I'm excited to write these words after quite a few years and more than a few books I've queried:
I've have a literary agent(!)
Stephen Fraser with JDLA is now representing me, and I couldn't be happier. I'm a huge fan of so many of his clients, including Margi Preus, Carol Lynch Williams, Claudia Mills, and recent debut author S.A. Rodiguez (among others), and his enthusiasm for my middle grade mystery and other projects was really encouraging to hear.
When I was researching which agents I wanted to submit to for this book, I came across a talk Stephen did a few years ago at BYU, where he spoke about joy in publishing and had an insightful Q&A with students. I felt a kinship with his views on books and writing and saw his passion for his clients and agenting come through, and I really hoped things would line up to work with him - I'm so glad it did.
I don't know what this next phase of the publishing journey will bring, but it's a great feeling to know I have Steve in my corner for it.
How I got an agent:
I'll be honest - whenever I'd read articles or listen to authors on this topic, I was secretly hoping for some kind of shortcut or hack to getting an agent. And maybe there is one, but I didn't find it.
This is how it happened for me - and first, I will definitely say that luck is a huge factor in all of this. Having the right project cross the right agent's inbox at the right time is such a big part of this. Also - I am not an expert - this is just how it worked out for me --
In short, I wrote multiple books over the past 10+ years and saw agents' reactions to them improve as I improved as a writer (more partial and full requests; more detailed feedback in passes), until there was an offer.
A few other things I did that I think helped:
After writing mostly in a bubble for many years, I joined SCBWI and started attending conferences, workshops, and my local critique group (s/o to Acadiana Writers & Illustrators!). Writing is a pretty solitary experience, and these events not only helped improve my craft but introduced me to writers striving for the same goal. Pretty cool.
I also greatly increased reading new releases in the genres I was writing (this seems so obvious in hindsight, but...well, that's hindsight for you). If I loved something, I'd go back and break down what made it work for me - if I didn't love it, I did the same. I wasn't super hardcore about this or anything, but just thinking about it helped identify what made certain stories and characters stand out and how I could apply that to my own writing. Plus, there are so many stellar middle grade and picture books out there, and they're a blast to read.
There are also a ton of incredible groups specific to the genre you're writing (like the Middle Grade Writer's Community on Twitter) - the kidlit community is super generous and kind. Once I started getting involved with them (Twitter pitch-fests, mentor contests, book chats, Haiku Saturdays), I saw how neat it is to connect with writing peers (similar to my SCBWI experience) - and also, it's just plain fun to make new writing friends and be a cheerleader for their journeys.
A few other tools that helped:
- QueryTracker (the premium $25/year membership version) - QT was so helpful for me keeping track of my queries, agent timelines and whether they're open or closed to queries, and comments. And submitting through QT to agents using QueryManager keeps everything super organized. You can use the free version too, but I think the premium version is well worth the small fee.
- The Sisters Always Write podcast - this just came out recently, and I think it will help a lot of writers. Two sisters (one a debut author, and the other an editor) walk through the publishing process from idea-generation to drafting and revising and up through acquisitions (and beyond). It answered a lot of questions I'd been wondering about for a while, especially on the editor side.
- (I would also recommend the Middle Grade Ninja pod if you're writing MG!)
- Eric Smith's Perfect Pitch query examples - Eric Smith is an author and an agent, and his website has real query examples from his (now) clients and what he loved about them. This was super helpful for me.
- I also follow Eric on Twitter, and when announced he was doing a fundraiser critique for a query letter and first 50-pages, I jumped on it. His notes and kind words rocket-boosted my confidence when I started querying this project. Quite a few agents do this from time to time, and I recommend following them for those fundraising critique moments or other (sometimes free!) opportunities, as well as insight on submissions and publishing.
- Nathan Bransford's blog/newsletter - Nathan is an author and former agent who currently does freelance editing. His blog has been around for a while, and on it (and in his newsletter), he critiques user-submitted queries and opening pages - again, totally free. I've learned a lot from them. I also recommend his books on publishing.
- If you're writing picture books, the #PBChat community is awesome - the webinars from Justin Colón are also great, and I think he's starting a new venture focusing more on this. Check it out!
I hope that helps if you're in the querying trenches or thinking about diving in. Just like writing, it can be frustrating and confounding - but also exhilarating and a lot of fun when things start to click.
Just keep going.