How I got my literary agent – Part 3
How do you get a literary agent?
This is the third instalment in which I attempt to answer that question. If you’ve just arrived you can go back to the start or if you’ve read that one you can read the second instalment before this one.
Still here? Good.
So I had a Professional Career (yay!) and I’d become creatively complacent (boo!). I’d grown mad at myself for not having finished this new project of mine. BOOK 4 had actually nabbed me a ~partial request~, despite me not having finished the bloody thing and I took this Very Positive Sign and then gleefully ignored it (see gif on the right).
So, I sat down to finish BOOK 4 no matter what it took. At this point, I’d moved in with my partner. I also started a new job which I hated. That job was likely the catalyst that forced me back into writing. Becoming an author had been my life-long obsession and I had become slightly blinded to it owing to a (previous) job that I really enjoyed. After changing jobs (and states) I realised that I had my priorities all wrong and I needed to fix things. I was going to write myself out of this mess.
It took me a few more months, but I finished BOOK 4. I’d learned a bit over the years and before pushing it out to agents via queries, I chose instead to shelve it for a bit and work on something else. Something completely different. NANOWRIMO came around, so I took that opportunity to start writing BOOK 5. I really, really, really loved the ideas in BOOK 3 but they weren’t really working. With time and having read more, I came to realise what those flaws were. The more I wrote, the more I realised how different the story unfolded and how I improved as a writer.
For NANOWRIMO, I accepted the challenge of writing 50,000 words. It would be a full rewrite and update to BOOK 3. I got started and really enjoyed my time with it. Before long, BOOK 5 had taken a concept I’d already done and turned it into something completely its own. I’m very proud of it and I’m grateful for it being a literary pallet cleanser.
A few months after NANOWRIMO, I finished BOOK 5 (at roughly ~93K words) and let it sit. Returning to BOOK 4, I edited as best as I could and I drafted up a list of potential agents. I set aside a day and started pushing out my first batch of queries. This process should take minutes, but building up the mental fortitude takes the day. This was at the end of 2017.
Let’s take stock:
- I was a year into working on a book which I really loved (BOOK 5)
- I was just proud of myself for keeping things going
- I was always doing something to aid my writing
As 2018 progressed, I started to hear back from some agents about BOOK 4. I noticed a theme in their responses. They liked the premise and the set up, but the voice didn’t quite grab them. That was okay feedback with me, because I was actually hearing feedback. I’d come a long way from “Dear Author” rejections. I took these in my stride and wrote back to them, thanking them for their time. I updated my agent spreadsheet and pushed out some more. I was getting into a stride. I was going to do this.
Around this time, something caught my eye on Twitter. Beth Phelan had created this amazing thing called #DVPit. It stands for diverse voices pitch and the pitching date loomed nearby on the horizon. All of my stories are #ownvoices as all of my books, so far, are led by loud and proud queer heroes. So I took my polished BOOK 5 and pitched it. Here was my pitch:
PRISCILLA x LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Young drag queen travels to a big city, entering a competition to prove herself and represent her outback town on a global stage. #dvpit #ownvoices #lgbt
I was at a drag bingo evening when the first couple of Favs came through. I was stoked but told myself I’d sleep on it. As I live in Australia, my sleep time is typical business hours for those in the United States. I woke up to (what I thought was) a modest amount of literary agent Favouring my pitch. I tweeted twice and got about 8 Favs. Amaze. I soon learned this paled in comparison to what other aspiring authors received, but that didn’t phase me. We’re all in our own lanes, we’re all on our own journeys, and the absolute worst thing I could do was compare myself to what others were experiencing. I was happy for them, proud to see people achieve because I hoped (and still do!) that others would be happy for me when I reached those same lofty goals. Lifting each other up can only make us stronger.
With that in mind, I cherished my 8 Favs. I had actual agents interested in my actual book! I was stoked. I opened my phone to inspect who’d Fav’d me when I noticed I had an email. I opened it to find a query manager update from an agent I’d queried in the previous year on BOOK 4. Remember that? Well, I received a FULL request from that agent and because I was disheartened by the replies for BOOK 4, had just been on holidays in South-East Asia, and so entrenched in BOOK 5 that I didn’t reply immediately. This agent said she saw my entry for #DVPit and she liked that idea too! But before she could look at it, she first wanted to see the draft of the other book she’d requested. And could I send it to her please? She would very much like to read it. Thanks!
First things first, I immediately sent that agent a full for BOOK 4. But I faced a dilemma: I had to go to work! Do I ring in sick and quickly review BOOK 4 one last time before submitting? No, I couldn’t – I would feel guilty chucking a sickie so I did both. En route to work, I put on my editor’s hat and read my MS. I read during my lunch break, between meetings, and the tram ride home. I abandoned going for a jog and read and my partner made food while I read. I repeated this for the remainder of the week before I decided I was happy with it. I hit Send.
As any local druid would tell you, there’s no rest for the wicked. So I set to work on creating a spreadsheet to track the eight or so agents who’d Fav’d my #DVPit query. I didn’t want to rush, so I took my time researching each one. As the days went on, my ‘research’ seemed to be stopping me from sending off my queries.
Without thinking I had enough to be doing, I opened a new document and started writing BOOK 6 – all without having sent off my queries yet. Something was holding me back.
During this time, my partner asked me why I was so intent on sabotaging my own writing career. First, I take ages to reply to a full request and NOW I’m taking forever to query the agents who were actually interested in reading MY work? Chalk it up to an intense anxiety or fear of finally getting what I always wanted. The feeling was stifling and not at all what I’d expected to feel in that position. Reader, nothing can really prepare you for it.
With my partner’s help to bat away the demons in my own mind, I worked up the courage to create some submissions and query a batch of agents who’d Fav’d me. At this point, the first quarter of 2018, I had three partials out for one book and a full out for another. It was a lot. Throughout it all, my anxiety whispered a familiar quote from into my ears:
“When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”– Oscar Wilde
Had my prayers been answers? The saga hasn’t even started to get good yet. Tune in for Part 4.