Getting an Agent: a Learning Experience… (or Path to Publication, Part 1)

Originally this was supposed to be one post about my agent journey, from first query to “the call”. But when I finished writing it out in full, it turned out to be more than enough to cover at least two blog posts! I think mine is a story that proves that perseverance is the key…

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours trawling through the archives of my old e-mail addresses.  In amongst the gushy teenage love letters, last minute uni assignments and tragically cheesy job applications, I found the very first time I attempted to query a literary agent with a piece of my writing.

The earliest writing-related e-mail I found was from June 2001 – over 10 years ago! It was an e-mail asking for a publishing house’s submission guidelines. I was 15, and had written maybe 30 pages of my first ever book. I don’t think I had even heard of literary agents at that point – but I did know I wanted to be published.

Fast forward 4-years-and-a-bit to November 2005, when I sent my genuine first query, for a novel about imaginary friends called The Tulley Gift. Over the course of 7 months I sent out exactly 30 queries (the last sent on 30 June 2006) and got 27 rejections. The other 3 were requests for partials. Horray! I sent out the partials and of those, I got 2 rejections and one ‘I’m sorry but I’m no longer working as an agent’. Disappointed (of course, that agent would have been the one… no doubt about it), I sent the query off to another person in the same agency. Auto-reject.

Every rejection that came in was like a little stab wound to my heart, but in a weird way they also felt like little badges of honour. Steps in the right direction.  As I queried away merrily, I was also rapidly becoming addicted to publishing-related blogs (especially the delicious Miss Snark), and my eyes were opened to all the rookie mistakes I had been making.

((Also worth noting that throughout all of this, I was writing, writing and more writing – but this is a blog about the agent hunt, and not all the stuff going on behind the scenes!))

I think that still the most astonishing fact of all is that my first ever query for what is now The Oathbreaker’s Shadow was sent on April 4, 2007 – four whole years before the book deal. Not being the most patient of people, I sent a letter out basically the very minute the first draft was finished – clearly ignoring all the good advice I’d read on Miss Snark. At that point the ms was called Spirits & Scars. After my Tulley Gift experience, I was much more cautious this time around – only sending the query out to a few agents at a time to test the response. I sent paper queries and e-queries. I followed submissions guidelines to a T.

Any guesses as to what the response was this time around? Rejection, rejection, rejection.

Then, stuff happened in my life. I graduated from U of T in June 2007 and was off backpacking the globe from September. A large part of Oathbreaker is set in a desert and I actually went to a desert [& so I was inspired to rewrite that part of the draft]. I fell in love [rewrite again]. I moved country [rewrite]. I got my first real job [rewrite].

Life took over for a little while, and it was probably the best thing to happen to my writing career that I could ever ask for.

Tune in tomorrow for part two of my path to publication… Landing my Agent!

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