If you’re a writer pursuing traditional publication, you’re probably anxious about the querying process. You may have heard stories of the years of querying agents, the scrapping of beloved manuscripts and writing fresh ones to query again. You may have agonized over how many queries to send in each batch, how long to wait between batches, and how to interpret responses. Is this a form rejection? Is this a personalized rejection? Is this a request to revise and resubmit?
And you may have wondered… What can I do to maximize my chances? How in the world did writers score their agents against such odds?
My answer probably isn’t going to surprise you. A lot of it had to do with luck. Luck that the right person saw the right manuscript at the right time in the market. Of course, writing skill factors in as well, but anyone with critique partners know there are plenty of skilled writers who never get that break.
As for me, I started querying like I started writing – with one foot in and one foot out. If I was only testing the waters, then I couldn’t really fail. When I started truly writing, I gave myself a small, measurable goal. I aimed for any kind of positive response from any industry professional, no matter how small, within one year of putting myself and my work out there. That month I entered a piece in the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest 2020 hosted by literary agent Kaitlyn Sanchez and author Ciara O’Neal…and received an honorable mention!
Hey! Yay! I can do this. Justified and fortified, I resolved to start querying agents. But there was a problem, a big one. I still only had one foot in and I queried with my safe manuscripts. Oh, those manuscripts were cute, fun, and well-drafted. I loved them, and still do. But so what?
I only received silence or form rejections to those queries. Then I heard about Twitter pitch parties and I thought, “Why not?” I pitched every one of my polished manuscripts hoping to get a bite. While other writers liked many of the pitches, only one manuscript got any kind of attention from an industry professional – a Twitter heart from an acquiring editor at a small press.
Again – hey! Yay! I can do this. But why this manuscript? There wasn’t anything particularly show-stopping about it. It didn’t have a ground-breaking format or blend genres in unusual ways. It didn’t have beautiful rhymes and stunning similes. It was a straightforward prose narrative based on a personal experience. It had a relatable character in an everyday situation with real feelings.
It was based on, well, me. I was there on those pages, standing on both of my feet. It wasn’t one of my safe manuscripts. Not to me, at least.
That editor ultimately passed, but I looked harder at that manuscript, and the others. I revised my pitches and queries to focus more on the “So what?” rather than the “Look how awesome!” for all my manuscripts. When the next Twitter pitch party rolled around, I was more prepared.
Once again, I pitched everything and this time I got two Twitter hearts from acquiring editors. (Still, no agents!) They were both for that same unsafe manuscript, but I wasn’t surprised this time. I sent off my queries and fairly quickly received a contract offer from a well-regarded publisher.
It didn’t feel real! I was stunned. I was going to have a real book with my name on the cover in my hands one day. And I still didn’t have an agent! I had a few open queries out with agents, including my top choice. I updated them with the contract offer, had calls, discussed my other manuscripts and all that good stuff, and then…
An offer of representation was made! And guess what? It was from my top choice and one of the people who gave me that first glimmer of hope that I could make it in this industry: Kaitlyn Sanchez, co-host of the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest in which I received an honorable mention.
So that’s how I got my agent. And my first book deal. Hattie Hates Hugs will be published by Beaming Books in Spring 2022! Those other manuscripts I had initially queried with? They have potential, but they’re currently sitting in my ‘Work in Progress’ folder again. Instead, I’ve been writing new manuscripts, with both feet in. And they’re receiving lots of love from my agent.