I remember when I first started thinking about writing as a career sifting through blog after blog, reading the success stories of other writers. They ranged from pretty standard to downright wild, but they were always inspirational; they always had a happy ending. I dreamed of one day being one of them, of one day writing my very own “How I Got My Agent” blog post.
And here I am, writing one today.
This is a dream come true, the thing I’ve been working toward since I was in middle school, reading the blog of the at-the-time unpublished Marie Lu (Seriously, though–she had, and has, some of the coolest stuff on her website, and for 12 year old me, it was the most inspirational thing ever to see someone I admired chasing her dream). Everything about this day is party hats and champagne corks flying, but I know deep down that I got here because I am lucky, not because I persevered or worked my hardest to get here. I’ve watched friends work every spare second of the day to get here and still fall short, I’ve watched them burn out only to turn around and work harder. And I know that I never put that much of myself on the line. I’m just lucky.
Don’t get me wrong, I put in the work. I wrote the book, I revised the book, I revised it again, I went to writing workshops (specifically Wordsmith Workshops with Beth Revis and Cristin Terrill, who are just the best ever), and I revised some more. In August 2016, I got into Pitch Wars, and the magnificent Linsey Miller (seriously go check out her book you don’t even know) took me under her wing. She pushed me in ways I didn’t know I could be pushed, compelled me to work harder than ever. She was like my own personal Uncle Iroh with better hair. I’m lucky she picked me.
All of this sounds pretty wonderful, I know, but what no one knew–not Linsey, not my CPs, not even me–was that I had already given up. I spent years reading about other people’s successes, about their hard won battles through years and years of rejection. I watched one of my best friends go through the hardest years of her life, struggling to grab on to the success I knew she deserved (spoiler alert: she totally succeeded and has a fabulous agent now). All of this exposure to people’s publishing journeys was supposed to set me up for success, but all it had prepared me for was failure.
By the time the Pitch Wars agent round rolled around, I was 110% sure that my book was a pile of garbage that no one would ever want to read. Even though I had a lot of requests, and my CPs and my mentor were all cheering me on, I still thought I was destined to fail. They tell you to query widely, to query everyone, and maybe that’s good advice and maybe it isn’t. But I didn’t query at all. I was so sure I would fail that it wasn’t even worth trying.
It wasn’t until February when Write On Con rolled around that I dipped my toes back in. They offered some great workshops online, but they also had a forum for query critique. I thought maybe if I got more eyes on my work I’d feel better about it. Maybe then I’d be ready to dive all the way in. I expected to get some feedback, some good some bad. What I didn’t expect was to get an agent request, but I did–a super secret ninja agent request!
Like any obsessed writer with no chill, I spent the next several days stalking every agent listed on their staff to see who it could be. I crossed off a few based on genre, but I couldn’t narrow it down any further. When she finally revealed who she was, I was shocked! It was one that I’d eliminated early on based on her usual tastes. I thought there wasn’t a chance it could be her because she didn’t usually rep speculative fiction.
This should have been my wakeup call. This should have made me realize I was self-rejecting. And it sort of did. I sent out a dozen or so queries over the next month–not at all the “query everyone” or “query widely” advice I’d been given, but it was a start. Still, in the back of my head was the haunting expectation that I’d be getting a rejection soon–it would say something like “I actually don’t rep this genre, so I don’t know what I was thinking requesting your book” and then I’d move on to not querying some more. I’d written off this agent again, assuming there wasn’t a chance she’d like my book.
And sure enough about a month later, my query inbox dinged and I had mail. But it wasn’t a rejection–she wanted a call. I probably stared at the screen for a solid ten minutes in shock before I could even process my own thoughts. This agent who, against all odds, had requested my book, had, against all odds, liked it? Even loved it?
This wasn’t the failure I’d been bracing myself for.
When she called and eventually offered, I wasn’t at all prepared. I didn’t know what to ask (bless my Pitch Wars friends who’d compiled a list of questions for calls like this). I didn’t know what I wanted in an agent. I didn’t know what I wanted from my career. Because I’d spent so long thinking it would never happen, I’d never bothered to play through what I wanted if it ever did–but it did, and my agent is absolutely everything I could have hoped for!
I spent the time waiting for my deadline still in complete shock. I was sure it was a dream, or that somewhere along the line the other shoe would drop. But her clients all gave her glowing reviews, and all the research I did just came up with more things to add to the “pro” column. In the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t query hundreds of agents, because I found mine anyway, and I couldn’t be happier. She is smart, she is hardworking, she is Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch, and she is my new shiny, amazing agent!
So this is another success story, but it shouldn’t have been. I relied on luck and it worked out in my favor. But what if it hadn’t? What if I hadn’t put myself out there even a little bit? I’d still be sitting on my book with half a dozen full requests from Pitch Wars waiting in inboxes where they might never be read, and it wouldn’t have made it to the one inbox that mattered. Self rejection almost took me out of the game before actual real agent rejection ever could, and that’s a shame. I almost didn’t get to write this blog post because I assumed I’d never get here. That was a bad assumption, a wrong assumption. I should have worked harder, I should have believed in myself first and foremost. I didn’t earn this success the way I wanted to, but it’s taught me something valuable.
So as I take the next steps, whatever they may be, I’m not going to self-reject, I’m not going to beat my own ideas down. I might be lucky, but luck doesn’t last forever. Maybe I’ll stay lucky, but I also want to be proactive and hardworking–when someday I get to write a “I Have a Book Deal” blog post, I don’t want to just be lucky; I want to earn it.
And just to drive it all home thematically, I took this picture of what seemed at the time an incredibly antagonistic cookie fortune a whole four days before my agent called me. How’s that for fate?