Yesterday, I told you why I decided to seek an agent after so many years. Today, I’ll share a little bit about what it was like for me in the query trenches.
I’d hoped to start querying in September, 2018 but revisions of the book took me longer than expected. My next goal was “by Thanksgiving.” As it turned out, I wasn’t ready until early December. I considered waiting until after the new year but since so many agents on my list were open to queries and I was ready, I chose not to wait.
Over the course of the first week, I sent out about 25 queries. I worried this time around would be no different than when I’d queried my first book—no requests. But I got two requests for the full manuscript almost immediately. But then I got my first rejection on a full two days later. I received several partial requests within the first two weeks, followed by a rejection of one of them soon thereafter. It took three weeks for any of my queries to be rejected flat out but once the first came, many more followed. But then there were more full and partial requests to remove the sting. This time was VERY different than a decade ago and it was dizzying!
There was one person who knew everything as it happened, whether it was a form rejection, a pass on requested material, a partial/full request etc. I often apologized for sharing every little thing, but to me, they were all big things. But for the most part, I kept the process to myself. As excited as I’d get about a full request, I knew it didn’t guarantee an offer of rep. I didn’t want to get mine or anyone else’s hopes up.
Each rejection caused a wave of sadness, hopefulness, and fear. Whether it was because it “wasn’t right for their list,” “not what they were looking for at this time,” or they “didn’t connect to the [insert: characters, voice, story] as much as they’d hoped,” it stung. But I became very adept at talking myself off the ledge. (My friend helped too.) I understood that in order to offer representation, not only would the agent need to love my book, but she’d need to feel confident she could sell it, and she’d have to feel passionate enough about it to do the work without any guarantee of ever getting paid. Those are major hurdles to clear! Each agent who wasn’t intrigued by the premise or didn’t “get” the book allowed me the opportunity to find the one who did. I wanted the one who did! And you can only sign with one. Sometimes it takes a lot of time (and queries) to find the right match. The only thing that guarantees failure is giving up too soon!
I had some bad days. In one twelve-hour period, I received four form rejections. It made me question whether it was ever going to happen for me. But in the same week, I had my first phone call with an agent as well as a request for a call with a different agent who ultimately became my agent—Melissa Edwards from Stonesong Literary.
I found Melissa on Twitter when she’d tweeted that her #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) included high-concept approachable romantic comedies. I had one of those! Further research disclosed she’d sold a lot of books to Big Five and other major publishers. Ideally, this is where I wanted to land. I also liked her personality. Since I’d be working closely with her, a nice disposition was important.
I queried Melissa on December 6th. According to her website, she only responds to queries when she is interested in reading more material. I hadn’t heard from her by the time I left for my annual writer’s retreat to California on January 15th, but when I landed at San Francisco International Airport, there was an email from her requesting the full! My writing tribe cheered the request. I was thrilled. But during that vacation, I also received a form rejection from one agent and a rejection on a partial from another. Dizzying!
When I got home from my trip, I queried a few more agents. Then I decided to pause the process while awaiting feedback on the fulls/partials I already had out. I didn’t want to exhaust my full list of agents in case the consensus was that the manuscript needed extensive revisions.
Then, on Thursday, January 31st, Melissa sent me an email. She asked a few general questions but didn’t comment on my book. I assumed she wouldn’t have engaged me in conversation if she hated the manuscript or was even lukewarm about it. But what did it mean? I answered her questions and spent the next twenty-four hours analyzing what she must be thinking and waiting for her next move. She wrote again on Friday to tell me she’d love to have a call to discuss my book and was I available the following week? Um, YES, I WAS AVAILABLE! We scheduled a call for the following Tuesday at 10 a.m. (February 5th)
I knew that a request for a call didn’t necessarily mean she was going to offer representation. It was possible this was an R&R call—a revise and resubmit. I braced myself for either one, but I hoped so hard it was “The call!” In the meantime, I spent all weekend reading posts online and watching videos on Youtube about questions to ask so I’d be prepared.
Finally, Tuesday arrived. My hands were shaking, and I thought I might throw up, but by the time we ended the call, I had an offer of representation! Melissa loved the book and she shared my vision for it. With each question she answered, I became more and more excited about the prospect of signing with her. But I didn’t accept her offer that day. She knew there were other agents reading the book and she gave me two weeks to let them know I’d received an offer and give them a chance to either offer as well or step aside.
At this point, I had four other amazing agents reading the full. I also had three reading the partial and several other outstanding queries. After I did my happy dance and emailed my best friend to tell her the news, I notified the other agents of my offer and gave them until February 15th to get back to me. Everyone was so gracious. Those with the full promised they’d finish reading and get back to me quickly, many requested the full, and several politely stepped aside.
It was a great position to be in because I already had an offer from an agent I was excited about. But it didn’t mean the next set of rapid rejections didn’t sting or make me second guess myself or the marketability of the book. One of the agents with the full told me she’d been waffling over the manuscript because she really liked it, but she didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm as the offering agent. A few more complimented the story and my writing but said they didn’t feel the sufficient level of passion required to take me on. Some said they just didn’t connect. These passes hurt, but then I remembered that I already had what I wanted all along: a reputable agent who loved my book, felt confident she could sell it, and was passionate enough about the project to take it on without any guarantee of compensation.
I accepted Melissa’s offer on Friday, February 15th. Then I withdrew my manuscript from consideration from the few who hadn’t responded yet. Shortly after, one of those agents told me she loved the book and had been about to offer representation as well! I’m not gonna lie, having another agent want to rep me was validating and felt amazing. But I had no regrets about already accepting Melissa’s offer. I’d found my one and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I received an offer two months and two days from the date I sent out my first query letter. I’m aware that my journey wasn’t long relative to many others seeking agent representation. I consider myself fortunate. I tried to mentally prepare for a much longer process. I read blog posts and watched Youtube videos by authors who sent out 100s of queries over several years before getting an agent. These authors inspired me with their success stories and persistence and implored me to keep going after each rejection. Although the wait wasn’t long in duration, it felt interminable at times. I was an emotional wreck. My mood/state of mind vacillated daily depending on whether I’d get a request for a partial/full or a form rejection. I suffered from writer’s block even though I knew the best thing to do was to work on my next book.
I know that having an agent doesn’t guarantee my book will sell. I’m sure I will worry, sweat, and lose sleep over the submission process when the time comes. (I’ll be revising with Melissa before we go on sub.) But for now, my dream of signing with a literary agent has come true and I’m going to celebrate it!
Total queries sent: 52
Form rejections: 19
Total rejections: 34
No response: 15
Referrals to colleague: 1
Partial requests: 6
Full requests before offer: 6
Full requests after offer (total): 10