Well, Butterflies, my literary dreams are starting to come true. I’m now an agented author!
My journey to literary representation was a trip to the depths of Tartarus to say the least, but I’m so lucky to have survived the query trenches. Was the adventure worth it? In hindsight, yes. That doesn’t erase the struggles, though. Despite it all, I’ve grown as an author, and more importantly, as a person.
So, here comes my obligatory How I Got My Agent post. While querying, I read a ton of these and found them both inspiring and motivating. Every author’s journey to representation is unique, and I’m excited to finally get the chance to share mine. Grab a mug of hot chocolate and get ready to read my story.
2022 Demi Had No Chill
Yep, you read that right. Let me explain.
I graduated with my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University on June 26, 2022. Only nine days later, I sent my first few queries on July 5. Granted, I had done a ridiculous amount of agent research before I started querying. My document was organized with the agents’ names listed alphabetically, their agencies, submission guidelines, and how my manuscript fit their wishlists. I thought I was beyond ready to query.
Dear Reader, I was not.
The first manuscript I queried was my thesis novel, a young adult mystery. Did I get my degree? Yes. Is the story good? I think so. But was it ready to send to agents so soon? Nope. Long story short, I should’ve done another revision and learned more about the business side of publishing. Sure, this book got some requests, but given my manuscript was 100,000 words, many of my rejections were likely due to the word count alone. Sorry, agents, I probably would’ve rejected myself, too.
Even though this book didn’t land me my agent, I can’t stress enough how valuable the experience was. I didn’t see it as a failure but a chance to gather more knowledge in order to better prepare myself for my next project.
Before I transitioned into querying my second manuscript, a young adult speculative thriller I drafted during my final terms in my MFA program, I brought out the metaphorical scissors and cut out thousands of words. I can’t remember exactly how many, but when I say I was in tears by the end, that isn’t an exaggeration. To give you perspective, the original version was over 110,000 words, and now, my final one is 84,000 words. After realizing my first manuscript was way too long, I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t get rejected over word count again.
I may have met word-count expectations and polished the manuscript the best I could, but when I started doing agent research, I discovered my list this time around was much shorter. Even though the book fit many manuscript wishlists, it explores heavier topics that agents specifically included in their anti-MSWLs. Most agents were looking for lighter, hopeful stories, and since this one is pretty dark, I found myself feeling like there wasn’t a place for it in the current market. Still, I queried it anyway, got some requests, but no offers came my way.
Seeing this one suffer in the trenches hurt. I really believe in this story and the messages at its core. Even so, I had to move on and pitch another project.
Third Time’s a Charm
Okay, I know this is such a cliché, but for real, my third manuscript got me my agent.
This story is a young adult fantasy. After writing a mystery and thriller, it was quite a choice to change genres like this. Still, I’d been thinking of doing a fairy tale reimagining for a while, so I thought, you know what? Why not? As a songwriter, I’m always bouncing between pop and country music, so becoming a multi-genre author too is on brand for me.
Since Little Red Riding Hood was my favorite story as a child, I picked that fairy tale and blended it with Greek mythology. Personally, I’ve never read a book where a fairy tale and myths are intertwined, so I thought this would be a unique approach.
As if writing a new genre wasn’t enough, I decided to draft this story during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year. Signing with my agent exactly a year later while I’m drafting a new fantasy for NaNoWriMo again is truly the wildest coincidence ever.
From the start, I knew this book was a special one, and I remember thinking countless times I’d be devastated if it died in the trenches. So, I did everything in my power to get it ready to send to agents. I had several critique partners, beta readers, and editors give me feedback. I don’t even know how many rounds of revisions I’ve done at this point. I kept polishing, until I felt it was ready to go.
When I started sending test queries and got mostly rejections, the doubts crept in, making me wonder if I was even good enough to be an author. I received incredible feedback from everyone who read this story, so I genuinely didn’t understand what was wrong. I paused querying and made more changes to my package, looking for anything else I could tweak in the letter and opening pages. I went through this process so many times, and eventually, I turned a corner.
Out of all the books I queried, this one had the highest request rate. I can’t express how happy I felt when it finally started receiving interest. All the hard work I put into this story was worth it, and for the first time during this whole roller coaster ride, I fully believed I had a chance.
Then, I got the call.
Revealing My Chaos
Did you think I’d unveil the juicy details right away? Sorry, I’m all about suspense.
I want to let you in on a little secret. Most people in publishing would advise against what I did, but it worked for me.
When I got my call, I had full manuscripts out for all three of my books.
I broke down each book in this blog post to streamline things, but while querying, they overlapped. Why?
Firstly, I was always working on my manuscripts, getting new projects ready to query. Because response times were so slow and I had long agent lists, I saw no point in waiting until I finished pitching one book before moving on to another. Did this make tracking my queries a nightmare? Sort of, but if I had waited to send off my fantasy until I was completely finished with the mystery and speculative thriller, I wouldn’t be agented right now.
And guess what?
I’m currently writing my fourth book for NaNoWriMo and fully intended to query that one at the same time as the others once it was ready, if I hadn’t gotten an agent by then.
One of the biggest lessons publishing has taught me so far is to be patient. Though I’ve been forced to do so while waiting on responses, I loved having a sense of control over what projects I was pitching and when. So, even though this was pure chaos at times, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I handled my process.
The Lingering Anxiety
One more thing before I share my happy ending.
There were many things I wasn’t fully prepared for when I started querying, but the anxiety I’ve developed from email notifications is number one on the list.
Being a songwriter, author, and podcast host means I get many emails on the daily. I have all my accounts funneling into one inbox, and since I used my personal email address for querying, there was no way to avoid seeing the notifications. Feeling my heart beginning to race or my throat growing dry every time someone emailed me became a toxic part of my life. Especially once I had several full requests out at once, I was constantly thinking how the next email I received could be the one. Still, I knew it could also be another rejection. I may have an agent now, but I haven’t been able to shake this anxiety completely. I’m sure I will eventually.
The effect querying has on mental health is very real. Dealing with so much rejection, feeling anxious to check my emails, and enduring interactions that were sometimes scarring made this journey a hard one for me. I’m grateful this is all behind me, so I can move forward and start the next chapter of my literary adventure.
Signing With My Agent
Okay, you’ve been patient long enough. Here comes the end to my story.
After sending over 200 queries, getting over 100 rejections, and pitching three manuscripts, I’m over the moon to share that I’m now represented by Michelle Jackson at LCS Literary.
I queried Michelle on August 28 and woke up to a partial request for the first fifty pages on September 14. After getting used to waking up to rejections, this was such a surprise and I couldn’t wait to share more of my story with Michelle.
But wait, it gets better.
On October 22, I was in Nashville for the Josie Music Awards. That morning, I checked my email to find a query rejection. I tried not to let it ruin my mood, since I had been looking forward to the awards since I received my three nominations in May, but it still stung. Feeling a little down, I went to breakfast, and when I got back to the room, I looked at my email again. My heart started pounding when I saw I had a reply from Michelle through Query Tracker. For a few seconds, I considered opening it after the awards, not wanting to deal with a partial rejection after one on a query earlier. Still, I knew it’d haunt me all day if I didn’t read it. So, I braced myself and looked at Michelle’s message.
It was a full request!
I had to leave the hotel to get my hair and makeup done before the red carpet, but I was so excited, I sent Michelle my full manuscript right away.
Three days later, on October 25, I was back home, chilling on my couch, when I got an email notification.
It was Michelle.
My thought process went something like this.
But it’s only been three days.
Did she read it that fast?
No, she definitely stopped in the middle and is rejecting me.
Okay, I know self-rejecting is bad, but I hadn’t received a response on a full request for this book yet. I thought there was no chance it’d be an offer.
And it wasn’t.
Not yet, anyway.
Eventually, I gained the courage to open the email, preparing myself for the worst. Michelle told me she was almost finished reading the book and that there were so many elements she loved. She went on to say she saw potential but thought there were areas for revision.
For a hot minute, I sat there, until it clicked that it wasn’t a rejection. Once I pulled myself together, I replied, letting her know revising is my favorite part of the writing process and I’d be more than happy to hear her editorial vision.
Then, I waited.
But I didn’t have to wait long.
Michelle answered minutes later, asking to set up a call.
And I may or may not have started crying.
The call happened two days later on October 27, and before I got on the zoom, I was a hot mess. I still didn’t know if Michelle was going to offer or give me a revise and resubmit.
When we were on the call and Michelle offered me representation, I seriously couldn’t believe it. Finally, after literally busting my butt for nearly a year and four months, I got an offer from such a kind, talented, and enthusiastic agent. I loved chatting with her and resonated with everything she shared and her answers to my questions. On the outside, I kept my chill, but a full-blown dance party was going on in my brain.
It goes without saying my decision was an easy one.
During my two-week vague era, I felt like I was quite literally losing my mind. I swear time was moving in reverse.
Then, November 10 came, and I got to send the email I’d dreamed of sending since I started querying on July 5, 2022.
I accepted Michelle’s offer of representation!
I’m so lucky to have found the best champion for my stories and me. I truly can’t wait for what’s to come.
My Query Letter
I’ve made countless revisions to my query letter, but I’m delighted to share the final version. This story is a piece of my heart, and I hope you get to read it one day soon.
I personalized every query I sent, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m omitting the agent’s name and personalization.
LITTLE RED CROSSROADS Query Letter
Autumn has arrived, so I’m excited to submit my young adult contemporary fantasy, LITTLE RED CROSSROADS, a Little Red Riding Hood reimagining intertwined with the lesser-known Greek myths of Mnemosyne and Lethe. The manuscript is complete at 81,000 words, and it appeals to readers who enjoy the forest setting of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, the survival element, friends to lovers, and Greek mythology of Lore by Alexandra Bracken, and the complex sister relationships of House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig.
When seventeen-year-old Rayna is in the stable with her beloved horse during the nine-month anniversary of her adopted sister Dahlia’s disappearance, she finds a crumpled note signed with a Greek gamma that reads, Dahlia needs your help in Hush Maple Forest. Follow the trail but choose carefully at the crossroads. Though Rayna’s an adventurous Boulder native, she’s never ventured into the forest, a haunting place Coloradans avoid at all costs.
As Rayna and her friends enter the forest, they find themselves surrounded by myths and magic on their journey, from a river flowing with enchanted water to a companion with starlight and invisibility powers. At each crossroads, Rayna’s indecisive nature is put to the test as she faces tasks and choices to follow the correct path toward reuniting with her sister. If she doesn’t succeed by night on the Fall Equinox, she could live in a future where Dahlia ceases to exist, along with every memory she has of her.
I’m an author from Pittsburgh and hold an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction and BAs in Creative Writing and Music from Seton Hill University. I’m on the committee for In Your Write Mind, an annual conference hosted by Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction alumni, and I recently got invited to contribute an article for NaNoWriMo’s blog ahead of their July challenge. When I’m not working on my manuscripts, I’m chasing my other dream as an award-winning songwriter.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Demi Michelle Schwartz
There are so many people I’d love to thank for playing a role in my journey to literary representation.
First, thank you to the incredible faculty at Seton Hill University. I fully believe my education both as an undergrad and graduate student shaped me into the person and author I am today. My professors and mentors helped me develop my craft and gave me the skills necessary to chase a dream in publishing. For that, I’m forever grateful.
Next, I couldn’t have done this without all my critique partners and beta readers. Their thoughtful feedback played a massive role in helping me improve my manuscripts, and I’m so lucky I got to share my work with such kind and talented authors.
Also, thank you to the editors who gave me feedback too, whether it was for my query package or more. Having professional eyes on my work helped me polish to the next level, setting me confidently on the path toward literary representation.
I want to thank the agents who took the time to give me personalized feedback on rejections. I know this is extremely rare, so I can’t stress enough how much this meant to me. Aside from the actionable feedback, these agents made me feel like my stories mattered, motivating me to keep persevering.
Thank you to the agents who requested my full manuscript. While drowning in the rejection sea, each and every request reminded me my stories had a chance. Knowing agents were compelled to read my books also lit a fire in me, igniting a flame that helped me remain hopeful.
Also, thank you to my friends for being by my side during this whole experience. Whether we were having long phone conversations, chatting on zoom, or ranting in Twitter direct messages, my wonderful author friends kept me sane and reminded me I wasn’t alone. I truly have the best people in my life who brought light to the dark moments of querying.
Thank you to my family. I’ve spent way too much time going on tangents and letting out my frustrations, but they were always there to put up with it and support me. Going out to dinner to celebrate signing with my amazing agent was definitely special after working hard for so long.
Finally, I want to send the biggest thank you to my agent, Michelle Jackson, for taking a chance on me. I’m beyond grateful and can’t wait to see the magic our literary partnership brings to the publishing world.
So, that’s a wrap on how I got my agent. Reaching the milestone of literary representation is something I’ve dreamed about for years. In many ways, I’m still only getting started. My querying chapter is behind me now, which means a new one has begun. Finally being agented, I’m one step closer to becoming a published author!