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A shelved manuscript, a year in the trenches, and one offer of rep: My querying journey

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

AKA, just another 'how I got my agent' post

I'd been dragging my feet with making an author website/blog for a while, mostly because I didn't think I had enough updates or things to say to warrant a whole blog.

But then, it hit me. This is the perfect space to go on and on about all things writing-related that the bulk of my non-writer Twitter followers are probably getting tired of hearing. So today, I'm going to be talking about my experience with querying and getting an offer of representation. Let's jump into the trenches together!

When I was first embarking on this whole author journey, I saw plenty of those "how I got my agent!" posts floating around. I was obsessed with reading them, trying to figure out the key to landing the elusive literary agent. Surely, if I read enough of these, I could form some kind of blueprint to follow. Easy!

(Pause for laughter)

I had a love/hate relationship with these posts. It was great to see other authors pulling back the curtain, being up front about how the process really is. But also...I couldn't help being jealous that someone else had gotten an agent, while I was still struggling to get a request. (Author jealousy is a whole other can of worms, which I'll probably write about at some point).

Many of the 'how I got my agent' posts I saw had useful tidbits, but some common themes included spending only a few weeks or months in the query trenches, or getting a dozen full manuscript requests, followed by several offers of rep.

While, clearly, this does happen to some people, I think it's more common than we think to spend years querying, writing several different manuscripts, and ultimately only receiving one offer (but one is all you need!!!)

All three of these things happened to me, so I wanted to share my querying journey, for all of those writers who are having a rocky time in the trenches.

Shelved Manuscript #1

Picture this: August 2019. I'd spent a year writing my very first novel, and I had to say, I was really proud of it. It was a police procedural centering around two female detectives in a beach town -- and the case that exposed personal, dark secrets which, in turn, destroyed their partnership. It had everything: suspense, romance, friendship, high stakes. It was dark, filled with plenty of sex, violence and profanity. I was convinced it'd be a hit.

I want to say up front that I still love Shelved Manuscript #1, and hope one day it does find its way into the world. But, it needs work. Looking at it now, I can see why I didn't receive any offers for it.

But 2019 Rachel dove headfirst into querying Shelved Manuscript #1. The first batch of rejections didn't bother me -- it was a rite of passage. I knew how subjective the publishing industry is. I just had to be persistent and find that agent who was the perfect fit.

I slogged on. After a few months, I started getting a little concerned. Shouldn't I have at least gotten a request by now? The biggest struggle with querying is not knowing why agents are passing. Do they not care for a theme in the book? Do they already have a client who's written something similar? Is my book utter crap? Your guess is as good as mine!

But finally, I got a break. February 2020, I received my first FULL REQUEST! I tried not to get my hopes up, but...I got my hopes up. Those two weeks of silence were pure torture, but also full of hope and potential. Every day could be THE DAY my life changed!

Sadly, it was a rejection. The agent had left a short but kind note saying she liked a lot of things in the book, but just didn't love it enough to offer. I was disappointed, but I felt somewhat reenergized. She didn't come out and say it was horrible! So I kept going with Shelved Manuscript #1, eventually garnering one more full request, and two partials.

And...more rejections. The very last one was the most brutal I'd received, the agent telling me neither the writing nor the plotting were good enough to stand out in the oversaturated mystery market.

By now, it was June 2020. I didn't seem to be getting any more bites on Shelved Manuscript #1, and I was running out of agents on my list. I was crushed. I'd sunk so much time in this book -- I loved it -- and it was looking like I'd have to shelve it. At the start of my querying journey, it never occurred to me I might have to write several books before getting an agent.

I definitely wallowed for a bit, but I had the slightest glimmer of hope: I'd been working on a new book idea for a few months, and I had a really good feeling about this one. It was the polar opposite of Shelved Manuscript #1. It was funny, light, and had a distinctive, sharp voice. It felt stronger, it felt more relatable, it felt more me.

This manuscript was called Another Day, Another Partner -- the book that would become my debut novel a year and a half later.

Querying: Take Two

Despite my rough experience the first time around, I was excited to get back into the query trenches. A fresh project, a fresh start. I knew what to expect this time. I also felt somewhat relieved, having written a second book. Shelved Manuscript #1 wasn't a fluke -- I could write more than one book, and gosh darn it, I'd just keep writing books until one agent wanted one of them!!

About a month into querying ADAP, I still hadn't gotten any bites, but I'd received some really positive rejections with tangible feedback. That made this time feel different. And by July 2020, I'd gotten my first full request for ADAP.

I had a really good feeling about this. This agent's MSWL matched my book to a T -- and she'd asked for the full manuscript mere hours after I sent her my query and sample pages.

When I got an email from her only two days later, my heart sunk before I even opened it. That was way too fast for an offer. I braced myself for a rejection before opening the email...and found she wanted me to do an R&R! Not a yes, but not a no. Okay -- I could work with this. She gave me amazing, detailed feedback that made it clear she'd really enjoyed my characters and the bones of the story. This was the closest to an offer I'd ever come -- I felt like I could taste it.

I spent the next month revising ADAP, determined to make the best of this chance. I'm not going to lie, I was stressed. I was worried I wasn't making enough changes (but I didn't want to change the things she liked). I was worried that, in the time it was taking me to do the edits, she'd find another manuscript she liked better and forget about mine. I was worried that, after spending all this time and effort on the revision, it'd still be a no.

But, as it often turns out, my worries were unfounded. She loved my revision, and in August 2020, I officially received an offer of representation for ADAP. (I'm so glad we found each other, Susan!)

What I learned

When it was all said and done, I'd been querying for a year with two different manuscripts -- getting one offer of rep.

Everyone's querying journey is so different, but if I could go back and give myself some advice before I started, here's what it would be:

  • KEEP WRITING! It's great to be confident in your manuscript, but don't put all your eggs in one basket. Keep working on new ideas. It helps to distract you from the inevitable rejections, too. New WIPs = new possibilities.

  • Try not to compare yourself to others. I adore the writing community on Twitter, but looking at too many other querying tweets can be so demoralizing. When it seems like everyone is landing agents so quickly, it's easy to assume you're not good enough. Everyone has different querying journeys, and social media posts never tell the whole story.

  • Get some perspective. If you ever take a look at agents' querying stats, they maybe make requests on 1-2% of queries they receive -- and sign maybe 1-2 new clients a year. Some agents get several thousand queries a year, and only sign one or two?! Even super talented writers would have trouble with those odds.

  • Make a separate email for querying. There were a few times when I received bad querying news at inopportune times (at work, out with friends, right before bed) and it really messed with me. I wish I'd made a separate email, notifications off, so I could check it when I was mentally prepared.

  • Celebrate all the wins! Even though I had a lot of fallen hopes when getting rejections on full/partial requests, I'm glad I celebrated those, glad I told people. Even when a request doesn't work out, it means the agent saw potential in your query/sample pages, which is huge. This business can really get you down, so when something good happens, celebrate the heck out of it.

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