Before I signed with my agent, I was an author for Vital Narrative Press, an independent publishing house in Memphis. After my contract ended, I opted to try for an agent. No hard feelings about Vital Narrative at all --- we're still in touch to this day! I only wanted to try a new home for my work and finding an agent sounded like a great idea. Here's my story:
I wrote my 4th novel in 28 days. It was a 2018 NaNoWriMo manuscript. The story came to my mind very easily and I figured my plot was unique enough for an agent. With the help of beta readers and a former English professor, I crafted a query letter and synopsis and I began querying in early February 2019. On my first day, I sent out a dozen queries and I got FOUR full requests! I was super excited....and then the rejections rolled in. After a dozen rejections, I sent out the next batch of a dozen queries, which became more rejections. But, I was still getting full requests, so I took that as a good sign.
Some of the rejections were vague. The most common phrases were "I just didn't connect with the protagonist" and "It's not quite a fit for me." Furthermore, my novel is based on the true stories of Holocaust survivors I interviewed and I was heartbroken to tell them about the rejections. When I reached 30 rejections, I re-wrote my opening pages and got more full requests. At 50 rejections, I revised nearly the entire book, got more full requests, but also got more rejections. After my 74th rejection, I received a full request from a dream agent. She told me she loved the protagonist's voice and the supporting characters. I really thought she was the one. Then, in early October 2019, she emailed me a rejection. I was crushed. 75 rejections. At this point, I decided to quit. I even tore up my printed copy of my manuscript and deleted the file from my computer.
However, my sweet husband had my manuscript saved on his computer in case I ever lost hope. He emailed me my manuscript and told me to take a break from querying, but not to give up yet. He believed I would find an agent soon.
In late October 2019, I heard about #DVPit, which is a Twitter event for diverse creators to match with agents and publishing houses. I had done #DVPit in the past, but this time, I wasn't interested. I was still hurt over my 75th rejection. Additionally, I am horrible at writing Twitter pitches. But, on the morning of #DVPit, I popped into Twitter and tweeted this:
As you can see above, I got five agent likes and I tweeted again in the late afternoon and got a like from an independent publishing house. Before I went to bed that day, I submitted my materials to everyone who liked my #DVPit tweets, but I honestly wasn't too optimistic.
Fast forward to December 9, 2019, I was at work and my phone buzzed. It was an email notification and since I wasn't busy at the moment, I checked it. It was from the independent publishing house that liked my #DVPit tweet and the subject line read OFFER OF CONTRACT.
I ran to a restroom where I screamed and made phone calls to the Holocaust survivors to let them know progress was finally happening. Getting an offer, however, doesn't mean accepting it right away. It's crucial to research the agent or publishing house first to make sure your work is a good fit. The next step is notifying everyone else who is considering your work about the offer. The average time to give other reading parties to make an offer or to decline is two weeks, but in my case, the holidays were coming, so I asked the offering house for an extended timeframe. I spent my evening emailing all the interested agents and my decision deadline was set for January 13, 2020.
As the deadline approached, I researched my options and there was one agent I was particularly interested in working with because she sounded perfect for my manuscript. She had a lot of experience in the industry and when I read more about her, I saw that she loved historical stories like the one I had written. Her name was Allison Hellegers and she had recently joined Stimola Literary Studio as an agent and foreign rights director. I have a friend who works in the nonfiction industry, so I asked her if she knew Allison by any chance and she did and she had the nicest things to say about her. My heart was set on Allison, but I didn't know if she loved my manuscript enough to represent me.
A few days later, I went to Hebrew class, which was at a local synagogue called Beth Yeshurun. Since I was in a holy place, I decided to pray about my situation. I went to the sanctuary, found a quiet spot, and prayed for guidance. Additionally, I had an offer from the independent publishing house, meaning if Allison offered, I needed to pick between her or the house. I don't remember everything I said in my prayer, but I do remember asking for a sign so I would know which path to choose if Allison offered. Since I was learning Hebrew (I still am!), I had subscribed to a newsletter called Daily Dose of Hebrew to expand my vocabulary. The newsletter provides a random Hebrew Word of the Day. Want to guess what my random Hebrew Word of the Day was the day I prayed?
That was a quick sign. The Hebrew word for agent, by the way, is סוֹכֵן, which is pronounced "so-hen."
In early January 2020, my husband and I took a road trip to visit a loved one and on our way home, I drove and we talked about my looming deadline. I told him who my top pick was and then my phone buzzed. Since I was driving, I asked him to check the notification for me and he said it was an email....from Allison! I immediately pulled the car over and as I waited for the email to boot up, I said, "I bet it's only a rejection," but it wasn't.
It was an email to schedule THE CALL! I was so excited, but also so nervous. What did she want to talk about? How long would the call last? What if I said something awkward and she changed her mind about me? What if she was a mean agent and she only wanted to talk to me to tell me I was a terrible writer? I quickly emailed Allison back and we set up a time.
The day of the call came and I spent the previous days preparing for it. I used tips from the amazing agent Jim McCarthy and read other blog posts which I will link below. I also spoke to my agented writer friends to ask them how their call went and what I could expect. Yet even with all the research and tips for a successful call, I still felt super nervous, so I got drunk on chamomile tea to calm myself down. I gulped my fourth mug seconds before Allison called and as soon as we got on the phone, my anxiety vanished. We connected immediately, as if we were old friends. I ended up getting another offer from another agent, but after my call with Allison, my mind was made up. Right before we said goodbye, she said "I know you have other offers to consider, but I hope you tell them all no because I really want to work with you!" The feeling was mutual.
On my deadline day, I notified Allison that I wanted to work with her and I also thanked the other offering parties for their time and consideration. Soon, I signed my contract with Stimola Literary Studio and I was so, so happy. After 106 rejections, I had finally done it. I got an agent. After signing my contract, I cried tears of joy.
Allison and I are currently shopping for a home for my manuscript. Going on submission is more waiting, more rejections, and other not-so-fun stuff, but the biggest difference from querying and being on submission is the partnership. An agent advocates for the author and I have that support system with Allison. She believes in my work, even when I have imposter syndrome, and having her positive attitude and professional experience makes the process much, much easier. I can't imagine going through submission without her.
Don't give up on your book. Yes, sometimes you might need to revise the manuscript for the millionth time or tweak the query letter and yes, the rejections hurt, but please don't give up. If I had given up after my 75th rejection, I wouldn't have participated in #DVPit and Allison would have never liked my tweet.
I received 122 rejections before I signed with Vital Narrative Press and I got 106 before I signed with Allison. I also received 360 rejections for my short stories and poems in the days before I wrote novels. In total, it took 588 rejections to get to where I am today.
And I wouldn't change a thing about my journey!
Blog Posts to Help You Prepare for the Call: