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My First Meeting With Literary Agents

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I won’t bury the lead here. I had my first meeting with living, breathing literary agents this week! I’m still buzzing with excitement. It was a huge day for me personally, professionally, and creatively. It was hot and I was nervous but I still dove in headfirst. Did I experience the thrill of rejection or the agony of acceptance? Wait, I got that backwards. Read on for more!

The event is called the Query Roulette. It’s the biggest annual fundraiser for the NYC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). Agents donate their time in ten-minute chunks to meet with authors who want feedback on their work. As one member of the WNBA described, it’s pretty much speed dating for writers. And it’s something I probably never would’ve done by myself. Thankfully, one of my best friends is a member of the WNBA and he tipped me off about the event. After some much-needed goading, cajoling, and egging on, I made a donation for a handful of sessions.

The event was originally planned for March. I got on the train right after work as that massive blizzard was descending on the northeast. I didn’t think they were going to cancel. But the weather was so bad the WNBA had to reschedule for mid-June. I was already halfway to NYC when I got the email.

After mentally preparing myself for days beforehand, I was disappointed. I was ready to meet those agents, put myself on the line, and get professional feedback. The anticlimax of it all was frustrating, to say the least. Looking back on it now, the blizzard was a stroke of serendipity. When the Query Roulette got pushed back, I was gifted extra months to do another draft of my manuscript and work through my query letter. I walked into the rescheduled event this week with pretty decent query letter (as opposed to the utter crap I had months ago).

Hilariously enough, there’s a heat wave in the northeast this week. I took the train into Penn Station, sweating instead of shivering. My friend and I walked the same streets as our blizzard adventure. We ended up finding seats under a tree near the Hudson and shot the shit while gazing out over the water. The quiet spot gave me some time to reflect. I never thought the fat kid sitting in the back of the classroom, the one writing word after word in his notebook, would end up there. I had a chance to step outside myself and look back on how far I’d come. I still have a long way to go, but sometimes you need to give yourself credit. Pat yourself on the back. It does wonders for your mental health.

My stomach was in knots as my friend and I took the subway uptown. We arrived early at the venue because he had to help set up. I met with a few other WNBA members and volunteers, laughing and making small talk to ease my nerves. It was going to happen so soon. The event I’d been waiting for since January was less than an hour away. I sat in the lobby and, perhaps masochistically, read the query letters I’d printed out. I was expecting the worst. I was waiting for the agents to eviscerate my query and my concept, to tell me it’s a waste of time, to tell me to start from scratch. I was ready. But damn, I was still nervous.

Then, agents started filing in and it all became real. Other authors joined me in the lobby. I forced myself to chit-chat. I was there to network, after all. The people I met were very nice and, even better, fellow writers who knew exactly what I was going through. They understood the unique mix of fear and excitement that comes with querying and meeting with agents. We commiserated over the difficulties of finding a good title, of spending days and months revising the same words, of narrowing our massive stories into sharp pitches. I was among friends, I realized. Writing is lonely, but only if you don’t put yourself out there and meet other authors.

And that’s probably my biggest take away from the event. You have to put yourself out there, brace for impact, and learn as much as you can. I realized this again when the emcee called my timeslot. My friend offered me a quick “good luck,” and then I was on my own. I weaved through the crowded, narrow hallway and found the agent running my first session. From that point on, I decided to stop being nervous. My work has been ripped apart over and over again. This wasn’t going to be any different. I sat across from her. I introduced myself. I handed her my query.

This happened two more times during the next hour. Over the course of my three sessions, I got a ton of helpful feedback on my query. Ten minutes is too short for a deep dive into the meat of a query letter, but all three agents had excellent line edits and housekeeping tips. The event was less workshop (what I was expecting) and more pitch session/exploratory meeting. The agents read my query and then asked specific questions to fill in the gaps. They asked about my inspiration, my protagonist’s dirty secret, and more. Honestly, it was easy. All I had to do was speak passionately about this thing I’d been working on for years. As I’ve said before, that’s an important part of being an artist. Regular people and industry professionals are always going to ask questions about your art. You should be prepared to gush about your current project at any time.

And, in a truly dramatic flair, the best part happened last. My final session was with an agent I wasn’t even supposed to meet. Due to some author cancellations, she had unfilled slots later in the night. Obviously, I pounced on the opportunity for more (and free) feedback. Turns out, this final agent wanted to read my book after we talked. Otherwise known as a partial manuscript request, she liked my pitch enough that she now wants to see how it works on the page. It’s my first partial request ever.

The best part of the best part is I never would’ve met her if the blizzard didn’t force the WNBA to reschedule. And even if I somehow sat with her on the original date, my query was shit back then and she wouldn’t have been as interested. I won’t say “everything happens for a reason,” but I will say every roadblock is an opportunity further down the line. Every problem is a chance to push yourself to form better solutions.

Overall, it was a great night. I saw old friends, made new ones, and took my first steps into the wide world of traditional publishing. I put myself out there. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and learned a lot. Days like that make all the late and lonely nights worth it. Work hard and demand reward from the universe. Believe in your story. Don’t take no for an answer, but graciously take feedback.

Now, I start querying in earnest. I’ll be sending out five letters at a time. I have a list of around fifty agents, so that means ten rounds of anxiously checking my phone every time an email comes in. I’ll keep you all updated!

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