How I Got My Agent

All right, y’all. Buckle your seat belts because you’re in for a very, very long post about how I got my agent.

And we’re gonna start at the beginning. The very beginning.

I wrote the first draft of the book that would become Strung Along in 2009 for NaNoWriMo. I was 15.

It was a hot mess. But I couldn’t let go of the story. I believed in it, and I believed in my characters.

I got a subscription to Writer’s Digest for Christmas. I joined a now defunct website called inkpop (that turned into Figment) and made it to the top 5 in July of 2010. I went to a creative writing summer camp that same summer, and in the fall I sent out maybe… six queries to agents, and then high school caught up with me and I gave up.

(Also those first queries were horrible, but I digress).

I didn’t query seriously until 2013. A lot happened in the three-year span between those times, with me and the book, but I’ll cover that in another post (maybe a book deal one hopefully!). Because this isn’t my “how the book came to be” story. Not yet.

This is how I got my agent.

So I started querying in fall 2013, and had a few full/partial requests but nothing was sticking. So I decided to enter #PitMad that January, a Twitter pitch contest. And I had a few favorites on my pitch, including one from an agent named Emily Keyes who I’d actually queried two days before.

I shot her a quick Twitter message (or maybe it was an email) saying I’d queried her and she’d favorited my pitch, so should I still submit since she already had my query?

She said yes! And I sent her my full manuscript for Strung Along on January 6, 2014, and that’s how we began.

She emailed me back a week and a half later saying she liked the concept but she thought the MS needed some work, and would I be open to doing revisions?

Heck yes I was open to doing revisions.

So Emily sent me her notes, I sent her a revised MS back a month later, and then proceeded to fret and worry about my manuscript and worry to pretty much everyone within earshot/on Twitter DM about how it was going.

(Here’s where I’m going to pause and thank three fabulous people: BreeKatie, and Rachel, for putting up with my anxious self for more than a year and keeping me sane. Y’all rock.)

And I got another email from Emily in May–she liked my changes but she still thought the manuscript needed more work, and would I be open to a phone call to discuss revisions?

(Heck yeah I was open to a phone call).

So I had my phone call with Emily and even though I was a complete nervous wreck beforehand, talking to her immediately put me at ease. She was super friendly and wonderful on the phone, and all her notes felt so true and spot on to the book. We ended up talking for an hour and a half about stuff that wasn’t even related to writing. And somewhere in the back of my mind I started thinking that Emily might be a really good fit for me as an agent.

I left that phone call feeling good about revising and got to work. I was working as a camp counselor for most of the summer, so after midnight when my kids were asleep, I’d work on the book. And in the mornings when they were doing activities, I’d work on the book.

I sent the second revised version back to Emily in August, and prepared to leave to study abroad in Wales for three months. Fortunately for me (and Bree and Rachel and Katie), I was too busy preparing for Wales to think about the waiting around a lot.

I made it to Wales. I only had internet on campus since I hadn’t bought an international plan for my phone, which was good because it kept me from obsessively checking my email wondering if Emily (or any other agents, as I was still querying), had responded to my manuscript yet.

And then one night in October I came back from a local pub and saw I had an email from Emily.

She liked my latest version, but she thought the voice still wasn’t working (which I wholeheartedly agreed with), and if I wasn’t sick of her, was I open to doing more revisions?

This time I actually had to pause, y’all. I was getting to a point of being sick of the manuscript. It felt okay and the plot and everything was there, but something was missing in the story, and Emily was right–my character’s voice was totally off. I couldn’t get a good handle on her, and I knew this was going to be the hardest revision to do.

But I said yes, I was open to one more round.

And then I got stuck. I tried to go back into my book but every time I did I felt a sense of dread because nothing was working and it all felt so completely overwhelming.

So I talked to Katie (really seriously Katie talked me down off so many writing ledges it feels like). And I decided to put the book aside for two weeks and just enjoy my study abroad experience.

I did enjoy it. I traveled to London, saw some West End shows. Took a week with a few other students and went to Prague and Berlin. Tried not to think about the book. Didn’t think about the book. Listened to Wintergirls on audio because I had long bus rides and because if anyone is a master of voice it’s Laurie Halse Anderson. Watched a lot of psychology videos for research trying to get inside my MC’s head.

And something really cool started happening–I started hearing my character. This character who’d never really opened up to me before. I got snatches of her voice while walking around Berlin or visiting the zoo in Prague, and I’d make notes of certain lines on my phone.

When I got back to Wales after my two-week self-imposed hiatus, I knew what I had to do: I had to start over and rewrite the entire book.

So I did. I threw out everything except maybe 5% and started from page one. I wrote in a frenzy. I stayed in the local coffee shop from pretty much 9-4 every day and ordered a giant pot of tea (we won’t talk about how much I spent on tea) and rewrote Sarah’s story.

I finished the rewrite in a month, and something felt different. The story felt fuller and better. I sent it off to CPs, and they agreed with me. I revised with their notes, and this January, an entire year after we’d first started, I sent my third revised manuscript back to Emily.

I crossed my fingers. I let my mom read the book for the first time. I agonized over waiting and I hoped something good would happen because the book felt like it was finally right this time, or close to being right. I messaged Katie a lot. I texted Bree all the time, and I brought up revisions at least once a day to Rachel.

And then, two weeks ago, my university closed for snow–because NC shuts down for one inch of snow.

And I got an email from Emily asking if we could call and discuss my manuscript.

I may have shrieked. I definitely jumped up and down and messaged all my CPs and my parents because even though I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high I had a feeling this was “The Call” that I’d read so many blog posts about and seen so many other newly agented writers talk about.

I emailed Emily and scheduled a time for our phone call for the next day at 10 a.m. I didn’t really sleep the night before. I scoured blog posts about other people’s calls and I took notes of questions I wanted to ask and made a list of qualities that were important to me.

And the next morning, Emily called. And she offered representation, and we talked about the book and I tried to keep my cool even though I was totally flipping out on the inside.

I asked for ten days to think about it. (I know you’re totally thinking WHAT?! right now but trust, you don’t want to make a super important career decision while still riding the emotional bliss high). Even though I had a really good feeling Emily was a good fit for me.

I talked to some of Emily’s other clients on the phone and through email. I nudged the other agents with my MS and waited for responses from them. They withdrew with congratulations, and by last Friday I’d heard from every one and knew what my decision was going to be.

And after a year of working and waiting and querying, I accepted Emily’s offer of representation. I knew she was a great fit for me–she completely understood my book (and at this point, my revision process), our communication styles totally mesh, and I know it’s totally cliche to say this but we really clicked. And I’m glad we went through so many revisions because I don’t think I or the book were ready beforehand.

So yeah. My process to getting an agent was super long and I may have drank my weight in tea during it, but it was totally, totally worth it and I’m so happy to have Emily as my agent.

Some fun query stats for you:

Number of queries sent: 76
Number of query rejections: 53
Number of partial/full requests: 22
Submissions: 22
R&Rs: 3
Months spent querying: 18