I’ve read these posts numerous times. Chances are, you’ve read a post like this countless times, too. And you wonder, every single time, will it be me, next? Is that even possible?
At least, that was my thought process every time I read a ‘how I got my agent’ post.
But after three manuscripts that inched forward, and a fourth manuscript that seemed to be my everything (with numerous requests and a few R+Rs), I stopped. I’m a religious girl, so I thought those failures were a sign.
Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be a writer.
And for the next few months or years, everything seemed to be pointing in that direction. Every time I sat to write, something else would come up. Every time I tweeted that I was writing, I wouldn’t be able to write. On and on these signs went, yet on and on I kept writing.
I worked on my fifth manuscript for four years. Not four years straight, mind you. But on and off and off and on. In between, I road-tripped to BEA twice, I went to Sri Lanka, I went to Saudi Arabia. I expanded my business from web design to include hand-lettered goodies. We expanded to bookish candles.
In the rare quiet moments, I wrote. I hit 30K, scrapped the thing, and wrote again. I drew a map and changed the setting. I forgot everything I knew about the story, because I was taking oh so long to write it. But there were scenes that had evolved in my head, and when I finally reached them in the manuscript, I bawled because it was happening. It was finally happening.
This manuscript became a series of firsts. It felt like I had never written anything before.
Anyway. You just want to know how I got my agent, yes? Okay.
How long did it take? It took both forever and no time at all.
On the one hand, I can say it took seven years, because it’s been seven years since I wrote the first line in my first manuscript. On the other hand, it took 2.5 weeks and nearly a dozen phone calls in between.
Here’s the scoop. And I’m writing this for both of us — your curiosity and my memories.
So while I had been writing this manuscript (ToD, the YA Arabian fantasy I won’t shut up about on Twitter) for four years, I only started dedicating more time to it after my famous aesthetics tweet in March of 2016 (special thanks to Katie Bucklein for encouraging me to tweet the first time, and for all your words of encouragement in between). That tweet had several literary agents asking for me to send them the finished manuscript. In a daze, I promised I would. Days trickled past, as did weeks, and months.
Until I put my foot down and said this won’t do. I can’t do everything. As soon as the holiday shipping rush for our shop subsided, I sat down and scheduled design projects with generous pockets of time in between. Then I wrote. I finished the thing. On April 12th, I wrote THE END. I sent it off to the amazing Marieke Nijkamp, who devoured it during the weekend. Then I sent it off to Joanna Hathaway who had read through several iterations as I was writing it. I selfishly didn’t let her sleep until she finished reading the entire thing and sent me notes.
I took those notes and edited rigorously. Because I knew, once my design schedule kicked in again, and once Ramadan began, the story would get pushed into the sidelines once more. I wrote my query letter and polished it up with the indispensable help of Rachel and Stephanie Garber.
In the little breaks in between where my brain seized to function, I put together a spreadsheet of agents: the ones who had asked to see it, the ones who had requested during DVpit, and a few who I simply wanted to query.
I had a list of 40. Remember that. Forty queries.
On the morning of June 7th, 2017, after I began the day’s fast (it was Ramadan), I sent out 5 queries. A few friends—and blog posts—suggested sending queries out in batches, which is what I had done with my other manuscripts. But by the end of the day, I had sent out 30. Because by the end of that same day, I had received 11 full requests.
By the end of that week, I had sent out all my queries. All forty were out in the world. And I had 2 rejections and 13 full requests.
I sent out all 13 and waited. Found a typo in one mention of my protagonist’s name. Cringed. And waited.
I know it typically takes weeks, sometimes months, for agents to read. I knew this from posts I had read and from my own experience. Yet I refreshed my inbox several times throughout the week. My leg twitched. My hair turned gray. I re-read the excitement behind every single one of those 13 requests. Breathed. Refreshed.
Six days after sending out my first query, on June 13th, 2017, I had my first offer. I bounded down the stairs to tell my mom, who was in the kitchen, and before I could open my mouth, she asked: WHO OFFERED?! I rushed to my dad and told him I had an offer, and he (a little more clueless on the whole publishing thing), asked: HOW MUCH?! I told my sisters, Asma and Azraa (without whom this manuscript would not exist) and they basically stared at me with ‘why are you surprised’ expressions.
BUT AN OFFER! I HAD ONE! I messaged my friends with keyboard smashing and replied to the agent with calm, professional words.
We set a deadline, and I emailed the other agents. Those 13 requests became 32 requests.
I was in shock. 32 agents wanted to read the story of my heart?
I sent out the 32 and waited.
I received another offer. Then three more. Then two more.
Ten days after my first offer, I had 11 offers. ELEVEN OFFERS. A few of my favorites stepped aside because of time constraints. And how could I blame them? Everything was happening so fast and so many of them were on vacation or in the midst of other work.
I spoke to the agents, I wrote down notes, I listened and blabbered. I had charts that marked how professional they were, how kind they were, how much they loved the story, and how much confidence they had in the story. I stalked their Publisher’s Marketplace profiles, and their twitter profiles. I spoke to their clients.
Suddenly, after fishing for just one yes after years, I needed to say no to ten agents. I needed to reject them.
It was a difficult decision, because I liked so many of them. Sunday, June 25th, 2017 was my deadline and also Eid. It was a day for celebrating, but I had to DECIDE. I sent frantic messages to my friends, plus Ashok Banker and Lee Kelly as I tried to eliminate names.
I called a couple of agents on Deadline Day, and I picked at everything. How did they sound on the phone? Were they confident the book could sell? Did they have that perfect blend of professionalism and personal? How excited were they for this? Did they adore the world and my characters as much as I did?
Some of them crossed off most of those boxes. One of them crossed almost all of those boxes. Another one crossed off ALL those boxes and more.
I spoke to this agent, asked a few more questions. Then blabbered. The convo went a little like this:
Me: So, how do I go about saying I pick you as my agent?
The agent: (laughs) Well, you could start by telling me.
Me: Okay then. I pick you.
The agent, likely wondering what hole I crawled out of: Okay.
The agent: Really?
Me, sputtering: Yes?
And I’m thrilled, beyond thrilled, to say my story continues. That my journey to becoming a published author hasn’t ended, but has expanded. Has gained a new member to its little team.
Friends, I am now represented by the amazing John Cusick of Folio Literary Management!
And now, here’s a little gift for you. A few ToD-inspired gifs!