The process of getting an agent

Farrah asked:

I write YA books too. I went through the query/agent search once, and learned the things I needed to improve. Once I graduated last May with a Bachelor’s in English, I realized the mistakes I’d made and have been working to really polish up my manuscript. I saw you have an agent (CONGRATS!) and had a few questions for you. How long did it take? Where did you query? (I know there’s a bunch of really fantastic agent query sites). What did you submit when they asked to see more? And if they ask to see more, is that a good thing? Realistically, how long did your agent say it could take to find a publishing match? I hope this isn’t too much to ask 😀 I really wish you the best of luck. People don’t understand how the industry works, and it’s amazing that you have an agent! I really hope you land a deal soon. 😀 Thank you, Farrah

Hi, Farrah! Thank you so much, and congrats on graduation! I graduated in May with a Bachelor’s in English, too 🙂

These are a lot of questions, so I’m going to divide it into sections to make my answer easier to follow. Remember that everyone has a different experience, so there’s no “right” answer, but I do hope that reading mine will be helpful! 🙂

How long did it take to get an agent?

I finished writing the first draft of my first novel in May 2009. Then I went to the Writers Digest Pitch Slam. And okay, I’m going to be honest here. When I went to Pitch Slam, I still had one chapter left to write on my first draft. However, the event only comes around once a year, so my mom pushed me to go, even though I wasn’t following the rules. I was totally embarrassed after giving my pitch, seeing an agent’s interest, and then throwing in, “But umm, it’s still a first draft. Is that a problem?”

Because I knew it was a problem. But hey, I needed to be honest, because I needed time to edit. Luckily I practiced my pitch a gazillion times and delivered it decently enough to pique agents’s interests. When I went to Pitch Slam, all ten of the agents I spoke to requested to read more! I totally didn’t expect that! I had a particularly great conversation with my current agent, Christine Witthohn at Book Cents Literary Agency, and she was so intrigued by the plot of my book that she said, “I don’t care if it’s only a first draft — I want to read it anyway!”

So I sent her my first draft. Of the first book I’d ever written. I was totally freaking out. It wasn’t ready, and I knew that. At the end of August 2009 she told me that she wanted to take me on as a client, but she wanted me to do some edits first. She gave me some advice, I implemented it, and signed with her in the beginning of November 2009 🙂

I started writing that book in November 2008. The entire process (writing the novel, pitching the novel, editing the novel, and signing with my agent) took about a year.

This is unusual though, and I do not recommend (translation: you should not) query agents before your novel is completely polished and ready to go.

Where did you query?

I went to a live pitch slam, and if a pitch slam is in your area or if you can travel to get to one, I highly recommend doing this. It will get your manuscript read MUCH faster! However, if you can’t get to a pitch slam, I highly recommend checking out

What did you submit when they asked to see more?

I submitted what they requested! My agent requested to see my full immediately, so I emailed it to her. Some other agents requested a partial, full, or first few chapters. The majority of the ones I emailed with queries sent form rejection letters. Don’t be discouraged with a form rejection. Agents get THOUSANDS of queries, and a lot of it comes down to personal taste. One agent can love what another hates. If they ask for more, they will always tell you what to send and how to send it, so just follow their instructions 🙂

If they ask to see more, is that a good thing?

Of course! It’s better than them saying they don’t want to see more 😉

Realistically, how long did your agent say it could take to find a publishing match?

When I first signed my contract, I had all these thoughts that in a few months I would be signing my first publishing deal, and that I would have a deal before graduating college! I wanted that sooo badly. (Now I just remind myself how most kids in college don’t even have an agent — let alone one of the best agents in the country — and that makes me feel better).

Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. It does for some people, not for others. My first book is still out to some publishing houses (it’s been out for a year!) and my agent says it could still get picked up. She once had someone get a deal who had been on submission for TWO YEARS! She’s also submitted people who have gotten picked up immediately. Honestly, it varies; there’s no formula. Trust me, I wish there was. That way whenever someone asks me when I’m going to hear back about my book I could give them a definite answer.

What I eventually learned was that it’s not in my power. I hate that, because I like being able to DO something to make things happen, but I realized that what I need to do is keep writing books. So I wrote another book, and that one went on submission in November 2010. I haven’t gotten any no’s on it yet, which is a good thing! Then I wrote another book, and I finished the first draft of that about two weeks ago. Now I’m editing it.

So just keep writing! The more books you have, the better your chances!

I hope that was helpful!



3 Comments on “The process of getting an agent

  1. Great post, Michelle! Finding an agent is definitely not easy. I agree with you — the main thing is to keep writing and once it's finished & polished, get your work out there. I would query a few agents and then stop to write another book. Finally, my friend gave me a kick in the butt and told me to REALLY get my book out there. In a nutshell, I took her advice and received three offers of representation. So, don't give up. I believe every book I wrote and every rejection I received led me to my fantastic agent, Christine Witthohn at Book Cents Literary Agency. And now I have a family of writers to cheer on, celebrate with, and elicit great advice from. This includes you, Michelle! 🙂 XOXO

  2. Michelle, I was at that same Pitch Slam! I didn't pitch to Christine at the time because I was pitching something she didn't represent, so I found her the old-fashioned way, through querying. LOL

    Everyone's path is so different, but you're right to just keeping writing books. That's what is in your control, and what will help get you through all the wacky parts of the publishing process. 🙂

  3. Thanks for writing this. I find stories about how authors find their agents, and your story is pretty unique.

    I haven't started the agent search yet, but I hope to start querying before I graduate in May or soon after. I want to put the novel that I wrote last summer through a few more edits first…

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