Querying

How I signed with an agent

For more context about where I was at before I started querying, take a gander at this blog post. But for those who only have time to read one lot of my ramblings today, a summary:

I queried two books before I signed with an agent with my third. Sadly, this partnership didn’t work out for a number of reasons, and we parted ways. I found this process really difficult and there are loads of ways I’ve carried it with me into querying again, some of them good and some of them bad.

The biggest thing was that I didn’t expect to be here again. I’d had an agent, so I thought my days of querying were done. The crushing blow of losing that agent, although I did ultimately feel like parting ways was the right decision, was that it sent me right back to square one again.

BEFORE QUERYING

I took some time before I dove back in. The YA book I was working on with that agent was probably query ready, but I’d utterly fallen out of love with it. I wanted to do something new, and more and more my mind was turning towards the weird little crime stories I’d written whenever I needed a brain break.

I grabbed the one that was calling to me the most and totally rewrote it. I changed the main character, beefed up subplots, added in better setting descriptions. I literally rewrote it word for word because I knew that so much needed to change. I think I also needed this time. I needed to fall back in love with my writing again, to prove to myself that I could write something compelling and deep, that I could enjoy some part of this process and find life in it.

Once the re-write was done, I asked a whole load of people to read it – nine of them! This may not sound like a lot to some of you, but it’s the biggest pool of beta readers I’ve ever used. Some of them gave detailed line-by-line notes, some gave overall comments, one commented on the police procedures, and some (my mum) were cheerleaders. I needed all of them. Like I needed the time of rewriting to heal, I needed the affirmation from beta readers to show me that I could write a story worth reading.

By September 2021 (five months after splitting with my previous agent), I was ready to query again. I put together my query letter (read more about that here) and synopsis, plus made sure that my first three chapters were as hecking exciting as they possibly could be. And then it was time to dive in.

That first month, I sent out just four queries. I was being very particular, but I also knew that if I threw my work out to loads of agents and then got loads of rejections, I wouldn’t cope very well. I chose carefully, made sure I referenced their wish lists and researched their client lists, and then tried my hardest not to think about it.

I have to say that at this point I had literally no idea the toll that querying would take on me. I had done it before, so I thought I knew the deal. I’d be careful not to check my emails too much (I failed) and I’d manage my expectations (ha). What I hadn’t taken into account was how much my previous experience with an agent was hanging over me the whole time. It robbed me of confidence and basically made every little bit of the process all that much harder.

So if you’re in a similar boat, I’d advice taking all the time you need before you start querying again. I know how gutting it is to part ways with an agent and I know the terrible fear that you’re never going to find someone to represent you again, which can galvanise you into action too soon – but please take care of yourself. I wasn’t very good at this, and it made querying an even less enjoyable experience than it is anyway.

THE FIRST REJECTIONS AND THE FIRST FULL REQUEST

The rejections came first, and they didn’t pack quite as much of a punch as I’d expected them to. I think I was vaguely realistic about this part of the process – even if my novel was shit-hot (and I would go so far as to say it was quite good), then it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I really loved writing about a traumatised detective and interspersing the action with loads of emails and report and transcripts, but that wasn’t going to be what every agent I queried was looking for.

So I was alright with being rejected. Maybe there was even a little bit of my brain that believed they were right to reject me – one agent already had in such a monumental way, so it was no surprise that others would to. What I was less prepared for was my reaction to a full request.

Now, I really don’t want anyone to think I wasn’t insanely grateful. Part of me was jumping for joy – this was the validation I needed to throw more queries out there and maybe this was the first step in finding an agent. Yay!

But there was another part of my brain that totally freaked out. I cried when I got that first request, and they weren’t tears of joy. There was some panic thrown in there too. Some fear.

Now I’m not exactly sure what was going on in my little brain, but I think that the part that wanted to protect me from further pain would have actually preferred it if all I got were form rejections. With full requests came greater hope, and with greater hope came more potential for pain.

I don’t know if anyone else feels like this, but I wanted to talk about it. I feel like all we are meant to feel when we get a full request is unmatched joy, but this wasn’t my experience this time around. Every full request I got freaked me the heck out. I didn’t cry every time, but I certainly wasn’t very happy.

I know that sounds strange, since the literal point of querying is to get full requests. But I do wonder if I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe I’m not the only one who felt a whole range of emotions when they got full requests. This is such a tough business and we’re putting so much more than words into agent’s hands when we send them our stories. That’s a really hard thing to do, and the more encouragement we receive then the harder the fall if it doesn’t work out.

(I’m not meaning to bum anyone out here. I hope talking about this is helpful!)

MORE REJECTIONS AND MORE FULL REQUESTS

Over the next few months, I sent out a steady stream of queries, and got a mixed bag of form rejections and full requests. I also started to get rejections on the fulls I’d already sent out, which were uniformly kind and encouraging. I got into a groove with querying – I made sure to send out at least 5 but up to 10 submissions each month, and I tried my hardest to think about the pending full requests as little as possible.

But between all this zen-like denial of what was going on, one rejection broke through and cut deep. I have no idea why this one hurt me so badly. I’d very carefully not allowed myself to get attached to any particular agent that I queried, so it wasn’t like I had high hopes for them. It was for a full, which was always a bit more painful, but it wasn’t the first rejection for a full I’d had. It was the fourth, so I thought I’d gotten used to the blow. It was kind and helpful, and the agent gave the most feedback that I’d gotten for a rejection so far.

I honestly don’t know why this one hit me so hard, but had a proper cry when I read the email. I felt, for the first time, that maybe I really was right and this story wasn’t going to go anywhere. At least, not in a traditional publishing sense.

I took two things from this rejection. The first – sometimes we think we have querying figured out and then the toughness of it slams into us. Querying is ridiculously hard! I think we forget this sometimes, because it’s the process most writers have to go through and forgetting is often a helpful tool so that we don’t get too down. But we’re throwing little bits of our hearts out into the world with no idea what reaction we will get. The odds are monumentally stacked against us.

I guess what I’m trying to say is – I think it’s completely reasonable to find querying an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re pootling along happily and then there is a sudden dip or high, and you’re not in control of these things. It’s okay if sometimes rejections just make you shrug or if they make you question everything you’re doing.

The second thing I took from this rejection was that there isn’t only one way to get a book into reader’s hands. I have some lovely writing friends who have self-published their stories. I have always been fairly set on wanting to go down a traditional publishing route, but I think my previous experience with an agent and the toughness of entering the querying trenches again had me rethinking that. I realised that there are a hell of a lot of benefits to self-publishing – greater autonomy and control, ability to set your own timelines, pocketing a greater percentage of profit per book, to name just a few. I read a book, just to dip my toe in the water, and found it really helpful – The Writers’ and Artists’ guide to Self-Publishing. I highly recommend it to anyone considering this route.

This new idea there was a way to get my book into reader’s hands even if my querying didn’t work out the way I hoped took a lot of the sting out of subsequent rejections that flowed in. I was no longer solely dependant on a gatekeeper – I could become my own gatekeeper! I would get my book out into the world no matter what.

I’m pleased that things have worked out the way they have, but I am so glad that I looked into self-publishing and took back that control for myself. It made my final months of querying so much more peaceful, which was helpful because…

THINGS STARTED TO GET INTERESTING

At the start of February (five-ish months into querying), Kate Nash Literary Agency did a little flurry of tweets about what each of their agents were looking for. I had a look through them, plus a nose around their website, and felt like my story was what one of their agency assistants, Saskia Leach, might be looking for.

I sent off my query to her on the 9th February. I wasn’t very confident about it, as the agency asked for the letter to be laid out in a different way with slightly different information included to what I was used to. (A quick aside – ALWAYS FOLLOW THE AGENCY GUIDELINES!)

Saskia requested the full on the 14th February. I sent it off, and then did the usual of trying to forget about it as much as possible. I’d had fulls out since October/November that I still hadn’t heard back from (I nudged the agents every month or so and they had assured me they were still interested but just really busy), so I didn’t expect to hear back from her any time soon.

Something that I found really kind and considerate, is that Saskia checked in a month later to let me know that she was reading and enjoying my submission, and to let me know that she’d be in touch soon. These small things that show agents are aware of the tole querying takes on writers, how horrible it can be to have fulls out for a long time and hear nothing, are a sign that you’re in contact with a good egg. I still tried really hard not to get my hopes up, despite the good vibes I was getting, since how many times have we felt a connection with an agent and it’s ended in pain?

But on the 28th March, Saskia emailed to request a chat. She said she loved my story and would be interested in finding out more about me, my vision for the series, and where I saw my writing career going. I was absolutely bricking it before this chat, but Saskia put me at ease right away. She explained how the Kate Nash Literary Agency worked, the kinds of authors they represented, and how they worked with their authors. She gave me some suggested edits that she’d want me to make before we went on submission – and they were all great. They all showed that she had connected with this story and had a clear vision of how to make it stronger.

We chatted for over an hour, during which Saskia made sure that I asked any questions I needed to. I was buzzing when we said goodbye, and later that afternoon Saskia sent me an offer of representation.

DECISION TIME

My gut instinct was that I wanted to be represented by Saskia and the Kate Nash Literary Agency, but I really didn’t want to rush into a decision. I also had four fulls out with other agents at that point, and I felt like it was only fair to give them a final chance to read my story. I set a deadline of the 15th April – giving them two weeks to make a decision.

I emailed them all to say I had an offer of representation and tell them about the deadline, plus everyone else I had a query out with. Over the two weeks, two other agencies also asked for the full.

I spent those two weeks in a state of nervous anticipation. I knew I had an offer from an agent who I really liked, so some of the pressure was taken off, but I also knew there was a chance that another agent would also offer, and then I’d have a really hard decision to make.

You may not believe me, but I was honestly so pleased when I got to the end of those two weeks and Saskia’s was the only offer on the table. I would have hated trying to make a decision between two agents, and I had such a good feeling about her.

I accepted the offer of representation on the 14th April, and signed with the agency on the 20th April. Since then, Saskia has only confirmed how lovely she is while guiding me through my induction into the agency and introducing me to the other authors they represent. We’ve had another chat to nail down all the changes needed before we go on submission, and I feel so excited about them. They’re only going to give depth and flair to my story.

And that’s it! If there’s one thing I’d want anyone to take from my experience, it would be – be kind to yourself. Let yourself feel sad when the rejections roll in, let yourself feel mixed emotions when good things happen, don’t over query and exhaust yourself, and, whenever possible, stay away from your emails!

STATS

For those who are both nosy AND geeky beans (like me)

Total number of queries sent – 50
First query sent – 8th September 2021
Last query sent – 21st March 2022
Requests via pitch contests – 2 (both of which resulted in a form rejections)
Introductions via writer-type people – 7 (which resulted in 2 full requests (who then rejected), 4 form rejections, and one no reply)
Cold queries – 41
Full requests – 14 (13 of these rejected and 6 of them gave feedback)
Form rejections – 20
Rejections on the submission with personalised feedback – 2
No replies – 14 (one of which was a full request)
Longest reply – 5 and a half months (full requested in November, didn’t hear until April)
Shortest reply – 1 day (full requested and then rejected (with no feedback) the next day)
Offers of representation – one 😊

I hope this has been helpful! I love helping other writers make their stories shine. If you’d like me to take a look at your story, check out my editing options. And I’d love to keep you up-to-date with all my editing tips, writing adventures, and editing availability with my monthly newsletter.

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