests: 51
24 for the YA = ~23% request rate, 27 for the MG = ~34% request rate
Rejections: 121 that I recorded
The Twitter pitch that really sealed the deal: