First and foremost, shoutout to Paula Gleeson (@PaulaGleeson) for inspiring me to write this. I wasn’t sure anyone was interested in my journey, so if you’re reading this, it’s because of her!
Also I paid $25 to get my statistics back from QueryTracker, so you better read the whole thing or I’ll be decidedly pissed.
(I’M KIDDING I’M KIDDING I LOVE YOU.) ❤
Part 1 – The Naïve Fool (Me)
I started pitching my books into the void in 2013.
I was 17 years old, a fresh fish in college, and I had just learned about this thing called “querying” from a friend of a friend of a friend. I had two astonishingly heterosexual books that were gaining traction on Wattpad – a YA contemporary called THE BOY WITHOUT A NAME and a YA dystopian called SELECTED. I decided to give it a go and…well.
“Hello, Ms. ___! My name is Amanda Woody and I, like many others, am aspiring to be an author. I took note of what types of works you were looking for, and of all the literary agents, your credentials seemed the most appealing. I suppose you’d like to hear about my novel, now.”
Can you see it? Can you see the cringey, generic shit? This was the beginning of the first query letter I ever wrote. For my 280,000-word YA book.
Yes. I hit send. Multiple times.
And the rejections started pouring in.
“Thanks for your query. Unfortunately…”
“But please be aware that this is a subjective industry, and others may feel differently…”
It was fine, though. This was my first book that I’d ever queried, so I tried not to be too hard on myself. Even if my dream of appearing as a teenage author on the Today Show was beginning to trickle away. I had plenty of other ideas—
“Thank you for your query. This sounds intriguing and I’d love to take a look.”
FAME, HERE I COME.
An agent from Trident Media reached out to me to give me my first ever full request. I sent it along, and weeks later, I received this:
“We just wanted to check in because we are reading this and loving it. We’re also curious about the sequel. Do you have a short synopsis of it?”
Yes. Short, long, anything she wanted, I had it. We exchanged a couple emails about it, I drafted it up, and sent it along, tapping my toes. She seemed so enthusiastic! I started planning out the first floor of my mansion, and just as I was considering whether my brother would make a good butler or not:
“In the end, I didn’t connect with the material as much as I’d hoped, and I’m sorry not to have better news.”
I tucked SELECTED away. For now, in the Lord’s year of 2014, I was going to concentrate on sending out my YA Contemporary.
Apparently, my real name is Dear Author. That was quite a shock to me.
Part 2 – Missed Opportunity #1
In 2015, I decided to go back to SELECTED, just for shits and giggles. I split the gigantic novel into two books, consulted a friend who was a professional editor, and re-queried it. At this point, I had rewritten the book more times than I cared to admit.
I was resigned to receiving my last few rejections and putting the crap-fest away for good. Something about it was beginning to feel…off. I was losing investment. Thinking about the book and its slew of “no”s caused me bouts of anxiety. Maybe it was the demand for more from Wattpad readers, or the fact that I’d spent too much time on it, but even thinking about it started to chip away at me. I snapped at people who asked me about it – even my poor readers, who simply wanted to know what happened next in the series.
Then, I received an email from an agent that was…different.
“Send me book 2 please! Is this a planned trilogy? I’ll want to reread book 1, but right now I’d love to read to read book 2, which is always a good sign.”
UM??? I sent it and began to plan out my future again. So my little sister was going to become my maid, and I was going to have two pools in my backyard, and one of those garages that could fit three cars—
“I was hoping we could chat on the phone? Are you available to talk Tuesday after 4EST?”
AND I WAS GOING TO HAVE WALLS MADE OF PURE GOLD AND A SECRET LIBRARY BEHIND A HIDDEN DOOR AND THREE GOURMET CHEFS TO ATTEND TO MY INSATIABLE APPETITE—
As it turns out, there’s this thing called a R&R.
I spent our two hours on the phone in my dorm room, listening and not listening as the agent recommended revisions so I could resubmit to her. Trying to make mental notes of what I needed to go back and change.
I came to the slow realization that I was going to have to rewrite this. I was going to have to plunge myself back into this world that I’d already frequented hundreds of times. Even worse, I was living with characters that no longer resonated me. For one, I was beginning to realize how much of a raging queer I was. Two, I was beginning to recognize stereotypes I’d subconsciously implemented into my book. Three, the clichés were intolerable, to the point where readers were claiming I’d stolen my ideas from popular franchises.
Wow. I fucking hated this book.
So I got off the phone, feeling hollow and empty and tired. Every time I opened the Word document to begin rewriting, I spaced out. I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t even look at the title without feeling nauseous. I knew this was my first and only chance of getting anywhere close to finding representation.
But I couldn’t do it.
It would become my first missed opportunity.
Yes, there’s another.
Part 3 – I Fucked Up Royally
Of course, the natural solution to my problem with SELECTED was to sink into a depression and throw the manuscript away and feel guilty any time I started thinking about its potential.
Ultimately, I decided that forcing myself to revisit this book that I’d come to loathe wasn’t worth the risk of having it rejected once again if it still didn’t meet the agent’s expectations. I stopped thinking about it, and discontinued the series on Wattpad.
In 2016, I moved on. I queried a different YA sci-fi – a trilogy. This one was even more successful on Wattpad, with the first book having reached #1 in sci-fi, the second book having reached #3 and the third book reaching #7. Surely this kind of recognition meant that I was going to find 12+ offers of representation. That ranking had to mean something!
It didn’t. 91 query rejections and 9 failed full requests.
In January 2017, I rewrote my YA contemporary, THE BOY WITHOUT A NAME. It had now accumulated over 600,000 reads on Wattpad, which meant that once I cleaned it up, it was destined for greatness.
It wasn’t. 83 query rejections and 9 failed full requests.
A few months later, I had a new book. A dark, depressing YA contemporary about a boy overcoming the trauma of losing someone to illness. I still get queasy thinking about it, and hated it so much that I finished writing the book in a month-and-a-half. I threw it in the trenches, hoping it would bide me time to start writing something more fun – something better – and maybe the writing would be good enough that an agent or two would remember me.
I was used to doing that, now. Shoving whatever I’d just written into agent inboxes and immediately detaching myself from it so I could move on to the next thing and minimize the heartbreak.
I received an offer of representation from an agent at Aevitas Creative Management.
I was flabbergasted. Really? This book? The one I cared the least about – the one that left me crying into my pillow at night? Worse, the agent didn’t represent other genres I enjoyed writing. Why hadn’t I done that research beforehand? How had I fucked up so royally?
Right. Because I didn’t care. Because anyone who said yes was a perfect match for me.
Except he wasn’t, and by the time I realized that, he had rescinded his offer, and I was back to drowning.
Part 4 – Hey Agents! It’s Me. Again.
In 2018, I queried a new YA contemporary, less dark and grim than the former. It reached #1 in the LGBT tag on Wattpad. Which meant…?
112 rejections and 3 failed full requests.
I knew better than to query so many people. I knew I wouldn’t accept an offer from a portion of them. But that didn’t matter to me. I was stuck in an abusive waitressing job at a dying restaurant chain, with a useless English degree, and no ties to the publishing industry. I needed someone to care. I needed someone to tell me my writing was worthwhile – that I stood a chance – that I had literally any kind of a future.
Around this time, or maybe the year before (time was blurring together), I started writing a romcom. Mostly I was just looking to regain some clout on Wattpad, since the userbase was beginning to leave. I looked for the most popular clichés – fake dating, check. Enemies to lovers, check. I couldn’t properly flesh out the characters, though, and dropped it. The stakes weren’t high enough. Something wasn’t clicking.
We’ll come back to that.
A few months later, I found my passion rekindle with a clever YA fantasy that actually made me smile. At this point, the feeling was foreign. This one I didn’t post to Wattpad. I queried 110 agents, and for the first time in a long time, I was brimming with excitement.
I received two full requests. Two full rejections. It was my biggest querying failure in years.
In 2019, I wrote my first YA thriller based off of a horror manga I’d gotten into. At first, it seemed promising. I had begun remote work under a literary agent as an intern (alongside the serving), and my experience helped me to shape up my querying and first pages. I could hardly contain myself when I received 9 requests in 1 week! This was it. Maybe it wasn’t my favorite book, but it didn’t matter, because it was going to get me somewhere. At the very least, maybe it would somehow get me out of this toxic work environment.
After 88 rejections and 12 failed full requests, I retired the project.
Several months later, I took my YA Fantasy from 2018 and turned it into a middle grade book. I fell in love with it – the concept, the characters, the magic. The spark rekindled in my chest. I began to plan out a series. This was why it had failed so badly beforehand – because it wasn’t meant to be YA. It was a MG book in hiding! I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so passionate about a project. The 11 requests I received for it helped me fall asleep at night.
After 53 rejections, I closed my heart to it, and buried my outlines.
I was moving on autopilot. Writing was a chore. I was detached from everything my pen touched. I couldn’t read anymore. Reading made me angry. Jealous. I couldn’t open a published book for pleasure without thinking about my own writing – my own failures. The missed opportunities. What if I’d forced myself to rewrite Selected a 12th time? What if I’d just taken that offer before the agent realized I was hesitant and backed out? How successful would I be, if at all?
I churned out another random YA contemporary I felt no love toward, and wrote it under a pen name, for fear that agents would begin to recognize me in their inbox – and not in a good way. I had established a name for myself among a handful of agents who always requested my work, and I didn’t want to bog them down by querying them too many times.
57 query rejections and 5 failed full requests later, I threw it away, like everything else.
Part 5 – When 2020 wasn’t a complete shit show for, like, one moment.
The nights I spent crying over years of dedication to a craft that was apparently unworthy of love fell away to aching indifference. Instead, though my heart always screamed when I saw the (1) in my inbox, every response left me empty. I took no joy in full requests or complimentary rejections. And yet, I was still locked in an unending loop, writing because I didn’t know what else to do, querying because I couldn’t stop, putting it away because I had run out of people to show it to.
The only relief I had was that I’d managed to abandon my toxic job in favor of becoming a secretary at Wayne State University (thanks to a friend of a friend of a friend). Shortly after I left, the restaurant chain I’d worked for ran out of business. This new opportunity kicked my mental health in the right direction, but I was still nowhere near finding my place in the literary world.
Then, 2020. The Worst Year This Generation Has Ever Seen.
Something needed to change. The world was descending into fire, sickness, and chaos…literally. My usual methods of escape were no longer strong enough to combat the anxiety. I needed something new, and so, I asked for book recommendations. I was going to force myself to get back into reading – to reclaim some of that childish happiness that seemed so distant.
Two books found their way into my pile. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, and In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan.
The amount of joy these books brought to my life was unfathomable. The joy, laughter, and even tears. I realized, then, that this was what I was missing. Not just books, but QUEER books. Queer, funny, romantic books that could carry me away from the stress of the world by making me fall in love with characters who could break my heart and mend it all over again.
I loved reading. How had I forgotten that?
Maybe I could be that person, too. Maybe I could help people feel the same way that these books made me feel. Maybe I didn’t have to write books with a message, or a theme, or complete darkness eventually succumbing to light.
Maybe I could just write to make people smile.
God knew we needed a reason to smile.
I found myself opening up a document I hadn’t visited in years. The book that was supposed to help me regain my popularity on Wattpad – a website I had abandoned at this point. The book that I only began to write because I knew people liked clichés. The book I put away after two chapters because I couldn’t find a way to get invested, as I’d never read or written romcoms in the past, and I couldn’t find anything other than humor behind it.
But romcoms, I discovered, weren’t just about humor. They had heart. They were rooted in character, and if there was anything I could do, it was write a damn good character.
And I had fun. Though I’d been trying to distance myself from every book I knew I was going to query, out of fear of more rejection, I couldn’t do that with this. More importantly, I didn’t want to. I settled on one goal during the creation of this manuscript:
If I could make at least one person laugh, that was enough.
I finished the book in two months, similar to my other YA that received an offer in 2017. This time, though, I finished it quickly because I loved it. Not because I was in a rush to query, or in a rush to end my suffering.
I’ll admit it. THEY HATE EACH OTHER wasn’t completely ready when I threw it in the ring for DVpit. I went against my own advice to make sure a manuscript was perfectly polished before pitching. And yet, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to test it out – see the kind of reaction it got. I decided to go against my instinct to keep my pitches friendly, and shoved the vulgarity of my book into the competition.
TO ALL THE BOYS x RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE
When 18yo archenemies Jonah and Dylan wake up in 1 bed, ass-naked & very afraid, they have 3 objectives. 1) Fake-date until the gossip dies. 2) Avoid each other’s emotional baggage. 3) Don’t f*cking kill each other.
#DVpit #ya #lgbt #rom #romcom
I received 25 agent likes. Wow.
I threw out another.
8 more agent likes. Holy crap.
I’d had some success with pitching contests in the past, but they’d never led to this kind of attention. I wrote up a query, drenching it with the same kind of personality that was in my pitches, and jammed my middle finger straight up into the asshole of professionalism. I included a list of editors who had shown interest in the manuscript as well.
They started coming. Full requests. All at once.
I guess there’s an advantage to starting your first page with a line like, “I’d give my soul away if I could wake up like one of those cheery assbags in a Disney Channel movie.”
Despite being nervous about my manuscript still being rough around the edges, I sent it spiraling into agent inboxes. I sent out the rest of my cold queries as well, to agents that had always been on my list and I would’ve been thrilled to work with.
The next day, I received two emails, each requesting a call.
Naturally, I had to wait through the weekend before I could talk to them, which meant that I needed to distract myself by watching Avatar: The Last Airbender in its entirety with my family. Monday came around, and I plopped down for the Zoom meetings, and suddenly…
I had two offers of representation. Like. Real ones. For a book that I cared about.
So my mansion was going to have silver countertops, and the trees of my backyard were going to drip with jewels, and—
Okay, okay, I wasn’t thinking about a mansion anymore. Or being recognized in the streets. Or even hiring my brother as a butler. Instead, I was thinking about one thing.
I made someone laugh.
In this absolute piss stain of a year, I made someone laugh.
I was overwhelmed. I asked for the usual two-week period to send my notice to other agents.
I sent out 41 queries for this book.
I received 11 rejections to the query.
I received 21 full requests. 13 of which rejected the full.
Which left 8 agents to offer me representation.
I felt like I was having a fever dream. This couldn’t be possible. Last year, I’d seen someone on QueryTracker receive six offers of representation, and my God, I was happy for them, but if it didn’t just CRUSH THE HELL out of me. How could someone get six offers so easily? The sight of such success brought my emotions reeling back to the surface – the ones I’d tried to bury. I was up crying that night. They deserved it. I was happy for their success.
A year later, I was here. In the position of doing thorough research and listing out my options, because I actually had options. Including one from an agent I’d had dreams about working with. She had requested based off of the cold query – mere hours after I sent it.
It was Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary, and she’s fucking awesome, by the way.
She told me over the phone that she had been planning on adding about two writers to her client list this year. In my absolute panic, this information found me. My jaw dropped. Me? Me? Of the hundreds, thousands, of people who queried her, I was one of those authors?
I’m pretty sure I blacked out during our conversation, but I remember feeling overwhelmed. On top of her passion, I could tell she had a clear vision for my work, and suggestions that would improve the manuscript as a whole. I reached out to a few of her authors on Twitter to ask for their experiences, because I had one final, nagging uncertainty. Suzie was a big agent, with an established client base. Would she have time for me?
Every response was a glowing review. And that pretty much sealed the deal.
The flame of passion in my chest was back. I wanted to write again. I wanted to take people away from the stress of the day. I wanted to make more people smile, and laugh, and tear up, and forget they were reading. I didn’t need a mansion after all.
I only needed to make people happy.
Of course, the two-book deal we cinched with Viking Books at Penguin Random House was nice, too. 😉
Part 6 – The Conclusion to My Essay of Many Words
I’m not going to say I completely regret starting my querying journey so early. But I will admit that beginning so young was incredibly damaging, mentally and emotionally. At 17, you’re just beginning to make your way into this world. You’re getting your first glimpse of what life is really like. You’re still deeply passionate about some of the things that interested you as a child. Especially your creative endeavors. And you think, “Wow, I could make this my life!”
Only to find that everywhere you turn, doors are being slammed in your face – even when you’re sometimes halfway through them.
I wasn’t prepared, or emotionally mature enough, to deal with that.
I’m young, and so therefore I’m apparently lucky. But youth and experience don’t always have to be at odds with each other. My querying journey started in 2013 and ended in 2020. That’s seven years of trying, over and over, to find my place in the industry. Of watching those around me find agents on their first book – their third book. Of pocketing kindhearted rejections, and sighing at requests to submit future projects, and deleting emails that included words like “Dear Author,” or “subjective,” or “unfortunately.”
People on Twitter now find me to be this querying veteran since I interned at a literary agency. Yes, the internship helped. But a lot of my knowledge came gradually, over time, from personal experience and research. It was never handed to me on a silver platter. I wish it had been. I wish I didn’t have to go looking so hard. I wish I’d known these things from the start.
I’ve dedicated myself to trying to keep other authors from experiencing what I did. The story ends in success, yes. The darkness came with a light at the end of the tunnel. But for years, I staggered around in the darkness, seeking scraps, crying into my knees, starving for any kind of positivity. It still lingers in every email I receive, in every thought of my next project.
I hope to use my presence on Twitter as a guiding light for those still suffering through the same tunnel. So they can see hope, and each other. So, at the very least, they’re not scrambling around in tears and wondering if they’re even headed in the right direction. Maybe I can’t perfect their manuscript, but at the very least, I can teach them the basics of writing a hook and following a reliable formula – of grabbing attention.
If I can make the journey a little less arduous for some people, that’s all I can really ask for.