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How I Got My Agent

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

Querying is hard. I religiously consulted plenty of "How I Got My Agent" blog posts even before I started querying, which is why it's such a relief that I get to be at a place to write this post—in about 1.5 months of querying, no less! But before I go about sharing my miracle querying experience, I need to talk a bit about my experience in writing, how I approached querying, and learning to reset my expectations and goals. These are all very important to know more about how I queried agents, I promise.


(But if you want the long story short you can, of course, skip to the "My Querying Journey" section.)


How I Got into Writing

I started dabbling in creative writing at about nine years-old. But they were all pet projects and I never really thought about becoming a writer. Being an Asian meant that my future prospects were to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer or accountant, and any deviation from those roads meant that I was a failure.


Then I discovered Wattpad.


At that time, when I was 15, I was undergoing depression from school life. The pressure to excel in both academics and co-curiccular activites was taking its toll, and I turned to reading to console myself. The books I read sparked ideas within me that bubbled and demanded to be told, and the grief and hurt I was experiencing spilled into what would become my third book. Writing became an outlet for catharsis; something to help me reconcile with myself. And like any dumb teenager, I posted the story on Wattpad.


It blew up in the fantasy community.


The number of reads climbed from 10K to 100K, and went on to surpass 1 million. Notifications and comments were pouring in every day. Everybody loved my book, gushing over how they related to the characters and found the story to be well-thought and fleshed out. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Book #3 would receive the love and attention it did. It was only after then that I began to consider becoming an author. I loved writing, and I loved sharing my stories with people, and I loved it when they said that they resonated with my story. Plus, I was successful even on Wattpad, so the road to becoming an author was going to be clear, right?


Of course, like in a story, this is where it all went wrong.



How I Fell Flat on My Face (a.k.a. Redefining My Purpose for Writing)

I finished another book after I graduated from high school, right before I was about to move to a local public boarding school for my pre-university studies. My Wattpad bestie—who is coincidentally a Malaysian—was also beginning to query her book, and in a sense she gave me my first glimpse of the publishing industry. Problem was, both of us were writing Euro-centric stories with all-white casts, and as the #diversevoices and #ownvoices movements took off, suddenly there was no space for our books anymore. My friend rewrote her entire book from scratch to be more inclusive, but agents still did not find it “diverse” enough. (One day I’ll write about the problems with policing the stories from people of colour, but that’s a whole other topic.) In contrast, an #ownvoices book she wrote and revised in just under three months quickly got snagged by an agent.


I needed to change the way I wrote books. They needed to be diverse, high-concept, and most importantly, marketable. The previous books I wrote were none of those. I flew into a state of panic. Moving into the public boarding college also meant that I stopped writing for an entire year (imagine a place with no Wi-Fi, no hot water, no clean food, and strict gender separation rules and curfews—yes, I still have no idea how I survived that). I'm also a slow writer, so I knew that it would take at least another two years for me to finish a book.


At some point in time, I started placing deadlines for myself in writing. Get an agent by this age, publish by that age, become a bestselling author—ideally all before I even graduated from university. I was an achiever. Anything I wanted, I would get. If I didn’t get it, I would work my ass off till I got it.


This was the first mistake I made: Basing my self-worth on achievements.


In the year I didn’t write, guilt constantly gnawed at me, even though I was attending classes nearly 9 hours a day and doing so many assignments I often snuck back into my dorm to take a 10-minute nap between classes. My friend was agented. So when I finally moved out from that college and into a university in the capital, I thought I would finally be able to write consistently again.


The first book I wrote during university (a.k.a. Book #5) was a disaster. The book wasn't that bad, but it just wasn't good enough. I wrote and rewrote the book at least four times. I was frustrated. It seemed like the spark I had for writing had disappeared—yet I so desperately wanted to write and get the book right. I did not want it to be good—I wanted it to be perfect. But being young and naïve, I did not understand the notion of “there is no such thing as perfection”.


I was alone, too. During the year I was away from Wattpad, I drifted away from most of my writer friends, and although I’d made a few friends on writing Twitter, I was too painfully shy and embarrassed of my own work to share it with them, even though my book would have probably been a lot of better if I’d gotten feedback from other people.


This was the second mistake I made: Not relying on communities.


You can probably imagine how the story of Book #5 ended. In shelving that book, it felt like some part of me had died. Here I was, with almost 5 years of writing experience, yet with no agent or publications to her name. I felt like a failure. Other writers my age were already agented or NYT bestselling authors. Furthermore, the fact that I was from a non-U.S. country made me feel further alienised—others could attend book events and author signings, while I was all the way on the other side of the world, struggling to break out of the confines of a developing nation. Everything was happening in the West, and I could only watch from the sidelines.


(One day, I will write about the toxicity of youth culture and the unintentional marginalisation of non-U.S./European-based writers, but not now.)


For the next few years, I gave up on writing.


Somewhere deep inside me, I still wanted to write. But I was tired of writing for such a mercurial market. I was angry with myself for not being able to write a bestselling book. And I'm the kind of person who would rather not try at all than risk failing. My Asian community had instilled the principle of “success only, no failure” in my head. It governed my way of life, with every single decision and action questioned of its value. It did not help that my family was dubious of my “hobby” and choice of bachelor’s degree, and the number of times I had to listen to them telling me to “be practical” cut my heart and left scars all over, making me doubt if I should even try to become an author.


It’s important to note that at this point in time, I had not actually made any attempt to get my book(s) in querying shape. I just thought that if my drafts were not perfect, no one would want to read them. Of course, this was not the case. My brain simply assumed all of that.

This was the third mistake I made: Fearing failure.


My Shounen Revival Arc (a.k.a. Learning from My Mistakes)

The years I spent away from writing, while painful, were so, so important, and I would not have traded them for anything else. I moved in with a group of friends from my university who, somehow, saw through my stubbornness and anger and loved me for I am (FYI, I'm still staying with them to this very day). My roommate (who's also my best friend), especially, had to put up with my emotional meltdowns and was with me every step of the way. I gradually unlearned so many things, from basing my self-worth on achievements to not relying on friends, and learned how to do things for myself—not for others’ expectations.


In other words, I learned how to say, “Fuck it.”


Towards the end of my studies, the writing itch overtook me again. It was also towards the end of my studies that the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Needless to say, it was a disastrous time—being cooped up in an apartment with 7 other humans is NOT fun. But we made it work somehow, and in the midst of it all, a story bloomed to life on my laptop.


I got the idea for a story after watching a documentary about the living kumari goddess of the Newar community in Kathmandu, Nepal. The practice fascinated me, and a question popped into my head: What if the girl wanted to remain a goddess forever? Would she scheme her way through? Do whatever it takes to maintain and seize power? The idea seized me and refused to let me go. It had everything I loved: angry, morally grey girls, lots of twists and betrayals, a world steeped in religion and mythology, and no. Unnecessary. Romance. Arcs.


So I decided that I would write this book for myself. Not for others, not to fulfil market tastes—but me. I decided that I would continue writing because I loved writing, and that I would get my stories out on paper (or a Word doc) because I wanted to.


Most importantly, before I started writing it, I promised myself that I would be kind to my writing. That I would not judge my writing and keep myself to strict writing schedules. I would be disciplined, but I would not be angry at myself for writing only a few hundred per words day—or per week, even. It worked, and letter by letter, syllable by syllable, I plodded on.


That was how Book #6, a.k.a. #NepaliWIP on my Twitter posts, was born.

I also dove back into the writing Twitter community, and by some stroke of fate, I found my two bestest CPs (hi Jenny and Amber!!!!!) after we screwed up the courage to talk to each other asides from screaming in the comments section. We clicked on so many levels, and it helped that they were also from Southeast Asia, meaning that they understood a lot of the struggles that I faced as a non-U.S.-based writer and were on Twitter during the times I was awake. They were the ones who also somehow pulled me into the community, and from there on, I made so many writer friends (if you’re reading this, you know who you are and ily). And it was with their help that I got feedback on Book #6 and got it query ready after 3 drafts.


I still had one last hurdle to clear though: my fear of failure.


Like I said at the beginning of this post, querying is hard. It’s scary. You can write THE best book in the world and if the stars don’t align, agents will still pass on it. I’d seen so many horror stories about querying that I developed a fear of the process although I hadn't even gone through it. But I still had my unfulfilled dream of becoming a published author, and getting an agent was the first step down that route.


Then I reminded myself that I was writing because it was part of me, and if it took 10, 20, or even 50 years to get an agent and become a published author, fuck it. I'm going to do it anyway. My lovely friend on Twitter also recently posted this thread, which I've been thinking about for a long time and find really insightful:


https://twitter.com/ysabellesua/status/1499529332368318471


My Querying Journey (and Learning to Manage Expectations)

Long story short, my journey before querying was very much about learning how to redefine my purpose for writing, understanding the power of community, and getting over my fear of failure. Another thing that was SUPER important while writing and querying was to stop comparing myself to others. Although Twitter was instrumental in helping me get back up on my feet, it was also detrimental to my mental health, especially when everybody only ever seems to have success stories. As I’d learned throughout the years, mindsets are a very powerful tool that can either make you or break you, and so I told myself to keep an open mind—and that if this book didn’t work out, there was always the next I would write.


I sent my very first query at around mid-2021 after participating in #APIpit. As expected, there was nothing but crickets in my inbox for a loooooooong while. But a few weeks after I sent that first query, I received an e-mail saying that I had been accepted into the DVMentor program!!!! I was so, SO excited to work with my mentor for those six months, and I'm still eternally grateful for the opportunity. I quickly sent an e-mail to the agent I queried, who’d requested for a full three months after I sent the query, saying that I was accepted for a mentorship program and would only send her the full in a few months’ time. (Guys, if anything happens, DON’T BE AFRAID TO INFORM AGENTS. They’re more than happy to wait for your MS, I swear.)


Under the mentorship, I completed another draft of the book before my mentor and I decided it was query-ready. Like any self-respecting writer, I researched and prepped extensively (interestingly, I did not do much prep work before I sent out my first query, HA. MISTAKE. Don’t ever do that.). I workshopped my query and synopsis a few times with my mentor and my betas, researched agents, consulted numerous blog posts, and prepared a querying strategy, which was to send an early test batch to fast responders (i.e. agents who responded within 2 weeks) to see if my submission package was getting any bites. I initially planned 4 batches of about 8 agents each, but as my list expanded I tweaked my strategy here and there as well. I also ONLY queried agents that I knew I would be comfortable working with, which is EXTREMELY, EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Yes, I will type that in caps because I feel like this needs to be said more often. DO NOT just “shoot your shot” even if you know that the agent does not represent the genre you write in, has not sold a book for a longass time or just doesn’t seem to jive well with you.


Then my submission package was out into the world. I sent my first query of 2022 in early January, and mentally prepared myself to be in the trenches for the long haul.


A few hours after I sent that query, a full request came in.


If my wonderful CPs and I were to compile all the screaming moments we had in the group chat, we could probably write a whole novel together. At any rate, that fast full request spurred me to send more queries out. The next few weeks were a flurry for me, as fulls and partials came in. I received my fair share of rejections as well, but overall my request rate was sitting at 50%, which was a lot better than I’d expected. I didn’t have to rework my query or opening pages, since I knew that they were getting bites despite the longer word count (108K words for YA Fantasy).


Even with the high request rate though, no one was showing interest in offering representation. Just as quickly as the interest poured in, so did the silence. I had expected agents to take months to get back on fulls, but I was still twiddling my thumbs anxiously and checking QueryTracker almost every night. The agent who requested my full in a few hours eventually passed on the project, and the high of getting requests gave way to dread. So when another agent who’d requested a full sent an e-mail, I opened it and prepared myself for a rejection.


Instead, it turned out to be an offer of rep.


Honestly, at that time, I had just settled into my PhD program and was in the midst of getting a proposal ready for a research grant. I was working late every single night.


In other words, I was a mess. So when I saw the offer of rep, my first reaction was, “Okay.”

It took a few minutes for the news to sink in.


Once it did, it was all frantic screaming in the group chat and running around my apartment and telling my housemates that I had an OFFER OF REP!!! After 1.5 months of querying!!! It was the kind of experience that I’d read in a few blogs and was like, “That must have been such a dream.” Needless to say, the next few days were sheer insanity for me. While finishing up my proposal, I scheduled a call with the offering agent and shot off queries/nudges to the rest of the agents on my list. Since I was barely halfway through my list, I had to suddenly query a LOT of people.


And much like the first two weeks of querying, the full requests came flooding in.


It seemed like the entire universe was miraculously going my way. I hopped on The Call with the offering agent, and it was so thrilling and nerve-wracking. The offering agent was one of the top agents on my list, so when she made the offer of rep I was BEYOND ecstatic. I went away feeling I could see myself working with her in the long haul, and the fact that she’s super communicative made me feel very reassured.


As per protocol, I notified other agents of the offer of rep and gave them the standard two-week deadline. I was buzzing with excitement, even if I was constantly overdosed on caffeine while having only 5 hours of sleep every night (PhD things, you know).


Now here’s where I fall flat on my face again, even AFTER I got my offer of rep. And this is where I am reminding everyone to NOT compare your journey to anyone else’s. Every person’s journey is unique. Celebrate your successes; be happy for others too. Because if you keep comparing yourself to everyone in this industry all you’re going to do is make yourself miserable.


Why am I reiterating this? Well, after I had the first offer of rep, I was buzzing with excitement. I had lots of full requests out, and according to 99% of the “How I Got My Agent” posts out there, most of them had gotten multiple offers of rep. Even though I loved the first agent, the girl who wanted validation and achievement was still somewhere inside me. So I idiotically sat back and envisioned myself having to choose between 5 offers of rep.

Dear reader, that did not happen.


In fact, it was radio silence for me until the very end of the two-week deadline—and by then, it was nothing but rejections, including a few from agents I had hoped to get the chance to work with. Despite the offer on the table, I was dejected. Was my book not good enough? Did my writing suck? Was my offer of rep a fluke? Silly thoughts, but they were very real thoughts, and they were enough to eat into my confidence.


But amidst my wallowing in self-pity, I forgot one of the most important pieces of advice I ever received (courtesy of a Twitter post): It only takes ONE agent to say yes. It only takes one person to believe in you. And I forgot another important detail: this industry is so, so subjective. Trends change; tastes change. Just because agents are not into your book right now does not mean that it sucks. In fact, you can write the best book in the entire world, and if it’s not up to the agent’s tastes, they won’t want to offer rep for it anyway. At the end of the day, it’s not about the number of offers or the request rates—it’s about you and your agent, and what you want to achieve with that relationship.


This brings me back to my earlier statement, where I said to only query agents who you’re comfortable working with. In the case you receive one offer of rep (like me), you can at least be sure that you can sign on with the agent without worries. Save yourself the grief of querying agents with a questionable reputation and agonising over whether to accept their offer. Fortunately, I was happy with the offering agent, and at the end of the two-week deadline, I accepted her offer, and the rest is history!


In conclusion, my journey to getting an agent was a lot about resetting my expectations, unlearning previous mindsets, and being kind to myself. It took a long time to get here, but I'm so grateful for this adventure and all the friends I made along the way, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in store!


For anyone curious about my stats, here they are:

Total queries sent: 47

Full requests: 19

Partial requests: 3 (2 converted to fulls)

Offer of rep: 1

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