With all the scary, anxiety-inducing world events currently taking place, it’s wonderful to have something to celebrate. I am so thrilled to announce that Sarah Taylor, who was my Pitch Wars mentee in 2017, signed with literary agent Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong Literary Agency!! Sarah is a delightful writer and person, and I hope everyone will get a chance to read her heartfelt YA novel one day soon! Below, she tells the story of her journey to signing with an agent.
Finding an agent is one of the most challenging steps to becoming a published author. Not only does it take lots of hard work and persistence, it also requires serendipitous timing and a lot of luck! For me, the process took several years.
While I’ve written in sporadic bursts throughout my life, I only began writing seriously about ten years ago—when I wrote a book with a scattered plot that I could never quite tie into a structured novel. Sensing that I needed to improve my story-telling skills, I began reading books and blogs on crafting a novel.
Then, about five years ago, I started a new book, which I drafted in only a few months. I completed a round of revisions and decided to start querying literary agents. As a novice writer, it can be hard to know when your novel is ready, and mine wasn’t. I suspect this is pretty common—in retrospect I can see that my manuscript needed more work, but at the time, I didn’t have the experience to realize that.
I received a few manuscript requests (just enough to keep me encouraged) and a lot of rejections. As time passed, I worked hard on improving the query letter I sent out to agents and on revising my manuscript. I also utilized the critique skills of numerous agents by doing a “first pages” critique and several short critique meetings, which were facilitated by the writing and publishing website, Manuscript Academy. Those meetings helped me to acquaint myself with reputable literary agents while also improving my writing skills.
Eventually, I decided to call it quits on the manuscript I’d been polishing. But, as a last-ditch effort to make my manuscript publishable, I decided to enter a revision contest called Pitch Wars. I crossed my fingers and toes, submitted to Pitch Wars, and spent several weeks waiting in anxious expectation.
I think my heart stopped beating for a minute when the “Welcome to Pitch Wars!!!” email from my new mentor, Susan Gray Foster, arrived in my inbox. While Pitch Wars was stressful and involved lots of deadlines, working with Susan was a dream! Her experience as a book coach gives her a great editorial eye and a good instinct for story. She helped me develop a new subplot, give my manuscript a much stronger ending, craft a concise pitch for the agent showcase, and land on a new title. And her detailed line edits were always spot-on!
By the end of Pitch Wars, my manuscript was a thousand times better. I sent the manuscript off to agents who had requested during the contest and also started querying again. The rejections rolled in slowly, but I also got complimentary comments from agents and two requests to revise and resubmit (known as an R&R). I could tell I was getting closer! Inspired, I buckled down and completed two more rounds of intense revisions, both of which took several months.
Then, one evening in January—about three years after Pitch Wars—it finally came: the email I’d been waiting for. I think I read that email a hundred times, because I couldn’t quite believe my eyes! It was an email from the agent who’d read an early version of my manuscript and who’d encouraged me to revise it again. This time, she said she’d loved my manuscript and that she wanted to set up a phone call.
I had a great chat with the agent, Alyssa, and I signed with her about a week later. I had followed Alyssa’s career online from afar and was always impressed with what a tenacious advocate she is for her clients.
Now, I’m in the process of getting ready to go on submission to editors at publishing houses and also outlining a potential sequel for my manuscript. I’m excited and grateful, and I know I couldn’t have done it without Susan’s constructive and kind critiques, her thoughtful analysis, and her love for my manuscript. The path to publication isn’t an easy one, and I’m so grateful to have a friend and ally in Susan and a new advocate in Alyssa!
Follow Sarah on twitter: @s_taylor7