Technically, this story starts in the third grade, when little Lynn was taught how to write dialogue properly–with tags and commas and quotation marks and everything. This blew her easily-entertained mind, and essentially served as a gateway drug to atrocious stories with purple-eyed heroines, blind mole-men, and (on one dark occasion) heart-throb doppelgangers.
But for the sake of everyone’s sanity (especially my own) I’ll start about fourteen years later, in the spring of 2019. I’d been querying agents across multiple projects for about nine years at that point (my very first (awful) query being sent out when I was a wee lass of fourteen years stupid) and I had just completed my sixth manuscript–an adult space opera that actually had opera in it, because I’m as literal as a hunk of rock.
I decided to take the beginning of said space opera and apply to the Futurescapes Writers’ Workshop. I’d been to the workshop a few times before then, and enjoyed it immensively each time–essentially, you apply to the workshop, either get accepted or don’t, and then you’re placed in three critique groups (groups A, B, and C), each of which is headed by an industry professional (an editor or agent or published author). That year, group A was a 3k workshop of a part of your manuscript, group B was a first-page critique, and group C was a query critique.
For the sake of clarity (and some vague stab at brevity), I’m not going to talk about my experiences in my assigned groups B or C that year, and focus on group A, which was headed by an agent I deeply respect and admire. I was super stoked to have the opportunity to meet him and have my writing critiqued by him. Driving up to the workshop, my emotions were a mixture of excitement, nervousness, and the dramatic hope/feeling that this could be My Shot.
I was, in a word, pumped. And the pump lasted through when I arrived at the workshop and we started our critique session. Myself, along with five or six or other writers, were in the group, and we all gave each other feedback along with the agent who was leading our group. I was overall pretty happy with the feedback I recieved, and delighted when the agent in charge of the group told me he really enjoyed my writing. The workshop went so well, in fact, that after we finished for the day and were breaking to go to lunch before splitting into our other groups for the rest of the day, I mustered my courage and approached the agent one-on-one, deciding that I was going to just come out and ask him if he wanted to read more of my stuff/if I could send him the rest of the book that went with the excerpt he’d read/critiqued that day. Worst case scenario, he’d say no, and I’d move on with my life. And that, to me, was better than always wondering what he would’ve said.
He said yes. He wanted me to send him the rest of my book.
Cue angelic music. Mental dance parties, victory laps around my cherished hopes and dreams (don’t ask me what that looks like–no idea). I was a jittery, excited mess for the rest of the workshop. Floating on cloud nine and all that good jazz–all in all, a really great weekend. I sent the agent (hereafter known as Agent A) my space opera ASAP, and buckled in to wait to see what he thought.
In the meantime, that summer I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop, which I cannot recommend enough. The director of the workshop, Jeanne Cavelos, is a verified genius, and during the six weeks of the workshop I learned more about writing than I had in four years of college and workshops and pitch sessions. My writing leveled-up in every possible way during and after Odyssey, and the sweet cherry on top of that growth was the amazing friends I made while at the workshop, phenomenal writers who continue to inspire and motivate me as I work on my own craft.
I might write about Odyssey in more depth in the future, but for now, if you’re considering applying to Odyssey I have just one piece of advice for you:
After Odyssey I started the first semester of my MFA program in Fiction Writing, which was a whirlwind of adjusting to grad-school life and teaching undergrad writing for the first time. I kept busy on the writing side of things as school started up for me, taking a novella I wrote at the beginning of the year and revising it into a full novel that had essential things that the novella version of the story hadn’t, like a plot and pacing and a protagonist and an antagonist (did I mention Odyssey made me level up? Like, a lot?). I’d learned a ton about revision at Odyssey, and I did my best to put that learning into practice with this project–in the end I had an adult fantasy book about painters and demons and magical flowers that I was very pleased with.
The end of the year came and went, and we started into 2020 (looking back on those first few months is so wild, now). In those tender days before the whole world exploded, I heard back from Agent A. He felt my space opera was good, but missed the mark in a few things–that said, he wanted to see another project from me, and asked me to send another novel his way. I mourned my space opera for a spell, then shot the adult fantasy I’d just fininshed to Agent A.
‘Cause that’s what you do when you’re trying to break into the publishing industry. You write a book, write it as best you can. Send it out. Get rejected. Send another. Until the “get rejected” part changes to “get accepted.” I’m not saying it’s a fun process, and I definitely don’t handle said process well all the time, but it’s the name of the game. And I try to do my best to just keep writing.
But I digress–back to the story at hand. Around the time I sent my adult fantasy to Agent A, I attended Futurescapes again. I met another awesome agent there (hereafter known as Agent B) who read the beginning of my adult fantasy and critiqued it. As Agent A had liked the space opera the year before, Agent B liked my fantasy novel, so after our critique session I pulled a repeat performance, pulled her aside for a one-on-one talk, and asked her if she’d be interested in reading the rest of my fantasy novel. She was (cue another bout of angelic music, mental dancing, victory laps)! I now had two amazing agents who wanted to look at a book I loved, and though I knew waiting to hear back from them would be tough, I was ready to cross my fingers, sit back, and exercise the necessary patience.
And then March 2020 hit. The world shut down. Everything was thrown into confusion and chaos, including the publishing industry. Amidst the many other things crumbling/changing in my life, I realized that the wait I thought I’d have with hearing back from the agents with my manuscript would probably be a lot longer than I had initially anticipated.
So I did what I could, and took control of the only thing I really had control over anymore–my writing. I wrote another fantasy book, and while I drafted the new project I decided to write up a query letter for my other fantasy book (the one already out with/requested by Agents A and B) and query widely. Which I did–in June 2020, I sent out my first batch of queries.
In part I decided to start querying because it gave me something to do/focus on while the world went mad. It felt nice to be able to be proactive while I was in lockdown–a feeling I kept going by making sure that everytime I got a rejection from an agent, I shot out another query to a new agent. And the rejections came quick–I heard back from several agents in days with form rejections. But! I also got a partial request from a stellar agent just four days after querying her–which was great! She ultimately passed on the project, but told me she liked my writing enough that if I didn’t get an agent with this book, she wanted me to send her my next.
That was enough of a confidence boost to last me for a while, as were the three full-requests (from three, again, superstar agents) that eventually floated into my inbox. Two of those fulls were rejected pretty quickly (though one of those two, again, emphasized wanting to see more of my stuff in the future), while that last full-request joined the still-pending requests from Agent A and Agent B. This third agent who requested the manuscript will hereafter be known as Agent C.
Which brings us to October 2020. By that point I’d queried pretty much every agent I was interested in working with, and I was waiting to hear back from three agents who were all really great, and any of who I’d be pleased to sign with. With my desire to send out further queries pretty much dried up, but my need to feel proactive still strong, as I waited for Agents A, B, and C to let me know the verdict I decided to enter Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars was a contest I’d been entering since 2012–an online contest where writers trying to break into publishing were paired up with mentors (professional writers) who helped them polish up their manuscript before an “agent showcase” where agents could browse the first few paragraphs of each mentees’ story/their pitch for their books. I made it in as an alternate mentee the very first year of Pitch Wars, and had come close to getting in a few times since then; I liked Pitch Wars, and felt it wouldn’t be a waste of time to throw my hat into the ring while I waited to hear back from Agents A, B, and C. Worse case scenario I got in while I was waiting for the agents to get back, and got some great critiques on my manuscript.
I won’t go into a ton of detail about my experience submitting to Pitch Wars in 2020 (again, chasing that dream of brevity here), but here’s the short and skinny of it–I got in. A mentor pair read my fantasy book, offered me a spot in Pitch Wars, and let me know that if I took said spot, I’d have to withdraw my manuscript from the three agents who still had it. I balked a bit at that, but in the end pretty much made up my mind to take the offered spot in Pitch Wars, and withdraw my manuscript from Agents A, B, and C until the end of Pitch Wars.
Then Agent C emailed me. With a request for a phone call.
That’s right. After ten long years of being in the query trenches, dozens if not hundreds of queries and countless rejections, I was going to have the Call.
Well, sort of. I did, in fact, have a call with Agent C. But it was more a “I have some revision suggestions” call than a straight-up offer. An offer was heavily implied, though (Agent C told me to go ahead and tell all the other agents with my full that I had an offer), and after talking to my potential Pitch Wars mentors, I ended up giving up my spot in the contest. After another phone call with Agent C, I then did two things: threw myself into his suggested revisions, and let Agents A and B know that they had two weeks to read/let me know if they wanted to represent me.
Agents A and B responded quickly to that, letting me know they’d read and get back to me ASAP. By the end of the first week, Agent B emailed wanting a phone call, which turned into my first official offer of representation. Midway through the second week, had another call with Agent C that turned into my second offer. A couple days later, Agent A let me know he wanted a phone call as well–my third offer of representation.
The next few days could be accurately summarized with the following gifs:
Don’t get me wrong–the fact that three agents offered was amazing. But also very stressful–I was frankly unprepared for how it’d feel to do a complete flip and end up on the side of the process where I was the one who had to choose who to sign with, and who to reject. It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
I tried to ask the best questions I could during my phone calls with all three agents. Made a lot of pros and cons lists. Talked to my family, my friends. Ran through every scenario. Prayed.
The decision wasn’t easy. But, in the end, I went with the agent I clicked with the most, and the agent whose revision suggestions fit the most with my personal vision for my book.
At the end of November 2020, I signed with Agent A, the one-and-only Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.
Then I had to send rejections to the other two agents.
That was rough. And I
probably definitely could’ve done a better job than I did. I rushed those emails, flustered and unsure and just really, really wanting to not offend or hurt anyone in any way. Writing those emails, I gained a much deeper appreciation of what editors and agents go through on a daily basis. And, looking back, I wish I’d taken more time on them. Spent longer writing more meaningful messages to two agents who really are amazing, and who I am eternally grateful to for believing in me and my writing.
To wrap things up, here are my takeaways from my querying experience, in no particular order:
Things are going to take time. And that’s okay. It can be extremely hard to wait for responses from agents, but, for me at least, patience paid off in the end.
When things start happening, they happen fast–I went from waiting several months to a year for responses to full-requests to getting into Pitch Wars and having three offers of representation and signing with an agent in just a month. Maybe brace yourself a little for that, so you don’t panic and run around in tight, frantic circles as much as I did.
Take your time, and try not to stress too much. If you have multiple offers of representation, don’t shoot off crappy rejections to the agents you don’t go with like I did. Give yourself time to breathe and think and write meaningful emails to the agents you aren’t signing with.
Let every agent who still has anything from you (even if it’s just a query) know you’ve recieved an offer. I say this because, about a month after signing with Matt, I recieved another full request from an agent. I (obviousy) declined, expalining the situation to her, and she was really nice about everything, but I felt awful for not letting her (and every other agent who had my query) know I was off the table sooner. As soon as I responded to her I shot off an email to all the agents who still had a query from me, letting them know I was no longer looking for representation.
Go with an agent whose suggested revisions/vision for your work best fits and/or aligns with yours–go with an agent whose suggestions feel right to you. Editorial alignment is super important when considering someone you’ll (hopefully) be working with for years, across many different projects.
Well, that’s the story. Thanks for reading, and I hope someday I’ll be able to write about signing with an editor, too!
For those interested, here’s a timeline of my querying journey, from when I met my agent to signing with him:
April 2019–Sent space opera to Agent A
February 2020–Agent A passes on space opera, send him an adult fantasy
February 2020–Agent B asks for adult fantasy
(Around) June 2020–start sending queries out wide for adult fantasy
June 2020–first partial request! That is quickly rejected. BUT agent likes my stuff and wants to see the next book if this one doesn’t land me an agent.
July 2020-October 2020–rejections come in, and a few more requests (three more fulls, putting my total for fulls up to five, no more partial requests). Two of those three full requests turn into rejections. I decide to apply to Pitch Wars.
October 2020–I get interest from a pair of Pitch Wars mentors
Early November 2020–one of the agents who still has my full (Agent C) asks for a phone call (!!!!). After talking to him, I bow out of Pitch Wars, I let Agent A and Agent B know someone is interested in representing me.
Mid-November 2020–I have phone calls with Agent A and Agent B and another with Agent C that all turn into offers, make many pros and cons lists, stress and talk my friends’ ears off.
End of November 2020–I sign with Agent A, Matt Bialer (!!!!!!)