My agent story is a fun one to tell, at least for me. I don’t have five trunk novels. I didn’t query hundreds of agents and field dozens of rejections. One might call my story the Cinderella story. Kind of. (Well, other than the three years and hundreds of hours of writing, revising, studying craft, going to conferences, and wiping breast milk off of my ink-filled pages.) Where was I? Oh, right. The Cinderella story.
It began with one completed manuscript, four full requests, and two measly rounds of revisions. I sent out BECOMING JOSEPHINE, sure that I would have agents vying to sign me. Within two weeks I had two rejections and two requested rewrites. Not bad, right? I was DEVASTATED. I was so new to the game, I didn’t realize that was actually good odds—a quasi fifty percent return rate.
I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist or hard-headed (probably both), but four people sending my manuscript back to me was enough for me to realize IT JUST WASN’T READY.
So I rewrote and rewrote for another six months and I picked up new crit partners. They hacked the holy hell out of that manuscript and then, I took a deep breath, and reentered the dangerous world of THE GREAT AGENT SEARCH.
I sent out six more queries and hit another conference. This time, I was SHOT DOWN. The intro didn’t grab them. There were…issues.
Another bloody hacking took place.
A month passed. And suddenly, a brilliant light of inspiration stabbed me in the brain matter. I knew what I had to do! I rewrote my intro for the fifteenth time until that bad boy was sparkling. And on to another conference I went, but this time, I felt different. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t pace or obsess. In fact, I possessed an almost eerie sense of calm. I knew deep down that I had done absolutely everything I could. (Plus the Tarot cards told me a new partnership was at hand. Go ahead, snicker. But those things are always right.)
This is the part where I go all Cinderella on you.
At this conference, where I was calm to my core, all four agents at the round table readings requested pages (one was on my A-list!). Another agent approached me who hadn’t even read my pages, but she’d heard they were good (!!) and get this—the best part—she followed ME into the bathroom!
Wait, there’s, more! Something else miraculous happened. Within two weeks of that last conference, four OTHER agents asked for exclusives, one of which was in my top three A-list agents. I didn’t know what to do…so I did anything any self-respecting writer would do. I got drunk with my girlfriends. I mean, this was nuts! I was so confused. What happened if more than one agent offered? What if…GASP…none offered after all that?
I didn’t sleep well for the next two weeks. And finally, I heard back from my fairy godmother.
The email came that said: LET’S TALK THIS WEEK. My future agent/fairy godmother (and A-lister) offered rep on the spot and she hadn’t even read the full manuscript. She was trying to beat out the others, so I’ve been told, and she knew she wanted to represent me after reading the first half. I wound up having the extreme pleasure (and distress) of turning down several other agents.
But you see, I worked hard, I researched incessantly, I reached out to other writers, I played the game. Plus I had a strategy. I exercised serious caution before wallpapering the inboxes of every agent in publishing with my query letter. I waited for valuable feedback each time. And one of the most important parts in this fairy tale is that I had met 85% of the agents I queried in person. This immediately catapulted me out of the slush pile.
This business is all about staying the course. But it’s also a combination of caution and bold moves. Know where that line is. Remember that it’s a subjective business, but it’s also one that responds well to professionalism, ball-busting hard work, and persistence. So many writers like to read about success stories because they want to find that magical combination of steps that lead to success. But the only magic out there is believing in yourself. If you believe you have what it takes, one day you may find yourself reliving the Cinderella story.