How I got my agent: A tale of writing, woe, and wishing

I present to you my story of how I got my agent
(Warning: This post is LONG and full of GIFs):

I started my professional writing journey when I had a weird dream (yea, I know, one of those people). I told my cousin about it because she’s a writer and I said, “Do you think that could be a book you would write?”

She said, “No, but you could write it.”

And I felt like that was a ridiculous idea. So I wrote it.

It was the worst book ever. But it rekindled a love of writing that I had in middle school and high school where I would fill spiral notebooks with chapter books that I would write all day and night long. One story was a fanfic retelling of Brian Jacques’ Redwall. I had one series about horse racing and muuurder!

Anyway, after writing that first book, which I still adore in a way I can’t explain even though I don’t want anyone to read it ever, I realized that writing had never stopped being my dream. I had just taken some detours along the path of my life.

So, I sat down to write a story based on one of the dozens of ideas I had come up with while writing that first story. And I thought I was being very business savvy to choose the book that felt more “marketable.” Yup, I did that. I was a dumb-dumb, thinking I could control my fate.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t love the story I decided to write. I truly did, but it was a story I wrote for all the wrong reasons even though I loved it at the time. I wrote it to be current and that is a number one big no-no I’ve heard. I think it showed in the MS.

But, I did get that book all polished and spiffy and I went to my first ever writing conference with it. I got great feedback from agents and editors and I got two requests for pages from pitches I recited from a memorized script I’d taken weeks to write.

It all seemed to be a very good next step. And it really was. I learned a lot from that experience and I am a better writer and person because of it.

So, I dove into the query trenches with my head held high.

I queried about 40 agents with that book and I got rejected. Like hardcore rejected. I think I got a couple requests for partials. And then all rejections. Some came quickly, some trickled in 9 months to a year later. They were all very professional, some even personalized a bit. The agents I’d met at the conference were the kindest you could ever imagine even as they told me the story wasn’t for them.

Suffice it to say, I was distraught. And I did the stupid thing and let myself wallow a bit too long. I got deep into writer’s block and couldn’t dig myself out of it for months.

I started two new books with the idea that I would push myself out of the rut. I was lucky enough to have gained a critique group from that conference and they were great at cheering me on, telling me that my WiPs sounded awesome, reading pages.

But, I just couldn’t get into my writing again. I did an online writing conference (Write On Con) and it helped boost me a bit. I did NaNoWriMo and that helped me get perspective on my writer’s block.

And finally, I decided to write a book that I was terrified to write. Partly because I didn’t think I was ready and partly because I loved it too much already. What if I mess it up? What if it was a big flop?

The moment I knew I was writing the right book was when I was told not to write it and I did it anyway. To be fair, the person who told me not to write it wasn’t saying I *couldn’t* write it, but just saying that I was stepping into a place that was untried and potentially full of places to trip up and fall. I was writing a book set in Korea based on Korean mythology about gumihos and I very creatively called it GUMIHO.

I am forever grateful that I approached this project with hope instead of fear. I had the hope that people would see the merit in my work, in my story and in my culture. I had the hope that I could give life to a land that I truly love with all of my heart. And I had hope that people would support my dream even as they feared for my feelings being trampled again.

In the end, I went with my heart and that made all the difference. The response to this project was a complete 180 from my last “thought out and targeted” MS. Where I had written to trend before, I wrote for myself this time.

I first experienced positive feedback when I went to a conference, Romantic Times Convention (RT Con). It was my first time pitching at such a huge event. And I was overwhelmed not only by the many agents and editors, but by the presence of some of my idol authors. It was actually perfect for me because I was distracted from my own nerves until the moment I was supposed to go pitch. And I didn’t have time to get stuck in my own head.

I also did a thing where I didn’t memorize a pitch that I’d prewritten. Instead, I made a list of three main points that I knew I had to hit when I pitched and I acted like myself. I wanted the heart of my story to get across, not just the plot.

I’m going to copy paste from a post I wrote for my other blog about what I learned from my RT experience:

1) Just do it. You can’t hold in your work forever if publishing is your end goal.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I met a lot of great authors who were more than willing to let me pitch practice on them.

3) Accept it if your story isn’t for everyone. Some agents loved my pitch, some didn’t. It’s the fact of a subjective industry and you just have to keep trucking.

4) DO NOT try to fit your whole story into your pitch. Just tell the main gist and the main character. If you go ham, the agent will just go to their happy place and not follow your thread. I literally pitched my book as a concept instead of a full plot and I got requests. It was epic šŸ™‚

Some advice given to me by Agents who requested:

1) Take your time! Do not send the MS right away if it is not squeaky shiny! It’s hard not to just flood all of the agents that request, but it’s kind of like being considerate that they want your best because you’d want their best if they were your agent.

2) Be excited! This is happy times! You got requests! At one point I couldn’t stop smiling as I spoke to an agent and I apologized about my face (yes, you’re allowed to laugh at me). She said it was fine, that she was happy for me too. (Agents are super nice y’all).

After RT Con, I went home with a glow. I was so happy that I got requests and made some new writer friends.
http://www.bethphelan.com/dvpit

ThenĀ #DVPit happened. I told myself not to be greedy, said that I had opened a very nice door for myself with RT Con. And then, of course, I had to just dip my toe in. Partly because DVPit was so INSPIRATIONAL! There were amazing stories pitched and wonderful #ownvoices. And the support of the community was unprecedented.

This is what I learned during #DVPit:

(Again, copy pasting from my old post about my lessons learned)

1) Be simple with your Twitter Pitch. If you were simple with your conference pitch, do that times TEN for twitter. You only have 140 characters!

2) community is everything! Signal boost your favorite pitches. Many participants were paying it forward and it was magical to see. Seriously, I love my writer community!

3) It’s full of hope! To see these unagented/unpublished authors right now and to KNOW that their books will be published in due time. It just makes you happy warm inside.

4) Take this opportunity to cultivate new relationships. Tweet at people if you like their pitch. Say thank you when they like yours back. And be respectful ALWAYS of the time put into a huge event like this! (Seriously #DVPit trended nationwide, that’s epic).

5) Also, know that agents and editors are still professionals, don’t ask them weird personal stuff. And when you query keep it as professional as if it was a cold, slush-pile query.

#DVPit gave me so much support. Not only from the agents and editors, but from the community. It was a coming together of people who love stories and love what DVPit represented and held each other up. After that day, I was a ball of emotion, but good emotion.

And then, I felt immediately like I was unprepared for life and I freaked out (for a few weeks).

So I did “research” and looked into EVERY agent who requested in detail. I took way too much time preparing myself for what I was sure would be a rocky query ride.
It was actually good that I did a lot of research because it is smart to know who you are querying. And it gave me a chance to settle down after the great adrenaline rush that was RT Con and DVPit.

So, I sent out ONE query and I had a HUGE case of imposter syndrome IMMEDIATELY.

The problem was that my last querying round had been so abysmal. Little to no excitement over my concept or story. So the fact that GUMIHO had gotten such a positive reception really concerned me. That maybe I’d bit off more than I could chew. That maybe I’d send my MS and then they’d KNOW that I don’t belong!

It’s so hard to put yourself out there. I had many moments where I felt like I was flailing in the wind. This is where your friends, family, and critique partners (CPs) come in handy.

ESPECIALLY my CPs. They knew my struggle. They understood the industry and what I was experiencing. Talking to them was like talking to someone who was running a marathon beside me. They were the rock that held me to the ground when my body wanted to just get up and fly away and be like, “Nope, I can’t exist in this world any longer.”

But, despite all my craziness, that first query came back with a request for a full.
I did my happy dance, said a thank you to the heavens and sent out the MS.
Then I sent out more queries. After sending out requested material, I tried to take advice and step back from the computer (this was ridiculously difficult). So, I made plans to distract myself. Namely, I decided to go to Book Con 2016.

Well, fate had a funny way of taking my plans and turning them all topsy turvy, because the Thursday before Book Con I got an email from an agent to ask for a call. I was so flustered that I set up the call for the next day. And then I cried. My coworkers were quite concerned by my sudden outburst, but I’m lucky to work with very understanding people. They gave me supporting hugs and pats even as they didn’t fully understand why I was a hot mess.

I spent the next 24 hours convincing myself that it wasn’t THE call. My CPs were more confident than me, they said an agent doesn’t call out of the blue for an Revise & Resubmit. I was trying to temper my expectations (I was a fool to think I could do that!)

Well, my CPs were right (as they usually are). It was thrilling and surreal to talk about my book with an industry professional who liked it enough to want to represent it.

My hands were shaking by the time I got off the phone.

So, I went off to Book Con and I was a wreck. I cried a lot that weekend (but happy tears).

I gave other agents with my full, partial or query two weeks to get back to me with their thoughts on my MS. And now I was in territory I had never stepped into. I had queried before, I had gotten requests before, I had gotten rejected (many times) before. But I had never been in a place where I knew there was happiness at the end of the rainbow.

As you can imagine, I was pretty much in a fugue state for a full two weeks.
I went through phases during that time where I was like, “I got this. I can pull this around and be fabulous even though I look a hot mess.”

My CPs definitely got an ear-full when I was in those moments, because I had to talk out my reasons for why I was totally cool as a cucumber EVEN THOUGH I OBVIOUSLY WASN’T!

Finally D-Day came (not fast enough if you ask me. I’m pretty sure I found a break in the time-space continuum and it’s the two weeks after you get an initial agent offer).

In the end, I found an agent who loved my book and understood me as a writer.

I feel so lucky to be able to say that I’ve signed with the amazing Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency and I couldn’t be happier!

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8 thoughts on “How I got my agent: A tale of writing, woe, and wishing

  1. Thanks Melissa! That's a totally valid question! CP = Critique Partner. They're other writers that you share your writing with and give critiques to so you can revise.

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  2. Eeee!!!!! So excited!!! And we're still here for you, you know–through all the trying-to-sell-the-book and trying-to-promote-the-book and everything šŸ˜€

    Out of curiosity, what were your three points to remember when you pitched the book? That's a great way of doing it.

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  3. Thanks Liz!

    For Gumiho, which I did write a Blog Post about but perhaps wasn't coherent, there are three big things that make it what it is:

    1. It's based on the Korean myth of the gumiho, a nine-tailed fox that can live forever as long as she feeds on men (many tales claim she eats their livers).
    2. It's set in contemporary Korea and is about Miyoung, a teenage girl who feels that she must have control over all aspects of her life in order to survive.
    3. Her main conflict comes about when she meets the carefree Jihoon who kind of shreds all her beliefs about how she lives her life. It becomes an internal struggle between her gumiho existence and a growing desire to be more human.

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