The Absolutely True Story of How I Got A Literary Agent

In case you missed my obnoxious postings on every social media platform: I signed with an agent last week!

Cue all the celebratory GIFS.

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I first shared the long version of the story in my weekly newsletter (sign up here for more GIFS than your heart can handle).

Last year, I had one goal: write a book. I was so focused on this goal that I called 2017 “The Year of the Book” (I know, super lame and uncreative, but whatever).

Everything I wanted out of the year boiled down to this one desire.

I took a writing class. I went to writing meetups. Eventually, I started a critique group. Mostly, though, I wrote.

I churned out 60 pages in three months and then fell stagnant. Sometime in the summer, I picked back up the writing torch and by August I had written my way to a first draft.

Of course, it only got worse from there. I went through the manuscript with a critique partner. I revised until my fingers cramped. I added entire characters and scenes. I became so engrossed in a world of twisted friendships and vicious lies that it started poisoning my own relationships. I was a mess.

And then someone told me I had written a murder mystery, which was not at all what I had intended, but was, in fact, exactly what I had done. So I ripped out the second half and wrote it from scratch.

That was super fun. (JOKES)

And then I had what I jokingly referred to as a Book-Like Thing.

I started researching next steps in October and learned that the first—and arguably most important—step to publishing a book is to get an agent. As an author, you don’t pitch a book directly to a publishing house, you pitch to agents, who, if you are very very lucky, will sign you as client, and then try to sell your book to a publisher and also represent you and all of your literary works until you die (and even after! Morbid, but true).

I decided that 2018 would be The Year of the Agent. I made it my mission to convince someone to represent me by my birthday.

How do you get an agent? Well, you Google it, like I did and then you write a query letter.

A query letter is the Holy Grail of publishing. It is an elusive, page-long, magical piece of writing that sums up your book and convinces an agent that they want to read it and work with you for eternity. I made a list of agents I thought might like my book. Basically, I was looking for anyone who liked “unlikeable” (more on that later) girls and dark mysteries.

I agonized over my letter, rewrote it approximately 39 times, and in January decided I was too tired to care anymore, so I started sending it to people on the aforementioned list.

I sent three queries a day. Twenty four people in total, which meant 24 personalized greetings, different variations on first ten pages, first three chapters, three page synopsis, 200 word synopsis, and so many other random pieces of writing that I started to go just a little bit mad.

Of those 24 people, seven requested either the full or partial manuscript. Thirteen rejected me. Five never responded. Four rejected me after reading the partial or the full.

One asked me to revise and resubmit.

Which I did not want to do (see above about hating this book more than life itself by this point). But I did it anyway. I spent a month going through the book line by line, word by word and revising until it was where I wanted it to be.

Psych! I revised it and then when I hated it so much I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore I sent it off while yelling profanities at the FBI agents I assuming are listening in on my computer.

And then this amazing thing happened where an agent offered to represent me. This
was quickly followed by another thing happening which is that I burst into tears, ran around in circles, and then cried some more.

Because writing this book hurt me. It was freaking hard, you guys. Like, imagine sticking a hand down your throat and un-rooting an organ and then jamming it into a computer and calling it a book. That’s the kind of hard it was. And to think that this thing I’d labored over actually had value to someone else made me weep and feel all the feelings.

On a practical level, it meant I had to let all the other agents I’d queried know so they could counteroffer if they so desired. And the crazy thing is that some of them did.

I ended up receiving several offers which was maybe the most stressful thing that’s ever happened to me. I made charts. I made pro/con lists. I stalked them on message boards and talked to their authors. In short, I got real creepy.

It was a tough decision, impossible really, because they were all awesome. In the end I did the same thing I do every time I get hungry and went with my gut. And to make a long email newsletter short, I’m now represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis.

Why Christa? Well, she said my book reminded her of The Heathers which is not only my favorite 80s movie, but also the best movie to musical adaptation of all time. More importantly, flattery will get you everywhere with me. Also, she had great editorial notes and vision for where the book should go. She’s also a career agent—she’s not just looking to sell books, she’s looking to support someone in every aspect of their career, which really appealed to me because I kind of plan on churning out books until I die.

There was also a serendipitous coincidence that pushed me in her direction. My Book-Like-Thing references several literary masterpieces, one being Of Mice and Men. I quoted John Steinbeck a few times and there’s even a scene involving hamsters and Lenny and I won’t say anything more because SPOILERS (although I don’t think it’s in any way a spoiler to say that not all the hamsters in this book make it out alive). When Christa told me McIntosh & Otis represented John Steinbeck and still handled his estate I got that goose bumpey, cold-fist-in your-gut-feeling.

Anyways, I signed a contract thing and promised to give Christa all my children if she sold my book (not really, but honestly I’m not opposed), and now she is my agent.

What comes next? Wouldn’t you like to know! Just kidding. What comes next is that Christa gives me notes and then I have to revise the entire book again (which sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me, but oh well) and then she’ll take it to publishers and do her thing.

I’ll write more about what it means to have an agent, what the submission process looks like, and other things that are a bit more in the Motivational Monday wheelhouse, but for today, I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve not accomplished my goal for 2018 and imagining bigger, more terrifying dreams to wrestle in the future.

If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns about hamsters, shoot me an email. I’d love to chat with you. I hope you invest time in the dream that sets your soul on fire this week. Nothing could be more worth doing.

And if you want to stay up to date on my book journey or want a weekly reminder to DO THE DANG THING subscribe to my newsletter. I hope to see you there.

 

9 thoughts on “The Absolutely True Story of How I Got A Literary Agent

  1. First of all, congratulations on all of your hard work! Secondly, thank you SO much for this. It is not only very practically helpful, but it is reassuring to hear someone be so honest about the struggle that is writing. So many share the positive results without detailing the hardship that goes along with it. As a fellow writer, this is inspiring and motivating, as well as a reminder that the road to success can be hard, but is worth it in the end. ❤

    Like

    1. Thanks, Kirstie! I’m glad the struggle came through because let’s be real, it was NOT pretty. It was really freaking hard (and still is!). Let me know if you have any specific questions about querying! I’m happy to help.

      Like

  2. Thank you thank you for sharing your journey! So often I hear that someone has gotten an agent and it’s easy to forget all the crazy hard work that you have to do to get there. It’s easy to think, oh wow, s/he just got lucky when really no matter what there’s so, so much work that goes into writing a book and then shopping it out to agents.

    Your story makes me want to keep working as hard as I can this year to finish editing my book and get an agent, too!

    Like

  3. Absolutely! Of course publishing, like many businesses, relies on luck as well as talent and hard work, but you can’t get lucky without working hard! I’m so glad you’re going to keep writing. Best of luck on the agent search!

    Like

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