How I Got My Agent

Also known as: I truly didn’t think I’d ever get to write this post, oh my goodness.

You know when you read a recipe online and there’s a huge opening section about the author traveling to Italy to find themselves, and how they lived on an olive farm, and the subtleties of different kinds of pasta, and you’re like, cool, I’M ONLY HERE FOR THE RECIPE? 

This opening is going to be a little bit of that.

So if you want to skip to the part of the story, of my story, when I talk about the nitty-gritty of my publishing journey, scroll until you hit the picture of Mr. Bingley, my adorable Westie. You’ll know him when you see him.

Ready? This is my story, in its truncated, tongue-in-cheek form. 

2005: My cousin and idol, Jennifer, writes a novel. I decide to do the same. She teaches me that dialogue requires quotation marks.

2007: I’m 12, I finish writing my first book and share it with friends within a spiral notebook and a word Doc. I ask Yahoo Answers if my book is too similar to Kingdom Hearts.

2008: Twilight has come out, and I am writing SO MUCH FANFICTION to prove that I, a thirteen year old with a lot of opinions, can do better than Stephenie Meyer. I pass my books around in composition notebooks at lunchtime. I make new friends. Writing is fun and exciting. A young YouTuber, Kiera Cass, talks about her writing journey, and how she’s trying to get an agent for her novel, THE SIREN. I learn about querying.

I set a goal for myself. I’m going to get an agent by the time I’m 18–a conservatively high number, I thought.

(Note: at the time of writing this, I’m 23. 13 year old Catherine, your patience is well appreciated.) 

2009-2014: I don’t stop writing. I participate in English club. I write so many books, in varying degrees of okay-ness. I write a contemporary fantasy novel and send one query and then get distracted with my next project. I enter poetry slams. I write so much poetry. I fall in love with history and Louis XIV. I write a Louis XIV fanfiction. I turn that into a novel. I write a sequel to that novel. I find fans in my amazing highschool newspaper team (CHRISSY, AUDREY, AND MAGGI, I ADORE YOU). They make me a cake in the shape of a shoe to commemorate my book and my birthday. I cry happy tears.

2014: I’m a freshman in college. I’ve wanted to query a novel forever, and after beta reads, after tons of editing, my Adult historical fiction novel, a book of my heart, ELYSIUM, is finally ready to be queried!

2015: …Just kidding. Freshman year is hard. I take a year off of writing. Sophomore year, I send it out, send it to Pitch Wars mentors, and learn that this is probably a Young Adult novel. I say, “Okay!” and slightly alter to whom I send ELYSIUM, change the title to IN THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF, change the characters’ ages, and keep my Adult comp titles. I am such a noob. Read more about my early querying blunders here.

2015-2017: I have college to help distract me as I query. My BFF and roommate, Rebecca, helps me pass the time with an NBA Final Four-style bracket as to which agent will reject me next. It’s kind of morbid, but it helps turn the querying process into something fun. I go to Spain. I do lots of research projects. I learn French. I graduate college.

August 2017: I doggedly finish writing a new heart-book about flower magic and wizards and witches, and submit it as an Adult novel to the contest, Pitch Wars. I make so many friends and CP’s. I grow my book.

October 2017: I move to France, get some feedback on my novel, and learn that once again, I wrote a Young Adult book and labeled it as Adult for some strange reason. I’m glad I know this. I use my Critique Partners and go to TOWN editing this book. I love it. I see potential in it. I decide to stop querying ELYSIUM. The wound doesn’t hurt–I’m too much in love with my next project.

November 2017 – May 2018: I am living in Orléans, France. I am adulting and doing it so well. I drink in life and Clairette de Die with the beautiful Alexis and Steph and Manon. I’m traveling. I’m writing at castles with my writing buddy, Emily. I’m hanging out at French Coffee Shop, a coffee shop in the French city of Orléans, and have memorized the Wifi password (FCSOrleans). The barista knows me by name. I travel to Milan, Geneva, and Paris with my best friend in the whole world, Rebecca.

I’ve never been so happy in my life. (Read more here, here, here, and here!)

If you know about writing, we are about to hit the part of the story called The Dark Night of the Soul. A lot of bad things happen back to back. The hero is losing hope.

May 2018 – May 2019:

For the second time, I applied for the Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Spain. I make it on the waiting list. I take a gamble: maybe go to Spain or DEFINITELY return to France. I take a risk and choose Spain.

I don’t get the Fulbright.

I’m back in St. Louis, my hometown, living at home.

I try to find a job. (I do find one after about 7 months, and work with some very very sweet people).

I keep writing.

I enter that wizard story, THE HEALER OF HEARTS, as Young Adult, into a pitch contest. I get so close. Everyone is telling me this is the time. That my third time, I’ll finally get into this contest. After six months, I’ll finally get a win. And I start to believe it. There are some signs that I’ll get in.

And I don’t.

I mourn–I block tags on Twitter to help cope. I decide to edit my book on my own, with the help of my new team of awesome readers and critique partners (Bethany, Pri, Cass, and fifty billion others).

I form a support team for when I start to query. We call ourselves The Llama Squad. We are amazing. We cheer each other up. We whine together. We celebrate together.

In December, I decide I’ll start to query THE HEALER OF HEARTS. My friends help me craft a pitch for my novel. I’m in Chicago, fruitlessly job hunting. I meet up with a dear friend, Lorelei, and am so excited about her and her Pitch Wars adventures.

Then, I pitch my book.

Aaaaaaand it goes viral.

tweet

When I pitched ELYSIUM on Twitter, I got one agent bite. Now, I had SO MANY???

I was thrilled. Gone were those three long years of querying! I was going to have an agent by Christmas!

(It didn’t work out this way)

I grew. I learned. I clung to God and I clung to my llama squad.

I revised my novel and resubmitted it. I got rejected a lot. I also got a lot of rejections along the lines of “This is great, but not for me.”

Those are my favorite rejections–zero sarcasm. It means I’ve done all I can, and that the agent rejecting my book is only doing so for subjective reasons. I don’t suck, necessarily!

In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t suck. I’m getting rejections that say I have a wonderful voice, or that I’m great at crafting characters, or that my imagery is stunning.

There is this strange, strong, resilient part of myself that decided not to give up. I think it’s largely thanks to God, because I am small and very weak, and when it gets dark outside, my thoughts get just as dark.

I have hit wall after wall. I have failed in so many ways. I was raised to believe I was a prodigy, that I was special, set-apart. I was led to believe that I was going to be some superstar, someone who beats the odds and isn’t the millennial living at home with her parents. I had so many gifts–but I wasn’t using them. What was my purpose? Had I disappointed God? A month of trials teaches you, sure, but a year of them? All of my failures, plus the very real possibility that my dream, getting published, just wouldn’t happen? I was a thread, wearing thinner and thinner, nearing the breaking point.

I went back to counseling. I felt like a failure. I’d already done four years of that. I was fixed now. I went to France. I was healthy now. I got this whole “mental health” thing now.

(It doesn’t work that way.)

There is no shame in therapy, especially not in going back.

If you are talking to someone, you are fighting tooth and nail for control of yourself, for control of your mind and your whole world.

I fight. I scream. I weep. I write.

I join a choir with my mom, one of my best friends. We sing. My heart is growing. I remember how much I love music, the magic of music, and feel like I am made up of this magic. My voice soars.

For fun, I write a book about music magic. I fill it with music puns. I have a blast.

Months pass. More blunders. Still living at home. But I find joy and cling tight to it, like a foothold in a cliffside, slowly dragging myself up, to where, I don’t know.

(I am so blessed. Even in the dark times, I knew about this. I’m climbing up the cliff, and thankful for the muscles that I’ve built, thankful for the air in my lungs, thankful for the sunshine lighting my way, even though I can’t see the top of the cliff).

June 2019: An agent wants my book.

I tell her about my music story, too.

She loves it.

A whirlwind.

I sign with her.

I have. An agent.

I’m now represented by the amazing, sweet, funny, thoughtful, inspiring Devin Ross of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. 

Someone has strapped a rocket to my back and I’m suddenly standing on top of the cliff, on solid ground, my head spinning, what just happened. 

There’s another cliff ahead of me, but today, I’m so excited to be on solid ground.

The point of all of this: I have had such a hard year. I have had such beautiful, glimmering moments along the way. Kind people who’ve held my hand through it all. Parents who have loved and supported me and prayed for me. Dogs who have served as pillows I’ve cried into. God, who listened to me, who was near me, even when I was sure he’d left me.

There’s this song I sang in children’s choir growing up, How can I keep from singing? and for me, writing is the same way. Even when I tried to stop for a mental health break, the only thing that made me feel better in my Depression was writing about it.

I wrote a book about a girl whose feelings are so big and so wild, they grow flowers and hurt people.

I wrote a book about a girl living in a world that tells her that she has no power, but her voice, small as it is, is enough to change people’s hearts.

Perseverance is at the heart of my journey. So is support.

Keep writing. Find your people. Cry. Pray. Write. Love people, and love them with all your might. Eat so many pastries. Chocolate religieuse is my favorite.

Cuddle dogs.

Speaking of!

Here’s Mr. Bingley! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve reached the part where I just give you my publishing timeline and info! Hoorayyyyy!

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You made it! This is the part where I talk about publishing stuff.

2014-2017: I wrote an Adult HF novel, queried it, turned it into a YA novel, queried it.

Rejections: Over 100.

Requests: 1 for about every 10 queries sent.

2017: I submit my wizard story to Pitch Wars. I get a little further, but am not chosen. I meet AMAZING friends and CP’s. This is what Pitch Wars is for. Meet your people. Find pitches you’re excited about. Become superfans of your new friends.

2018: I revise and send my wizard story to Pitch Wars again. I get a LOT further. I don’t get picked.

Dec 2018: I pitch my novel for PitMad, get agent interest, and start querying this novel!

Jan 2019: An agent requests that I revise my novel. I love her ideas, so I make the ending of my book stronger.

March 2019: I send out the new ending to agents.

June 7, 2019: An extremely lovely agent offers to represent my novel. I get to send emails to all the other agents with my book, telling them that this is their last chance to read and offer representation!

June 25ish: Devin Ross reads my Healer book as well as my singer story book, which I’ve reworked to be Middle Grade. We have a phone call. We click. We geek out about stories. I am so excited.

June 27ish (this whole time is an excited blur): I sign with Devin Ross at New Leaf!!!!!!!!!

I don’t want to share all of my stats about my book, but if you’d like to know my exact numbers re rejections I got and how many requests I got, you can message me on Twitter at @catbakewell!

I sent 117 queries for this book. I didn’t want to give up until I hit 100 rejections (spoiler: I did not hit 100 rejections. I got an agent. I have an agent. I still can’t believe it).

I have lots of writing and editing ahead, and I’m excited for it, even the scary parts.

Devin, thank you for going on this journey with me.

Acknowledgements

There is a selfish part of me–when a friend writes their “How I got my agent” post, I always scroll to the end and see if my name is on there. If they remembered me. If they included me in their journey.

I still can’t believe I get to do this now, but I’m so excited to share your name here.

If you’re reading this, you are probably a member of my vast, incredible support network, invested in me and my path to publication. If you’re reading this, thank you. Your presence means so much.

Thank you to the Llama Squad, firstly, (Jacy, Megan, Marissa, Nicole, Trisha, Sabrina, Rina, Erin, Katherine, Adrielle, Katy, Dory, Sarah Jane, Kiana, Christine, Lillie, Katie, Ashley, Betsey Grace, Makayla, Susan, Sarah, CT, Gabby, Ashley, Rochele, Loie, Cyla, Julianna, Melissa, Lenore, Lisa Marie, Alaysia, Rachael, Jess, Rachel, Mary, and Jania. PHEW!). You are the best cheerleaders and comforters in the world. It takes a very special person to celebrate the triumphs of others even when you’re hurting yourself. You all have such beautiful hearts and beautiful words. I am so proud of you all.

To Jennifer, to my parents, to my whole family. Thank you for treating my writing as a gift, for cheering me on, for supporting me in so many ways.

To Lucy, Sarah R, Lorelei, Pri, Cass, Elora, Caleb, Taylor, Zoe, Darielle, Riza, Cassidy, Tessa, Ashley, J. Elle, Jen, Lyndall, Bethany, Carrie, Sasa, Julianna, Madi, Cayla, Emily, Allison, Brittany, Amy, Whitney, Alexandria, Adelle, Kathleen, and Kim, I may be a writer, but I don’t think I can adequately express how much your support means. You’ve been a constant in my spinning, exhausting journey. You’ve been there for me to laugh with and lean on. You gave me hope in the darkest times. I love you all so very much.

To Kristin, Emma, Jenny, Jenni, Morgan, Ana, Jennie, and my high school teachers for reading my stuff and encouraging me to write. Not many people are still as passionate about the art they started at age 13. I’m lucky you were there to support my dreams.

To Anna, Lisa, Sarah, Little Sarah, and Becca, who successfully learned how to live with a Catherine and how to support her. Chick flicks, Indian food, and dessert at Prime? Doesn’t get any better than that.

To Kiera Cass, thank you for teaching me that this dream is possible. Thank you for sharing your struggles so frankly with your readers. Thank you for bringing me a great, great source of joy for many years.

Thank you to Marion, Fanny, Amna, Caroline, Charlotte, Corinne, and especially Théo, Alcides, and Fred for making France my home.

Thank you to Señora, Profe, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Leclercq, Dr. Hedman, Dr. Macleod and all the High Point teachers that supported and prayed for me, even if you didn’t have a class with me.

Thank you, Twitter family. My army of beta readers and the people who took the time to cheer me on in the comments of my tweets. It takes special people to go out of their way to be kind and encouraging. Thank you.

If you have any questions about myself or this process, or if you need encouragement, please reach out via email or Twitter. I would seriously love to return the favor. I hope to see your book on shelves one day. (Mine isn’t anywhere near shelves at the moment, either, but you get the metaphor).

You can reach me at @catbakewell on Twitter or catherinebakewell (at) gmail.com for email.

Thanks for bearing with this huge post. I’ve been waiting to write this one 🙂

Hugs hugs hugs,

Catherine