TLDR: I couldn’t have pulled it off alone.
If you had taken my preteen self aside, and looked her full in her zit-dotted face and said, “Are you sure about this writing thing?”, she would’ve answered, “Duh, why not?” And then you might’ve said, “Because you’re gonna be querying agents.” And, with the optimism she had before she lived through publishing and puberty, she would’ve answered, “It can’t be that hard.”
From my first query to signing the agency contract, I queried or pitched 2 books over the course of 3 years, 1 month, and 1 day. In that time, I contacted 66 agents total (some of them for both books, some of them I requeried after significant revision on the first book) and took part in 2 mentorship programs. At the same time, I graduated high school and college, moved 950 miles away from my hometown that I swore I’d never leave, and learned to treat rejection and self-doubt as merely catastrophic rather than apocalyptic.
How it happened:
July 2012. High-school-me wrote an 87,000-word steampunk fantasy (BOOK1) that was equal parts enthusiastic and terrible.
September 2014. I joined YeahWrite, made my first writer friends (hi, Nicole!), and workshopped BOOK1. Though I started researching publishing and agents, the start of college saw me setting aside the manuscript in favor of classwork, parties, and 5am jaunts to Waffle House. I did eventually get the 87,000 word count down to 69,000. Neat.
May 2017. Attended my very first writer’s conference (hi, Hannah!) and pitched BOOK1 as a Young Adult fantasy. Was promptly told that it was, in fact, a middle grade fantasy. Revised accordingly. Spent a few weeks researching agents and publishers more seriously, through Querytracker and Manuscript Wishlist.
September 2017. On September 1, 2017, I sent my very first query. Within a week, I received my first full request and my first rejection. And, a few months later, my first Revise and Resubmit.
April 2018. On the first of April, I sat down in the kitchen of my college apartment and wrote the first sentence of a dark YA fantasy (BOOK2). At the time, I’d thought of it mostly as a side project while BOOK1 would be The One.
September 2018. Overheard a writer chatting about YA at a coffeeshop and introduced myself (hi, Melody!). Spent the next few months meeting in coffee shops and Barnes & Noble, reading our chapters to each other. Eventually joined forces with other local writers (hi, Annemarie, Carol, and Andy!) and by mid-2019 we had an IRL writing squad.
March 2019. I applied to Author Mentor Match with BOOK2, the dark YA fantasy, and was chosen as a Round 6 mentee. I worked with my mentor, Jessica Bibi Cooper (hi, Bibi!), on and off for the next few months changing POVs and tightening the beginning. The subject of Bibi’s first email to me was “HELLO AND WELCOME TO HELL.”
September 2019. In a final go at representation, I submitted BOOK1 to Pitch Wars, a three-month writing mentorship ending in a showcase of the mentees’ book pitches. If my middle grade fantasy didn’t get chosen, it was getting shelved and sobbed over and I would start querying BOOK2.
November 2019. BOOK1 was chosen for Pitch Wars 2019. I worked with my mentor, KC Held (hi, KC!), to tighten the worldbuilding, hire a sensitivity reader, and make the plot make sense. Befriended fellow Pitch Wars troublemakers (hi, Sami, Gabe, Victor, Emily, LK, and the Fork Wars fam!) and the stress + tight deadlines of those next three months were like a swim through a tidal wave.
February 2020. Pitch Wars showcase! My pitch got 12 agent requests and I promptly sent them my materials. Over the next few months, all of the agents rejected except for three who straight up never responded. Neat.
April 2020. In a final, final go at representation, I pitched BOOK1 during #DVpit, a Twitter event highlighting marginalized voices. Bolstered by my friends in AMM, Pitch Wars, IRL writing squad, and Twitter mutuals over the years, it took OFF.
May 2020. Sent my DVpit queries. Told myself that this was It, this was gonna get me agented, this was gonna be the big break. Got a few full requests over the next few months, but aside from two R&Rs, everything ended in rejection. Bought $7 chocolate bars to console myself and spent a lot of time complaining in group chats and DMs (hi, Leah, Zoulfa, Page, Meryn, Emily, Kalie, Tashie, and Write Club!). Eighty-two queries later, I finally understood that BOOK1’s role in my life was to teach me how to be a writer, not get me representation.
June 2020. Revised BOOK2 one more time over the course of the next few months. Got beta feedback and sensitivity reads. Tweaked a few things. Thank goodness I made writer friends that don’t mind body horror and murder.
September 2020. On September 2, 2020—three years and one day after first querying BOOK1—I sent the first query for BOOK2. Two minutes later, that agent requested the full. Eleven days later, he asked to schedule a phone call.
September 16, 2020. THE CALL. I took fourteen pages of notes. Highlights included me rambling about thematic arcs and, when asked how many clients he had, the agent responded, “It varies; sometimes clients die.” I did not physically go to bed that night and wound up staying awake for 36 hours in a row.
October 2020. The last of my nudges stepped aside (one agent still had BOOK1 from DVpit and my nudge email consisted of “I have an offer on a different book, here’s the query for that…”), and I signed the paperwork.
I was officially a client of Uwe Stender at TriadaUS (hi, Uwe!).
February 2021. Got a final query rejection on BOOK1 from an agent who’d had it since May. Neat.
THE HUNTER OF SHADES is an 86,000-word, dual-POV young adult fantasy about two deadly revenge plots vying for the heart of a city. This dark, magical reworking of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO will appeal to readers clamoring for the rich worldbuilding of Roshani Chokshi’s THE GILDED WOLVES and the angry, vengeance-seeking heroes of Tara Sim’s SCAVENGE THE STARS. A standalone with series potential, this book has been read by two sensitivity readers for its portrayal of deaf characters.
Anya Herald would poison half the city to find the man who murdered her father.
Years ago, Anya told a lie that killed her best friend Kasper and left her father at the mercy of a dangerous, shape-shifting kingpin. Now, guilt-ridden and fierce, seventeen-year-old Anya works as a shade runner, hunting and selling secrets in a world of criminal shadow guilds. Every secret she steals will get her closer to her father’s killer, if she can stay one step ahead of the shadow guild magicians who summon darkness, alter memories, and manipulate the fabric of time.
After faking his death years ago, Kasper Vale has returned to the Shrouded City seeking revenge on those who destroyed his family, including his former best friend, Anya. Armed with the ability to weave futures and grant wishes for a lethal price, Kasper adopts a disguise and infiltrates the city’s elite to bring down the shadow guilds and those who wronged him.
When the kingpin who left Anya fatherless suddenly offers her a place in his guild, Anya seizes her chance, only to discover how her own buried secrets are clawing their way out of the past. To save herself and her surviving family, Anya must choose between avenging what she lost and defending what she has left—and join forces with either her father’s murderer or a boy who is checking off a hit list and saving her for last.
I am a user experience designer, Author Mentor Match Round 6 mentee, Pitch Wars 2019 mentee, previous member of the Atlanta Writer’s Club, and current member of SCBWI. Growing up a mixed-race girl, I always wanted to read more books where the heroes looked like me, so I wrote my own.
Thank you for your consideration.
The Cosmic Dice:
If you have a couple minutes to spare, check out this Reddit comment by author James Callum, which has more or less become my philosophy towards writing and creative pursuits in general. If you don’t have a couple minutes, here’s the most important bit:
My favorite way of thinking about persistence is this: If everything comes down to some big cosmic dice roll, then being persistent is another roll… If you remain persistent, always writing, always querying, always trying to improve, the odds exponentially grow in your favor with each dice roll. Eventually, you will get lucky but that doesn’t discredit all the hard persistent work.James Callum
These were the cosmic dice I rolled, most of them more than once:
- YeahWrite Workshopping on tumblr
- Going to writers conferences
- Researching agents and publishing (MSWL, QueryTracker, Publishers Marketplace)
- Connecting with other writers (#cpmatch, mentorship programs, Facebook groups)
- Beta reading and swapping manuscripts
- Entering drawings and giveaways for query + first pages critiques
- Author Mentor Match
- Pitch Wars
- $7 chocolate
- Shelving a book I loved with all my heart
- Querying the book that made it
Every day, I made myself do something that got me closer to my eventual goal of publication. Sometimes it was big things like sending out a whole batch of queries, and sometimes it was little things like forcing myself to write 100 words, and sometimes it was protecting my mental health by going on a walk and letting myself daydream. Even now, I’m still doing those things—drafting a new book (BOOK3), outlining sequels to BOOK2 (BOOK4 and BOOK5) and planning revisions for BOOK1 (because that book is too funny to give up on completely).
If you’re reading this because you’re in the query trenches and doing that inspirational-but-also-masochistic thing where you read a bunch of How I Got My Literary Agent blog posts (aka you’re me from 2017-2020), there are two main things to remember: 1) Keep going; and 2) Don’t go at it alone. It might be a slog, but approach writing in such a way that you end up with an Acknowledgements section that’s several pages long.
Best of luck out there, y’all. Keep rolling those cosmic dice.