How I Got My Agent
I just need all of you fine readers out there to know that I've been drafting this blog post for about four months.
And I've been doing so for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost... life. Life is hard. Yes, in general and for everyone, but also, in particular, my life has been a sh!tshow -- like, positively WILD -- these past few months. Mostly in the bad way, if I'm honest, but also in the good way. I'll go into it all in another post, I promise, but right now I want to focus on this post's very telling title.
Which brings me to my second reason for procrastinating: I... have not been quite sure how to form the words. For over a decade, I've been dreaming of this exact scenario, and now that I'm blogging about it, it feels too surreal to comprehend. The shock of it all has died down a little by now because I've taken so long to actually put this up, but since life is so chaotic at the present, I'm still not totally convinced I'll wake up from some fever dream, sweating and still hoping for someone to come along and fall in love with my story as much as I have.
Since I still seem to be dreaming, I'll take advantage of this moment before it fades away: I have an agent, guys. I found a real, living human whom I respect and admire, cold-queried her, and she decided I was worth a shot too. And now I get to write about it.
I still get goosebumps when I think about the last year or so of my writing journey.
I've been writing stories since I was ten years old, and in college I decided I'd be happy to do it as a career one day. Of course, I was studying journalism, and I'd figured I'd be practical and do that kind of writing for a few decades, then write creatively once I'd established myself; but that was before I realized I'd much rather tell my own stories than others', and also my writing was far too flowery for journalism anyway.
Back in August of 2021, I decided to attend a School Library Journal all-day virtual event full of webinars about children's fiction; library workers get first dibs at online events like these, a perk I'm immensely grateful for. This particular even had Nicola Yoon and David Yoon, husband-wife writing duo, as headliners. Since they're my all-time favorite couple and some of my favorite YA writers, hearing them talking about the imprint, called Joy Revolution, which they were establishing with Penguin Random House, was exciting to me. At the time, I'd made a rough timeline of my current and future projects and when I wanted to write them. I was in the middle of writing a story I've been technically working on for years that's set in Ireland, and I was in love with it (still am, for the record).
But meanwhile I had this other story -- the at-the-time unnamed My Brain on Love & Panic -- just waiting to be written, though I wasn't planning to touch it any time soon... that is, until that fated virtual event. I'd always loved the Yoons' unique romantic pairing (it's rare to see a Black woman and Asian man in a relationship), and I realized that hearing them talk about their love story and how they wanted to help put POC at the forefront of soft, squishy romance, as opposed to stories of struggle and strife, lined up with my own hopes for publishing and stories of the future. I realized I already had my own unique love story with characters based off of me and my husband, another unconventional pairing, and I decided to sketch out a barebones outline for Love & Panic that day. The outline became meatier and meatier until it was basically a first draft, so I decided to put aside the Ireland story for a short time and write this one instead. I figured once I got it out of me, I'd at least have a draft to work on later, and I could finally focus on my Ireland story again, convinced it was still going to be my next published work.
I wrote Love & Panic in 21 days. TWENTY-ONE. I was a woman obsessed. Even then, I knew. I felt its relevance, timing, and future success in my bones.
I've been querying different projects on and off for twelve years, and I've never gotten a request. Not even a partial. My first novel was accepted by a small press in 2017, sure, but part of the sub package was attaching my full manuscript then and there. No one expressly asked me for it based on a pitch.
I've always known my writing is good (though I've improved tremendously over the years, for sure), but my stories never felt authentic enough, not even to me. That's why for years I knew querying was a shot in the dark, unfocused and poorly planned. I felt like I was meant to be published in a big way -- because I couldn't stop going for it -- but I was also always writing like someone else, or writing someone else's story, and nothing felt true. Certainly, getting a request never felt like it would happen. Love & Panic was different, though, and my gut told me a few specific things about putting this one out into the world: bide my time, query agents of color (this story only features POC, a first for me), and don't query too many people.
I could tell, thanks to Twitter, that editors and agents alike were clamoring for romance with BIPOC leads. It was time for this story, and the Yoons' imprint had finally kicked it off for me. I had a very short A-Team list of 8 dream agents and agencies I would have killed to work with, and Ladderbird Literary Agency was at the very top. I queried Leah Pierre, who reminded me of me in so many ways, and whose picture showed a super approachable smile that, for once, didn't intimidate me. I expected nothing, though, because that was the trend for me; anyone who seemed too good to be true usually was, in my case. When I heard from her nine days later, it was a Friday. I was off work, writing in bed, and when I saw her email, all I saw was Query Request, as per usual. I said, "Nope, not looking at that now. It's the beginning of a long weekend, and I will not ruin my days off with a rejection. I'll look at it later."
I didn't check my email again until Monday morning. It was a full request. My first ever. In twelve years.
I MADE THIS WONDERFULLY GRACIOUS WOMAN WAIT 4 DAYS FOR A RESPONSE BECAUSE I ASSUMED IT WAS A REJECTION.
When you're querying, you get so used to hearing "no" that a "yes" shocks you. Shaking, squealing, and crying at my desk (and annoying my very confused, wide-eyed coworkers), I sent her my full and waited. For 2 months. I was not pressed about it. I tried not to pay attention to the progress of my submission at all. Her average response time is 2 months, and anyway, that's the nature of querying -- waiting. I'd gotten good at it.
What I did do, however, was one thing I'd never done before while querying: I stopped sending letters to agents.
This was not me putting all my eggs in one agent's basket. This was not overconfidence (let's be honest: realistically, I was expecting a pass at any moment). This was not me being 100% sure of anything. This was me listening to a little voice from the pit of my gut saying,
"This is the one. This is the story. This is the time. People need to read it, and you need to share it, and this agent will be its most enthusiastic advocate."
Of course, I had no idea if it was wishful thinking, and part of me assumed it was. I mean, wouldn't all of that gut whispering be too good to be true too? The only thing that kept me following it was this: I trust my gut. It's honestly never steered me wrong before. I even wrote a blog post shortly after finishing Love & Panic where I stated, boldly, that this story would be my next published work, and at the time, I felt that it was true. So I trusted my gut this time too.
And now, I have an agent after my first full request ever.
I know the above statement is frustrating as hell for querying authors to hear. I'd middle finger the ever-loving out of my screen if I read that sentence while in those trenches. But there's a pretty important reason why I'm including this info here.
This process really is all about finding the right person. The subjectivity of publishing is actually the most maddening part... it almost gaslights us fledgling writers, in a way:
"Your writing is great! No, it isn't. No, I never said it isn't great -- I said it's not great for me. Who cares if 50 other people also told you that. If you don't want to believe in yourself, that's on you."
And, like, okay, the things most agents and editors say are probably said with the best intent, and, yes, subjectivity is a real thing. But also, some of the people in charge here aren't acknowledging how much power their words and perspectives hold. All of the opinions really impact a creative who's trying to figure out their audience and their sense of place and their confidence and how much rejection they can or should take. Add in the fact that feedback on your project is rare and definitely not guaranteed, and you're swimming in a sea of constant uncertainty. That weighs on querying writers, and we really need every bit of surety we can get to know that it's okay to keep going.
So that's why I hate saying a vague thing like, "You just have to find the right person." But it's true. Granted, you want to have a manuscript that's original and as polished as you can make it, but even so, the most beautiful manuscript in the world won't hit until the right person sees it. I queried 35 agents for my novel that I eventually published with that small press back in 2018. No one ever even asked to see pages. I queried 5 agents -- passively, mind you -- for Love & Panic. My first full request was quickly followed by my first, and best, offer of representation. Leah was perfect, and both she and I knew it.
After she got my full, I followed her on Twitter to see how she interacted with clients, other writers, and the types of posts she was liking on the platform. I tried to figure out whether we'd be a good match if I were ever presented the opportunity to go into business with her. A simple public look-see told me what city she's from (which also happens to be the city my husband is from) and gave me her Manuscript Wish List which, incidentally, had my exact novel's themes all over it. It gave me hope that she would be a passionate advocate for my story, if she liked it.
After sitting on my story for a couple months (because she has other clients and an editorial business, to name just a few of her other obligations), Leah picked up my story on a Thursday and finished it on a Friday. Reader, she read my story in ONE DAY. That Saturday, she followed me back on Twitter. I stared at the notification alerting me of my brand new follower for longer than a sane person would, but I was convinced I was on some sort of acid trip. Then the questions rolled in: "Why is she following me?! I mean, I'm elated and all, but why?! Does she know???Was it an accident? Did she finish my novel? I'm freaking out!"
Turns out she was, in her words, swept off her feet by my characters, Sebastian and Ally, and their unique love story, and she couldn't stop reading it. I've never been so honored in my life. I still have no idea what to do with this knowledge, even after all these months. I keep feeling like she's just being nice to me and my bubble's going to burst at any time. That feeling will probably fade with time, but, as a newly agented writer who still remembers what it's like to be unagented, I can tell you the imposter syndrome NEVER GOES AWAY. I'm recently realizing this, and yet I still have the audacity to be shocked -- I mean, I already feel like an imposter as a parent (though I've been one for over six years), as a mortgage-payer, as a career-haver, and as an overall adult human. Why would I feel any differently about my role as a writer? In fact, in a business as subjective as writing, who's really to say I'm not an imposter?
The creative's dilemma is a unique one, but it's also universal.
Before I started querying, I did a lot of research: into the agents, agencies, and publishers who were looking for what I have. I can't help it -- I'm a library worker. I research for a living! In addition to following Leah (and a couple other agents) on Twitter, I also paid attention to the acquisitions editors at the large publishing houses, known as the Big Five. One day way back in January, a month before I started querying, one HarperCollins editor in particular also tweeted about wanting my exact novel's themes. When I quote tweeted her post telling "the world" that I had such a novel just waiting to be signed by an agent, she liked my post. It let me know there was a thriving market for my novel if I'd just be able to get it in front of the right person.
(And side note: as I write these words, my novel is in the hands -- or inbox -- of that one particular HarperCollins editor whom I quote tweeted all those months ago. I told you, life is wild.)
I now have the opportunity to have my novel seen by more eyes, for it to be available in different formats (audio, which I'm most excited about for some reason), and it'll be in a market that best understands YA, giving it the best platform possible. Plus, it'll be nice to get a little chunk of change to fund my passion, to make actual money doing what I love so much, no matter how small that chunk is.
I know, realistically, that all these factors depend on so many things, and I won't be rich overnight, if ever. Even though I'm shooting for the moon -- because manifesting has done wonders for me this far, so might as well keep going for it! -- I understand I'll probably land among the stars. But that's a hell of a place to be, too.