Back when I was querying (and if I’m honest, even before), I used to loooove reading these posts. “How I got my agent.” Yes. Please. Tell me everything. Let me drink from the font of your wisdom. Let me bathe in the waters of your experience. Actually, ok, this metaphor is getting away from me.
I really liked reading these posts, is my point.
So, naturally, now I have to write one. I can’t promise wisdom, or watery experience, but I’ll do my best to be entertaining (at the very least).
You may already know I did Pitch Wars, but for people who don’t, I’ll recap: Pitch Wars is a contest hosted by the inimitable Brenda Drake, and involves submitting a query + pages to mentors who are agented authors or other publishing professionals. Then, just like with querying agents, those mentors have the option of requesting more material from you (think: synopses, partials, full manuscripts). If you’re one of the lucky top 4% (or whatever the statistic was this year) and are selected, you spend the next several months revising your book with your mentor and developing querying materials. At the end, short pitches and excerpts (totaling 300 words) are posted on the Pitch Wars blog. Agents then read the pitches and comment if they’d like you to send them more material.
It’s a great way to bypass the slush pile. In past years, Pitch Wars has been a boon for a lot of writers. Over half of the 2016 mentees are agented now, several have book deals (some of which were six or seven figures). And from our current class (2017), over fifty mentees have offers from agents!
Anyway, yes, I did Pitch Wars. I was mentored by Emily Martin and basically rewrote over half my book during edits with her.
I started querying the day of the agent showcase. I sent out a round to my dream agents (including Holly and Taylor, the agents I signed with–they don’t participate in Pitch Wars). This included about ten people. My plan was to send my query in batches of 8-10, so that I could assess my full request to rejection ratio and change my query accordingly.
Luckily for me, that didn’t end up being an issue. My query was solid. I got full requests pretty quickly off cold querying, and I received my first offer of representation (from a Pitch Wars agent) within a few days of the agent showcase.
Obviously, I was thrilled. This agent was amazing, and our call went great. It was happening. It was really happening.
You can’t send out any more queries after you get an offer, so I only had 22 non-Pitch Wars queries out there in the wild. (One of these slid under that offer radar soooo close; he actually Twitter DMed me and requested my full–after seeing an aesthetic for my book and reading my pitch on the PW site–a mere two hours before I got the “let’s talk” email from the first offering agent!) Lucky for me, almost all of these turned into full requests. 22 queries is definitely on the low side, and everything happened for me on the decidedly very very quick side, so I feel I should offer a disclaimer here: this isn’t a realistic expectation for most people. Moving on….
I nudged all of the agents with my material, including unanswered queries. I got another offer within twenty-four hours.
That whole two weeks was a flurry of anxiety and phone calls with agents, and their clients, and occasionally even an offering agent’s colleague agent. Talking to clients was one of my favorite parts of the whole process. I got to know a lot of really cool writers who have written or are coming out with some fantastic books. I still keep in touch with several of them!
By the end of my two week period, I had a handful of offers and a double-handful of polite step-asides. I also hadn’t heard back from two queries, but at this point, I assumed they were a lost cause. So on that thirteenth day, after a LOT of anxiety and excitement and hope and apprehension, I sat down and started writing my acceptance email for one of the offering agents.
But then…then. I was making dinner and chatting on the phone with my best friend when I got an email notification from Root Literary. I sucked in a deep breath and told my friend to hold on a sec because I had to read this rejection real quick. But what I read…wasn’t that. Holly and Taylor had written to say they were reading THE FEVER KING and loving it so far, but they just hadn’t finished yet. They knew today was my deadline, but by any chance did I have a buffer, and if so, could I give them overnight to finish reading?
So, here’s where I jumped up and down screaming–and also where I had to give past-Victoria her due, because past-Victoria had wondered if something like this might happen to future-Victoria. And in her neurosis, past-Victoria gave other agents a deadline that was one day short of the first offering agent’s deadline.
I wrote back and said yes, of course, because it’s Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty, y’all. Talk about a dream team. Like, when they requested my full off a cold query, I’d been happy enough just knowing they liked my concept and pages enough to want to read my book. I didn’t expect them to read more than half of it, really. And definitely not to email me at the eleventh hour saying they were loving it. What?! It felt so surreal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and think that this might turn into an offer, because after all, they hadn’t finished reading. They could still hate my ending. I felt like by getting excited, I was setting myself up to be devastated later, but … I couldn’t help getting excited, anyway.
The next day, I was in a coffee shop trying to get work done on grad school stuff when I my phone rang with an unknown number. I’d gotten used to answering the phone for every single random call these past two weeks, and gotten friendly with my fair share of telemarketers as a result. But this time….
Yep, you guessed it, it was them, and this was it, it was The Call. Only The Call was gonna have to wait, because I had zero service in that whole town. I had to hang up and drive to a whole ‘nother town and run into my lab building to hole up in an empty classroom and call them back.
It became clear so quickly that Holly and Taylor weren’t just dream agents on paper, they were dream agents in reality, too. Everything they said made it so obvious they really ‘got’ my book and its characters, and shared my vision for its future. Even their editorial notes seemed to highlight little quiet concerns I’d had about the book, but before now, hadn’t been sure how to fix.
Of course, it was the day of my for-real deadline, so now I had to scurry around calling the client whose name they gave me, and also calling a few others whose names were given to me by writing friends. Every single person I talked to just gushed about how amazing Holly and Taylor were. Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.
My hands were shaking when I typed out my acceptance email, and still shaking when I signed the contract and poured the champagne. I’m so delighted to be working with Holly and Taylor, and can’t wait to take the next steps in my publishing journey.
I did find a number of resources extremely valuable during the querying part of this whole process. I recommend everyone check out QueryTracker. The premium account features let you not only track which literary agents you’ve queried but also where your query falls in a ‘timeline’ compared to other authors using QueryTracker. That can be a little insanity-inducing if you notice that an agent has responded to every query sent on the same day as yours but yours, or you seem to be next up in line to get a response. But overall it was useful just to get a sense for how long people took to respond, what kinds of books they were drawn to, etc.
I also highly recommend using as many tools as you can to learn how to write a solid query in the first place. QueryShark is a great resource written by a top literary agent who revises queries submitted to the blog and shows where and why they aren’t working–and, sometimes, why they are. Reddit also has a really good writing/publishing community at /r/PubTips, where you can post queries for feedback from other users (including agented authors, trad published authors, and industry professionals).
I have a couple planned posts for this blog which might be helpful, too. Next up, I’ll eviscerate my query letter. I’ll show you line-by-line why it worked, and also the parts that maybe could have been better, then suggest some concrete steps for writing a solid query letter of your own.
I hope all of you had happy holidays, and are looking forward to a new year!