How I Got My Agent

I…have an agent. I have an agent. I HAVE AN AGENT!!!

I’m not going to lie. Just two weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d ever get to write this post. Sure, I hoped and dreamed of making this announcement, but part of me started to believe I would never see this moment.

I know, I know, it sounds awfully dramatic for someone who only started the querying process nine months ago, but it’s the truth. As much as I wanted to say I always knew it was going to happen, it’s not how I felt, and I want to be honest.

My writing career started way back in elementary school. In fourth grade, I wrote and illustrated a mystery for my favorite teacher and gave it to her as a present. To my surprise, she took it home and had her husband transfer everything into a printed version, giving it back to me as a surprise. It was my first ever “published” book, and my mother had the foresight to keep it safe for me. It now sits on my bookshelf for posterity.

Like many Asian parents–especially immigrants–mine always insisted I focus my attention towards a “real” career (aka, no starving). While they did not prevent me from writing, they didn’t encourage it either. With no Asian creatives to look up to, by high school, I found little time to do more than write fanfiction.

Once I was about midway through college, I hit what I refer to as The Great Writing Drought. Being a pre-med student was grueling work, demanding all of my attention and forcing me to shove aside any creativity. This only got worse once I actually started medical school. I lived, ate, and breathed dense textbooks with tiny, multi-syllabic words.

It would be over a decade before I came back to writing, and it was mostly fanfic. Four years ago, I shared one of my fixfics with friends. They loved it and asked if I had any original work. Publishing a book had secretly been on my bucket list for years. So, I started drafting an adult fantasy thriller. Halfway through, I realized there were too many nuances I needed to work out in more detail, so I shelved it.

Before I could feel discouraged, a young adult series formed in my mind. I hammered out the first book in two months, after work and on weekends in feverish bouts of inspiration. I finished and sent it to a few of my friends to read. To my surprise, everyone insisted I needed to sell them! On (well intentioned but terrible) advice, I self-published the first three books of the series.

While self-pub can be the perfect for some authors, it wasn’t for me. After some soul searching, I decided to focus on the traditional route. Needing a new, unpublished manuscript, I began drafting a YA sci-fi in early 2017. I thought I would get it done quickly, but life decided to careen off a cliff. It was a struggle just to wake up and get through my day, much less find inspiration to write.

It took me the entire year to finish the manuscript. After revising it, I decided to query for the first time. I researched potential agents through #MSWL and came up with a list of about a dozen agents. I sent off my emails in early January 2018.

I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then, the rejections started rolling in, but also a couple of full requests! Looking back, the manuscript was nowhere near ready. I didn’t have betas or CPs read it before I submitted, and my opening pages needed a lot more work. After hearing back from almost all of them (plus CNRing the others), I decided to shelve it too.

Around late January, I began drafting When Snow Meets Crane, a story about a 16 year-old Asian American girl named Lili as she struggles to balance the two worlds she lives in. Feeling like an outcast for being neither “White” nor “Asian” enough, she falls into depression and attempts suicide. Afterwards, her grandmother moves in to help take care of her. As they grow closer, Ama shares her own traumatic past to help Lili heal. It was inspired by my own Ama. She was a writer too, but she never got the chance to publish her works. It felt as though she was drawing me to finish what she started, to tell a story mirroring our own experiences.

I finished the draft in late March and sent it off to my CPs. After three rounds of revisions, I pitched it during DVPit in late April and received way more likes than I anticipated. Excitedly, I polished my opening pages and sent off queries. When PitMad rolled around the first week of June, I went ahead and pitched there too, sending more queries based on agent likes. My numbers were:

Queries: 38

Partial Requests: 5

Full Requests: 15

I was optimistic about the odds, but slowly over the next three months, rejection after rejection came in. Some were form emails, while others included more detailed explanations for why the agent didn’t connect. As the days passed, I started to wonder if I made a mistake writing a book with so much intersectionality. Even though publishing is making strides to be more inclusive, there were times it seemed writing about a POC and mental illness was too much.

I cried at times. Swore other times. Did a lot of emotional eating. Drove my group chat crazy with my anxious rants. Swore to shelve the book and then took it back, over and over again.

Thankfully, I have an incredible group of talented writer friends who refused to let me give up. Cass and Kari, both who served as my CPs and yelled at me every time I wanted to throw WSMC into the trash. Priyanka, Morgan, Gayathri, Vanshika, Adiba, Maria, and Rey, all of whom would read my snippets and fangirl when I needed the most. Alisha, Tana, Cindy, and Victoria kept me laughing and distracted when I wanted to tear my hair out. Mara, Kess, and Rae talked me through the querying process by sharing their experience.

Then, right at the end of August, I opened my email and found an R&R from Agent A. I was so excited! Her feedback was succinct and on point, and I moved forward with revising my draft. After a couple of weeks, I sent the new MS to Agent A and the five agents who had my MS, including one of my other dream agents, who we’ll call B.

On September 15th, I got home from work to an email from Agent B. My heart leapt into my throat. I forced myself to take a deep breath, then clicked to open it. Hope turned to sadness as I read the email. While complimentary and thoughtful, she had decided to pass (for a rather flattering reason).

Then, I read the last paragraph and my mouth fell open. Agent B referred the manuscript to Agent C, whom she worked with. SHE LOVED IT.

I read the paragraph a good five times before it finally sunk in. It was only as I was preparing to send off a reply I realized Agent C had emailed as well. When I read her detailed response to my MS, any disappointment I felt melted into excitement. My story resonated deeply with her, and she wanted to ask for permission to take it on herself.

After ten minutes of awkward dancing which confused and scared my dog, I replied. Yes, I said, of course I would be willing! A series of rapid fire emails over the next couple of hours later, I had THE CALL set up for the following Monday. Agent B even sent another email wishing me luck!

I did my research, printed out all my questions so I wouldn’t blank out during the conversation. She called after I got off work, and we were on the phone for an hour. We talked, we laughed, we bonded over our shared love of Jane Austen and our furbabies. She said the words I’d been waiting so long to hear.

“I’d like to offer you representation.”

We hung up shortly after, and I immediately sent off emails to the remaining agents and gave them time to respond before deciding.

In the end, it was Agent C’s uncontainable enthusiasm, warm personality, and intimate connection to WSMC which won me over. While she has no firsthand knowledge of the diaspora aspects of my book, she believes in the importance of every detail. She also has a lot of experience repping romance, which I love to write!

So, as of today, October 1, 2018, I am represented by the incomparable Jessica Watterson of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency!

I am beyond blessed to have met her, and I cannot describe how excited I am to go on the next step of my journey with her.

I will leave you with this. Querying taught me a lot of things, but two stand out:

Surround yourself with a group of people who will pick you up when you’re down, who will fight your doubts when you give in, and who will cheer the loudest even when they are waiting for their moment. I have been ridiculously lucky to have met these people, and I will never forget their kindness and loyalty.

Never give up on your heart book. Someone out there is waiting for it – the right agent, the right editor, and most importantly, your readers. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for those who need it most.

One day, you will change their life for the better.

5 thoughts on “How I Got My Agent”

  1. That is absolutely amazing. I love stories about not belonging to either side of your heritage enough, and the struggles that entails. The graphic you posted for the book caught my eye, and now I’m waiting for the book to be sold and released, so I can pre-order.

    Keep writing, I’m excited to see what you come up with next!

    Like

  2. Congrats!!! The Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency was the very first agency I ever connected with because Thao Le’s first name is my mother’s last name. I took it as a sign. 😉

    The very best to you! What an exciting journey!!

    Like

  3. Can’t quite picture the ‘awkward dancing’ but I totally identify with the confused and scared pup. We both recover quickly…though I’m sure the dog won’t be interested in one of the early signed copies. Congratulations!

    Like

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