How did you get your agent?
I decided to write a young adult novel in the summer of 2012. I was going to start my fancy new grown-up job (which is now just my job) in September, but had three whole months to see if I could actually write a whole book.
And I did! I wrote a whole book. I got advice from some friends on how to query agents, and went to town. What that process was like would be a whole book in and of itself (an unpublishable one, probably), but let’s just say that I gained lots and lots and lots of valuable practice with rejection. Some form rejections, some kinder personalized rejections, but all of them were basically a closed door.
In 2014 I queried Saba Sulaiman (those two years had been spent revising based on all kinds of suggestions, with lots of anxious inbox-checking). She wrote me back with another rejection, but this one was different. She told me all the things that weren’t working with the story, but then told me everything she liked about it. And no one had done that yet. We emailed back and forth a bit, I revised heavily based on her feedback, and she was open to reading more.
And…she still passed on it. With lots, and lots, and lots of advice, that I decided not to take. But she was the only agent who made me feel like I had any writing ability at all. At the time she didn’t represent picture book authors, so I took this funny little idea that had been sitting in my emails for seven years, sent it to a couple agents, signed with one, and that’s why you can get A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS at your favorite local bookstore. I’ve told this story to a lot of people, how Saba’s kind and constructive rejection of my YA manuscript led, possibly directly, to my current success with picture books and early readers.
Fast forward a bunch of years. My picture book agent and I amicably parted ways in the summer of 2017. A year later I decided to return to a middle-grade novel that I’d given up on. I got it to a place where I couldn’t do anything else with it by myself, and sent it to someone offering freelance editorial services. He wasn’t able to read it given certain life circumstances, but told me that the first few chapters were good, at least, and I could possibly just start querying.
So I sent it to Saba, before anyone else. I was doubtful that she, or anyone, would actually want it, but I trusted her to be honest with me, and maybe I could revise it some and send it to her again once I fixed it. Or maybe she would kindly tell me that it was irredeemable, and I wouldn’t wonder anymore.
But, to my endless surprise, she loved it. And she made me feel like my love for it wasn’t misplaced, or ill-advised, or naive. I’ve got some work to do on it before it’s ready to go out into the wider world, of course. But after four years, and several different books later, that’s how I got my agent. Never burn a bridge, or a manuscript.