This week my literary agent said she’ll submit my young adult novel to publishers. Her advice to me during this waiting period is “You must be patient. Are you patient?”
Yes! For me to have gotten to this point, I had to be incredibly patient — over 10 years’ worth of persistence. And I’m beyond excited. Because from where I sat a decade ago, this moment would have seemed impossible. But after an adventurous trek through the wilds of editing, the challenges of slush pile and Twitter querying, and the thrills of face-to-face pitching to agents, I know I’ve not only prepared my best work but also have the best representation for my novel.
Just as Hope preaches, practice at this writing thing does make perfect. Agents aren’t kidding when they say they want a manuscript that’s ready. They’re not interested in “potential.” I learned this when I queried my manuscript too early over a year ago. My story garnered some partial reads from a few agents, but eventually, over 50 rejections. (Keep in mind I had to query far more agents — over 100 — to get 50 “nos.”)
During the revision process these last two years, my novel has changed titles three times and has improved thanks to feedback from two freelance editors and over 20 beta readers. A former acquisitions editor I found via Editing-Writing.com suggested key changes that ultimately got me the attention from my current agent.
So February a year ago, with a new title, a much tighter plot, and a whole new query letter, I was ready to pitch again and even travel to Chicago to meet agents. These writing workshops hosted by query guru and author, Chuck Sambuchino, allow you to pitch to several agents. Preparing the ten-minute speech transformed my query. There’s nothing like facing industry professionals to make you rethink your argument for why your book should be marketed to millions. I found I needed a logline—the one-sentence hook or “elevator pitch.” It was the first thing I stated after introducing myself. I also needed to sum up the story in one to two minutes, which is exactly how long the synopsis should be in a query letter. I walked away from the conference with two requests for the full manuscript and three requests for partials. The experience was worth every penny of the plane ticket and hotel bill!
The logline was also the perfect tool for #PitMad, a day of Twitter pitching that happens four times a year, where authors share manuscripts with agents using 140 characters. From the three tweets you’re allowed, I received three requests from agents. Here’s one that worked: “When a friend is sexually assaulted, a teen journalist learns it’s better to go NYT, not TMZ, when reporting the crime. #PitMad #YA.”
But it was the slush pile query that ultimately brought me the pot of gold. While Twitter and face-to-face pitching, I never stopped sending out a revised email query: at least two a week. This one featured the logline, now the hook in my first paragraph. Agent Amy Tipton of Signature Literary asked for my full manuscript in June and made me an offer of representation. We worked that summer on two rounds of revisions (one major and one minor), and now the book is ready for publishers’ eyes.
I got my agent by practicing the pitch—and perfecting the manuscript – until both were pitch perfect. It takes tenacity, humility, flexibility, and an ear for the market. Make sure all notes play well together in both your promotion and storytelling.
Lyn Fairchild Hawks writes YA contemporary fiction and literary short stories. She is the author of the novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought; co-author of the graphic novella, Minerda; and author of the short story collection, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future. Lyn is represented by Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. Learn more at lynhawks.com.