364 days passed between the day I sent my query letter to JABberwocky Literary Agency and when I was offered representation from my new, inimitable agent.
If you’re slightly amazed it took so long, it probably means you don’t know much about publishing! Any literary agent worth their salt receives hundreds of query letters every month from writers all over the world, so it takes time to vet the slush pile. And my query journey with Joshua involved numerous rounds of manuscript edits, where he dedicated hours to feedback so I could strengthen my story over multiple weeks and send him back the latest draft.
But what did the journey look like from start to finish?
Starting summer of 2018:
1. Sent a query letter May 7th
2. Received a reply asking for the first ten pages June 16th
3. He upgraded the ten pages to fifty pages July 31st
When I found that email in my inbox at the end of July, that’s when I allowed myself a bit of excitement and hope. The thing is that as a querying writer, you deal with rejection on a depressing scale – over eight years of querying five manuscripts, I’d received hundreds of rejections, many of them after an agent had read part of or even all of my manuscript (writers don’t get past the query stage most of the time). Agents rarely take on new clients – they can receive thousands of queries in a year and only end up signing a few writers. Many agents aren’t open to submissions at all. So when Joshua asked for fifty pages, he graduated from Another Agent Who Will Definitely Reject Me to An Agent Who Will Probably Reject Me.
Upon further research, I discovered he was going to WorldCon (a popular SciFi/Fantasy Convention), which was being held in San Jose that year. The convention was only three weeks away, and I knew I had to go. If I could attend and establish minimal rapport, it would make the whole weekend worth it.
I ended up running into Joshua a number of times at WorldCon, which culminated in dinner before the Hugo Awards on Sunday. We ate Indian food and he critiqued my fifty pages, and at the end he asked me to edit my beginning and send the pages back to him when they were ready.
I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to sit down and eat dinner with a New York City literary agent, but his feedback was really good, and I was now chomping at the bit to dive back into edits.
Here’s what happened in the months following WorldCon:
1. Sent him my revised fifty pages September 2nd
2. He emailed even more notes on my fifty pages November 8th, requesting the next draft when it was ready
3. Following draft was sent November 18th
4. He got back November 25th asking for the rest of the book!
Now the stakes felt much higher, because my hope was really percolating at this point, and the higher they rise the harder they fall, as they say. I sent Joshua the rest of the book November 27th, and I knew this would be the second biggest hurdle I’d have to jump (the biggest came later). See, there’s a big difference between writing a strong beginning and writing a strong book, and a dozen things could go wrong with my story between between page 51 and the rest of the manuscript, which was about 450 pages long. But I forced myself to settle in for the wait, spending my days checking social media for any hint he was reading my book. I was extremely lucky to have so much emotional support from Meghan, as well as holidays with the in-laws to distract me, and a New Years Party in the Bay Area to look forward to. Meghan was my sounding board for all my insecurities, fears, and anxiety, and I’ll forever appreciate her listening while I brought up these Dear Issues Of Mine on a daily basis.
I woke up first thing New Years Day to an email from Joshua – he wanted to talk on the phone about my book! The email made it clear it wasn’t an offer of representation, but the fact he wanted to talk was a good sign, because agents often reject over email. So I took the call while surrounded by hungover friends, and Joshua went over his thoughts on my story.
He spent roughly forty-five minutes offering feedback, then emailed the notes he’d typed up, all with the expectation I would send him a revised draft in the coming weeks. It took a week or two to figure out how the hell I was going to rewrite the parts he wanted – after all, agents don’t typically (as far as I know) tell you how a story should be told, but merely identify the weaknesses for you to solve. They can offer suggestions, but it’s the author’s story to tell, after all.
I sent him the revised manuscript March 2nd, and at this point I felt like Dr. Strange, uneasy with the acknowledgment that I’d finally entered the end game. The way I saw it, the chance an agent would donate their time reading a non-client manuscript again after this seemed unlikely, and this draft was where I needed to prove I could take feedback and properly edit a story. I did it with my first fifty pages, but rewriting an engaging beginning isn’t like writing a good, complete story arc.
At this point I’d like to mention that I’ve been writing nonstop since 2010. No matter how stressful querying would get over the years, I’d always be working on the next project, allowing a new story to help soften the blows whenever rejections rolled in.
But for the first time since 2010, I couldn’t start on something new.
Every time I would work on a new book, I would stop after 10 or 20 pages. I would start dwelling on how horrible rejection felt, until writing felt pointless, as though I was setting myself up for more failure. I’d queried five manuscripts at this point, and I couldn’t see myself capable of dealing with the heartbreak of a sixth. My cup of motivational juices had runneth dry.
It was a dark couple of months. I mourned my ability to write, wondering if I would become like the endless slew of artists who’d given up on their passion. I felt insignificant. I became depressed. I wondered if maybe dreams couldn’t come true.
Then the day before my initial query’s one year anniversary came around, I received an email from Joshua asking if I could jump on the phone. I responded immediately, saying I was available at any point to talk (despite being at work), because I needed to know. So he called right away, and the first words out of his mouth were that he wanted to formally offer to represent me as my agent.
I barely remember the phone call, and when it was over, a surreal fog chased me the rest of the afternoon. In fact, my brain managed to convince me that maybe the phone call hadn’t really happened – until Joshua sent his formal offer over email. It took a full day to process the information and to settle into the joy of such amazing news.
Two weeks later, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Joshua at the Nebula Conference, where I signed the paperwork. During the conference, while he introduced me to editors and authors, while we ate more Indian food (this becoming a new tradition, I think), and while we saw John Wick 3 at AMC, I actually felt like an agented writer. It was a pretty good feeling. And it still is.
There’s still a ways to go. The next step is for my manuscript to go on submission to editors at publishing houses. Those editors will decide whether or not they want to purchase my book and turn me into a bonafide published author. But no matter what happens, I’ll always have this: The ability to say that I set out eight years ago to accomplish something, and that I succeeded. And no one can take that away from me.