After Almost 400 Queries in 6 Years, I Have a Literary Agent!

8 Aug

I have awesome, amazing news that I finally get to share today. I am now represented by literary agent Carrie Pestritto of Laura Dail Literary Agency!

I am so excited to be working with Carrie! As some of you know, I interned for Carrie a few years ago, and I’m thrilled that I now get to be her client. Carrie’s superpowers include communicating at the speed of light, bubbling over with writing and revision ideas, connecting her clients with each other, exuding positivity, keeping organized, and, of course, selling books. We’ll be focusing on picture books for now—they fit into working mother life a little easier than full novels—but I’m excited to have Carrie’s guidance on all of my writing.


I have been querying agents for about six years. Because Carrie and I had an existing relationship, the journey to becoming her client was a little untraditional, but over my years with friends and editing clients in the query trenches, I have seen many different paths toward literary representation and publication. The basics of my journey are below, though I’ll probably share more details later. It’s been six years, after all. I’ve learned enough for several blog posts (and have written about query basicsquery etiquette, and dealing with R&Rs in the past). To hear when I have more news and insights to share, sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter @tracycgold.

The Dark Night of the Soul

All right, so over the last six years, I’ve racked up almost four hundred rejections. Whew. That’s a long time, and a lot of rejections. There were many, many moments over those six years when I thought I was so, so close to landing an agent. I was ecstatic to be chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee for two different books. I received so many agent requests! So many encouraging rejections! So much conflicting feedback! And so many form rejections! 

I also had many moments when I thought I would never land an agent and almost gave up. I ate a lot of chocolate and had a lot of sleepless nights. Every time I saw a writer friend get an agent or book deal, I was sincerely thrilled for them, but fell deeper into the dark hole of believing it would never happen for me. Toss in serious health issues during and after pregnancy, and the stress of being a working mom, and I was an inch away from throwing in the towel on writing.

Yet I kept pushing, kept writing, kept revising, and kept trying new genres. 

After my baby was born, I started reading tons of picture books, and couldn’t help but try to write some. In March 2019, I went to my local SCBWI conference (MD/DE/WV) and focused on learning everything I could about picture books. I kept writing and revising until I finally felt ready to send a few picture books out (here’s a great post about why you need more than one picture book ready before you query).

I knew Carrie represented educational picture books, but not fictional picture books, and I was writing both, so I didn’t think to write to her right away. Yet I thought she might have some good suggestions about agents to query, so I sent her a life update. I told her I was writing fictional and educational picture books, and sent along one of the non-fiction books. Carrie adored it (yay!), and wrote asking to see a fictional picture book.

Well, she loved the fictional one too, and offered representation! Cue the celebratory consumption of massive amounts of chocolate. 

I nudged the other agents I’d queried with my picture books, as well as agents who had never responded after requesting full manuscripts of my novels in the past. I was pretty sure they weren’t interested, since it had been a year or two, but I wanted to make sure they didn’t spend time reading a whole novel when I was already represented. One day, maybe I’ll write about what happened during that nudging process (and the emotional soup of joy and anxiety I swam in). For now, I’ll just say I was thrilled to officially accept Carrie’s offer when the deadline came! I then went away on family vacation, so Carrie and I decided to wait to announce the big news until I had time to write this post. I’ve been waiting for a while to shout about this!

Now, don’t go flooding Carrie with fictional picture books—they’re still not a focus for her. This is where relationships, and, frankly, a healthy element of luck, come into this success story. 


Building Relationships

So, how did I forge a relationship with Carrie in the first place?

Back in 2016, I went to that trusty SCBWI MD/DE/WV conference. I stayed up late chatting with faculty and attendees, including the wonderful Linda Camacho, who was with Prospect Agency at the time. After the conference, I queried Linda with a novel. Linda sent me a very nice rejection. I wrote back to thank her for the kind words, and also to ask if she knew any agents who needed a remote intern. I was about to graduate with my Masters of Fine Arts, and wanted to explore potentially becoming an agent. Soon enough, Carrie, who was also at Prospect at the time, reached out—she was looking for an intern.

For about a year, I read manuscripts and gave feedback, went through Carrie’s queries, worked with her authors on marketing plans, and helped with various organizational tasks. I learned so much. We even met up (and talked a mile a minute) one weekend when I went to NYC to visit family. I only stopped working for Carrie when I got very sick during pregnancy. After I was healthy post-baby, Carrie helped me revive and grow my freelance editing business.

Carrie and I kept in touch, chatting occasionally about life, animals, and books. I’m excited for more excuses to chat about babies and animals!

So what can writers learn from this story? Building relationships is so, so important, but it takes courage. I’m right on the border between introversion and extroversion. I do well in social situations, but they scare and exhaust me. I have to build myself up before them, and hide and recover after them. Many writers are like me: we’d often rather interact with imaginary characters than real people. It takes courage to put yourself out there. It takes courage to attend a writing conference where you might not know anyone. It takes courage to approach fellow attendees and publishing professionals. It takes courage to send your book to a publishing professional you met. It takes courage to reply to a rejection and ask about internship opportunities.

It can also take years for these connections to affect your career, either indirectly or directly. It’s best to approach networking opportunities as chances to genuinely learn and connect with people, no matter what you may get out of that connection.

I also want to note that privilege played a role in allowing me to pursue these opportunities. I was able to take weekends, year after year, to go to my regional SCBWI conference and pay for a hotel so I could stay up late chatting with industry pros and other attendees rather than driving back and forth from home. I also did not get paid for the time I put in working for Carrie for a year. I was able to do this (which meant taking on less paying work) because my fiancé/husband helped me financially. Could I have built these relationships without those privileges? Maybe. Maybe not. I hope to pay these opportunities forward when I can.

Statistics

When I was in the midst of querying, and kept seeing those “How I Found My Agent” posts and thinking “It will never happen to me,” one thing that helped was seeing rejection statistics. If those writers persevered and found success after so many rejections, I certainly could!


Well, I hope these stats are encouraging to you. And I’m sure there are more rejections to come as I go out on submission! The below rejections are just what I logged on Query Tracker; I’m sure there are more I’m missing. And of course, this doesn’t count rejections for stories, essays, and poems.

Book one, a truly awful YA apocalyptic novel

  • 7 query rejections
  • 1 full request/rejection

Book two, a YA contemporary novel that was mentored by Rachel Lynn Solomon in Pitch Wars 2015

  • 109 query rejections
  • 18 full/partial requests/rejections
  • 1 full closed with no response (I nudged on all other full requests, but was not about to nudge an agent who’d had a book since 2015!)

Book three, a YA contemporary novel that was mentored by Diana Gallagher in Pitch Wars 2016—I sent out multiple revisions of this one

  • 93 query rejections
  • 71 full/partial requests/rejections (this includes many I nudged who never responded…I lost count)

Book four, a YA historical that I pitched via DVPit before it was really ready, in hindsight

  • 37 query rejections
  • 21 full/partial requests/rejections (again, includes some I nudged who never responded)

Books five/six/seven: I queried a few different picture books and didn’t exactly do a great job of keeping track of them separately. Keep in mind that for picture books, you send the full manuscript, so there isn’t really such a thing as a full request, but rather a request to see more work.

  • Query rejections (most of these were after I nudged): 23 (including no responses)
  • Offer of representation: 1!

All in all, I had queried agents for picture books for about two weeks before receiving an offer. The speed of this gave me whiplash. I still can’t quite believe it’s real, after so many years of rejections. Looking at the numbers in full, I wonder if I pushed too hard and sent out too many queries for books that were doomed. Maybe I did, and I should have slowed down and given myself more time to revise. Yet I kept getting rejections that said things like “I’m sure another agent will love this,” so I kept going. And I’m still planning to revise some of those books, so only time can tell if they’re truly doomed.

Perhaps my persistence led me in the wrong direction for a while. I’ve talked with many other writers about how you need a level of persistence that’s borderline unhealthy and unreasonable to succeed in this business. Without persistence, I surely would not have kept writing and sending my work out. Getting a literary agent is a huge milestone, but it’s no guarantee of publication, so I know I’ll certainly need that persistence as Carrie sends my books out on submission to editors. So, that is the final lesson I have to share here: persist!

And a last plug: I hope to have more fun news to share soon! To keep posted, sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter @tracycgold.

One Response to “After Almost 400 Queries in 6 Years, I Have a Literary Agent!”

  1. Raimey Gallant August 8, 2019 at 6:57 pm #

    Yea! I’m so excited for you, Tracy!

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