The novel that got me my agent is not my first written or queried novel—by far.
I am a perseverance story. A turtle story. A “go touch some grass” story. I am jaded. Realistic. Cynical, maybe. I prefer the hard truth over the sugarcoated one. I have faced a decade of rejection. I want to start with this so you know what to expect. If you’re looking for wonder and positivity in your journey towards finding your agent, then you won’t find that here. That’s not my story. And that’s okay. There are stories out there, like that, and they’re great. They’re just not my story.
I forced myself to break many personal boundaries to get to where I am now, and I’m not sure all of it was perhaps worth the cost of my anxiety and stress. Not in the end, anyway. And that’s one of the many ways that this game is rigged. You can’t know what works for you, and when it works, and so you have to try everything to optimize your chances.
I always preach self-awareness as being the best tool a writer can have, and I stand by that even now. Self-awareness of your creative process, of your weaknesses, of your strengths—that’s all gonna help you in the end. It’ll help you improve, sure, but it’ll also help you find peace and acceptance with yourself and your projects. It did for me. 80% of the time, anyway; I’m no saint.
As an international ESL-writer (English second language), my struggle was both learning the craft of writing and storytelling in English—but also learning how to navigate a foreign industry. From afar, no less. From 100% online. And with a severely limited physical support network here at home in Denmark.
For reference, Denmark doesn’t have anything that equates to a literary agent as a profession. Our market is not big enough or competitive enough for that. It’s author to publisher, always, and we have basically only 1-2 big publishers. And they all lean towards literary fiction, not towards the genre fiction that I write.
If you’re an international writer, you’ll get all that I’m saying here.
I’m not sure others necessarily will, but you will.
2012 book: 0 requests
2016 book: 0 requests
2018 book: 1 full request
2019 book: 3 full requests, all rejected
2020 book: 0 requests
2021-22 book: 7 requests w/1 offer (7,8% request rate)
Chronological(ish) order of events:
I technically sent my first query when I was 21. I am now 32. My first query was ten years ago. It was before email queries dominated the industry as much as they do now. I sent my query and pages in an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) from Denmark—to Neil Gaiman’s agent in the US, because I’m nothing if not self-deluded—and genuinely expected a reply. As you can imagine, I got no reply. In hindsight, that was good. Because that book sucked. Majorly. And it was also culturally insensitive. I’ve learned since then, thankfully.
Until 2015, I took a break. From querying. Not from writing. I think I realized at this point that I wasn’t good enough to be querying. I had just shifted from writing primarily fanfiction to original stuff, and I think I realized my original fiction needed more work to be traditionally published. Particularly, I needed to learn story structure. I needed to strengthen my storytelling skills until they were as strong as my writing skills. I read a lot of craft books in that time. I approached it like I did my academic degree. That is, with a lot of notetaking and cross-referencing of techniques, styles, advice etc. All pertaining to story structure, naturally, because I had identified that as my weakness.
Leading up to 2018, I was also shifting from writing YA to writing Adult, so this set me back further in my querying journey since that involved studying a different age category. That meant catching up on the adult fiction market in terms of reading books and in terms of researching agents. This shift was extremely time-consuming, to be honest, but also extremely helpful.
Around 2018, I was working hard on building relationships with beta readers and critique partners. Ones that I could trust, mind you, and with an emphasis on long-term. Before then, I had been ghosted by plenty of beta-readers, and I was done taking the easy way out. I began swapping material with other writers, a process that taught me so much about my own writing. Focusing on helping others was one of the best decisions I’ve ever done because I was also helping myself. In a roundabout way, you know? That’s how all creative artistry works, I’ve since realized.
Around 2020, I began to get serious about pitch events (pitmad, sffpit, moodpitch, pitdark). I began to study how to write twitter pitches (and, indeed, my agent offer came from a pitch event), and I began to experience successful ones. I was finally cracking that particular code.
I also applied for mentorship programs (pitchwars, AMM, revpit, writementor, roguementor) from 2018 and onward. I eventually got picked by roguementor in 2021, with the book that also got me my agent. It was one of two requests that I ever got from any mentorship programs, in total, with four books.
In hindsight, this is when I began to take incremental steps forward. My studying of the craft, the market, and the industry was starting to enhance my products and projects. I was also more comfortable writing Adult than YA; it allowed me to focus more on prose, which apparently is a strength of mine.
Covid also helped a lot, honestly, because it moved a lot of resources online. As an international writer, I benefited majorly from this. I began to challenge myself at this point, thinking I needed to take advantage of all the online opportunities that used to be offline, and which probably would go offline again soon enough.
This is when Covid hit. A lot of industry resources were suddenly made available and accessible to me as an international writer. Specifically, conferences were suddenly all online. I began to attend conferences that offered live pitching to agents. This prospect terrified me. Agents in general terrified me.
But I hate fearing something.
And I hate being desperate.
I do my best to channel my fear and desperation into sheer pigheaded stubbornness.
This means I attended several online live pitching events in 2020-21, despite my fear of them. As a recurring and accessible event that didn’t demand too much time or effort, Writing Workshops was a solid choice. I also had the luxury of being able to spend money on this. I’m not rich—in fact, I’m often unemployed—but I live in a welfare state, and I am never without some form of paycheck. That’s why it’s worth paying higher taxes, folks.
Around this time, I hired my first professional editor to help me with the opening chapters of my manuscript alongside my trustworthy beta-readers. I learned so much from this process, even if it didn’t land me an agent.
Later, in early 2022, I hired my first professional editor to help me with a developmental edit of my full manuscript. This is the book that eventually landed me my agent. My Snow Queen retelling. I learned even more this time around. Particularly, that I didn’t even need a developmental edit, which was a huge boost in my confidence.
In early 2022, I got picked/paid for the Futurescapes 2022 Workshop with this same book. This was a more selective and time-consuming event than any other online event I had attended. It had both a workshop element that consisted of Zoom feedback from several well-established agents, and it also had a ton of masterclasses on writing by well-established authors in the SFF genre. I learned so much from this entire event. This was the point when I finally realized that agents are just people who love books—like me.
In 2022, I actually stopped writing novels to focus on short fiction. I had identified my next weakness. I wanted to get better on a scene-level. I wanted to get better at pacing my scenes. At maintaining tension on a micro-level. And I decided that short fiction, given its limited scope, would help me get better at that so that my novels would also get better. And it did help me, in fact, to the point that I now have several short stories published in magazine and anthologies.
I was still doing pitch events for my novels around this time, and I had never stopped doing them. All throughout 2022, I could sense that something was shifting. The agent interest was higher than ever whenever I pitched my Snow Queen retelling. SFFpit was the event that eventually landed me my agent, in the fall of 2022, and I will forever be grateful for that.
I got lucky.
Sometimes that luck is fast, and sometimes that luck is slow, but it’s always there.
I optimized my chances and opportunities to the best of my ability. I broke personal boundaries (live pitching is terrifying). I self-studied craft. I beta-ed books for my friends. I hired professional help. I prepared myself as much as I could—and when luck hit me, I was ready for it.
Because it’s not just about skill.
It’s not just about working hard.
The final stretch is about luck.