When I was querying, I loved reading success stories and appreciated the tips they contained. So, hopefully, reading about my experience will be helpful to your journey. But remember, there are many publishing paths, and mine is just one.
HOW IT STARTED
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved telling stories. But it took me some time to settle on a medium. In college, I wrote mostly short stories, band interviews, and opinion pieces for the student newspaper and an independent newspaper.
I started novels, but I didn’t finish most of them, and even the drafts I did complete were secrets I only shared with trusted friends. Even though I took Creative Writing classes and knew I loved writing, I didn’t know who I was as a writer (or a person really) and most of what I wrote was just imitations of authors I admired. But in my early 20’s I started performing standup comedy and that REALLY helped me find my voice and my confidence.
TIP: Play around with different forms of story-telling until you find one (or several) that you enjoy.
Querying Book 1
When I started writing MIND LIKE A DIAMOND in 2017, I was determined to share my book with total strangers to get their unbiased opinions. After multiple revisions (sometimes with several months between each one), in early 2020, I knew the book was as good as I could get on my own. Then, fate took me to Reddit where I met several authors including my amazing critique partner Britney S. Lewis (preorder her book THE UNDEAD TRUTH OF US now).
After trading with Britney and revising based on her feedback, I signed up for Revpit, a mentorship program I found on Twitter. While no mentors ultimately selected me, one did give me great feedback, which I was able to utilize. Most importantly, I made MORE amazing friends like Jena Brown, whose short stories are featured in two anthologies, and Jim Doran, who self-published several books.
Around that same time, I joined a Twitter DM group for querying authors. Through that, I met several amazing writers friends like Matt Gorgans (who is currently seeking representation for his amazing MG books) and Bethany Baptiste (her book THE POISONS WE DRINK will be out in 2023).
You might be wondering how do all these people factor into getting an agent WELL, all of these authors (as well as many others) helped me sharpen my skills and gain valuable outside perspective. If you’ve finished your novel but haven’t allowed anyone to read it, the odds are good you aren’t ready to query.
TIP: No matter how talented you are, there are probably things in your head that didn’t make it to the page, and you’ll never know what they are unless you ask someone to read your book.
So after incorporating the feedback I received from my author friends, I started querying in July of 2020. I did pretty well, especially in Twitter pitch events, and was fortunate to have a few agents request the full manuscript for MIND LIKE A DIAMOND.
EXPECT SOME SETBACKS
The early success felt great, but ultimately, none of the agents I queried seemed to see a market for my book. Some of my decisions (such as not including romance) kinda threw people off when they thought about where to shelf MIND LIKE A DIAMOND. While agents were complimentary about my writing, many asking that I send them my next project, I started to feel like I needed to shelf MLAD and try again with something more commercial.
TIP: Study genre conventions. I was afraid to do this for a long time because I wanted to be *original* but the truth is, debut novelists are riskier for publishers and they are less likely to take a chance on your way-out-of-the-box book.
I stopped querying and started working on a new book, but I still thought about MLAD sometimes. Then someone in my Twitter querying chat (told y’all those are useful) mentioned a small press was running a pitch contest where they would give feedback on any full manuscript they requested, so I decided to enter.
AN UNEXPECTED WIN
Truly, I only expected feedback I could use in a later revision, but about a month later, Laynie and Mary-Beth from Sword and Silk emailed me asking to chat because they wanted to buy my book!
TIP: You miss all the shots you don’t take. Even if a contest or mentorship seems unattainable, enter anyway, especially if it’s free!
So many factors went into my decision to publish with a small press; I could write a whole post on it. But the important thing to me was Mary-Beth and Laynie understood my messy main character and didn’t ask me to change her. So ultimately, I decided to go forward without securing representation for this particular novel in November of 2020.
Whether on your own or with any size publisher, publishing a book is a huge accomplishment. But I still had big dreams of publishing with a press large enough to market my stories to a wider audience. So while revising MLAD on deadline, I finished writing my second book. I already had a dedicated writing schedule and critique partners in place, so the process went much faster this time, and I started querying book 2 in May of 2021.
BACK IN THE QUERY TRENCHES
At this point, I knew much more about the querying process and what agents were interested in from extensive research. Some of the best advice I received came from The Manuscript Academy Podcast, which is where I first learned of my soon-to-become literary agent, CeCe Lyra.
CeCe was on the podcast with one of her clients, and I just loved how their conversation flowed. I wanted an agent who would feel like my advocate and friend, which was the exact vibe I got from listening to their chat.
What made it feel EXTRA serendipitous was how the discussion landed on one of the themes in my book! Y’all, I was driving when I heard it, and I swear I about missed the turn down my street. Like, I was forgot-where-I-live-for-a-second level excited.
Tip: Only query agents who you would be excited to work with. Sure, being picky will narrow your options, but better no agent than a bad fit.
The same day I queried her, CeCe got back to me, which is NOT typical! Don’t get discouraged if agents take months to answer your query; publishing is a slow industry, and naturally, agents prioritize their existing clients.
A few days after sending the full, CeCe emailed me because she needed to know if all the dogs in my manuscript would be okay before she could keep reading. Y’all! I can’t believe I didn’t use content warnings in my query OR synopsis.
Tip: Use content warnings! They prepare someone who might be extremely upset by certain subjects AND they might keep an agent from putting down your manuscript.
Y’all might already know, I hate how horror always ends badly for the dogs. CeCe tweeted about having to wait to keep reading, and two of my critique partners sent me the tweet, wondering if it was my book. Such a surreal experience, seeing an agent I admired so much enjoying my work enough to talk about it publicly.
Ultimately, I am lucky that CeCe was so cool about everything but please learn from my goofs and DO include content warnings in your query.
A day later, CeCe emailed me asking to chat about representation! It was an email I had been anticipating for SO long, and after what felt like SO much rejection, I could hardly believe it.
Our call felt like chatting with someone I had always known, and while her compliments were wonderful, I appreciated how direct CeCe was, too. I knew she would always have my back and respect my creative decisions which made me super excited about our potential partnership.
Shortly after our call, I emailed all of the other agents who had my full or partial manuscript to let them know I had an offer of representation. Some were too busy to read (I gave them two weeks, which is standard), but others also wanted to set up calls.
Choosing the best agent to represent you and your work is a whole different post, but I am so happy I chose CeCe. Her enthusiasm for this project (and for my future projects!) is so incredibly motivating, and her insight into ALL aspects of publishing has been invaluable on my journey. Besides all that, I just like her, which I know some people don’t think that’s important for a professional relationship, but it means the world to me to work with someone I respect and admire.
Do you have any questions about the querying process? Leave a comment or shoot me an email! I will do my best to answer them all.