In case you missed the Twitter announcement, I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now officially represented by the very lovely Emily Sweet (Emily Sweet Associates.)
If you’d have told me two months ago (when I was deep in the emotional turmoil of the dreaded ‘Query Trenches’) that I would be writing one of these blog posts – the type I devoured to try to distract myself from constantly refreshing my inbox, I would have laughed. Or cried. Or stared at you with wild eyes, twitched a bit, and then hoovered up anything vaguely chocolatey in the vicinity. Because querying was like being in some kind of limbo-esque parallel universe. You smile and nod, you make the right noises in your daily interactions, but your brain is somewhere in an agent’s unread inbox, and your fingers constantly twitch – compelled to check your email, even though you’ve got your notifications set to ‘Sonic Boom’ so there’s no way you could have missed an incoming message… But, that little old lady’s trolley wheel was a bit squeaky, maybe you DID miss it? Better check…
So why did I put myself through it? Well, if your goal is to be traditionally published, chances are you are going to need an agent. The majority of traditional publishers do not accept submissions from unagented authors (unless they’re running a particular competition/open submission period). Given that there are vastly more agents than there are publishers, and that many of these agents receive hundreds of submissions A WEEK, you can kinda see why. But, an agent (a good one anyway) is more than just a book seller. The right agent can help you get your manuscript ready for publishers, advise you on all aspects of your writing career, and hold your hand when it all gets a bit much.
So, my stats (because I know that’s what all the currently querying authors want to know 😉 )
Queries sent: 28
Full Requests: 5
Form Rejections: 5
Queries withdrawn/not responded to: 18
Offers of Representation: 2
Initially, I sent just five queries, to agents I had seen active on Twitter who seemed like they might be a good fit. Two of them came back within days asking for the full manuscript. I was elated, overjoyed, bouncing off the walls… and naïve.
I reasoned (disclaimer: querying authors have no sense of reason. Do not trust your reason when you’re querying) that it would be foolish to send any more queries until I’d heard back on the fulls. What if there was something glaring wrong with the book? If I’d already sent it to all and sundry I could keep getting rejected for the same thing. So I waited.
Hint: There is a lot of waiting involved in the query process.
Summer holidays came, and I tried to put my non-pinging inbox out of my mind. But when September came around I decided I’d waited long enough (FYI, I never did hear back on those fulls). So, I resolved this time to take a more methodical approach than just querying agents I had looked up (OK, stalked…) on Twitter.
Out came the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook, and I went through the list of literary agents, looking at their websites and researching their preferences and submission guidelines. Finally, I had a list of twenty three agents I thought might be interested in my humble manuscript. One of whom was Emily.
I sent twenty three queries in two days. This is no mean feat. Yes, lots of agents ask for the ‘standard’ submission package (query letter, synopsis, first three chapters), but plenty don’t. Some want differing lengths of sample material, some want you to copy and paste into an email, some want a bio. Some want your first born child gift wrapped in scented paper – OK, I made that one up. Emily’s website asked for just the covering letter initially – so I duly sent that, and continued on with my marathon query sesh.
About an hour later, while I was busy cursing an agent who wanted the sample material formatted COMPLETELY differently to anyone else, (WHY?) my inbox chimed. It was Emily, and she liked my pitch. She asked for the first ten thousand words and synopsis. Fortunately, by this point I had approximately ten squillion different files with every length of sample material you could ever wish for, so I located my ‘first 10k’ file and sent it off.
I didn’t expect to hear anything quickly… or ever, to be honest. But to my surprise, a couple of hours later she replied again, complimenting my writing and asking for the full manuscript. After the months of deafening silence, I MAY have screamed a little bit…
After squealing at my husband, and cursing Windows 10 for choosing THIS moment to do an update, I composed myself and sent off the manuscript. Shortly after, more full requests rolled in, and were sent off. Then, I prepared myself for the long wait.
Which, as it turns out, wasn’t long at all…
The day after I sent my manuscript to Emily, I received an email from her – late in the evening. She’d already read the whole book! And what’s more, she described it as ‘incredible’ and wanted to arrange a time to speak on the phone! I was at work at the time (on a nightshift) so my poor colleague had to put up with me squealing, crying, and swearing at my phone for its lousy internet connection. We arranged to speak the next morning. I mean, there was no way I was going to be able to sleep, even after a long shift, until I’d heard what she had to say.
I tried not to get too excited. I had heard tell of ‘The Call that is not The Call’ – agents calling authors usually means they’re thinking of offering representation, but some poor souls have received calls only to be told all the reasons why the agent can’t offer…
But, it was indeed ‘The Call’ – after a long chat about the book, possible revisions, and future career, Emily said the magic words, “I’d like to offer you representation.” She was so passionate, so lovely, and I could already see how her suggestions would improve the book, I wanted to say ‘Yes!’ right there and then… But somehow I kept my cool. I was already out on full elsewhere, and I had to give other agents a fair chance to make counter offers (not that I expected any!). Emily didn’t give me a time limit for my answer (yet another reason I felt she was ‘the one’), but I promised to get back to her within two weeks.
Silence is Broken
My dead-as-the-grave inbox was in for a big surprise when I started notifying other agents of an offer of representation.
At this point, I had a good hard look at who I had queried, and (not wanting to waste anyone’s time) wrote to withdraw my submission from most of the agents. For those I felt I would still consider an offer from, I simply notified them and gave them a ten day deadline if they wished to counter offer.
All of a sudden, I went from a never-changing-inbox to having more emails than I could handle. Notified agents replied almost instantly, promising to get back to me ASAP. Even agents I had withdrawn from sent congratulations ‘to you and your agent’! It was a little surreal.
In the end, I did receive a counter offer – and from an agent who was one of my top picks. Choosing between them was one of the hardest decisions of my life (more about multiple offers in a later post), but in the end I went with my heart. Emily’s passion for my novel, and the gut feeling that we were simply a better fit personality wise, drew me to her. And then I found myself in the very topsy-turvy position of being the one to make ‘The Call’ to an agent, and having to send a decline to the other.
In the end, after months of waiting on other agents, I went from initial query to offer in less than 48 hours. And signed two weeks later.
For Those In ‘The Query Trenches’
But, the query process is different for everyone. One of the best things about the writing community is its ‘pay it forward’ camaraderie. I learned everything I needed to know about querying from other writers, and will be passing what I’ve learned on to other authors who are yet to query, or who are currently in the trenches.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing posts on every aspect of the torture that is trying to secure a literary agent. From writing a killer query letter, and doing your research, to how to cope with silence, and what to do when you receive more than one offer.
I’ll be compiling some of the best resources for querying authors, and even offering some query letter critiques to my followers – so watch this space!