Queen of the Maybe Pile

A How I Got My Agent post.

If you want stats, click here to skip the whole story. But know that I’m giving you a puzzled frown about it.

This tale, if we go back all the way to The Beginning, starts when I joined the Prague Writer’s Group. I’d been living in the city for about two years before I finally got my bearings enough to take on NaNoWriMo again. The local workspace was hosting write-ins (you know, back in 2019 when that was still A Thing) on the weekends, and they also hosted the local writing group. I sat in on a session and ended up deciding to join. Local introvert gets a little bit of accountability, as a treat.

And that meant dusting off my WIP that I’d started in college and had allowed to collect dust through depression and job uncertainties and an international move. No pressure or anything, right? So I spent a year putting it through the group, getting feedback, and revising.

Fast forward to early fall of 2020, I ended up joining Becca Mix’s discord server and – gasp! – made some friends? A lot of friends, which isn’t entirely on brand for me, given, you guessed it, how introverted I tend to be. I ended up trading manuscripts with a new CP (thanks, Danielle!) and we had a really in-depth feedback call with notes for each other’s books. Right in time for NaNoWriMo 2020, for a Full Mad Dash Rewrite for the both of us.

At the same time, I started being on Twitter more (I know, I know), and that’s where I heard about Author Mentor Match for the first time…right as announcements were going up for the next round. Submissions would open up in January, and if I essentially did two NaNos in a row, I’d have rewritten my whole book from scratch just in time to participate. I joined a DM group – another thing I thought I’d never do – for AMM hopefuls (shoutout to the Scribblers!) and we all traded submission materials for feedback and stayed together as a support group.

I didn’t think I’d get into AMM, truth be told. My goal was a full request. I’d gotten RevPit #10queries feedback on my query and first 5 pages, and the feedback was glowing! If I didn’t make it in, I’d be happy to start querying right away.

And then I got in.

And rewrote my book from scratch. Again.

Chelsea has been the best mentor to me over this past year (go preorder THE STARDUST THIEF!!! Right now!!!), and in her defense, she did NOT ask me to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. Didn’t even mention it! Just a few tweaks here and there for clarity and fleshing out character motivation so everything would really shine – but I got an Idea to solve one of the problems she’d mentioned in her edit letter to me, which involved me switching two events around, and that domino was enough to launch a full from-scratch rewrite.

Oops. Leave it to me to create more work for myself.

At the same time, I joined a few other groups! The Revision Support Group on discord, and the Blanket Fort Fam on Twitter. Chapter swaps, kind bullying to go freaking write already, heated protests for days when giving up sounded like the most logical course of action. People to remind me that my work was worth something.

All this to say, none of this would have happened for me without community. Which, again, I’m like the biggest introvert there is! I barely even post on my blog, lol. I cringe at curated groups because I never quite feel like I belong. And yet? I’ve put down roots in quite a few different groups with people who actually get me. Is it weird? Absofreakinglutely! But I like it!

I started querying in June 2021 after getting the green light on my submission package from Chelsea and my somehow-expanding network of peers. I got some rejections, pivoted my query, and kepg going.

And I got skipped. So. Damn. Much.

Query Tracker is a great tool to keep track of queries sent and responses received. I also had a spreadsheet I’d update regularly, and also a handwritten list because apparently I like having multiple records? I don’t understand either, lol, it was all the same info no matter where I recorded it. The paid version of QT gives insight into the self-reported responses by other querying writers, which is how I’d seen the skips. A bunch of rejections above me. A bunch of rejections below me. And then little old me smack in the middle, with no response.

Which a lot of Querying Advice out there didn’t really prepare me for? I was ready for rejections. I was super ready for requests. I was prepared to wait around a bit, becuase all I heard about on Twitter was that agents were really behind because publishing as a whole is really behind and it trickles down to the querying writers who sometimes sit around for months before hearing a response.

Not to say those things didn’t happen – they totally did. But seeing other people get responses while I was waiting in the dust? Weird. Uncomfortable. Did my query get lost? Was I in some nebulous maybe pile? Was my query so awful that it got deleted immediately?

This happened….a lot. In the beginning, I was getting skipped more often than I was getting responses! Maddening!

And I couldn’t make any jokes about it, which is the real tragedy here. You can’t very well go on Twitter and tell the whole world how utterly skippable your work is. I mean, you could, but it doesn’t exactly leave the best impression for any agents who may decide to have a looksee at your social media. So I dubbed myself Queen Of The Maybe Pile among friends, laugh-cried at each new skip that came along, and kept going, thinking to myself that one day, you can make this joke for real.

Is that the weirdest motivator of all time? Maybe. But I’m fueled by humor and spite, so it’s incredibly on-brand for me. And, well, here I am now, making that joke.

Querying is a heart-wrenching process sometimes. I needed the jokes, and I needed the support. I got a lot of traction in pitch contests, but many of those subsequent queries went absolutely nowhere. Skips turned into apologetic rejections along the lines of “I sat on this for a while becuase I wanted to love it, but ultimately it’s not right for me.”

There were a lot of rejections like that. “It’s not right for me.” Which was frustrating because, like, come on, I did so much research about who might be good fits for this weird little ghost train book! I picked you because you’ve written things implying you’d love it! You liked my Twitter pitch!

It hurts, doesn’t it, not to be chosen back?

Each rejection that came in was like a little punch straight to the gut, a near-physical thing.

And then I got a full request! Finally! And it was like a shield for all those other rejections that would come in, because at least someone wanted to read the book.

Summer was quiet; fall was where things picked up. Pitch contest likes from agents I really admired! A full request turned into an offer quicker than I’d dared hope for! The agent had read the book on vacation and wanted to talk to me right away! We had a 3 hour long call and clicked super well! We tossed back and forth revision ideas that I thought made a lot of sense! I thought This Was It.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

Long story short, I asked to see the contract, and the agent said no, not until I agreed to sign it.

Everyone begged me not to take it any further from there. It made sense: I’d been in a situation like that for one of my first jobs, and it’d ultimately blown up in my face – I didn’t get paid for any work I did, no one communicated with me, and I ended up being let go for not working up to standards I hadn’t even been aware existed. Contracts are a touchy subject for me in that way. So I knew they were right.

So I responded and said the contract thing was a deal-breaker for me, and tried to move on.

I was devastated. So close to that dream! All for nothing, it seemed. All the while, more rejections poured in – on fulls and partials this time.

And then when I thought This Was It, I didn’t mean it in a good way.

I’d jumped the gun and nudged my fulls with that first offer before I’d thought to ask any follow-up questions, so I’d assumed those were all dead in the water because no one had responded yet. I hadn’t nudged my queries, so those were still in play, which gave me a glimmer of relief, followed by anxiety that I Did Everything Wrong And I’ll Get In Trouble For It.

The brain raccoons were unkind to me. And it went further:

Maybe this book was too weird to click with agents and editors, even though I’d had readers adore it and tell me it was their favorite thing they’d read all year. Maybe it wasn’t going to happen for this book. It’s not unheard of for writers not to get an agent with the first book they’ve queried, after all. And I was writing a new thing that I was super excited about, and if I worked hard enough, maybe I’d be back to querying the next year.

I didn’t physically give up: I didn’t withdraw any queries or fulls. But I was two-thirds of the way to giving up in my heart. Most of the remaining fulls I had out were with agents with a huge backlog of manuscripts to read, and a lot of the queries I had out were with agents notorious for not responding at all. 2.3% response rate and 50 unanswered fulls? Good luck.

And then I got really, really sick. No-strength-to-check-the-inbox, can’t-look-at-a-screen, dizzy-just-trying-to-drink-water sick.

By the time I got better, the deadline I’d given my fulls was days away, and everything was about to close down for the holidays. I was finally doing okay enough to have conversations without my voice giving out, and at last, I checked my query inbox.

It was empty.

I thought it would be rude or it would make me look bad if I re-emailed my nudged fulls with something like “my original offer didn’t pan out” or even “I was sick so here’s more time”, so I didn’t. By then, I didn’t think I’d hear anything back at all, so I resolved to let the timer run out and keep querying in the new year. I thought I deserved that. I made a mistake, after all. This was my payment. And anyway, there were a few agents I’d had on my list who were closed to submissions all year but who hinted they’d reopen in 2022. A glimmer of hope, but dim.

And then my inbox lit up.
An agent read my book.
And wanted to set up a call with me.
Right before the new year.

Reader, I cried.

During our call, I understood all the little things that were missing in my first offer call, most important of which was the sense of security, a balm against my anxiety. While both agents I’d spoken to were newer, the first offer gave me a sense of “I’ll be swimming in the storm with you”, whereas the second offer was “I have a boat. Let’s go.”

One of the most important things she said to me on that call was, “I’m here for you and I’ll never ask you to do anything to compromise your mental health.”

I’d like the record to reflect that I’m historically not much of a crier. But I’ve definitely cried more in the last few months than I had all year.

January rolled around, and I nudged the rest of my queries and re-nudged my remaining fulls with my new deadline. Everyone was just waking up, so to speak, after the holiday break, so I didn’t expect my inbox to light up immediately. And it didn’t. Which is a little disappointing, but fine. I got a near-immediate full request that ended in the kindest rejection I’ve ever received. I got a few agents telling me to resubmit my original materials and they’d look at it asap. Most just…never responded.

Which kinda hurt, honestly, but I was already committed to my offer, especially after she sent me the kindest, most encouraging, yes-I-cried-again follow-up email a few days later – it took all my self-control not to accept her offer immediately. I was determined to do everything Right This Time, and that meant waiting out my nudge window. Even though I already knew what I wanted.

So here I am to announce (finally, lol) that I’ve signed with Emelie Burl at Susan Schulman Literary Agency!

And in a fun little coincidence, my AMM full request came in on the same day that, one year later, would be the date I sign with my agent.

ALL THE ELSEWHERES is a book I started writing in 2014 amid a tidal wave of overwhelm and desperation, and it was the solace that got me through those hard years. It’s far from the first book I’ve written (shoutout to Mrs. Ciardullo, my eighth grade English teacher who inspired me to start writing novels!) but it IS the first book I’ve thought had more than a glimmer of a chance to be published, and definitely is the first book I’ve committed to revising and querying.

If you’ve read this far, thank you and I’m sorry. Your reward of statistics awaits.

Time spent querying: 6 months
Queries: 66
Rejections: 51
No response: 13
Skips: 27
Pitch likes: 19
Partials: 2
Fulls: 7
Offers: 2

I am no longer Queen of the Maybe Pile. Someone please come take my crown.

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