How I Got My Agent

Dragon book aesthetic

I signed with the first agent I ever queried.

It took 8 months.

Allow me to start at the beginning.

January

After spending fall 2019 on revisions, I officially started querying THE FIRE BREATHES--now lovingly nicknamed #dragonbook in case the title changes--at the beginning of January 2020. It was a new year, blossoming with possibilities. I was ready for it to be the best year of my life.

I held my breath, tight as a fist in the center of my chest, and sent my first query to Jennifer Wills at the Seymour Agency. She loved YA sci-fi. She preferred manuscripts with a strong emotional core. And best of all, she listed HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON as among her favorite films. If she doesn't request pages, I thought, I don't know who will.

That query was closed/no response.

And 2020 was, well, 2020.

Pandemic

By late February, my entire state of Pennsylvania was under a stay-at-home order. To make matters worse, I found myself unexpectedly unemployed right before lockdown hit. Constantly home, stripped of my responsibilities and daily purpose/routine, I felt broken. Drafting new work was a struggle. Finding a new job in a pandemic was impossible. But I'd already started querying.

Inevitably, responses from agents slowed to an agonizing halt. They, too, were adjusting to the new normal. I had no idea what to expect anymore, either in the trenches or in my daily life.

So I queried everyone, and I mean everyone. I went from a maximum of 10 queries out at once to basically querying anyone I thought might possibly be interested in my #dragonbook. There were brief sparks of potential hope, including a handful of pitch event likes, two of which turned into a partial and a full, respectively. But the more people I queried, the more rejections I began to receive, and the smaller my request rate percentage became.

By August, I'd sent 60+ query letters, and I was no closer to an offer of rep than I had been in January.

Revisions

I am very, very stubborn.

Aching with how badly I wanted to succeed, I went back to my critique partners and mentors. Something isn't working. Requests aren't happening. I don't know how to fix it.

Ultimately, #dragonbook would go through multiple additional rounds of edits. I dramatically rewrote my opening scenes over time, cutting another 2,000 words. My prologue went from 10 pages to 3. I rewrote my entire query letter from scratch. I learned from authors of color; when they spoke about the importance of preserving space for POC POVs that are #ownvoices rather than appropriated, I learned a hard lesson I should've realized much earlier. I renamed, mentally recasted, and otherwise altered several of my characters to avoid taking up space better filled by #ownvoices authors.

With a rewritten opening, recasted characters, and a shiny new query letter, I sent another wave of queries. In addition, I reached out to several agents from months ago who had either outright rejected or never responded, expressing that I had dramatically updated materials if they were interested.

In the following week, I got 4 full requests, which was more than I'd received in over 6 months prior.

One of those full requests--virtually immediate after the query's reception--was from Jennifer Wills.

I started daring to hope again. Days passed and turned into weeks without news. Then, abruptly, the inbox flashed again. One of the agents who had the full. I opened the email, practically shaking, to find a paragraph of glowing praise... followed by a rejection... followed by potential interest in seeing the manuscript again... followed by said agent's personal email address and an invitation to reach out.

I had nothing to lose, so I did.

Is this a revise & resubmit? What changes would you like to see? Are you open to discussing this further?

I thought I would levitate if I got a response at all. Then the response asked to schedule a Zoom call. Caught off guard, convinced it might simply be a kind gesture of editorial advice, I agreed. I spent the days leading up to said call convincing myself that it was definitely not an R&R so that I wouldn't be disappointed. In a way, I was right.

It was not an R&R.

When I was receptive to the agent's editorial suggestions, it quickly became an offer.

Offer of Rep

It took me several minutes of discussing what was most definitely an offer to register what was happening. "Wait. To be clear. Is this an offer?"

"Yeah," Agent said.

"I'm on The Call."

"Yeah."

I excused myself to use the restroom and screamed.

The initial offering agent was lovely, passionate, and immensely encouraging. I began seriously considering the offer, but I also notified all other agents that they now had 2 weeks to potentially offer as well. I still had 3 other full requests in the ether. I could still get another offer. It seemed insane, but then again, so had getting even one offer.

I got a second offer. It was Jen. Before our Zoom call (and subsequent phone call when Zoom inconveniently glitched) was over, I knew that Jen was the right agent for my #dragonbook. Yes, she had been my original, hypothetical "dream agent," but it wasn't about hypotheticals anymore. Her intense enthusiasm, keen editorial insight, clear vision for pitching, and direct but approachable communication style immediately won me over.

Reflections

It's impossible to fully express in words what it means to grow up alongside a story. When I began writing #dragonbook in something that vaguely resembled its current form, I was 14; my protagonist, Kasae, was 16. Now I'm 23, and he's still 16, frozen in time, a capsule of all my angst, uncertainty, and desperate dreaming at his age. I learned things about myself through this story. I grew with and through it. I'm not the same person I was when #dragonbook began, and it isn't the same book, either.

But some things come full circle. So here I am, represented by the first agent I ever queried, my dream agent, Jennifer Wills of the Seymour Agency.

And it only took 8 months.

Final Query Stats:

94 queries sent

46 rejections

37 closed/no response

3 partial requests

7 full requests

2 offers of representation

Request rate: 10.6%

If you have a story you need to tell, the way you need to eat and drink--if you have a dream so big you wonder how it fits inside your skull--if you want to tell stories so badly that it aches--do not quit. Don't you dare quit. I came so close to accepting a defeatist mindset so many times. After 10 years of rewrites, 8 months of querying, nearly 100 rejections, and a global pandemic (because querying wasn't already anxiety-inducing enough,) I did it. I have an agent.

It's possible.

Please, please don't quit. Please chase your widest dreams. Gut your book and build it anew. Query the agents that scare you. Every night you spent staring at the ceiling, not seeing anything in the dark, wondering why you were even doing this to yourself, is going to be worth it. If writing is what you were meant to do, you'll do it.

I believe in you. Don't quit.