One of the questions I get frequently asked is, “How did you get your publishing deal!?”

And the answer is simple: my agent.

If you aspire to be traditionally published, having an agent is a must. And I would go a step further to say that no agent is better than a bad agent. Above all, you want an agent who gets you, who has your back, who loves your writing. Because your agent is your publishing spouse. It’s a long distance relationship, and you’re in it for the long haul of your publishing career.

So today for my writerly post, I thought I’d go ahead and share my insight and experience for how I landed one of the best agents in the literary realm: Suzie Townsend.

How I Found Her

At the end of February 2015, I had just complete the first draft of TQR and decided that I would try to get it traditionally published, based on my sisters’ enthusiasm for the story. I knew that I needed an agent, and so as I was editing TQR, I began to do my research on literary agents.

I came across a very helpful website called Literary Rambles

This blog saved me hours of time, because Casey and Natalie have compiled very handy and informative agent profiles. I went down their list of agents who rep YA, read each profile, and I put the agent’s name on my master list if they repped YA Fantasy and if I believed they would be interested in my work. Once I had a long list of agents, I went back through that list and began to heavily research the agents who had initially sparked my interest. Suzie was one of those agents, and just to give you an idea of how much I virtually “stalked” her…I read any interviews I could find where she was featured, I combed through her blog, I looked into the other authors she repped, and I followed her on Twitter and Instagram.

I knew she loved dogs, the color purple, that she was obsessed with Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road like I was, that she liked the hook first in a query, and that she really loved expansive worldbuilding in YA Fantasy.

I chose two other agents from my list who I thought would also be a good fit for me and my writing, and I heavily researched them as well. This does take time, but this is such a crucial step. It is so so important that you don’t query an agent who 1) Doesn’t rep what you write and 2) Who may not be a good fit for you. For the most part, agents are on social media. They may not have a blog like Suzie did, but finding interviews and knowing what they are currently looking for can give you a leg up in the querying slush pile world.

So I had my top three agents. I crafted queries based on their interests and what they wanted in a query.

Which leads me to my next point…

How To Write a Good Query

What is a query? A query is a 250 word pitch you email to agents. The one purpose of a query is to catch an agent’s interest so that they want to read your work. Every query should have the word count, the title, the genre, comp titles (so an agent knows who your audience is going to be), your contact info, and of course, the hook of your story. Sometimes agents want the first 5 pages of your manuscript included. Sometimes they want the first 10 pages included. Sometimes they don’t want any sample pages included.

Keep in mind that each agent can be different when it comes to queries.

Some agents want the word count and genre in the first line of your pitch, some want the hook first. Some want to know why you chose to query them, some don’t care to know why. How do you know how to craft a query based on each agent? Remember all that research you did on agents you were interested in? That will give you the knowledge you need. Because while your query will most likely have the same pitch of your book, you still want to take the time to tailor each query to each agent. Do not send out a blanket query to a hundred agents addressed as “To Whom it May Concern.” If you cannot take the time to personally address each query to the agent you are emailing, I can guarantee that agent is not going to take the time to read your query.

One of the best resources for query crafting is Query Shark. Again, I spent hours poring over this blog, learning from the mistakes of others, learning how to craft and revise a query that had the potential for catching an agent’s eye.

Another resource that was instrumental in teaching me to write a good query was author Susan Dennard. Susan is a gem in the publishing world. If you have not signed up for her newsletter, I highly recommend that you do, because she shares so much about publishing and her writing and revising processes. She has a page on her website dedicated solely to writing resources, and back in 2015, I read through all of her posts and learned so much from her. She, essentially, taught me how to craft a query. If you are still feeling like you don’t know how to write your query, you can learn a multitude from Susan: Susan’s Writing Resources

In case you’re curious, here’s what my query for TQR looked like, which Suzie shared on her blog: TQR Query

I think that one temptation when you finish drafting your book is to rush and send out a bunch of queries because you’re excited and you’ve dreamt of being published since you were a kid and you literally do not want to wait a moment longer. I know this exact feeling, because I certainly felt it, too. I gave myself three months to revise and research agents, and I probably should have given myself even more time than that. When it comes to something as crucial as a query–where you get only ONE shot with pitching your story to a dream agent–you want to take your time. Let your book sit a few months. Go back and heavily revise it. As you’re revising, do your research on agents. Learn how to write a killer query. All of these things will set you above the rest of the crowd.

How the Pieces Came Together

I sent out three queries for TQR. Yes, you read that right. Three. I was far too worried and anxious to send out more than that at the time. My plan was to send out the top three queries, wait a week or two, then send out another small batch.

Suzie was one of those three queries. I had no other connection to her–we had not previously talked on Twitter or met at a conference. I was in her “slush pile” as they call it; I was one query among hundreds she received that week. But within days, she requested my full manuscript. My query, then, had served it’s purpose and caught her interest. I remember reading her request for my manuscript and bursting into tears over my coffee that morning, because I could not believe it. This was May 2015. I sent her my manuscript and then I waited.

The two other agents I queried passed. Which meant Suzie had my manuscript exclusively (but I never told her that until last year when I finally met her). Which also means that my query only had a 33% success rate, if we look at the numbers (even though I only sent out three queries and yes, that is a rather low number). All of this to remind you that you only need one yes.

All summer, I waited to hear from Suzie. I checked my email frequently, thinking it would be the day I heard from her. I researched more agents and crafted more queries, but I never sent them out. I just had this feeling Suzie was the one.

It took her around three months to read my manuscript. This is because she requests a good amount of material, and requested manuscripts are in a queue according to when she requested them, and even then, her client manuscripts come before that. To be published, you really do need a good deal of patience, because there is a lot of waiting. But one day, Suzie suddenly followed me on Twitter, which I thought was a good sign. And then she emailed me and asked for a synopsis. Which again, I thought was a good sign. I did not have a synopsis written, so I hurried to write one for her. Then I waited a few more days, wondering and hoping.

It was a Friday evening in August, and I was currently working on another story, one unrelated to TQR, just in case TQR never sold. My husband, Ben, came into the room and told me that I had exhausted myself, that I should go to bed early and rest my mind. So I did. I closed the laptop and went to bed early, and this was the one night out of the entire summer when I DID NOT CHECK MY EMAIL BEFORE BED. The next morning, however, I checked it as soon as I woke up and lo and behold, there was an email from Suzie in my inbox. It was Suzie’s offer of representation, which shocked and thrilled me and made me all but fall out of my bed. We had not even talked on the phone yet, which typically comes before the offer.

That following week, we set up a phone call. I think we talked for an hour and a half on the phone. I remember it was storming, and I sat on my bed with a note pad, writing down all the things Suzie told me. She told me about her background, about how she got into agenting, about New Leaf, about all the things she loved about TQR. I asked her some questions about agenting and publishing, because I really did not know that much about the entire process. Looking back, I should have told her then and there on the phone that I accepted her representation. But I was trying to play it cool (which honestly still makes me laugh to this day). Suzie still didn’t know that she had my manuscript exclusively. She most likely believed it was out with other agents.

I waited a week to email her my response, because that’s generally the amount of time you’re supposed to give other agents who have your manuscript and may potentially want to rep you the time to also make offers. Again, I cannot even believe I waited seven days. I was a dork. But I emailed Suzie my acceptance of her representation and that’s when we became a team. That was the day my life changed, and I knew that I had a good chance of being published with Suzie as my agent.

On the last day of September, we went on submission with TQR.

The next day, HarperTeen made me a preemptive offer to buy TQR + 2 more books.

I do want to say that this is not the norm–sending your book out on submission to editors can be a long, slow, heartrending process. An offer typically does not happen overnight. But this shows that Suzie knew the exact editor who was going to love my book.

I one time heard a joke that went along the lines of this (but it’s still very true): An agent and an editor go out to lunch. They talk, and that is how books are born in the publishing world.

Further Resources

If you are a marginalized writer, I want to encourage you to participate in #DVPit on Twitter (you can find out more about this on their website: DVPit ). This is twitter pitching event for marginalized authors and illustrators only, and I always love Twitter on #DVPit days. I love reading the tweets and I love seeing agents and editors requesting those stories.

Another great resource for aspiring authors is Pitch Wars (more information on their website here: Pitch Wars ). This is where you get paired with a mentor, and they go through the querying trenches alongside you.

Suzie’s Tumblr is another great resource. She has a wishlist and also answers a lot of anonymous questions about publishing and querying and everything in-between that is very enlightening: Suzie’s Blog

Courage, Dear Heart

If you are an aspiring author and you currently writing your book, keep going! If you have a completed manuscript and you are beginning to consider querying, I hope this post is helpful and inspiring to you. Querying can be a scary and anxious time, and I want to reassure and encourage you to keep writing and keeping pursuing it. You only need one yes from an agent, so even if you send out 100 queries and get 99 rejections, you still have that 1 yes that will open the door.

When I look back on my own experience, I know that three things helped me reach this point (and honestly? Keep me going even now that I have been published, because landing a good agent is not the end. It’s the beginning.):

  1. Grit, to finish what I started.
  2. Patience, to know good things come in time.
  3. Determination, to keep going even when I felt like giving up.

Above all, write and be brave!

One final note: I’m still planning to write more “For Writers” posts, but I’m going to now space them out every few weeks because I’ve begun to work on a #secretproject. But do let me know if you think of another topic you’d like to see me talk about!




About Rebecca Ross

I write fantasy novels for young adults. Out now: THE QUEEN'S RISING and THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE. Coming up next: SISTERS OF SWORD & SONG, publishing on June 23, 2020 with HarperTeen/HarperCollins.
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