Welcome to Part Three of my three-part querying series! ICYMI: Here’s Part One: How to Write a Successful Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent. This time, I’m going to tell you all about how I got my agent.
These stories meant a lot to me when I was querying, so it only seems right that I share my own. A shorter version of this story can be found on the Writer’s Digest blog. There was a lot I couldn’t fit into that post, so this is an expanded and more query-centric version.
Post-High School Querying
If you’ve read my story, you know I wrote my first book in high school. It was a YA fantasy. I spent the end of my senior year editing, determined to have a “polished” book by graduation, so I could spend the summer querying. I used AgentQuery.com to research agents I thought would be a good fit for me, built a list of between fifteen to thirty agents (I don’t remember exactly), and sent my letters out in two or three rounds. At this point, agents were just starting to accept email queries so most fo my letters went out via USPS with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response. It took all summer just to send those first letters and hear back.
Since almost everything went out snail mail, it also got expensive pretty quickly–especially when sample pages were involved. Which is why I didn’t query too much beyond the summer. In addition to the expense, but I also started to realize that the book could be a lot better. I didn’t get any requests, so after the summer, I pulled it back. Even though I didn’t get anywhere close to getting an agent, I learned a lot about the querying process, which was really helpful down the line.
I wrote a new book in college that was set in the same world as my previous book. This one felt so much better from the start. I used the beginning of the book to get into my MFA program, where I workshopped it until I had a draft I was really happy with. There were still a few sections that I thought could be stronger (especially toward the beginning) but it was the absolute best I could do at the time. I pulled on everything I’d learned from my first querying experience and combined it with what I was learning in my MFA program and got querying. (This was when I found QueryTracker.com.)
In the end, I queried this book twice. First in the fall of 2011. I had a working list of agents when I started, but I was always looking to add more. I found a query tip somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where) that suggested looking in a book’s acknowledgment section for names since most authors thank their agents there. So I flipped through a bunch of books I had read recently and found two of the authors were represented by Michelle Wolfson. I added her to my list.
Michelle has a “no response means no” policy, so she only responds if she likes your query. When she responded to mine I was thrilled. Ultimately, she wasn’t making a request, but she was very encouraging while pointing at a few issues in the book that resonated with me. She also asked me to keep her in mind for the future if this book didn’t get me an agent. She may have been passing on my book, but I felt like she saw what I was trying to do even though I wasn’t actually pulling it off yet. Because of that, she became my first choice for my future agent. I also pulled the book back to revise based on her feedback.
I spent the next nine months revising it on and off while I worked on my thesis project for school. I started querying again in the summer of 2012 while I wrote Crossing the Line. Michelle was closed to queries at this point, so I never got to go back to her with the revision. I got a couple requests for the updated version, but no offers. I queried this book until Crossing the Line was polished and ready to submit, which was mid-September of 2013.
The Numbers: 126 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 promising rejection, 0 offers
Querying Crossing the Line
When I started querying Crossing the Line, Michelle was my first choice thanks to her previous rejection. But she was also still closed to queries. I didn’t follow agents on social media when I was querying–I didn’t want to be that attached–but I followed Michelle. I had a good feeling about her and I didn’t want to miss when she opened back up again. In the meantime, I went back through the list of agents I’d cultivated and started at the top again while I wrote a new book. Six weeks into querying, Michelle opened and I sent my letter off right away. She got back to me within a couple hours asking for more pages.
One of the reasons I liked Michelle from the start is that she’s very upfront with what you can expect from her. She tells you right in her submissions guidelines that she typically responds to queries very quickly and partials very slowly. This turned out to be accurate. Michelle also mentioned how long I should wait before following up. I followed up with her every few months until the last Thursday in June when her response said my partial was her subway reading for that afternoon. Later that night, I got another email from her asking to read the whole book.
I sent it off, excited, but also expecting it to be a little while until I heard from her. (By now, I had gotten good at waiting.) The following Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize, and I had my hands full straining chickpeas, so I didn’t pick up. A beat after the phone stopped ringing I realized who it might be. Sure enough, Michelle had left a voicemail saying she loved my book and asking me to call her back. I called back before I could think too much about it. (I was ready to do some research on what it might mean and what questions I should ask, but I refrained.) We had a great call and I was officially a represented author.
The Numbers: 111 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 offer and acceptance.
Why I Said ‘Yes’ on the Spot
As you can see, I queried a lot of agents and didn’t get many requests. Even with that, I didn’t say yes to Michelle because she was the only one who offered. I said yes because I believed she was the best agent for me. She saw something in the first book I queried her with when very few did. Additionally, the things she felt weren’t quite right with that book were also things that had bothered me–I just wasn’t able to put my finger on them. This made me feel like we’d be in sync and make a good team. I also really liked that she responded to two very different books. I’ve always known that I’d want to write in a few different genres, so it was encouraging to know going in that she’d had some interest in two different stories.
At the time, all I had out with other agents were query letters. Between our exchanges and my gut instinct, I was sure Michelle was the agent for me. So much so that I felt giving the agents who had my letters a chance to read my book and make an offer would have been wasting their time. Ultimately, this just felt right to me–even in my overexcited state. I have no regrets.
If there’s anything about my personal querying journey you want to know more about, feel free to drop it the comments or send me a message.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get a bi-weekly email with the posts just like this one (plus a handful of email exclusives) delivered directly to your inbox!
Now it’s your turn: If you’ve queried in the past, what did you learn that’s helped you going forward? If you haven’t queried before, what are you anxious or excited about? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.