I HAVE AN AGENT!

by Kayla Whaley

The title says it all, or most of it anyway. I HAVE AN AGENT! I am officially an AGENTED WRITER-TYPE PERSON! It honestly still doesn’t feel real. Not to be too cliché, but I keep expecting to find out someone drugged me with an experimental hallucinogen and my trip involved career advancement instead of bloodthirsty unicorns or whatever.

So, how did this happen? Mostly in the usual way, but I’ll give you the whole story anyway. Just in case you’re interested.

This doesn’t start with me as a child dreaming of the day I’d publish a book. I didn’t grow up scribbling stories or daydreaming about characters and adventure and magic. Beyond a few (truly horrendous) fanfics in high school, I didn’t write for fun. There are a few reasons for that, some of which I’m still parsing out, but the big one was that it never occurred to me to try.

Not until college, when my writing-major BFF suggested I take a creative writing elective. I figured it might be a fun way to spend three credit hours, but didn’t think too much of it. COLOR ME SURPRISED when I discovered, wait a minute, I’m really really really into this. Between that class and another one I took later, I also figured out I might have a knack for this whole stringing words together thing.

I kept writing, but I wasn’t doing it in any serious way. I toyed with the idea of writing a novel, and I wrote maybe 5,000 words on two different ideas before moving on. I was getting a political science degree! I was going into a nonprofit master’s program! I wasn’t A Writer.

Until halfway through said master’s program when I realized, no, wait a minute, I absolutely am a writer. Not only that, but it’s what I want to do for my career.

After graduating, I was accepted to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in San Diego. I’ve talked at length about the experience before, but suffice it to say this was the single greatest boost to my writing up to that point. Not only because of all that I learned and the people I met, but because it solidified my previously shaky confidence in my dreams and abilities.

A few months after I got home from those intense six weeks, I decided I was finally going to write a novel. I started it in November 2014 and by January 1, 2015, I had a finished draft of a middle grade contemporary. I sent it to my betas, revised through February, sent it to them again, and did one more smaller revision in early April.

And then I started querying. I sent out my first batch at the end of April. My first two responses came less than a week later within an hour of each other, and they were both full requests! That was more than a little unexpected.

Also unexpected? The terrifying and painful health stuff that hit me in June. Suffice it to say that I was out of commission for the entire summer. I didn’t send out any more queries, and when the (really very lovely) rejections on the fulls came in, I couldn’t quite bring myself to care. When you suddenly can’t eat anything and you realize you’ve been dealing with depression for months on top of that? Querying becomes significantly less of a concern.

But I eventually got feeling better and I started sending out more queries. I got more and more full requests, along with some more wonderful rejections. (Seriously, personal rejections are the greatest gifts.) I didn’t query systematically, though. I kept a spreadsheet, but I didn’t update it as regularly as I should’ve. I didn’t send out planned batches of queries so much as periodic, spur-of-the-moment ones. I did my research on everyone, of course, but I did it in a spread out, unorganized way. A lot of times, I’d see an agent tweet something that made me think they’d be a good fit and go from there.

So when I saw Beth Phelan was hosting a query contest for diverse writers on MLK Day, I immediately researched her interests. Lo and behold, she wanted middle grade contemporary, and my particular flavor of it, too! I honestly don’t know how I’d missed her before this. I’d looked into The Bent Agency and even queried other agents there, but somehow Beth had slipped past me.

I queried her on that Monday, MLK Day. Something like an hour later she requested the full! This was super exciting, but I’d had enough “I really like it but I’m not the right fit” rejections on fulls by this point to know not to get my hopes up. Plus, since she promised personal feedback to everyone who entered, I didn’t expect her to read the manuscript anytime soon. I settled in to wait with more caution than optimism.

Wednesday night, I woke up and checked my phone for the time. It was almost 1am and I had an email from Beth. I knew such a fast response had to mean a rejection, but I felt a weird flutter of hope regardless. I opened the email. Read the email.

It wasn’t a rejection. It was an offer.

I legitimately didn’t know how to react. You have to understand I was still half-asleep. This could SO EASILY have been a really cruel dream, but I kept staring at the email and it didn’t go away. When I woke up the next morning (although, let’s be real, I didn’t get much sleep), it was still there. She really wanted to be my agent!

We talked that afternoon, and it was perfect. She fully understood the story, the characters, the themes, everything. I could tell her edit suggestions would make the book even stronger, and I honestly wanted to start working on revisions right then. But I told her I’d get back to her in a week.

Nothing about the next week felt real. I think my brain was experiencing so many feels–excitement, fear, anxiety, euphoria, disbelief–that it shut down entirely and refused to process any feels at all. I spent a few days in a haze, not a bad one, but a haze nonetheless. All the agents who still had my full started responding, saying they loved it, but they’d step aside for the greater interest.

I talked with Beth again and it just made me even more sure that she was The One. When I hung up, all I wanted was to sign with her as soon as I possibly could.

And this morning, sign is exactly what I did!

I am so honored and thrilled to say that I’m now represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency! I can’t wait to start this next phase of my career with her. Time to get started.

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