How I Got My Agent!
Updated: Jan 23
I've been waiting so long to tell you this story.
If you're more interested in just getting the overall stats (I also love them) then please scroll down to the bottom! Otherwise, enjoy my long post because this moment has definitely taken a long time to get here so I'm taking full advantage of it!
I joined Twitter's writing community in August 2016 with my very first finished draft and bucket loads of hope for a grand future in the publishing world. Before then, I'd been working on that story since I was 13. That was a YA high fantasy (which I didn't realize was a YA at the time) and full of so much grandness that newbie writer Elora wasn't ready to handle. Shortly after starting high school, I took a hiatus from writing books (but always telling stories in some capacity) until the spark of inspiration started again at the end of my high school career. By then I knew what I wanted. To get serious about my publishing journey and eventually get a book deal. How little I knew going into this journey and how much I'd grow as a writer -- and person.
I brought into the community my YA high fantasy in 2016, believing I would get an agent and book deal within like...two years *flips head back and laughs.* Although I eventually trunked that story (shout out to those who remember it), it gave me the opportunity to start some amazing friendships (shout out to Debra Spiegel and Alex Rogers) that continue to thrive and taught me an important lesson I'd continue to face -- resilience and humility. Thanks to Twitter, I learned about a bunch of different writing contests, some of which don't exist anymore, but two that are amazing mentorships: Pitch Wars and Author Mentor Match. I entered both in 2017 (AMM twice) as well as two other contests that year making a grand total of five tries to writing contests.
I didn't get into any of them.
Then I tried querying that book, the first time I'd queried ever (a big yikes there) and sent out twenty queries. Every single one was a form rejection. That may not be a big number, but after getting only forms or no responses at all, my intuition -- which I rely heavily on -- told me this wasn't the one.
So after some truly heartbreaking moments where I felt like I was grieving a dead loved one, I trunked that YA high fantasy and moved onto a new idea that had rooted itself in my mind in August of 2017. This story was going to take me on a journey into new areas of my writing career and myself as a person that I didn't know at the time. This story was a YA contemporary fantasy about four teens in a small town overrun with a curse and two feuding witch families.
Original Art Commissioned from Caleb Hosalla
It let me explore deep emotions within myself as I struggled with personal grief of final goodbyes and growing pains. I fell in love with these characters (I still do) and because of them, I was introduced to a whole other branch of writers that would become some very dear friends (shout out to the whole Toronto Writer Crew, Cat Bakewell, Carey Blankenship, Sarah Rowlands, Chantel Pereira, Kathleen Nguyen, Kelly Powell, Amelie Wen Zhou, Shelby Mahurin, Isabel Ibanez, Rachel Greenlaw, Allison Saft and so many others omg). I also learned a whole lot about what it means to rewrite, because I rewrote this story from the ground up three times. It was painful at times, but I loved this world and story so much that I was okay with it. With the way this story and characters came to me one summer day in a graveyard and the feeling I got from it, I was sure this would be the one.
Well, I entered more contests again. This time it was 2018 and after working my butt off to prepare, I entered Pitch Wars a second time with my graveyard book. I didn't get in again, but I received two full requests out of four mentors -- already a huge improvement over my history. When I didn't see my name on the mentees list, I felt the pain, then built up my hope again and entered Author Mentor Match a third time. I got requests, but again, didn't get in.
With all these contests I've tried, I always had a friend get in instead. Sometimes this is a given, but I started to laugh at how starkly obvious this pattern was. I couldn't understand why literally every single contest I'd tried (and the grand total was eight) no one wanted my work. Honestly, I still don't really get it, but I was lucky enough to garner some more friendships through most of those contests and cheer on those friends who got in.
Cheering on other friends while struggling to succeed yourself comes back to that resilience and humility lesson again. I've been blessed with so many wonderful friendships over the years and so so many of those friends are superstars who have gone on to do phenomenal things in the children's publishing world. I'm so honoured to know them and support them, but through this all, I'd have dark moments where I wondered why it wouldn't happen for me. Comparison truly is the thief of joy and I'm still working on it. Though as I write this post, I realize how important it was for me to push through the envy, pain, sadness and be there whole heartedly for my friends to celebrate them. When you're there for friends, the true ones will be there for you in return when it's your time to shine. I got here because of my own perseverance and hard work, but also because of my friends raising me up to get to this moment.
In March 2019, I participated in #Pitmad for my graveyard book after working long and hard on making it the best (I thought) it could be. I received so many agent likes and support from my friends that I was one of the top pitches for the day. I left that day feeling like nothing could stop me; I was ready to send out those queries, get the full requests and get that offer I'd be dreaming of for so long. Over the course of several months this past year, I queried it and had a great request rate! I was sure this book would be my success story.
But then the rejections started coming in. Most were personalized and nice about it, saying how lovely my writing style was and the concept was amazing, but they couldn't connect. Something about the story past the first chapter, query and concept, wasn't working. I was so disheartened that no one loved my graveyard kids and though I knew it had potential, I hadn't gotten there yet. So after talking to some friends (shout out to Alex Sturtz and Alex Rogers) and listening to my intuition, I pulled my remaining fulls in October and shelved that story for the time being to focus on another idea that had taken form at the beginning of the year.
In comes my YA mafia thriller.
Now, I started this mafia story back in March 2019 when I first started querying my graveyard book. The whole write something new to distract yourself sort of thing. This book and it's two main characters strutted into my brain and told me to sit down and write them or else. Funny enough, this idea originally stemmed from an inkling of an idea I'd had when I was 13 that I wrote one page of then promptly gave up on it. At that point ten years ago it was a YA historical romance ala Beauty and the Beast but with a rich girl and criminal dude. I'd been reminiscing over it one evening after class when I got the thought, "What if the rich girl wasn't helpless? And she had a criminal background as well?"
It was like I unlocked a door that had been firmly shut until then. The ideas poured into my mind and the entire story quickly fell into place. Two rival mafia families in present day New York. Tasha, the ambitious, confident mob daughter ready to pin a gun to a man's head while wearing the latest Prada Galleria. Leo, the indifferent rich boy hiding his soft heart behind a arrogant mask.
I've learned to be a plotter over the years, so I wrote out a very detailed outline of this book and got the first draft written by August 2019. Again, August. I truly am a person full of patterns. From there I thought, what's one last try at Pitch Wars? So I polished and got the second draft ready for my third try at the contest (shout out to Jessica Froberg). Feeling so good about this book. I knew I had something special in a different way than my graveyard book had been.
Can you guess what happened?
So I didn't get in. Actually, I didn't get any requests this time! After receiving two the year before, this was strange to me and disheartening. I was sure I'd have some interest in my mafia story! So, like, what the hell?
Well, turns out, I did have interest, but it came in the form of my beta readers. During the wait of Pitch Wars, I had four absolutely lovely people (shout out to Trisha Kelly, my name-twin Elora Ditton, Jessica James and Aneeqah N) who read the book and not just gave me great feedback, but showed such genuine, intense enthusiasm for the book that I had never had before. Sometimes as writers we worry that any positive feedback we get from friends or betas is just them being nice. But this time when the voice of self doubt tried to make me think that way again, I knew instinctively it wasn't the case. I took their notes and got to work, coming out with a story in November that I was ready to scream from the rooftops about how good it was. By now I was only at draft three, but with this story, it all fell into place so quickly, that I knew I didn't need to rewrite it or work from the ground up as I'd had to do for my previous stories.
So I prepared for #Pitmad once again. As with the writing contests, this was attempt 7+ at a pitching event over the course of my writing journey (I don't quite remember how many anymore). Before this, I had sent out some test queries a week or so back to see what interest my mafia book might get. My inbox was excruciatingly quiet save for a request or rejection here and there. But I focused on #Pitmad and after getting help from some friends (shout out to Lyndall Clipstone, Jordan Gray, Emily Thiede, Emma Theriault, Tauri Cox, Cyla Panin and Trisha Kelly again), I had my pitches and materials ready.
My pitch went live. In the end it didn't get as much love as my graveyard book did, but popularity can't always sell your story. I sent queries off to the agents I wanted to query from pitmad, including an agent that wasn't on my radar until now. Her name was Sabrina Taitz at William Morris Endeavour. I knew about how prestigious the agency was and though I couldn't find much on Sabrina, I went for it. Well, I'm so glad I did!
Sabrina requested my full the same day - my first full request! - and I sent it to her right away. After squeeing in my friends DMs, I went about my weekend constantly refreshing my email wondering when (or if lol) I'd hear back. That was December 5th. On December 8th, when I was on route back to Toronto from my parents place, I happened to refresh my email once more.
And there it was, Sabrina's response.
Unlike what I'd read time and again for full rejections, this time she WASN'T kindly passing, but loved the book and wanted to jump on the phone with me. My eyes bulged out of my face and I immediately called my mom tell her the news. My phone started blowing up when I told some friends. The ones who'd been supporting me for so long, cheering me on no matter how down I was, and always believing in me were freaking out at the news. It was happening!
Now there was a 9/10 chance it was an offer, but I didn't want to get so worked up in case it was an R&R as that sometimes happens. So I scheduled a call with Sabrina the next morning - December 9th. Let me tell you, I was a mess all night. I woke up four times with anxiety freaking out over this call, but somehow I made it to the morning.
I braced myself for what could potentially be an R&R, but quickly into the call, Sabrina made it clear she was offering me representation!! I had an OFFER!
We talked for 45 minutes. Aneeqah was in my DMs freaking out as time went by and I hadn't gotten off the phone yet to tell her what happened -- which could only be a good sign! Aneeqah, you were so right to be excited about how long it was taking me. Sabrina and I clicked right away, her ideas for revisions and the book overall aligning with mine in every possible way. But I had to do due process and set a deadline for the 20th to let other agents considering know. Sabrina was gracious enough to offer waiting until January, given the holidays, but I had such a good feeling about her that I was willing to take the risk of having a shorter deadline and the general busy time of the year in publishing.
I sent out all my offer emails and got a wave of responses. But this time I hadn't had a chance to query very many agents at all before I got my offer! This was a odd place to be in, but I wasn't complaining. Most were passes with a few fulls and then the waiting began.
I always had fantasies of receiving multiple offers and being the shiny toy everyone wanted. I was in for another lesson though, because in the end and even after two almost counter offers, I had Sabrina's offer, a bunch of step asides and a handful of no responses (boo to the no responses). So the fantasy in my head wasn't working out as I'd hoped, but I was used to that at this point. But even with every pass I received, I was researching more about Sabrina, talking to her clients and colleagues, my resolve kept strengthening to go with her. I had one offer, but it was an amazing offer with someone who got my book and wanted to push to aim high for her career and mine. And that's what matters at the end of the day.
I told Sabrina I'd wait until 5pm on the 20th, but I was so full of excitement to make our partnership official that I emailed her early and accepted! Sending that email and getting Sabrina's response was such a wonderful, surreal moment for me that I will remember forever. My ticket had been called in the waiting room of writers and Sabrina was the one to choose it.
So here it is, I'm filled with so much gratefulness and joy to say my books and I are now represented by Sabrina Taitz at William Morris Endeavour!! I wrote in a 2019 blog post about wanting to achieve my goal of getting an agent this year and I've just come under the wire to completing it! I'm thrilled to be working with such a driven, enthusiastic agent and cannot wait to see where 2020 and the rest of the new decade take me. It took ten years -- from 13 year old Elora dreaming big dreams -- to 23 year old Elora who's still continuing dreaming those big dreams, but this time with the knowledge that with a a heavy dose of perseverance, support, creativity and a dash of luck, anything is possible.
Cheers to this journey!
Now here are my stats! I loved reading other's stats on their querying journey, but honestly, they only give a smidge of the history behind them. (This is also me trying to get those who scrolled down to only read the stats to read my whole post, this took me a long time to write - and live - dammit!)
First Query Round for YA High Fantasy (2017) - 20 Queries, 0 Requests, 0 Offers
Second Query Round for YA Contemporary Fantasy (2019) - 71 Queries, 25 Requests, 0 Offers
Third Query Round for YA Thriller (2019) - 31 Queries, 7 Requests, 1 Offer
Total - 122 Queries & one thrilled writer!