The Beginning: How I got my Agent

Kicking off my first bit of news on my author website with my very own inciting incident.

Inciting incident:

  • A plot point near the start of a story.
  • An event that sets the main character on a journey.
  • The moment that something changes.

On the journey to being traditionally published there are many plot points. The first major hurdle for most of us is querying to find a literary agent. Someone who loves our book and will help us through the next stages of trying to get it published as well as supporting our future career and growth.

I am happy to say that as of June 2020, I now have a literary agent and am officially represented by Megan Manzano from D4EO literary agency! Megan is such a kind and amazing person to have on my side and she is such an advocate for diverse voices in publishing. I’m so happy to be working with her.

So how did we get here? Where did it start?

The Backstory

So frequently I hear these posts talk about how people have been writing since they were little, they always knew they wanted to be a writer, and wrote their first book before they even reached double digits. I always think that’s amazing but yeah, that’s not me. And I think it’s important to say. Yes, I was the kid who sat by their own in the playground and made up stories in my head. Everything was a story. You might be cool sitting around but I was flying jet fighters and battling monsters and using world ending magic. Only, they were never things I wanted to write down.

It wasn’t until chronic illness changed my life at fifteen that I considered writing. Those first few years of illness were a mess of me desperately trying to get to school enough not to fail my exams (alas. No matter how hard I tried it didn’t work). But then I was free. I had some much needed time to rest after three years of hell trying to get from one course deadline to one essay to one exam.

I spent the year nearly entirely in bed trying to recover.

So I thought why not write? I came up with a story I was excited about (it was about death and mercy and platonic love). I started to write it but, even lying in bed with my laptop on a tray table, it made me too sick. After just a couple chapters spread out over weeks of recovery for each, I had to give up. I couldn’t write my stories down.

Fast forward the next few years. I didn’t go to university like all my friends, I didn’t move out or go travelling or get a job, I wasn’t well enough. I lay in bed too sick to do anything. But I came up with this fanfic in my head.

The Beginning

That precious fanfic kept me company when I couldn’t do anything but stare at my bedroom walls through those years. It was some place to escape to, characters who lived lives and had adventures all in my head. My best friend loved hearing about it, so I thought, why not try and write it down? Just for her. My laptop was still a no-go but I could use my phone. I told myself I could do just one chapter a month, the goal was to still be doing it after a year. To not give up or let the doubts set in or get frustrated at my slow pace or anything. After a while I was doing two chapters a month and I’d caught the writing bug. I had this original story idea brewing too. It had sailing ships flying through the sky and found family crew and magic and betrayal and adventure – everything I loved to read.

I made it to a year on my fanfic. I believed I could do this writing thing, I wasn’t going to give it up, so I took part in NaNoWriMo with my original story idea (National Novel Writing Month in November) and somehow, to the great detriment to my health, I won. I wrote a whole 50k! Over the next year I finished that book. At the age of 25 I had written MY FIRST EVER BOOK, then I wrote the actual book. (Side note to explain, my first ever book had 12 main characters, 5 countries, 2 magic systems and a lot of physics for how sailing ships could fly. I wanted to give myself a prequel book to get to know it all before the real story started! So I wrote 105k to do that, then another 105k for the actual book)

I got my first critique partner for it, who is amazing and still with me. And I got feedback for the first time ever. But I never revised that book. I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with it, even though I LOVED the characters and the settings I made up.

But you see, I had this new idea. About a circus on a space station and two best friends trying to survive a gadget competition there as people start dying. So I thought, ‘hey I’ll just put this book to the side and draft zero this other one quickly’. Only by the time I draft zeroed it, I had emotional distanced myself enough to know I wasn’t going back to book 1 and dove head first into my space circus book – The Black Top Presents. I was in love with these soft boys and the diverse rep I had needed to see on the page. I wrote the first draft, I edited it. Gave it to my CP. Revised. Got a couple amazing beta readers. Revised again.

The Side Quest

All the revising and feedback take time. And in those gaps where I was waiting to hear back from betas, I decided to try my hand at writing a short story. I had this scene in my head and these two frenemies at a bar that I couldn’t stop thinking about, I could hear them insulting each other in my quiet moments, but I knew it wasn’t a book length story.

You always have to level up as a writer, there are always things to learn, new ideas to test run. Techniques to try. Writing in first person was a skill I had never attempted and neither were short stories. I thought it would be a good way to test them out.

I gave it a go, and yeah, okay I’m one of those writers who falls in love with first drafts. I think its a great thing to be able to do! But the feedback I got from people on the short story was so positive that I decided I was going to try to publish it. The only problem was that it was a strange length. Too long for anthologies or short story magazines. Too short for most small presses. But there was one, one press who I had read and loved reading stories from. Less Than 3 Press were focused on LGBTQIA stories, a perfect fit, I polished it up, crossed my fingers and sent out my first ever submission. And it got accepted! I signed my first contract, jumping for joy, so excited to get my little story out there. And then, 3 weeks later, Less Than 3 Press had to close down. My rights were returned to me. My story was not going to be published. It was my first foray into this publishing game and a good lesson to learn. Things can change so quickly.

The Call to Adventure

I still love that short story and everything it taught me. But I shook off the disappointment and dove back into my main quest.

I went back to my space circus book. I revised until I couldn’t think of any way to make it better and all the while I was also learning more about publishing and querying agents. How much rejection it entails before you, hopefully, find that perfect fit. I had felt the ups and downs first hand. I knew there would be many many more.

My book was ready. I wrote my query letter trying to sell the idea of my 85k book in 250 words (which is hard!). I wrote my synopsis, trying to explain the whole plot of my 85k book (including the ending!) in one page. I researched agents and after a lot of hard work, I pressed send.

In December 2019 after diving into the query trenches (yes we call them trenches, it’s hard out there) I took part in #pitmad, a pitch day on Twitter where authors post one tweet pitches of their finished books to try to entice agents to request more by pressing like. With thousands of authors participating it’s always hard to get seen in pitch days. But I was extremely lucky and, with the amazing support of fellow writers, I got a handful of ‘likes’ by agents. One of which became rather important.

This is the tweet.

Do you see that tweet reply underneath it? That was an agent, taking the extra time out in the middle of the pitch day to tell me she loved the concept. (Let’s just completely ignore my Santa hat and her Christmas themed screen name, it was December). That little tweet reply meant THE WORLD to me. Honestly.

I did a little dance, okay a big dance, and then sent the first chapter and synopsis she requested along. She requested to read the full manuscript the next week! So I sent that along and waited.

Plot Twists and Turns

Right around this time, I was starting to lose that spark of optimism that I think we all get going into the trenches the first time. I loved my book but I was three months in and racking up rejections without much of any requests. I thought I was a good writer but good writers get rejected all the time. Some people go multiple books in the trenches before an agent says yes. This book was a YA Scifi when everyone was saying YA Scifi didn’t sell. There were tons of reasons things might not work out.

Then. The day before Christmas eve I got an email from Megan. It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no either. It was an R&R, a revise and resubmit where you’re asked to make changes before the agent will consider offering to represent you.

It was….not great timing! Christmas was an anxious blur to me. Sadness that my biggest hope hadn’t worked out, fear that every other query I had out would see the same reason to reject it. Worry I didn’t know how to fix it and whether whatever I did would be good enough but also hope because someone, an incredible agent, saw something special there.

I was also confused. From all my research i knew R&Rs were supposed to be big rewrites, but from what was said it didn’t feel like it. You know that feeling you get in a maths test when you get the answer to a hard question really easily and you just… *squints* because it can’t be that easy so you KNOW you must have got it wrong? Yeah that.

I had multiple meltdowns, as an autistic person under stress and uncertainty is wont to do, then I attempted to fix the issues but I knew I needed more feedback. More time to think things through so I could get this amazing opportunity right. I entered a mentorship competition (AMM) I got a full request but didn’t get in. I got a couple more amazing betas to take a look. I also sent my first 3 chapters to another friend and while I waited, I went back to drafting the new book I had started about witches and disability and haunted houses. It’s always a good idea to write something else to distract yourself if you can!

The Next Chapter

Finally, a few months later, when I had all the feedback in and I’d made the changes, I was ready to send it back to Megan and dive back into the trenches with a new pitch day on Twitter. Terrified but ready. I knew this book was better than it had been.

Okay, so I wasn’t ready but a mutual friend told me Megan was excitedly waiting for it still. So even if I was scared that my changes wouldn’t be good enough (and isn’t that just a whole revision mood) I felt like I really had no choice but to send it back! I mean that in the best possible way, that little nudge gave me the hope and confidence I needed and was so nice to hear the agent still thought about it!

And then. I waited again. Trying not to get my hopes up. Even with an R&R there is still a good chance it will turn into a no. But you know the end of this story now. She said yes!

I got an email asking to chat on a video call and we set it up for the day before my birthday. It was The Call and she offered to represent me so I think it went well! Okay, so I was actually fifteen minutes late because even though I had set everything up way early my laptop decided to freeze just before the set time and I had to reset it and then it wouldn’t boot up and….yeah. Panic ensued. EVENTUALLY the call went well. And Megan was so lovely about it when I messaged her to let her know I was running late that I calmed right down. Her being so open and approachable is just one of the reasons I’m so happy to be onto this next stage of my story with her. And I can’t wait to see what other stories are to come!

The Timeline:

  • June 2018 – Start drafting The Black Top Presents

  • Feb 2019 – While revising, draft & submit short story

  • Oct 2019 – Enter Query Trenches with TBTP

  • Dec 2019 – Enter #pitmad & get full request

  • Christmas 2019 – receive R&R

  • Jan 2020 – Take time out to write a new book & get distance

  • June 2020 – Sign with agent

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