How I Got My Literary Agent

Hi everyone! It’s Melody Simpson, welcome to my blog for any first time visitors. Today is a very special day because I am so, so, so very excited to announce that I’ve signed with a literary agent!!!!!!!

I’ve wanted to become a traditionally published author since I was six years old and some would say I’m getting a bit closer to that dream, so settle in to find out how it’s taking shape.

The cliff notes version from then to now: In the beginning, I dated short stories. They were nice to write but then one day, poetry made a grand reappearance into my life and I clung to her instead like my life depended on it. During this time, it kind of did. My family had moved again and with the culture shock of this move, reading classics and writing poetry were a Godsend. Next, I went steady with journalism and wow. Talk about a good time! And so for most of my life, I pursued poetry and journalism. But, wait, what about my first literary love? Before I tried my hand at it all?

Books.

At a certain point, I realized that I needed to ground myself, go back to basics, and focus on what I love above all else. So fast forward to adulthood in 2012 when I fell in love with reading and writing all over again. I stopped tossing out ideas and words and I quit the false starts. I finally wrote my first full length manuscript that year. I revised all of the words, I entered contests, won one, and I queried (pitched) agents. The first manuscript I queried garnered all rejections, a handful of which were personal rejections rather than form rejections, so I at least knew that I had something.

Idea? Check. Execution? No check.

ub

The second manuscript that I queried was much better. In between writing and revising the first and second manuscripts, I did something. Remember when I said that I fell in love with reading and writing all over again? In the years that followed, I had to re-learn what I thought I knew about story, about character, about craft, about all of it and learn for the very first time even more that I had no clue about. So I buckled down and I studied. Instead of entering contests, I attended workshops. In addition to my critique partners, I consulted with a few trusted published authors, as well investing in getting critiques from well respected YA authors who also freelance edit. I interned for a literary agency and saw the world of publishing with a new lense. I gained a mentor. So when I queried the second manuscript, all that I learned and incorporated into my writing showed. I got requests from agents to read my work. Partial manuscript requests and full manuscript requests… and many personal rejections.

Idea? Big check. Execution? Tiny check. Timing? No check.

pam

At this point, I needed to take a step back before I really got in my own way and made myself my own worst enemy. I was not in a good headspace. I needed to chill. If you know me, you know that I have NO CHILL when it comes to my passions. So. This was a challenge to say the least. I was doing the most and I needed to…not.

Prior to making the decision to take this step back, I had a personal aha moment. It was in that moment that the groundwork for a new project was born. I let the idea of the new project sit. Oh, I let it cook, alright. That aha moment took place in the Spring of 2015. I didn’t sit down to start writing and revising this new project until the fall of 2016. What started out as a personal project, building self confidence and being inspired by people who look like me doing what they love, turned into a nonfiction pop culture book that I couldn’t just keep to myself – nor did I want to given all that I was learning throughout the process. I never imagined it would be nonfiction that would get me to this point but it’s actually quite perfect in the you get to the end of the book and are mad you didn’t figure it out because it was so obvious kind of way.

With nonfiction, you need 1-3 completed sample chapters in your proposal to query an agent as opposed to fiction where you need to have a complete manuscript to query agents. So I perfected what I needed to for Pop Culture and in November 2016, I officially entered the query trenches. (And continued to write in the meantime.)

rose

Querying, for those unfamiliar, is sending out a brief pitch of your book to agents and asking them to read your manuscript/proposal to consider representing your work with the goal of the agent selling it on your behalf to a publisher aka getting a book deal. Initially, I queried 25 agents. Throughout this process, it was very important to me to query agents that represent both the nonfiction and YA fiction genres that I write in. I also wanted an agent that was career orientated, experienced or with an experienced and well respected agency, noticeably enthusiastic about both my nonfiction and fiction, and editorially hands on with a vision that aligned with or succeeded my own in the best way possible.

During the first week of querying, I had 3 requests and of those requests, I received the most wonderful personal rejection I’ve ever gotten on my entire querying journey. I continued to receive requests both before and after the holidays. Then, months went by. Spring 2017 came. Summer neared. I sent out more queries. I got more rejections. More requests.

I also received 3 non-exclusive R&Rs. An R&R is an invitation to Revise the work and Re-submit it to the agent when it is ready. Receiving multiple non-exclusive R&Rs allowed me to get a peek into the different editing styles, tones, and visions of different agents, which really was an immense help in more clearly defining where I saw the manuscript going. It was great to be able to compare the notes I received and see what the agents all picked up on that needed work. With 3 R&Rs in my inbox, I knew what I needed to do next.

I panicked. I told myself that I was in over my head and who was I to write this story, what did I know? I loved this manuscript but was I good enough, could I live up to the expectations of these wonderful R&R notes? These agents were rooting for me and knowing that got to me. I was scared to touch the project and I second guessed myself at every turn. When I finally got myself together enough to open Scrivener and look at the mess that I created, one of my CPs (critique partner), Meg had to explain to me about a dozen different ways, a dozen different times how to tackle a number of issues in the revisions. Wow, let me tell you, homegirl is patient. Thanks, Meg. In all this, I knew what I needed to do but I didn’t know how to execute what I saw in my head. And still, I wasn’t sure if I had what it took, if *I* really should be the one to execute this project. And so again, I took a step back before I sabotaged it all.

I revised what I could and then let the project sit. I needed more time to devise a clearer plan of action. The months flew by. I moved to Los Angeles in August. I settled back into La La Land. And then in October, DVPit came along.

It was just another day as I made my usual social media rounds before getting ready for work. But then, #DVPit began flooding my Twitter feed. #DVPit is a Diversity Twitter Pitch Event where unagented writers from marginalized backgrounds pitch their book on Twitter so that literary agents and editors can request to see their work and consider offering them representation. It’s a refreshing change to have a literary agent pick you out rather than the traditional route of sending unsolicited queries and waiting to be discovered in the “slush” pile.

At this point, I hadn’t touched the project in two months. And truth be told, I needed a push to finish my revisions. I needed affirmation. So I said, “What the heck? I’ll do #DVPit” and I came up with a pitch. Actually, I came up with three or four pitches, vomited them onto my CP group, and as it turns out, the first pitch that I wrote ended up being the best one.

The Twitter Pitch: Black Girl Magic through the years. Nonfic pop culture love letter to Black women who defied Hollywood’s standards. #DVPit #own #YA

I got 10 requests from agents and 1 request from an editor.

With this newfound energy and passion sparked by all of the requests, I pulled my sleeves up and dug back into revisions. I completely restructured the format and tone of the book and what once was my sample chapter turned into the first five sample chapters. Oh, I DID THAT! Okay! *Hair flip*

Revisions done, off the new words went to my CPs, Meg and Lucie for notes and approval. With their notes addressed, it was time to send my newly polished proposal to the 3 R&R agents first, since it’s the professional and courteous thing to do. These agents took time out of their busy schedules to give me notes on my manuscript with the hopes that I would indeed one day write back delivering a revision that they could consider representing and selling. So it would be pretty messed up if I used their notes to revise the book and then sent it off to other agents without giving them the chance to potentially read first. So I sent my revised proposal to the agents who gave me R&Rs and shortly after, sent my query off to the agents who requested during #DVPit.

In addition, I sent my query and proposal to a dear friend who encouraged me to take her up on a referral. I didn’t think I was ready the first time she put the idea out there and I didn’t want to throw away my shot but this time, I was ready. And so I sent it off. Then the agent that she referred me to sent my work to another agent within the same agency. (Note to querying writers: If an agency says to only query one agent at an agency and a no from one agent is a no from the entire agency, there is a reason! They will send your work to another agent in the agency if it’s a better fit. If there is no better fit, that’s it. Follow the rules). I sent my work off to my friend on October 30th. On November 6th, she informed me that she sent it off to her agent. On November 10th, I got an email from the other agent within the same agency introducing herself and informing me that my work was being read and I would get a response soon. On November 13th, I got an email to set up a phone call. A phone call. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself in the excitement department about the phone call, which could just be a more in depth get to know you phone call. But we all know what typically comes out of the call. The offer of representation.

mindy

I couldn’t sleep on November 13th. I woke up three times. On the morning of November 14th, my heart was racing. Oh man, it was beating so hard. I went to the bathroom a trillion times. I broke out in a cold sweat and was dripping with anxiety. And then the phone rang.

Just being able to get to the step where you talk it out with an agent in a more personal manner is an achievement unlocked so this was a Moment. Especially since the agent really got my vision and we clicked. Everything was falling into place and it was glorious.

The phone call started off with her taking the lead, telling me how she joined the agency, praising my book, general notes on my book, what would happen next if she took on the book. Then, the conversation turned over to me at which point I asked some questions that I had for her. Basically, the first half of this kind of conversation is the agent selling themselves to the writer and the second half of the conversation is the writer making sure as best they can at this point in time that they’re making the right decision should they choose to work with the agent (or vice versa re: the order of the convo).

Long story short, it was a really great conversation and I will cherish it always. At the end of the conversation, she offered representation and I totally asked her to repeat what she said because omg I definitely needed to know for sure that I was hearing what I thought I was hearing and not just what I wanted to hear. To say that I was beside myself is an understatement. To get to a moment that you worked so hard for is just… it’s overwhelming in the best way.

Idea? Check. Execution? Check. Timing? Check! Check!! CHECK!!! Agent? Checkmate!

jane

What’s so wild is that almost two weeks prior to the offer, I had written a draft of my Writer’s Block Party post, Tackling an R&R. I  pretty much never write my WBP posts more than 4 days out but I had some free time and decided to draft and schedule the post. Guess what day that post published? November 14th. The same day I got an offer of rep.

The R&R revisions that I made to my manuscript made my writing so much stronger and made it offer ready. The coincidental timing of that post publishing and the offer of rep is not lost on me. I really, and I mean really learned how to revise with this project. I discovered in a way that I never had before what was at stake and I dug deep. It was brutal at first but then I found comfort and peace in the process. And I really don’t think that I would be in the position that I am in without having received the feedback that I did during the querying stage and revised accordingly. Writing is revising.

Once you get an offer of rep, if you have materials still sitting in other agents’ inboxes, you must inform them that you have an offer, so that they can decide if they want to bow out or throw their hat into the ring and offer as well.

Over the past year, I sent out a total of 40 queries. Of the 40 queries and at the time of the initial offer, I still needed to hear back from 6 agents who had the proposal and 8 agents who had only the query and sample pages. I guess you could say that this was the point when I was no longer baking in the sun, waiting for the agents to remember that they invited me over and open the door. The door was opened. Now I was just waiting to see who would offer me tea.

After reaching out to the agents who still had my materials, the waiting game began. Rejections rolled in. Another offer came in! This offer came from one of the agents who gave me an R&R. And so I began going back and forth with the offering agents, asking follow up questions, taking a look at sample contracts, discussing my YA fiction, talking with their clients to get a feel for what it would be like working with each agent.

It was a flurry of excitement to say the least. Initially, it was daunting because now I had to make a huge decision about my career and there really were no cons that I could think of with either decision. But when I asked myself what I wanted my career to look like, I had my answer and knew what decision I would make. But oh my goodness, boy was this a Moment. To have multiple agents believe in you, be passionate about you and your work, that is….words can’t describe how much that means.

With Thanksgiving happening in the midst of all of this, I had something really special to be thankful for this year! Because of the holiday, there were 14 days between the first offer and when I made my decision as opposed to the standard 10 days. All in all, the two weeks that followed the first offer were a whirlwind. And then I made my decision. And then I had an anxiety attack thinking about just how monumental of a decision and moment this was. And then I treated myself to a mojito and Thor: Ragnarok. And then I signed the contract. And then I became agented. Woo!!!

I sent out my first query for my Pop Culture project on November 28, 2016. On November 28, 2017, I accepted an offer of representation.

I can officially say that I am now signed with a literary agent!

I can now begin a sentence with “My agent.” *Giggles*

I am represented by JL Stermer of New Leaf Literary!!!!!!!!!!!

So what happens next? I get an edit letter from my agent. My agent! Ahhh! I revise the proposal again. Once revisions are done, we go on submission, in which JL will pitch my proposal to publishers with the goal of snagging the book deal. Stay tuned.

In all of this, I’m still doing research for and writing the rest of the book, because remember, I didn’t have to write the whole thing beforehand. If this were fiction, I could probably sit back and catch up on some reading or work on a fun side project while waiting for her notes. But for nonfiction, the research and writing continues! And I’m having a ball!

Total Queries Sent: 40
Total Proposal Requests: 14
Total Rejections: 34 + Didn’t Hear Back From 4 Agents After Offer of Rep
Total Offers: 2

It takes a village so really quickly, I must thank my writing community who helped me get here. To Lucie. To Meg, Katy and all of Writer’s Block Party. To Alli, Sooz, Eric, Louise and everyone who has supported me thus far. You rock! Thank you!

To everyone who read through this entire post, liked/commented on Instagram, and liked/commented on Twitter, thank you! In future posts, I will dive into the query that got me the agent plus go in depth on how to nail writing the proposal. I’ll be sure to update this post with links to those posts. Until then, it’s time to open up Scrivener once again. The research and writing never stops.

I ordered an OJ and they brought it out in a glass. It was Sunday brunch & they trolled me hard omg. Part of me wanted to send back the OJ and get a mimosa instead haha

Happy writing and reading!

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14 comments

  1. Yay to this post!!! This is a beautiful tribute to hard work and keeping it moving with a positive mindset–that’s what my life is all about. Peas in a pod Melody, peas in a pod. 🙂

  2. So happy for you! I feel like I did when you graduated… Like I graduated too. Now this! We did it Mel! Hahahahahaha. No but really it’s all you. I’m just the proud Mom. 😊 Watch out 2018! ❤️

  3. This is an amazing blog entry, post or whatever you talented writes call it, lol! I am so proud of you! Keep on writing! Love you much!