First off, I should state that this is not a how-to post. As you’ve likely heard in the publishing industry, everyone’s journey is different. Here’s how mine went down.
Four years and eleven months ago, I started a book of historical fiction. I researched it for a year and wrote it for another year and loved it. I began querying in early 2015. At first, I got form rejection letters, so I re-worked my query. Then I began getting requests, and subsequent rejections. I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) from an agent, did the revision, resubmitted and got a rejection. I put the book away for a while and started a new one. But I kept getting pulled back to the first one because I loved the story so much. I overhauled the whole thing on and off during 2016, and began querying again in the beginning of this year. I received many requests for the full manuscript, but still no offers.
A long-time critique partner suggested over the summer that I enter my manuscript in the #PitchWars contest that takes place every August. I had read about the contest last year and didn’t quite understand how it worked, so I didn’t enter. This year, I scanned the website, found a mentoring author who was only looking for historical fiction submissions, and I decided to give it a try. She received over 100 submissions.
She picked mine.
While I screamed and cartwheeled, my mentor read through my manuscript and then sent me a thirty-eight page, single-spaced editorial letter. That floored me for a couple of days. I fully acknowledge that I grumbled and cried over it. But once I let go of my ego and absorbed her input, I put my butt in the chair and, for the next three weeks, did little else but overhaul my manuscript with her notes and guidance. A week after that, when she’d given it a second read, she had more suggestions. I got back to work for another two weeks.
On November 1, the agent showcase opened on the #PitchWars website. When it closed a week later, I had nine requests from agents for the manuscript. NINE! I had asked for an extra week to finish my second round of edits, and worked diligently toward that home stretch.
At 3pm on November 15, I submitted my full manuscript to eight agents, the first 50 pages to the ninth (per request) and a cold query to another agent I’ve admired for years. She immediately asked for the full, and I sent it. Figuring it would take them all several weeks to get back to me, I exhaled and thought, “thank goodness, I can finally clean my house and catch up on my laundry”.
At 9:30 that night, I got an email from Ann Leslie Tuttle at DG&B. She’d been excited to read since she saw my pitch, told me so when I submitted the materials, and now wrote, “I haven’t finished reading, but I’ve read enough to know I want to have a call with you.”
6.5 hours. That’s got to be some kind of record.
I gave the other agents until after Thanksgiving to read, and in the end, signed with Ann Leslie. Her enthusiasm for my book rivaled my own, her excitement over my other projects was palpable and I felt like I’d found a true partner with whom to embark on this often rocky and challenging journey toward publication. With luck, my book will be out on submission exactly five years after I sat down to start writing it. All told, I had racked up 100 rejections before signing with Ann Leslie.
Do I wish it hadn’t taken so long? Sure. If you’d told me that first day that it would be five years before I’d find an agent, would I have decided against writing it? No, because I believed in the story I had set out to tell. I can also say without reservation that both my story and my writing skills are stronger for having gone through the process they did.
As I said, everyone’s journey is different. The one thing that is true in this business is that it takes perseverance, passion for your story, a willingness to learn and a bit of luck to get an agent. I never stopped believing in my story, and I never gave up on my goal of securing an agent. I’ve learned more about the publishing industry and myself as a writer than I ever knew before, and I was lucky enough to have a critique partner nudge me in a direction she thought would help me succeed.
Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. And godspeed on your journey.