I can’t tell you how many of these blog posts I’ve read. Dozens. Hundreds. Some long and heartbreaking, others short and sweet, but every single one motivational—proof that dreams can and do come true if we’re in this writing business for the long haul. Which we are. Obviously.
Many may think I started this publishing journey with Pitch Wars, but that’s actually not the case. True story: I started writing LA DAME BLANCHE last January, and I posted the entire first draft to Wattpad. Yep. I’m one of those writers. The kind who didn’t have any writing friends but was desperate for someone—anyone—to read her work. The kind who painstakingly built up a small but devoted following of readers who gave her the validation she needed, readers who laughed at her jokes and cried when she cried and pointed out when characters did something contrived and stupid.
Basically, I’d found myself my very first CPs. And they were amazing. And they were necessary. And I’m still good friends with two of them a year later, several months after I took LDB down from Wattpad and decided to pursue publication seriously. Katie and Carolyn, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU. Without your support and enthusiasm, I never would’ve gotten to this point. You gave me the confidence I needed to put myself out there for real—and that’s where Pitch Wars came in.
But let’s backtrack just a second to the weeks before I discovered Pitch Wars. I’d never heard of query letters, imprints, or anything vaguely publishing related. I had only a semi-polished manuscript I loved and a dream of someday seeing it on a shelf at Barnes and Noble. In short, I had no idea what I was doing. None. Zero. Zilch. Thank God for Google.
Writing a query letter deserves its own blog post, but I will say briefly that it’s HARD—probably harder than writing the story itself. Boiling down all my carefully constructed character arcs, plot twists, and world-building to a mere three paragraphs felt like my own personal circle of hell. But I persevered. I cobbled together a query I thought was brilliant. In hindsight, it was absolute garbage—flaming, stinking dumpster fire. Every blog post I’d read about writing a query warned me the first draft would be terrible, but did I listen? No. Did I follow their advice and sit on it for a few days before sending it out into the world? No, I did not. Instead, I purchased a ten-minute Skype meeting with an agent, convinced she would offer me representation after I floored her with my genius.
Ha. HA HA HA HA HA.
That’s not what happened.
I still remember it like it was yesterday, those ten fateful minutes seared irrevocably into my mind. I was on vacation with my family (YES, I actually set aside vacation time for this torturous experience), and I set up my laptop on the patio by the pool. Ms. Helpful Agent called right on time, and I waited with baited breath as she read through my query.
“I like the first sentence,” she finally offered. “But this query lacks focus.” She then proceeded to point out exactly what didn’t work about my query and why. Spoiler: nothing worked. I could look back through my notes for specific feedback, but honestly, I’m still embarrassed. (Side bar: THANK YOU, Ms. Helpful Agent, for this first bit of professional interaction. You were somehow frank, objective, and kind simultaneously, and I sincerely appreciate your feedback. Also, thank you for giving me this much needed lesson in LISTENING TO THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE ME AND TAKING THEIR ADVICE SERIOUSLY. WHY DIDN’T YOU SAVE YOURSELF THIS HUMILIATION AND SIT ON YOUR FIRST DRAFT, SHELBY? WHY?!)
After that crushing first attempt, I swore to do more research. I found Janet Reid’s Query Shark (highly recommend this resource, by the way). I combed through her archives. I sent her my query to critique. She never responded. I despaired and wrote a new query. It still sucked. I wrote another. It was better, but still lacking, somehow.
Around this time, I started getting involved in the Pitch Wars hashtag on Twitter. I recruited fresh eyes for my query. I even won a critique from a mentor. Everyone had conflicting opinions about what was wrong with my query, and so I learned my second lesson of query writing: it’s subjective. Even now—with a query that works—there are still elements that don’t do it for some people. And that’s totally okay. To be expected, even.
By the time the Pitch Wars submission window rolled around, I’d tweaked my query enough to be relatively happy with it. Because, SURPRISE, I’d learned my third lesson of query writing, and it might’ve been the most important one of all: the query’s job isn’t to tell your story. It’s to sell your story. I swear it’s like a lightbulb clicked on in my brain. The sole purpose of the query is to intrigue agents enough for them to read your pages and request more. That’s it. If your query does that, it’s a good query.
WOOOOW that was a long tangent. Sorry. I’ll get back on track now.
I’ve already written about my Pitch Wars experience, so I’m going to move along to the agent round. I had thirteen agent requests, which was right around average. Some mentees had less, and some had more. LOL—and when I say more, I mean MORE. Like, in the forties. Nevertheless, I was excited about my requests, and I sent my materials out as soon as the agent round closed, along with queries to any non-PW dream agents. (Side bar: I seriously recommend purchasing a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace if you’re querying. It was an invaluable resource to me at this point.) One of my PW agents upped my partial to a full. One of my cold query agents soon followed suit. Still, some of my fellow mentees had offers of representation within HOURS, so it was SO HARD for me to stay in my own lane. You know that quote by Teddy Roosevelt? I can’t think of anything more applicable to writers, no matter the stage they’re at in their careers. Comparison really is the thief of joy. But, again, I digress.
You can’t imagine my wild incredulity and sheer joy at hearing the ding of my Gmail app the following Monday morning. I swear that ding could’ve woken me from a dead sleep. Lo and behold, someone—and not just someone, but one of my dream agents—wanted a call. I shouted for my husband to come back inside (he was already heading out the door on his way to work) and practically shoved my phone into his nostril. He read the email quickly and gave me a bewildered, albeit polite, smile.
“What’s that mean?” he asked.
Yes, I realize that’s anticlimactic. I didn’t even care. I proceeded to excitedly explain that it most likely meant an offer of representation, though it could also have meant a Revise and Resubmit. We both prayed for the former.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I hastily jotted down a list of questions the Internet told me to ask, just in case. I ran them by Jamie, my Pitch Wars mentor and patron saint, and she tweaked them a bit. I squealed with my CPs. My mom came over to watch the boys, so I could chat with Ms. Dream Agent in peace. And then…she called.
I’d be lying if I said I remember the specifics of that conversation, BUT in my defense, I did take detailed notes, which came in quite useful a few days later. I do remember everything flowed effortlessly. Honestly, it felt more like a chat between friends than an interview, and by the end of it, I knew Ms. Dream Agent really loved my book. OH YEAH—and she wanted to offer rep. still screaming
As per the Internet’s etiquette instructions, I requested two weeks for the agents who still had my manuscript to finish reading. In that time, several agents requested my full, several more stepped aside for various reasons, and one other agent offered me representation. I’ll post the full stats below (because I used to live for them), but keep in mind, Pitch Wars accelerated everything to CRAZY speed. This is my first shot at all this, but from everything I’ve read, the Pitch Wars timeline isn’t the norm.
Anyway, onto the stats. I’m not really sure which to include, so I’m throwing them all up here. Make of them what you will!
Agents queried: 16
Fulls requested from Pitch Wars: 7
Fulls requested from cold queries: 6
Fulls requested total: 13 (81%)
No response: 3
After offer nudge:
Step-asides due to time: 2
Step-asides due to lack of connection: 8
No response to offer nudge: 1
Offers of representation: 2
SO, there you have it! I skimmed over the agony of choosing between two offers of rep in the above paragraphs because it needs a full blog post to do it justice, but just know—ouch. It’s a great and terrible position to be in, and no amount of advice/support/empathy will make it any easier (though all of the above are lovely and appreciated).
That being said, I am over the moon—and sun and stars and entire solar system—to announce that I’m now represented by Sarah Landis of Sterling Lord Literistic! You can check out everything you need to know about her on Sterling Lord’s website and her Manuscript Wish List.
Thanks so much for reading! Happy writing!