Obligatory “How I Got My Agent” Post

Considering I signed with my agent in 2019, this post is a long time coming. Too long, perhaps? Perhaps. But hey! It might be helpful to someone, somewhere, so here we go.

(It’s a very long story. I’m sorry. Buckle in.)

I’ve been writing for a long time—we’re talking first grade, here. And while I’ve cycled through many “dream careers” in my lifetime, “author” was always a foregone conclusion.

But it wasn’t until the early 2010s that I decided to take my writing to that next level. To try and write specifically for publication instead of just for myself.

A sign printed on white paper that is taped to a front door. The sign reads: welcome to writing group. Please come inside and head downstairs or my heathen children may attack you, JK! (but really...downstairs)

I devoured craft books. I joined a critique group—and then a few more. I attended writing conferences. I put in the work and leveled up, to the point where I had people telling me, “This is ready for prime-time. Query it.”

And that? Well, it stopped me cold.

Querying something meant it became real. Not just a nebulous goal that I would one day maybe achieve, but a tangible thing in the here and now. If I queried, it would be the start of something, and I couldn’t take it back. The rejection would inevitably come, and I’d have to face the possibility that maybe “author” just wasn’t in the cards for me.

But after much badgering (and a critique partner—jokingly, I assumed—promising to eat my first rejection letter), I sent my first query for a YA urban fantasy in 2011. As expected, I promptly received a form rejection.

And my critique partner legit printed it up and ate it:

Middle grade author and illustrator Melissa Douglas eating a printed rejection letter while sitting on a couch, a stack of manuscript pages in her lap
Yep. It really happened. Don’t try this at home!

After sending only two total queries, I put that manuscript to bed and got to work on my next. And that one, too, I was urged to query not only by critique partners, but by industry mentors. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” one published author said, “other than just query this. It’s ready. Get it out there.”

I queried a total of three agents with that manuscript and collected one personalized rejection and two full requests.

Cue screaming. LOTS of screaming.

But while the manuscript may have been ready, it wasn’t right. And that distinction became clear after rejections on the full came in. The manuscript, in spite of being queried as YA, was set mostly in college, the no-man’s-land of “new adult,” and would be a tough sell.

It was around this time in 2014 I heard about Pitch Wars, a mentoring program that was gathering steam on Twitter. I decided to enter, thinking maybe a mentor could help me age my actually-NA manuscript down in a way that made sense.

One full request and a broken toe later (I don’t recommend victory dancing after receiving a full request, by the way), the decision window closed.

I wasn’t picked.

And that was just fine. It was almost a relief—it meant I could put the manuscript aside and start something new. Bury myself in the fun part: writing, revising, and most importantly, not thinking about querying for a while.

So I did just that. It was going pretty well, up until I started practicing my in-person pitching at conferences… and three agents asked me to send the full manuscript when it was ready.


When Pitch Wars 2017 rolled around, I took another shot. The benefits were obvious: a guided, one-on-one revision with a mentor, on a strict timeline, with a public agent round at the end. It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to feel confident enough to move forward. To query in earnest this time, not just to a handful of agents before retreating into the safe hidey-hole of drafting.

So I wrote a lousy query letter, submitted to four mentors, and crossed my fingers.

A gray and white tabby cat sitting on a printed manuscript
Warning: cats may or may not be helpful to the revision process.

And this time, it paid off. I was chosen for Pitch Wars by Natasha Neagle, who patiently mentored me through 2.5 months of revision hell on my YA horror manuscript. Honestly, Natasha is a saint. With her help, I added a completely new POV, adjusted the timeline, and basically revised the manuscript from top to bottom.

Then came the agent showcase. I was fortunate to receive fourteen total requests for more material, and when the showcase closed, I dutifully sent off my manuscript. I also reached out to the agents who’d requested the full from in-person pitching to see if they were still interested in seeing it, and sent those off, as well.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

My Pitch Wars story was not what some people on the outside would consider a roaring success—the trademark bloodbath of agent offers came and went for some of my class, and I was still there in the wreckage as the rejections rolled in.

But Pitch Wars gave me exactly what I hoped for (and then some, in the form of a supportive, wonderful community), and for the first time, I just kept going. A rejection came in, a new query or two went out. On and on, for nearly a year.

At that point, I reevaluated. Looked at the feedback I’d received from agents and betas, the number of full requests and ghosts versus queries sent, and wondered if this might not be the manuscript that got me an agent.

The only trouble was, I still loved the manuscript, and I didn’t want to give up on it.

So I stopped querying and instead entered a contest called #PitchAnIntern, run by a now-defunct small press called Filles Vertes. My manuscript was chosen to be championed by Selena Del Valle, who worked with me on my query letter and synopsis and then pitched it to acquisitions on my behalf. While this was going on, I also received an R&R from an agent who had requested during the Pitch Wars agent round, which gave me a flash of hope (and a plan!) for the next course of action if the #PitchAnIntern thing didn’t work out.

A tweet by Myra Fiacco, the owner of the now-defunct Filles Vertes. The tweet reads: We are so freaking excited to announce that @trialbymagic has won #PitchAnIntern 2018 and will be offered a contract for publication of SOMETHING WICKED with @FillesVertesPub for 2019! Congratulations!

But then it actually did work out. I won the #PitchAnIntern contest and was offered a publishing contract.

The next week or so was a whirlwind. A phone call with the owner and the editor who’d be working on my book, should I accept. Contacting all the agents who still had the manuscript (by this point, other than the R&R agent, there were only a handful, and they’d had the full for over a year, so I didn’t have much hope there). Researching sales and distribution. Talking to other authors signed with the press. Hiring a literary lawyer to review the contract. Continuing to work on my R&R revisions in case I chose to not sign the contract.

And then, oddly enough, receiving an email from an agent I hadn’t queried. We’ll call them Agent Referral.

Agent Referral’s colleague shared my full manuscript with them after receiving my offer notification. And now Agent Referral wanted to have a call.

Wait a minute.


At this point, I was already leaning towards no on signing with Filles Vertes. But the subsequent phone call with Agent Referral sealed the deal.

Agent Referral loved this manuscript and wanted to represent it. The brief editorial ideas they shared with me on the call were in line with my vision, they already had a submission plan, and the conversation felt like one I’d have with an old friend. Comfortable.

I turned down the offer of publication from Filles Vertes, notified all the outstanding agents (AGAIN—those poor agents), did my due diligence on the offering agent and agency, and waited for the clock to run out on the notice period so I could sign with Agent Referral.

Everything was coming up roses.

Until I realized I hadn’t heard from the R&R Agent after my second notice. This was unusual because she and I had been in close contact through the whole small press process—she even offered to look at the contract for me, though at that point, I’d already hired someone else.

So, with a week left on my notice period, I reached out again, just in case she hadn’t seen the other email.

And whew, I’m glad I did, because she hadn’t seen the other email. What promptly followed was another offer of representation and request for phone call, this time from R&R Agent, with the understanding that I would complete the revisions from the R&R.

Once I hung up from that second call, I said to myself, “Well, damn.”

Because now I had a problem.

I really liked both agents.

A lot.

Kaitlyn Bristow on ABC's The Bachelorette, contemplating who to give a rose to among her final four men
Will you accept this literary rose?

I felt like the literary Bachelorette, faced with an impossible decision on the final rose. I liked them both, personality-wise; they were both at reputable agencies; they both had solid mentorship and support from their agency heads; they both had glowing recommendations from their clients; and their editorial visions were strikingly similar.

How lucky I was to be in this position. But how in the world could I possibly choose?

I did all the research. I talked it over with critique partners, friends, and Pitch Wars veterans. And the night before my deadline, I spent my time with tarot, decision dice, and even a freaking magic 8-ball. You know, the toy you shake, and…

Yeah. That night wasn’t pretty.

What it came down to was writing the email. The one that said, more or less, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve chosen to sign with someone else.” Two copies written and addressed, and the one I could bear to send…I sent.

And then came the relief.

I had chosen. And it felt good. It felt right.

And so I sent another email, the one to say, “Yes. Let’s do this.” The final rose.

(Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the Bachelor references. Sheesh.)

In January of 2019, I signed with Melissa Nasson of Rubin Pfeffer Content. I had a lot of work ahead of me—after all, she gave me a pretty extensive R&R, and for good reason.

But I was up for the challenge, and two years later, we’re still going strong.

No ragerts.

The road to getting a literary agent is rarely easy or straightforward. There aren’t any shortcuts, and it’s often a mystical combination of hard work, luck, and timing. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful advocate in my corner. But signing with an agent isn’t the end—it’s just the beginning of another journey.

(Okay, that’s my last Bachelor reference. I swear.)