05 July 2012

Never Give In: Part the Last or On "How I Wrote a Novel and Snagged an Agent"

For the conclusion of this short series about my foray into the world of publishing, I bring you what happened once I wrote the amazing words, "the end." (Metaphorically speaking of course, I didn't actually write the words, "the end" at the bottom of the page or anything).

Thanks to my ever so diligent procrastination, when I was finished (and my critique partners gave it a thorough check-through and I gave it another once - or twice - over) I was ready to start querying. I mentioned this in my earlier post, but seriously, querying is an art form, not a science, but there are certain guidelines you should adhere to. First and foremost, the vast majority of agents have their submission guidelines posted on the agency's website. FOLLOW THOSE GUIDELINES. Do not deviate from those guidelines. If you have a question or if you're not sure what they are asking for, ask around. Check twitter, check the agent's blog, ask other authors who have queried them in the past. Don't assume you'll be the exception. You won't be. You'll get deleted or sent to spam and that'll be the end of that potential relationship. 

So, query letter (the 6th version of it, mind you. Again, revise that thing with same diligence you would revise your manuscript) and manuscript ready to go, I began to query.

I sent my first query to an amazing agent who was near the top of my list. Basically, I broke every single rule ever imaginable when it comes to that process. The usual advice is to send your first queries to agents that you would like to work with, but won't be heartbroken if they reject you. (NEVER and I repeat, NEVER send a query to an agent you don't want to work with, that's just stupid)

I was lucky though, that agent got back to me with a request for the full manuscript almost immediately. The next day, feeling buoyed by that success, I sent my first batch of queries, ten in all. And then ten more the next week. There was a lot of rejection, but there were a lot of requests as well. You have to be ready for the rejection while you're querying. I know it's easy to say and harder to accept, but this industry is the most subjective in the world. Just know that the rejection isn't a reflection of you or your hard work, simply the agent and/or editor's taste. For whatever reason your manuscript doesn't float their boat and you don't want to work with someone who isn't 130% enthusiastic about your work.

This is where I want to talk about patience. Patience is necessary when querying. Manuscripts take months to write and edit and querying can take months (or years) as well. You just have to keep reminding yourself that you aren't the priority for most agents. An agent's priority is his or her clients and that's how it should be. Once you sign with an agent, do you want her working on selling your manuscripts or diligently combing through her slush pile instead? See my point?


In fact, my agent was so dedicated to her clients, she was actually closed to submissions while I was querying. So how did I sign with her if she was closed to queries? No, I didn't send her a query DESPITE the fact that she was not open to submissions (that's another really fast way to alienate people in the very small world of literary agents). What I did was simple: in addition to querying the "traditional" way, I also kept my eyes open for contests and other ways to get my query and pages in front of an agent. 


And this is where Georgia McBride and the incredible community at YALitChat come into play. Every month, YALitChat's group, the "Submissions Mailbox" takes submissions to a panel of members. The members vote and a selection of those submissions is sent to a group of agents who like the idea of having "vetted" queries and samples sent to them from a community they trust. My submission went out in April and the amazing Michelle Wolfson (who was at the top of my list, but sadly closed to queries) was one of the agents who received that submission. 

She requested my manuscript on April 17th and nearly two months to the day later, we spoke on the phone. I can't express in words just how much she blew me away with her enthusiasm and professionalism. I know it's totally cliche, but it's true. I somehow managed to keep my cool and not scream into the phone that I wanted to sign with her RIGHT NOW. Then I had to notify all the other agents who were reading the full still. Remember all that talk about patience earlier? Patience kind of goes out the window after you get an offer of rep. I set a deadline for the end of the week. There were a few that, for whatever reason, didn't respond when I notified them of my offer, but the rest either stepped aside at that point or promised to read and get back to me as soon as possible.


After talking to the other agents who were interested in representing me, both of whom were perfectly lovely, but just not quite the right fit, I called Michelle, but got her voicemail. I was now slightly terrified that she'd changed her mind about me, but thankfully that was not the case. A couple of days later we met up at Bryant Park (hooray for living in the same area!) and signed in person.



So there it is, my journey through the writing war and the querying trenches. Hopefully I'll have some more good news for you all soon, but until then I know lots of people are interested in stats, so here are mine:

Queries Sent: 100
Query Rejections: 45
No Response: 33
Requests for Full and/or Partial: 22
Rejections of Full and/or Partial: 14
No Response After Offer: 5
Offers of Representation: 3

20 comments:

  1. Yayayay!! I never tire of hearing this story, and never cease to be proud of you :).

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    1. I think it's the most fantastic story of all the stories ever, but maybe that's just me. ;-)

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  3. Congratulations, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing your story. I just signed with my agent and these kinds of stories always inspired me along the way!

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    1. Thanks Deanna! These stories always inspired me as well, so it was so much fun to share mine.

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  4. Congrats again, that's a great story! And congrats on signing with Michelle. She rep's my friend and I had the lucky chance to meet her a couple of months ago. She's amazing. :-)

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    1. Thanks Sara! And Michelle is totally amazing.

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    1. She really, really is. I know how lucky we are!

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  6. Wow, and here I am pouting because I've sent off 14 queries without any response and it's only been a week! Thanks for this. For some reason I always feel like those with agents just have this perfect query that immediately brings in a 50% request rate. I know it takes time to perfect your writing and ms, but for some reason I forget how much time it takes to snag that perfect agent.

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    1. Also remember, lots of agents (and their assistants) are off on vacation this week, so you'll likely hear back in the next couple of weeks as they play catch up. Don't get discouraged and just keep at it. My story, in a relative sense, was really fast compared to some others I know. If you don't snag an agent with this manuscript, it might be because your next one is the one that will do it! Just keep writing and it WILL happen.

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  7. I love how super straight forward you were in this post! Thanks for sharing your adventure, and best of luck! : )

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  8. Well done - I wish there was a contest for general fiction!

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    1. Thank you! Keep your eyes pealed on the internet! There are contests and groups running submissions all the time!

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  9. Love your stats! There is hope! And congrats to you!! :D

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    1. Thanks so much! There is totally hope, just keep going and don't give up!

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