I’ve been dreaming about writing this post for years so I really can’t believe this is happening ahhh! This will probably be a long one, so if you’re just interested in my querying stats you can skip to the bottom 🙂 If you want to hear the longer version, this story started when I was twelve years old.
I loved reading from a very early age, but when I was twelve I decided I wanted to write a book. At first, this mainly consisted of me daydreaming about characters and scenes but never actually writing them down, then merged into me writing out the first chapter over and over and OVER until I thought it was perfect, and finally progressed into about a hundred different versions of the first 10k words. It took me a long time to realize that it’s not productive and virtually impossible to try writing a perfect first draft, but I don’t regret those years of struggle because they helped me to hone my words at the sentence level. Finally, after years of teaching myself basic craft things (did you know plot and character need two separate arcs? I didn’t when I was fifteen 😂), I finally had a complete first draft of the story I’d started working on when I was twelve. I was sixteen now, and had completed the book on the long drives I took with my parents to tour colleges.
Fun fact: I actually wrote this book backwards. Like literally, the last chapter first, then the second to last chapter and so on. I don’t think I will ever do this again, but it was what I needed to do at the time to force myself to finally finish a full narrative without stopping to revise and/or start over. It was a bad draft. I knew it even then. But I loved this YA fantasy story and was so sure it was going to be my big break. I thought about the book every day. I wanted it to be published SO badly. So with my draft in hand and senior year looming closer, I spent the summer trying to teach myself to revise. I started with Susan Dennard’s method, which is awesome and extremely detailed. I’ve since simplified it to work better for me, but this was a really great place to start as someone who had absolutely no idea what they were doing. It took me a full year to revise that first draft into a second. It took so long because I was doing major overhauls–basically re-writing the book from the ground up. By this point, I’d graduated from high school and moved to London for my first semester of college. I knew the book was much better, but that it still wasn’t good enough.
In London, I wrote another draft. It still wasn’t great, but this draft only took me six months and the story was finally starting to look like an actual book. For the first time in my life, I let a few people read my writing, and wow. If only I had been brave enough to do this earlier, my revising process would have been so much quicker! It is SO much easier to see what needs to be edited when you get opinions from outside perspectives.
I did another revision. And another. It was sophomore year of college now, and I decided I wanted to work with a freelance editor before I queried the book because I’d never gotten professional feedback before. I hired Katherine Locke, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I thought my book had been nearly query ready, but Katherine caught some things that completely transformed my book, my writing, and my understanding of revising. I had always written in third person past tense because Harry Potter is written in third person past tense and I basically wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling as a kid 😂. Katherine suggested I switch the book to first person, and I was absolutely blown away by how much more naturally this came to me. My story went from being somewhat bland to full of voice, and I quickly rewrote the whole thing in first person present. The second big change Katherine suggested was to age the story down from YA to MG. At first, I didn’t really understand this. I had been so sure that the book was YA, but looking back I don’t really know why I ever thought that. The storyline and character arcs are very clearly MG, because it was based on the types of MG books I used to read as a kid–stories featuring protagonists aged 13-15.
This is where the real trouble started because, well, these books don’t really exist anymore. Middle grade now features protagonists aged 8-12, and YA features protags aged 16-18. There isn’t a space in the current market for books about kids in those in-between ages, which meant I either needed to age my story up or down. I first tried aging the characters down, and it worked for their arcs. But the plot was about death and assassins, and was just too dark for MG. So I aged the book back up to YA, but I could now clearly see why Katherine thought the story shouldn’t be YA–the arcs and tropes of the novel were most definitely MG. So basically: the book truly fit into that middle area between both age categories, and I could not see a way to fix it without compromising the heart of the story.
I decided to try querying it anyway. I’d been reading through Query Shark religiously since sophomore year of high school, and followed Susan Dennard’s awesome advice on how to craft a synopsis. I felt confident in these two areas, and was certain agents would at least want to request the full manuscript based off my initial materials. I did get a few full requests. But I mainly got rejections.
The truth is, as much as I loved this story, it was basically just an amalgamation of all of my favorite books growing up–Harry Potter and Percy Jackson being the biggest influences. It wasn’t my voice, and agents didn’t think the concept was original enough to stand out. Looking back, I totally agree. But I loved this story so much that I was determined to fix it. Not only that, but I’d now spent around eight years developing this world. I was terrified that I had no other stories in me, that I wasn’t capable of anything else. So I revised again. I queried again. I revised. Queried.
And then, when I turned twenty years old, I gave up. Even though I’d only sent about 25 queries over the course two years because I’d been so slow and cautious about the process, the book just wasn’t working. The turning point for me was realizing that I wouldn’t be happy if this was my debut because I still wasn’t satisfied with how the story looked and had absolutely no idea how to fix it. Letting that book go was devastating. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done. Maybe I’ll go back to it one day–it still has a piece of my heart and now that I have distance and more writing experience, I might finally be able to find a way to fix it. But for now, it’s shelved ❤️.
Junior year of college, I studied abroad in Edinburgh. While I was there, I decided to write a new book. Unlike the first book, which was fantasy, I decided that this would be a contemporary novel. Unlike the first book, which was about assassins, this story would be about something I knew intimately: swimming. I swam competitively for ten years and had a lot of angsty feelings about the sport that I wanted to get off my chest 😂. Writing about something I knew much felt easier than coming up with an entirely new fantasy world complete with a magic system. But…I can’t ever seem to give myself a break. I’d never written more than one POV before, so of course I decided that this book would be–
FOUR. This new book was FOUR POVS. I truly don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow, it kind of worked. At least, the first draft did. I was able to write it in six months, which is much faster than the six years the first draft of my first book took. And when I finished this draft, I thought it was pretty freaking good. I sent it to a few beta readers, did some minor edits based on their suggestions, and then sent it to Katherine. And…well, the book was not good.
It wasn’t bad–even in this messy state, it was already much stronger than my first novel. But it needed major overhauls, and something I came to find is that it can be easy to write a book with four POVs, but revising?? NOT SO MUCH.
I revised that book for a year and a half. The process was beyond painful, but I could see the book improving. When I finally finished, I was proud of it in a way I had never been proud of my first book. I truly thought it was good–that this would finally be the story that got me an agent. I started querying.
I got requests. A lot more of them. It was a new feeling, and I was so excited because there was NO way all of these agents could reject me. At one point I got an R&R, so I pulled the manuscript from everyone for a few months in order to cut 35k and 1.5 POVs from the story. When I sent it back out, I was so confident. There were so many agents reading, I’d gotten such glowing feedback from all my betas and critique partners, and–
The book was rejected by every. single. agent. It hurt so much. Not only because I’d really believed this book was good enough, but because I’d realized that although my first book was my heart, this story was my soul. I’d finally found my voice with this book. It was the most me thing I’d ever written. There were agents who told me the story made them cry and that they’d love to see it on shelves. But, in the end, no was was passionate enough to take it on.
I don’t know if I would have been able to move on from this book when I did if I hadn’t been forced to. But suddenly it was January of my senior year of college, and I needed to write my thesis. I was a Creative Writing major, so I was allowed to write a novel. Even though I was crushed about the failure of my swimming book, I was really excited that I was going to get to write a manuscript for school. Not only that, but because this book was my literal homework, I would be forced to complete it before I graduated in May.
I chose to write a middle grade novel because I wouldn’t have had the time to write YA book for this class, and because our word limit was 25k. (I didn’t expect my novel to be only 25k, but MG is definitely closer to this word count than YA). Because I really enjoyed writing about something I had experience with in my swimming book, I decided to write this book about London and Edinburgh–the two places I studied abroad in college. Unlike the swimming book, this story was only going to be 1 POV and like my first book, I was going to write it in first person.
After spending so long with my 4 POV book, this story just flowed. From the start, the draft felt very clean (it of course helped that each section was workshopped in my thesis class every few months). By the end of the semester, the story was 25k and about 2/3 of the way done, but those 2/3s felt great to me, and I just had this feeling that this was the book. After graduating, I spent a month writing the ending, then sent the book to some betas, made a few revisions, and in July I started querying a 41k version of the novel.
For once, I didn’t do a million rounds of revisions. After being so cautious with my first and second books, I was frustrated and impatient and wanted to take a risk. I thought this story was solid even though it had really only gone through two drafts, and I was ready to send it out into the world.
I started querying, and I started getting requests. I was still sending a few queries for my swimming book during this time, so essentially there was a period where I was querying two novels. I do not recommend this. Not only was it difficult to make sure I was never accidentally sending both books to the same agency, but it was devastating when I started to realize that neither of these books were going to get me an agent.
Although my MG book got a lot of requests, the feedback was more mediocre this time. Agents didn’t love it the way they loved my swimming book. They liked it, but a lot of people thought the voice was too mature for MG or that the plot wasn’t interesting enough. I was crushed, because did this mean I had gotten WORSE as a writer?! It didn’t help that all this was happening in the few months after I graduated college, when I was realizing I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and had been applying to jobs for months without getting any interviews. I felt like a failure in all aspects of my life, and in October 2019, I stopped querying both books.
I just…I needed a break. I would stop writing for a least a year, I told myself. I would move abroad to teach English for a year and find some new passions and wouldn’t even think about writing until I got back. This was my plan. I was sad about it, but I was resigned to it. And then, in January, there was a Twitter pitch contest.
I’d been participating in Twitter contests since 2016 (anyone remember when we only got 140 characters?), and on good days I would get 10-20 agent likes and on bad days I would get 0. I never had a tweet go viral in one of these contests like some of my friends did, and it got to the point where it seemed like all of the agents who participated in these contests had already rejected my books so there was no point in joining in anymore.
I didn’t even know there was a pitch contest happening on January 15th, 2020. I logged into Twitter and saw it randomly on my newsfeed, and then randomly figured it wouldn’t hurt to recycle some of my old pitches. I’d given up on my books, but I had nothing to lose and it would literally take five seconds to upload the tweets.
It was a smaller contest and I didn’t get a lot of likes. But I did get a few. One of my pitches caught the attention of an agent I had never queried before, Megan Manzano. Not only did she like my pitch, but she also commented saying that she would love to see the story. I didn’t get my hopes up, because I’d gotten most of my full requests from contests and they never worked out. But I sent her my query because why not, and the next day she requested the full. Again, I didn’t get my hopes up because I’d gotten quick full requests before–some even faster than this one. I sent Megan my manuscript without really thinking about it, and then went about my life.
Two days later, I had an email from Megan. And it…wasn’t a rejection? She wanted to set up a call?! It took a long time for this to sink in. I’d gotten so many rejections over so many years that I think I had subconsciously (and partially consciously) convinced myself it would never happen for me, that I would never be good enough.
I was so nervous for the call, which we scheduled for the following Wednesday. But Megan was so nice about my book and told me upfront that this was an offer! I asked her a ton of questions and liked her answers to all of them, I thought her editorial notes for the book were spot-on, and her clients had WONDERFUL things to say about working with her. After we talked, I nudged the other agents with my full, and two weeks later, on February 5th 2020 (five days before my 23rd birthday!), I told Megan I officially wanted to sign with her!!
This has been a long process, but I’ve learned so much along the way and am so grateful that I was able to find the strength to move on from that first novel of my heart. Now I have three books of my heart (my horcruxes?😂) and I can’t wait to prepare my MG novel for submission!!
Also weird universe fact: remember how I said I studied about in London my freshman year of college and that this was the first time I ever showed my writing to anyone? 4.5 years later, one of the people I met abroad and shared my work with is my agent sibling! I’m still so shook by this 😂, but am so glad we get to go on this journey together!
My query statistics:
I’m including this here because I truly did find it helpful to see on other people’s “How I Got My Agent” posts. If you would rather not know my statistics, you can stop reading here!
Book One (YA Fantasy)
First query sent: 4/4/16
Last query sent: 2/7/18
Number of queries sent: 25
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 2
Book Two (YA Contemporary Swimming)
First query sent: 7/9/18
Last query sent: 10/28/19
Number of queries sent: 73
Number of partial requests: 2
Number of full requests: 21
Number of offers: 0
Book Three (MG Contemporary)
First query sent: 7/29/19
Last query sent: 1/20/19
Number of queries sent: 89
Number of partial requests: 2
Number of full requests: 24
Number of offers: 2