I’ve dreamed of being able to write this post for years. I’ve blown birthday candles and hoped and worried and hoped some more. And now it doesn’t feel quite real to say it, but: I have a literary agent!!! I’m over the moon to share I’ve signed with the amazing Kiki Nguyen from Donald Maass Literary!
I’ve always dreamed about getting to write one of these I have an agent posts! in part because amid the joy, it always seems to be a moment for writers to share the misery, too. So here’s the truth: signing with my amazing agent was five years coming.
Five years, four books (three queried), and so many rejections I’m surprised my eyes didn’t bleed.
I didn’t start writing with the intention of being an author or pursuing publishing, and like so many other writers, I started writing because I fell in love with books. I was actually quite a reluctant reader until late elementary school, but once I fell in love with reading, it became an obsession. I inhaled books by Brian Jacques and Rick Riordan and Tamora Pierce and so many others. And naturally, I wanted to make my own stories! I got into writing–of all things–on Neopets. I wrote every day on role playing boards with online friends, but it was always just for fun. Story became something I could bury myself in, something I could escape to when the world around me was too much to bear. I left the library every week with a stack of books so tall I couldn’t see over them.
It wasn’t until high school and a fantastic teacher that I realized maybe I could be an author, too. Thanks to said teacher, I wrote my first book at seventeen, queried it, and oh man did the rejections (rightfully) roll in. But I’ve always been stubborn. I wrote another book I immediately shelved, and then my writing slowed down as college grew more intense. In my four years of college I painfully, slowly, wrote my third book. I was stretched thin between being a ful-time student, working nearly full-time, and balancing an internship. I wrote that book without love. I convinced myself this was going to be the one. I was writing a book I was convinced the market wanted. I queried it in August of 2017 and got one sad full request and a bunch of rejections.
I didn’t understand. I’d written exactly what I thought would sell. I knew this book was better than my last one, so why had it done so poorly?
Devastated, I told myself I was going to write a book only for me. I was going to write something weird and niche with an unlikable, angry witch at the lead that only I would love. And I was going to make it queer as hell. From late October to mid September in 2017, over the course of three weeks, the 90,000 word first draft that would eventually be BLOODWINN poured out of me.
And maybe it was because this weird, queer, murderous story was written for me that I didn’t query it right away. I wanted to give it a better chance the other ones that had. I scoured the internet for resources on not just revising, but querying. The ones that helped me most were the advice laid out in podcasts like Writing Excuses, Shipping & Handling, and the Pubcrawl Podcast.
And all of these podcasts kept saying the same thing: you need critique partners.
I’d never bothered to seek out critique partners before because I convinced myself I didn’t have time. But I knew there was a disconnect with my writing, and I needed to try something new. So I turned to the internet. I scoured different websites for people I could swap with, people I clicked with. There were a lot of false starts, but by some luck, I stumbled across two critique partners that made a world of difference.
And then in January, I found my writer’s circle. I started to love critiquing for other people because I loved them and their work. I found myself more invested in their success than my own. And by some luck, having people to cheer and scream and vent to made me more eager to write. I took BLOODWINN through two huge revisions and when the December round of #Pitmad rolled around, I told myself, yup, I’m ready!
I sent out my pitch and my now-agent was actually one of the people that liked and commented on it! It was what first put her on my radar—I drafted my query letter, posted it in a forum for feedback, and prepared myself to begin querying.
And then….a day after that, one of my CPs pointed out a flaw in my book that required me to rewrite it from the ground up. I was devastated because she was right. The revisions the book needed would take months, even for someone that wrote as fast as me. The more I thought about them the more I couldn’t stop thinking about them. My heart sank because I figured the agent that had shown interest would forget about my story.
I was so mad at myself I deleted my Pitmad pitch. (I want to slap past-Becca for that. Luckily, I still have that screenshot. Sobs.)
I gave myself until my birthday—February 24th—and went for it. I took a one-week break from BLOODWINN to binge-read eight books, and then I revised until my fingers ached. I cut 50,000 words from that 90,000 word draft and added 45,000 new ones. I cut an entire side character, added a sibling, and added a whole new backstory for my MC. And the entire time, I was lucky to have my critique partners at my side encouraging me, saying yes, that’s actually a good idea, yes, I think that’ll explain that. I can’t stress enough how critique partners are. Their fingerprints are all over these pages. I don’t want to imagine writing more books without them.
I finished the revision on my birthday, and sent out ten test queries. In few hours, I got my first full request. It was from Kiki, the very agent that had commented on my Pitmad pitch!!
I sent a few more queries, and then when the next Pitmad rolled around, I decided to participate again. I re-used my old pitch with a minor tweak, and sent the pitch out before I went into an hour long meeting at the day job, quietly hoping this one went a tiny bit better.
Reader, it went a lot better.
I flipped. I texted and DM’d my friends and screamed. Queries went out, and requests trickled in. Over the next two months, I racked up 20 full requests and a few partials. I told myself not to get my hopes up. I’d known too many others that received far more full requests than me only to end up with zero offers. I convinced myself that just because my query was obviously working didn’t mean my manuscript would. But I let myself celebrate that tiny joy–this was by far the furthest I’d ever gotten. That had be to a good sign, right?
A few agents followed me on twitter and gave me a heart attack every time, because it seemed they only ever followed me after I’d immediately shitposted. I kept waiting and tried not to twitch every time I got a new email.
And then a month and a half after Pitmad, I got an email from an agent asking to set up a call—the agent I’d queried on my birthday, the same agent that had jumped onto my radar in the December Pitmad.
I spent five days in a panic, terrified to get my hopes up. Maybe it was an R & R. Maybe she didn’t like the book but wanted to talk about future ideas. Maybe she hated it so much she was going to call me and tell me to quit writing forever and–
Yeah, bless my friends for dealing with me.
I prepared my questions and had the call, and in minutes my heart was bursting, because Kiki was amazing from the beginning. She understood my story and my characters so well. She immediately identified everything that could be made ten times better with revisions (sobs) and had a killer sense of how the heart of the story could be strengthened.
(Also, I somehow sidetracked us onto a tangent about my favorite garbage prince from my favorite show ever. So I knew in that moment she was the one.)
The call kept going. About twenty minutes in, Kiki made the offer, and I did my very best to keep from screaming. Without missing a beat I very calmly opened my macbook to let my friends know it was an offer.
Their responses were also the epitome of, um, calm.
…Just call us Captain Holt.
Sidebar: I have the best friends. Ever. No contest. Sorry, it’s science, I don’t make the rules.
After I got the offer, things really sped up! I notified all of the other agents and two weeks passed in a blink. Publishing can be such a slow industry, but once there’s an offer of rep, agents really start to move. As my deadline inched closer and I reread my the notes I’d taken on my call with Kiki as well as the follow-up questions I’d sent her, I started to hope other agents wouldn’t offer because it was going to be harder and harder for them to win my heart. I spent two weeks listening to the wisdom of agented friends on how to make my decision, and then my deadline was up! Ultimately a lovely agent offered me an R & R, but by then I was already set.
On Monday I signed with Kiki, and I’m honestly so thrilled. I can’t wait to get to work!!
I owe a massive debt of love and appreciation to everyone that helped with my queries and pitches and stories. Thank you especially to those that read BLOODWINN when it was a hot garbage fire. Thank you to my writer besties, Amélie and Katie, for rooting for me on from day one, and thank you to all of my amazing friends that put up with me panicking into their DMs for two weeks. Your support means the world, and I’m so excited to start my publishing journey. Let’s do this!