I've been in and out of the query trenches for several years, and one of the things that kept me going was other writers' "How I Got My Agent" posts. I can't believe it's finally time to write one of my own!
So here goes. (Warning: it's the long, historical version.)
In 2011, I started writing a book. I'd dabbled in short fiction, blogging, and bad poetry, but this was my first attempt at an actual book. And wow, it felt like taking drugs. I couldn't believe how magical it was to create these characters and worlds and roam around and almost live in them. Granted, I wasn't so great at putting everything together, and character arcs? What are those? But it was a fabulously exciting time. After a lot of revising and figuring out of things, I queried the manuscript. It didn't work out. In retrospect, this is a good thing because the book was basically terrible. But I learned a ton about how to put a book together, how to make characters relatable, how to develop a plot, etc.
So I wrote another book. It was much better than book #1 and got a lot of agent requests, but ultimately none of them panned out. I got a lot of kind feedback and a few requests to see my next manuscript, which was encouraging, but not what I'd been hoping for.
So I wrote another book. It was by far the hardest one. Because of its setting in the Arctic, it required a ton of research. I spent months requesting books and DVDs from the library (FYI: interlibrary loan is amazing), reading websites, and watching pretty much every single YouTube video set in Nunavut. I enjoyed the researching process, but it was time-consuming. The manuscript was also emotionally difficult to get through, with a lot of very heavy scenes, and sometimes it was easier to just not write it. I started thinking that maybe I had no right to tell this story, that I'd botch everything, that I wouldn't be able to make the words on the page match the ideal in my head. All typical writerly doubt stuff, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with. I seriously considered trunking the book.
Then WriteOnCon happened, and I posted my query and opening pages, with a disclaimer that it was a work in progress. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. People really seemed to like it, and so many of them offered to beta that I could barely keep up. I can't even express how much this helped. It gave me a new sense of hope for the book, and the feeling that maybe I wasn't a terrible writer and maybe I could do this story justice. So I kept on plugging along.
Fast forward to this spring. I had a finished, polished draft. I'd sent it out to betas and made further revisions. I still had sneaking doubts and some ideas for revising the whole first half of the book, but I decided to send out a small round of queries because I was driving myself nuts overthinking everything. So out went ten queries. And within the first week, in came five full requests. It was thrilling, but I still felt like I needed to sit tight, just in case that first half was wrong and needed to be hacked to pieces. I told myself I'd wait for the requests to come back, even if it took a few months.
Now I don't know what other people's query processes are, but for me, it's incredibly hard to sit and wait without doing anything. The only thing I felt like I had any control over was sending more query letters, but I'd made an Official Plan not to. Luckily (or not so luckily) I moved right in the middle of the process. With two little kids underfoot and a mountain of boxes, I thought it'd take my mind off things, but it just compounded the anxiety. Like, my hair started falling out a little bit. Every so often, when the wait got agonizing, I'd let myself send out one more query, but I really tried to limit myself.
Almost two months after sending my first query, I got a response from one of the agents I'd queried in the very first batch. She said she was reading my book and loving it. I just about died. She asked what other genres I wrote and asked if I'd be willing to send samples of other things I'd written. I spent an hour writing back to her, deleting and rewriting and deleting and second-guessing everything. And I sent her a random snippet of a very strange story I'd been tinkering with. I figured there was a very good chance she'd think I was a total weirdo.
But she didn't! She wrote back and said she wanted to talk. On the phone. But I had to wait until 5:00 the next day, and let me tell you, that was a loooooooong day. But it was so worth it. The agent was lovely and so easy to talk to. She was incredibly enthusiastic and had so many nice things to say about my book that I almost cried. When we hung up, I thought, "Well, that's it. I have an agent." But I still had a bunch of other agents reading the manuscript, so I notified them that I had an offer of representation and gave them ten days to respond, because both Memorial Day and BEA were happening that week.
At the end of the ten days, I had some very kind feedback and another offer of representation. I always thought it'd be fabulous to be in a position where I had to choose between agents, but honestly, it felt kind of terrible. Both agents were incredible, both had great sales records, and both said wonderful things about my book. And I had to choose one. Ultimately, I just kept going back to the first agent, and all I can say is that I clicked with her in a way that felt right. Not sure if that's helpful at all to anybody in a similar situation, but I just knew. I also spoke to a few of her clients, who raved about her, which just solidified everything I was feeling.
So yeah, long story short: I'm now represented by Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and I could not be happier.
Here are the stats, for those of you who like them:
Queries sent: 16
Requests: 10 full, 1 partial, 1 full request from a contest