My Journey to Finding a Literary Agent
Updated: Jul 18
In 2021, in the midst of the global pandemic, after 15 years of corporate life, I had an opportunity of a lifetime: to realize my childhood dream of being an author.
I self-published my debut picture book, The Lion in Your Heart, which received awards, rave editorial reviews and several accolades. I was feeling good. I lined up a few more books in the pipeline. But I learned two important things through the publishing journey of my first book:
I wanted to pursue writing as a life-long profession, not as a hobby like I had done since childhood.
I was keen to find a literary agent who championed my work, guided me and opened doors to a career in traditional publishing.
Here's my journey to finding representation:
I believe in lists and a game plan. So step #1 was preparation, of course!
Reading Picture Books: Much before I wrote my first picture book, I read tons of picture books. I brought books home from the library in a carry-on, spent an enormous amount of time at Barnes and Noble and watched hours of YouTube read-alouds. And the practice of reading is what I continue till date. I enjoy reading a LOT of books in my genre.
Writing the manuscripts: I learned that for picture books, agents typically look for 3-4 manuscripts from authors. You lead with one manuscript and if an agent likes it, they’re going to request for more. My aim was to have five polished manuscripts that would showcase my work as an author.
Critique Groups: Once I had my drafts ready, I joined critique groups through SCBWI and Facebook. That helped me revise my drafts and take them to the next level. I picked my favorite manuscript that I was going to query agents with. Yay.
Agent Feedback: Having peer feedback is awesome, but I wondered what an agent would think about my manuscript and if it would fit in the current publishing landscape. I took advantage of Manuscript Academy and signed up for a couple of zoom calls with agents. After more revisions, my manuscript was looking good, so now onto querying....
Query Letter: Writing a query letter was a totally different ball game. Pitches? Comps? Hook? I googled, watched videos, subscribed to several Kidlit websites, read query tips from agents, attended webinars through SCBWI. And finally wrote, revised and got feedback from an editor on Reedsy. Phew, my query letter was ready to go.
Agent List: Not having any background in this industry, it took me a while to understand: what should I be looking for in a literary agent? Once I figured out what worked for me, I made a list of agents researching their MSWLs and joined Query Tracker. I read a lot of blogs about experiences of other authors and what agents want (Kathy Temean's and Literary Rambles were my favorite). Some agents I found through authors of books I loved.
After months of preparation, I was ready to dive into the querying trenches.
Round 1: I decided to start with a list of 15 agents that I really wanted to work with. Then waited 3 months. I got 15 rejections or no responses.
Round 2: I sent my query to 25 agents. Waited 4 months. Received 25 rejections or no responses. Hmm this wasn’t going how I wanted it to be, did it?
Take a step back: Was something not working in the manuscript? I still believed in it. Was it the query letter? Nah, I’m going to keep trying. It only takes one yes.
Round 3: Many agents were closed to queries or wanted to work with authors who illustrated. But I found 25 more agents that would be a good fit and queried them. Same result. All 25 ended up in rejections. But this time, I had received feedback from a few agents on my manuscript. It gave me something to think about and a chance to modify my story.
Hanging In There
At the end of 2022, I had sent a total of 65 queries and received 65 rejections. Not one agent had requested to see more manuscripts. But one thing kept me going: writing.
Continuing to Write: Some days were all about fear, confusion and what-ifs. Those were the days I worked extra-hard to remind myself about the joy of creating. I started following a daily writing schedule and spent the remaining time either attending writing workshops or marketing my self-published books: author visits, bookstore signings, building my social media etc. I got too busy to keep refreshing my inbox for query responses, which helped with accepting the rejections.
Fun with Learning: I spent most of my weekends and evenings (outside of mommy duties) trying to improve my craft. Some of the resources I used: SCBWI, Writing Barn, Journey to Kidlit, Kidlit411, KidLitHive, Picture Book Summit and Children's Book Academy
Reality Check: 65 queries = 65 rejections = something clearly not working with the manuscript. But what?
At the end, I think the theme of my story was not appealing enough to stand out in a highly competitive market. It was time to part with my beloved "first query manuscript". Perhaps I should have tried sending out other stories after the first round of rejections, but that's just the path I chose. Now, I was ready to test out a new story that I had recently written - I'm calling it Story B.
#PBPitch: Twitter is a goldmine for writers and I had not utilized it at all. #PBPitch was one of the ways I could test out my new stories. I tweeted five pitches and got likes on a couple of them from agents and editors. Aha, progress! Story B received an interest and positive feedback. Something worked in this story.
First agent request: Through an SCBWI conference, I had the opportunity to submit Story B to a literary agent. And guess what? She replied within a day saying she loved it and wanted to see more. Yes, I screamed and cried. But when I sent her three more manuscripts, she didn't think we would be a good fit. That's just the nature of the business.
Come 2023, I was recovering from a surgery. I decided to take a break from querying and didn’t have a game plan but...
New Year, New Beginnings: Since I was in bed a lot post surgery and the laptop was my best friend, I found myself browsing Twitter several times a day. Some of the agents I followed tweeted about opening up to queries. Interesting. I sent them Story B.
Magic: In the first week of January, I sent out 7 queries. Within a few days, I received requests from 4 agents to submit more manuscripts. WHAT! 3 agents wanted to get on the "call”. All 3 agents offered me representation and while every agent was AMAZING, I chose the wonderful Lynnette Novak at Seymour Agency.
Whoa, so much happened within a span of two weeks that it was overwhelming to process it all. I have a quote up on my website by Roald Dahl: A little magic will take you a long way. Maybe a little magic just happened.
If you have any questions on the querying process, please don't hesitate to reach out. Comment below or use my contact form. Thank you for reading and wishing you the best in your querying journey!