I made a big announcement on social media yesterday: I signed with a literary agent!
Since I’ve already had seven books published, some of you might wonder if I’ve already published seven books without an agent, why get one now? Or maybe you assumed I already had an agent.
I tried to get an agent with my first novel about a decade ago. Even though I workshopped my query letter and had my book critiqued by a professional and several beta readers, I didn’t get a single request for a partial or a full after almost a year. Not deterred, I researched smaller publishers who took unagented submissions. I submitted to a few of them and got a contract. One contract led to many more over the course of eight years.
My desire for a literary agent and a major publishing deal waned as I released more books with small publishers and built my fanbase. I was having so much fun writing and connecting with the readers that I didn’t want to pause the journey to query agents. I also enjoyed the extra money! Traditional publishing moves very slow and I had too many books to write and too little patience to wait years!
A combination of factors contributed to me changing my mind: Spending more time with traditional authors and following their successes, watching my very good friends enter the query trenches and emerge with an agent they loved who believed in their talent, and my own career and fanbase not taking off/building as quickly as I wanted it to despite working so hard. I yearned for more marketing support, but mostly I wanted a partner/advocate (agent!) to help me navigate my career. I decided that after I fulfilled my contract with my current publisher, I was going to query my next novel. Unlike in the past, I wasn’t happy with the status quo. Timing is everything and I finally had the patience to wait.
I began researching agents even before I finished the first draft of the book. I used Query Tracker, Manuscript Wishlist, Publishers Marketplace, and Absolute Write to curate a list of agents who were open to queries and seeking submissions in romantic comedy, contemporary romance, or fun women’s fiction. I looked at each agent’s sales history. If they were a new agent, I looked at their agency in general. I created a list on Twitter of just agents to keep track of the types of books they were seeking and to get a general sense of their personality. I checked comments on Query Tracker for response rates. I stalked their reputations on Absolute Write. Although the pitch and bio parts of my query letter never changed, I tailored my first sentence to each agent, and I prepared the introductions ahead of time. If they’d tweeted about seeking more romantic comedies, I wrote that. If my book was similar in theme to one of their client’s, I mentioned it. I was very strategic in who I queried, and I wanted each agent to know there was a reason I chose them. Even though my manuscript wasn’t completed yet, I participated in Speed Pitch at RWA 2018 in Denver and met more than 10 agents and editors who invited me to send them material upon completion of the book. I knew this wouldn’t guarantee me an offer of representation but being able to put “RWA Speed Pitch” in the subject line of the query would at least get me noticed in the slush pile.
When the book was finished, I did what I always do—gave it to my beta readers. They knew I wanted brutal honesty and they gave it to me. My critique partner read it about four times—before and after the betas—and each time she pulled more and more out of me. I was exhausted. I hated her sometimes. But mostly, I was so grateful she helped me take the manuscript to a new level. Agents constantly implore writers not to query until there is nothing more we can do without their help. My support system helped me get there.
Now the book was ready, but I still had to nail the query letter and synopsis. And I thought I did. Many times. Only to be told by several people that they still weren’t good enough. The letter wasn’t “hooky” enough. The synopsis didn’t pull them in. I whimpered, I pulled on my hair until my scalp hurt, I screamed. I took my frustrations out on the friend who was helping me the most: “The book is about what the book is about! If it’s not a big enough hook, I might as well give up now!” This friend took it in stride, as true friends do. She assured me that the book had an amazing premise and hook and that I just needed a better pitch. Then she implored me to ask our other friend, one who works magic with marketing copy, to help. And she did! She read the entire manuscript and helped me tweak both my query letter and my synopsis so that everything she adored about the book shined through.
With a polished manuscript, a solid query letter, both a one-to-two-page and three-to-five-page synopsis, and a list of vetted agents in hand, I was finally ready to start querying! I was pumped!
I was also scared out of my freaking mind!
Spoiler alert: I got an agent! But come back tomorrow for part two and I’ll share how it happened.