How I Got My Agent
I’ve put off this post for a hot minute, in part because I couldn’t figure out WordPress (*shakes fist at the website gods*) and in part because I was tearing through revisions, trying to get through all of them by my self-imposed deadline.
Well, I’m happy to say that a) the website is semi-functional and b) my revisions are now complete. All that to say, I’m finally sitting down to answer the ever-present question.
How did I get my agent?
Pain. Panic. An existential crisis every other week.
Warning: this is going to be an *extensive* post, clocking in at ~4k words (go big or go home, eh?). I also overuse parentheses and em dashes like I get paid for it, so please don’t be alarmed if they show up every few sentences.
Anyways, if you’re only interested in hearing about the querying part of my journey, feel free to skip down to the Baby Yoda in a jar gif. And if you’re here for the query stats, you can find it beneath the happy Baby Yoda gif. I’ll also dig out my query letter sooner or later too, so stay tuned for that in the future.
Alright – FEELING GOOD! Which brings me to subsection #1 (could you tell I was a communication major in college)?
The Writing Journey
Did I always want to be a writer? No. But was I always writing? Yes.
I, like many other writers, found my first comfort in books. I would lug my books with me wherever I went – grocery stores, family parties. My mom still has a photo from when we went camping once. I was around 5 or 6, sitting in one of those awful fabric pop-up chairs and reading from my Disney princess picture book. I think I still have it somewhere, stuffed in the back of my closet.
I’m not sure when I began writing my own stories. Granted, they were all fanfiction, which evolved as I went through my different phases. Camp Rock, The Hunger Games, Lemonade Mouth, Divergent…I would create new characters in familiar worlds, scribbling everything into my trusty composition notebooks, ignoring any grammatical mistakes.
To this day, nobody has (or ever will) read my fanfiction. Trust me – I’m taking my composition notebooks to the grave.
I wrote similar stories all throughout high school. And I’m not sure when, but sometime during that haze of tests and extracurriculars and muddling through Pre-AP Chemistry (no, I never made it to AP Chem), I began writing short stories too. In part, it was because of my parents. They had never read my composition notebooks, but they’d seen snippets of my writing here and there, mostly due to school projects. They had always encouraged me to write, to share my work with other people.
I damn well wasn’t about to throw my 100-page fanfic about Katniss Everdeen’s descendants into the world, so I began working on short stories instead. It was the first time in my life I’d written something truly “original” – and I felt deflated. I won some awards for my work, but I didn’t love short stories the way I did my composition notebooks. Everything felt condensed and flat, as if I was writing for the sake of winning something, rather than just for myself.
Then college came around, and I stopped writing altogether. There was no particularly bad, messy incident that caused this. Instead, Normal College Things took precedence: fumbling through 192310 exams, eating microwave ramen with a plastic spoon. All the things that – y’know – make an ideal higher education experience.
*cries in College*
I did a quick stint with our on-campus food magazine, but writing soon faded into the background. I graduated in the class of 2020, walked a virtual stage (WHAT A TIME), and promptly returned home during the start of the pandemic. By this time, I hadn’t written for fun in nearly three years, nor did I really intend to. To me, it was a thing of the past, and a hobby I’d left behind.
Hahahahhaha joke’s on me.
The Medium Place
I’m from a fairly isolated town in North Texas. So when I tell you there’s not much to do, I’m serious – there’s not much to do.
I got home in April 2020, when the pandemic had just begun. For the next six months, things were so bad that I didn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. I annoyed the hell out of my younger sister, went through an emo music phase, created a Club Penguin account in a fit of despair.
And I read. I read in a way I hadn’t since high school, because there was genuinely nothing else to do. I would borrow stacks of books from the library, lay out a picnic blanket in the backyard, and stay there until the sun went down. For a while, I tried diving into adult books, but soon realized that YA was where my heart was. They were the books I gravitated most towards, the ones I couldn’t put down. Here I was, working a job in financial services that hollowed me out, uncertain where the world was going, but reading became my refuge.
It’s funny. Despite reading a ton when I was younger, I’d never once considered writing a book. Writing books didn’t seem like something people did. Not to mention that I’d felt the joy sap out of me with my short stories. I didn’t think I had the creativity to develop characters and worlds that were wholly unique, when the only thing I’d written that I truly adored was my fanfiction.
If I had to pinpoint a particular incident that changed things, I’d say it was the profile piece. I happened to go to the same college as superstar author Chloe Gong, and The Daily Pennsylvanian, our on-campus newspaper, had published an article about her new YA book. I remember clicking into the piece one evening, reading the whole thing, and being absolutely floored. For the first time, it really struck me that authors were normal people – that maybe I could write something amazing as well.
@Chloe, if you ever see this – I owe you a drink for sparking this whole writer (re)awakening.
After that, there was still some hesitation. I had an existential crisis, and then another. I read Six of Crows, and cried harder than I ever have while reading (Kanej has my ENTIRE HEART). But that nagging feeling was still there, which became an all-consuming thought.
I wanted to write my own book. I wanted to create my own stories.
The Querying Journey (Book 1)
If you counted the number of composition book stories I had, I’d say I had enough material for at least 5-6 manuscripts. But this was the first full-length manuscript that I ever wrote on my laptop, with the intention of transforming into a book.
The story was about a piano prodigy who decided to quit, and the fallout that happened because of it. I had played piano for years as a kid, and while I never reached prodigy levels (not even close), I understood enough about music to effectively write about it. I’d also just watched Queen’s Gambit at the time and was deep in my Anya Taylor-Joy stan phase, so it only added to my determination to explore the underbelly of being a genius.
I began writing my literary fiction, piano-prodigy-against-the-world book in the last few days of December 2020. I drafted and revised everything in about three months – and to top it all off, I wrote the entire thing in second person.
Why? Because angst.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Tiffany, you just wrote about how you love reading YA! Why did you decide to write literary fiction?
The answer to that is…I have no idea. To be honest, this was the first story that popped into my head, and I decided to stick with it, come hell or high water (not sure which choice is the good one here, but you understand what I mean). When I finished writing all 66,000 words of Book 1, I was proud – I was incredibly proud. I don’t necessarily know if I felt joy, but I convinced myself it was close enough.
Cue the querying process. For those who aren’t familiar, querying is essentially the process of cold-emailing, where you send off a brief summary of your work + the first couple chapters (give or take) to agents. If an agent wants to see more, they’ll request a partial or a full manuscript. Sites I used include QueryTracker and Manuscript WishList, as well as stalking agents on Twitter (in incognito mode ofc) to see when/if they were open to queries.
I queried 27 agents with my piano book, before realizing that the second person POV was really not it. I loved it, but the market didn’t. I remember one agent – with a MSWL that was a perfect fit to my book – emailed me with a personalized query rejection, saying the POV was a sticking point, even if they liked the concept.
I did manage to get three full requests. And I remember being so hopeful during that time, like I was finally on the cusp of something. I had poured so much into this manuscript that I desperately wanted there to be some kind of payoff. This book didn’t have my heart, but I felt it could. I wanted it to succeed so badly that I would lie awake at night, trying to manifest an agent for my manuscript.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
In the end, one full request turned into a rejection, while the other was given a sort-of R&R, where the agent said she’d be open to reconsidering if I rewrote the manuscript in either first or third person. The third agent ghosted me altogether, so I really did have a full range of query replies, other than the one I so desperately wanted.
There was a brief moment where I did consider the R&R. I even started a new document, where I began hacking away at the first chapter. But in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The story that I’d written needed to be told in second person – it was at the core of the book, and I couldn’t envision the main character any other way.
I queried Book 1 for about a month and a half, which is a fairly short time in the trenches. Still, I had compiled enough feedback from agents to know that second person POV was just Not It. Eventually, I came to the realization that I needed to shelve the book – which hurt, but not as much as I thought. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had already moved on; I wanted a fresh start. I was ready to dive into a story that truly excited me, even if it meant creating an entire world from scratch.
The Querying Journey (Book 2)
I’d had the idea of flipping the royal/rebel trope ever since I read The Red Queen. I wanted to highlight a member of the royal family infiltrating the rebellion, rather than the other way around; I was set on creating a main character who was both a likeable and exacting anti-hero (I had an image of Kaz Brekker pulled up on my laptop while I wrote as a source of inspiration).
Book 2 was a YA fantasy, and took far longer than Book 1. I began drafting in April 2021; it took about three months to write, and another three to revise. During that time, the world was about a year into the pandemic. I was *still* at home, chipping away at this new WIP, sweating over characters, worrying about what querying would look like when I was finally done.
And then one day, I was ready. I was ready and TERRIFIED.
Book 2 was the first thing I’d written in a long time that I truly loved. I loved the characters that I’d written and the story I’d developed. I loved the plot twists along the way, and how the book ended.
But here’s the thing: at my core, I’m a realist. By this point, I had already read enough “How I Got My Agent” posts to understand what it’s like to be a querying writer. There are writers out there who query for years – people who are incredibly deserving of their dreams, but whose manuscripts are passed on for a myriad of reasons, from the market not being right to an agent not loving it enough.
I understood that I might have to shelve Book 2, which was a hard realization to face. Yet at the time, I felt like I had done everything I possibly could. I had revised until words lost meaning. I had read everything line by line. And while this book might not see the light of day, I was ready for whatever would come with querying.
As a quick aside: I say I did everything I could at the time because I didn’t have any beta readers or critique partners during my writing process. In part because I didn’t know anyone (I hadn’t ventured into Writing Twitter yet), but also because I was (and still am) somewhat self-conscious about letting people read my work. Now knowing what I do, I don’t necessarily recommend this lone wolf, do-it-by-yourself process, especially because the publishing world is such a collaborative space. If it works for you, that’s great! But if you have trusted mentors and CPs who can provide actionable feedback, that’s really what makes a book shine.
Okay, getting off my soapbox now.
I did all the things for Book 2 that I’d done for Book 1: I created a massive spreadsheet of all the agents I wanted to query; I researched response times to see who would be a fast responder. Funnily enough, there was one agent I was interested in whose MSWL was a perfect fit, but she happened to be closed to queries at the time (more on that later).
I began querying in October. And, my God, was it a hard experience. In the first few weeks of querying, I got only one partial request (later upgraded to a full in early November), even on agents whose MSWLs aligned with my themes/story. I had QueryTracker open at all times, where I’d scroll obsessively through different profiles, trying to see how quickly an agent might reply. My heart would nearly explode when I got a new email from an agent – only for it to be a rejection.
It was around here that I began to doubt myself. I knew I was a good writer, and I loved my story. But was that enough? I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. Below, you can see a snippet of this uncertainty in a very dramatic text from me to one of my friends (very few people knew I was writing a book/querying, but I’m usually lamenting some aspect of my life, so nobody thought it was out of the ordinary):
A few other full requests trickled in. Then in December, I made the impulse decision to apply to Rogue Mentors. Here’s the thing: I didn’t use Twitter at all. Like, at all. I had exactly 11 followers. My Twitter was exclusively retweets and memes about The Bachelor and Taylor Swift (hot take: I actually adored Katie as the Bachelorette). But I would occasionally jump on the Bird App to check up on various agents, just to catch a glimpse of their personality.
As it happened, I saw someone tweet about Rogue Mentors a few days before the deadline hit. I thought what the hell, shotgunned my application to a mentor, and waited with absolutely zero hope. A few days later…a rejection. But a very kind rejection, where the mentor pointed out some adjustments I could make for my query and synopsis.
I decided to listen to her suggestions. I tweaked my query and synopsis, and continued to send out emails. To this day, I’m convinced that this mentor’s edits made a difference in my query package; if it hadn’t been for her feedback, I’m not sure I would have gotten some of the other full requests that I did.
At this point, though, I was fully wallowing in self-doubt. It was mid/late December, and I still hadn’t heard back from the agents who had my full. In many ways, I think the worst part was truly having no idea how my manuscript would be received. I was the only one who’d read my story from start to finish – it sounded fine to me, but how would it be received by agents? Would they catch a thousand grammatical mistakes I’d missed? Would it stand out in the slush pile?
My brain became a bit like this meme (and, yes, I had this exact experience basically every night):
2022 began. I celebrated almost 1.5 years at home thanks to COVID-19, although I’d finally made plans to move to NYC. I was still querying, but was Not Having a Good Time™. I had gotten a couple more requests, but still hadn’t heard back on any of my fulls. I was wavering between starting a new WIP or taking a break from writing.
The night of January 11th, I was scrolling through my spreadsheet halfheartedly, wondering if I should add more agents to the list. And I happened to come across an agent that I’d wanted to query back in October, but had skipped over because she was closed (remember her?).
Huh, I thought, as I opened a trusty incognito tab to check her Twitter. As it turns out, she had re-opened to queries in the past few days, and her MSWL was as good of a fit as I remembered. Female friendships? Diverse fantasies? Antagonistic girls that manipulate and scheme? Check, check, check.
I sent off my query to her, not thinking anything of it. I went downstairs, probably to jump into another existential crisis.
And when I got back to my laptop, there was a full request from her, just 20 minutes later.
I freaked out. I mean, freaked out. I could hear my heart beating in my ears, as I re-read her upload request. Calm down, I told myself. It might be a full request, but writers get rejected on fulls all the time. It will probably be weeks before you hear back from her. Months.
I sent over the manuscript. I paced around my room. I think I began nervously humming a song too, because my sister asked just what the hell I was doing.
I went back to the agent’s Twitter account, to see if there were any updates. That was when I saw a new tweet, sitting casually on her timeline, sometime after I’d uploaded my full:
It could have been about any one of the manuscripts she’d gotten since she re-opened. But somewhere in my heart of hearts, I had this blistering hope that it was mine. Any possibility that I would go to sleep at a reasonable hour flew out the window. I spent the next few hours frantically wringing my hands, desperately refreshing Twitter to see if the agent would tweet again.
She didn’t. I fell asleep at around 4 AM.
And when I woke up, there was an offer of representation in my inbox.
I almost fainted right then and there. I sat there in shock for a good few minutes, rereading the subject line, thinking this was all some terribly cruel joke. It had been 3 months since I began querying with Book 2, which felt like the longest 90 days of my life. I had felt the lowest I had in a while, as I collected form rejections like action figures. Now, someone had read my book. Not just read it, but loved it enough to stay up all night finishing it, before sending me the best email I’d ever gotten.
(Fairly sure I started sobbing around here, but everything’s too blurred to remember).
The agent and I got on a video call a week later. I usually consider myself a fairly decent public speaker (three years in debate will do that to you), but I was a MESS. I didn’t form a single coherent sentence in that entire sixty-minute conversation, as I fumbled through the list of questions I’d found on the Internet. I was sweating through my damn shirt too, even though my parents keep the house at a solid 75 degrees.
I loved this agent. Loved her. Her comments made so much sense to me, and her vision for how we would move forward – her submission strategy, her ideas – were brilliant. I wanted to sign right away, but I had read online about how I should take two weeks to inform other agents and make my final decision.
It was a very long two weeks.
I had more full requests come in, accompanied by a series of step-asides. Some agents passed because of timing, and I received some truly lovely emails, saying they would cheer me on from the sidelines. Then, one morning, I opened my inbox to see something else. Not a rejection this time, but a request. A request to jump on a call whenever I had the chance.
ANOTHER OFFER OF REP???
It was. Agent #2 was also amazing – we bonded over our love for Encanto and talked about the other WIP ideas I had. She didn’t have as clear of a submission strategy, but she had a solid grasp on my book and ideas about revisions that I agreed with. When she formally offered rep at the end of the call, I was both over the moon and scared as hell.
Over the moon because someone else wanted to represent me – but scared because I now had to make a decision.
I’d given the other agents until 1/31 to get back to me. Not only did it happen to be two weeks after my call with Agent #1, but I was finally (!!!!) moving to NYC after almost 2 years of being at home. Some more passes came in, including an extraordinarily kind one from the first agent who had requested my full, saying she loved the story but simply didn’t have time to finish reading by my deadline.
The R&R came the afternoon of the 31st while I was sitting in the Dallas Lovefield airport, thirty minutes before my flight. I was absentmindedly checking my inbox when I saw a new email from one of the agents I’d notified.
No way, I thought. No. Way.
Agent #3 had emailed me to say that she liked the characters and plot, but had some editorial feedback that needed to be addressed before she could formally offer representation. She knew I had an offer of rep already, but would I want to jump on a call?
I could have pushed back the deadline. But I instinctually realized that I didn’t want to. Was this a hard choice? Yes and no. Deep inside, I already knew I loved Agent #1. I knew from the moment we began speaking, and she told me her vision for the book. She was absolutely wonderful, with ideas I’d never even thought about for my story. With her, I was certain that my stories would always have the best possible advocate.
By the time I got off the plane, I’d drafted my email to Agent #1. To be perfectly honest, I still don’t know which stars aligned to get me here, or how I got so lucky to have such an incredible person in my corner. Either way, I am thrilled to say that I’m represented by the fantastic Kelly Van Sant of KT Literary – and I can’t wait for everything to come.
My Querying Stats
I’ll do another post with query tips/tricks + my letter soon. For now, here are my query stats:
Book 1 (Pianist Book)
Queries Sent: 27
Partial Requests: 0
Full Requests: 3
Offers of Rep: 0
Book 2 (Royal/Rebel Book)
Queries Sent: 72
Partial Requests: 4
Full Requests: 11
Offers of Rep: 2