I’ve been daydreaming about writing this post for such a long time, but I’ll be honest: when I finally sat down to do this, it was hard at first to get the words out.
Part of the reason why is because this still doesn’t feel real. And part of it is because, if I want to honestly tell the whole story of how I got to here….well, it’s kind of rambling, and kind of strange. But in my many years of reading other authors’ “How I Got My Agent” posts, I appreciated the longer ones the most.
So, here goes, I guess. This is the story of how I got my agent, and most of that is really the story of how I learned how to write a book.
You are sixteen, and you want to change your life. You wrote a lot when you were younger – incessant, fevered scribblings in journal after journal, snippets of poems and stories, far-flung, abandoned attempts at something longer. You decide to try again. You decide, once and for all, that you will Write A Novel.
You get through 28,000 words. They are horrendous. You seethe and swear and hide them away in a sad folder on your laptop, where they can metaphorically be left to rot.
You are seventeen and stressed. College applications are due soon, and writing a 90,000-word book seems like a far less insurmountable task than crafting a 500-word personal essay. So you do just that; in a month, because you can.
It is still horrendous, but at least you finished something. You spend the next four months trying to take the story apart and put it back together. You realize it is a hopeless task. You shove it into the same sad folder as the first manuscript and head off to school.
You are eighteen and impossible to please. You write the first 75,000 words of a novel, then dramatically disown it. You write 10,000 words of a completely different novel, then abandon it for five long months.
You only dust it off when the boy you’re dating asks to read some of your writing. You watch his face move closer to the laptop while his eyes scan the screen. You watch his mouth drop open in rapt, slack-jawed attention. When he asks where the rest of it is, you realize that you might not be so bad at this whole writing thing after all.
You are nineteen, and you cannot believe that your entire origin story as a Great Budding Artist is hopelessly entwined with your love life. But you finish that novel all the same.
It is not total garbage; at least, you don’t think it is. You spend months devising an elaborate, scene-by-scene revision plan, but you can’t go through with it. You will realize later that this came about because you wrote that novel because someone else wanted you to.
You will realize very soon that your best work cannot possibly be written for anyone other than yourself.
You are twenty, and you’re running out of time. Or at least you think you are. It is starting to dawn on you that writing is a process somewhat beyond your control; that you can’t rush it, you can’t force it, that it would probably be more damaging to be published too early than to wait, and breathe, and grow.
You spend a whirlwind of a month drafting a manuscript that has the wrong main character. You don’t want to lobotomize her, so you don’t want to revise it. But there’s something about one of the side characters, something about the setting, that you can’t get out of your head. You wonder if maybe you can only do good things by accident, when you’re not paying attention. You wonder if anyone will notice you beating your head against your keyboard until QWERTY permanently indents itself on your forehead.
You go abroad. You wait for Prague’s spires and cobblestones and history to inspire you, but you don’t get your next idea standing on St. Charles Bridge or drinking hot wine in Old Town Square. Instead, inspiration strikes in Florence, but you don’t want to write about David or Da Vinci. You want to write about the cold, bleak land you left behind.
You stare at sculptures and see the endless rows of trees beside an upstate New York highway. You overlay the magnificent Medici gardens with a run-down town the size of a postage stamp. You talk incessantly about this idea to your traveling companion until they beg you to stop.
You write 5,000 words the moment you get back to your dorm room. You spend the next two months outlining, scrapping it, and outlining again. You push and pull at the idea until it finally feels right. And then, in March, you start to draft.
You are twenty-one and you don’t care anymore. You finish the first draft of the manuscript – it is called THE DEVOURING GRAY now, although it wasn’t back then. It is a 120,000-word beast from hell, and it is somehow the best and worst thing you have ever written.
You spend a month planning exactly how you’ll take it apart and piece it back together. And then – scene by scene, word by word – you actually do it. (credit goes to Susan Dennard for this part of my journey. I would not be here without her revision breakdown posts).
It takes months. You rush through your homework. You don’t go to parties. All you can think about are these characters; their lives, their neuroses, their messed-up little world. You love them more than you have ever loved anything, and then sometimes you also hate them, but somehow that only makes you love them more.
You have realized by now that you are the kind of melodramatic person who will write their “how I got my agent” post in second person, so this love/hate dichotomy actually makes a strange sort of sense.
You find critique partners – amazing critique partners! – and you send them the manuscript. They tell you things to change. You fix it and fix it and when you can’t bear to look at the book anymore, you shove it in the direction of some agents and hold your breath until you burst.
You get some requests, but they don’t lead anywhere. There is a close call – an agent who emails you while they are reading your manuscript to tell you how much they’re enjoying it. Three days later, they reject you.
You stare at the ceiling and realize that this feels even more awful than a breakup, or that maybe it is a breakup, it’s just that breaking up with part of yourself is way worse than breaking up with another person.
It occurs to you that going from worrying about breakups with people to breakups with books is probably progress. It occurs to you that even though it hurts, you will never, ever quit.
You are twenty-two now, and you’re starting to realize you have nothing figured out.
You put THE DEVOURING GRAY away. You insist you’re not very good at writing but secretly think you are either brilliant or terrible, depending on the hour. You get an Industry Job that you like a lot, that pays your bills, and you wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you to settle. If maybe you should just feel lucky for all the things you have, and stop killing yourself reaching for the things you don’t.
But you have never been very good at settling, not when you were sixteen, not now, and so you sigh and drag THE DEVOURING GRAY out of your sad laptop folder and enter it into Pitch Wars.
You get in.
You spend the next two months working harder than you thought possible. Your book gets a world-building overhaul, a new title, stronger character arcs. You’re drinking too much coffee and sleeping too little and you realize that you have never been this happy, because you can feel your manuscript getting better every single day.
Querying feels different this time. You have a stronger writing community, a Pitch Wars mentor who has your back. But most importantly, you’re proud of your book. And you know in your gut that even if THE DEVOURING GRAY isn’t the book that gets you an agent, you would still do it all over again, because this story deserved to be told.
Almost two months after you finish Pitch Wars, you get an email from an agent who you were incredibly excited to send your full to, saying that she’s eighty pages into THE DEVOURING GRAY, and she’s loving it.
It is completely impossible to sleep that night. But the next day, she offers representation. And even though you are lucky enough to wind up with multiple offers, from agents that you can’t quite believe read your book, let alone loved it, you know this agent is the One as soon as you finish your call with her.
That agent is Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and I am so thrilled to be embarking on the next steps of my journey with her.
I also want to take a moment to thank the incredible community I found as I began to seriously pursue publication. The lovely ladies of Writer’s Block Party aren’t just my critique partners, they’re a support system and a lifeline. I am so proud of everything they’ve accomplished already – and the great things I know they’re going to do.
To any unagented authors reading this, I guess my advice is this: find the story you love enough.
I know you can.