• Malia Maunakea

Lessons from THE CALL and How I Got My Agent

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

I am fully aware that my path to Patrice was relatively short in the grand scheme of things. I covered the start of my writing career (if I may be so bold as to call it that) in THIS BLOG POST.

That post ends off in mid-December of 2020, when I learn that I was selected to be Andrea Wang's mentee in our regional SCBWI mentorship. I describe that mentorship HERE.

At the end of December 2020, I learned that I had also been accepted into #WNDB's mentorship program with Alan Gratz as a mentor. I describe the work that we did in revisions and getting the story ready for a brand new Twitter pitch event, #APIpit, HERE.

Here are the pitches I tweeted during APIpit. They got retweeted and commented on more than I could have ever imagined. It was such an exciting day!

I wrote down all of the agents and editors who liked my pitches, then began my research. I created spreadsheets with all the agents who liked, cross-referenced agents who liked my pitches and cross-referenced those with any agents I had already planned to query after watching Alexa Donne's video.

Based on the high level of interest in that pitch event, I thought this first querying round could potentially be my last. I knew I had worked really hard on the manuscript with my mentors, and it was at a place that if an agent didn't like it, they probably never would. Because of this, I veered from the "batches" querying technique and planned one large send-off.

I sent my queries and partials out into the world on Friday, May 7, 2021. Patrice Caldwell was number one on my pre-existing list. She DID NOT participate in APIpit! She was a cold query (meaning I had no referral or "in"), but I really wanted to work with her. I read New Leaf's instructions about a million times. When you submit there, you email a general address and put the agent's name in the subject line. I followed all the rules, triple-checked everything, then hit send. My very first query!

I waited a beat.

Then another.

Then I checked their website again. It stated that I should receive a confirmation email. I refreshed my inbox. Nothing. I reached out to my CPs, asking how long it takes for a confirmation email to arrive. They told me to chill and send out some other queries.

I received confirmation emails for a number of other queries I sent that day and the next. If it was an APIpit request, I typically included that in the subject line or in the referral box of Query Tracker. I didn't add anything special to the cold queries to the agents from my pre-existing list. I knew they might take a while to be responded to, so I was wondering how the timing on everything would work out.

I started receiving requests for fulls from agents who liked my APIpitch and I worried more about Patrice. I texted my mentor, Andrea. She convinced me to wait until Monday to resend because maybe the system was down or something. So I waited. Meanwhile, I worked on completing one final pass-through of my manuscript, trying to catch anything I could before sending the full story out to the world.

On Monday the 10th, I waited as long as I could then sent a second query. At the top of the query I stated:

Please note, this is a duplicate of a query I sent last Friday. I never received a confirmation email, so I am resubmitting in case it got lost in tech somewhere.

I instantly received a confirmation email (woo hoo!) and went back to making those final clean-ups, hoping to mail out my full manuscripts to all the agents who requested it by that Thursday, the 13th. I had no clue which agent I would jive with. I only queried agents I would want to work with, so every time I received a full request I was absolutely over the moon ecstatic, knowing that that agent could potentially be MY agent.

But at the same time, I had major impostor syndrome, remembering that back in October all four Pitch Wars mentors loved my premise and hook, but all four passed on me once they read the full. Both Andrea and Alan, the mentors I did have, signed me on after only having read my first 10 pages. So I really had no idea if the full story was good enough, although it had been totally overhauled since PW.

Patrice requested my full Monday night.

On Thursday the story was as good as it was going to be for this round, so I sent it out to all of the agents who requested it. It was perfect timing because I was heading out of town Friday afternoon for a belated anniversary celebration and hoped that'd take my mind off of checking my inbox a gazillion times.

Nope, that's not how it worked.

Patrice had been very communicative since requesting my full, so when I sent it on Thursday and didn't receive a confirmed receipt, I wondered if it got lost in tech the way my query did. I told myself I'd wait till the next day then email her again to make sure she got it. At 6:28 am I emailed Patrice just to see if she received the full, then I got ready to walk my daughter to school. When I heard the ding of new email at 7:40, I figured it was Patrice confirming receipt. My husband and I were at the park about to take our walk after dropping off our girl and I froze when I read what was in the email. I just handed my phone to my husband because my eyes were swimming and I couldn't understand that she wanted to talk about representation THAT DAY.

She had read my book and shared some specific thoughts and feedback in an email to me in under 24 hours. I was blown away.

When I got on the Zoom call with Patrice later that morning, we talked for about two and a half hours about vision, career strategy, other projects, and more. She told me about her spreadsheets and how she helps each author plot their goals and trajectory and I was totally in love.

But I had to be practical.

Everyone says it is easy to fall in love with the first agent you talk to. That authors should take two weeks to hear back from the other agents they submitted to, as there may be a better fit there.

First of all, the fact that I was fortunate enough to have numerous agents request my full felt like a dream. And I am a rule follower and wasn't sure what was "normal" in agenting, so I frantically sent out notices to all the other agents I had queried notifying them of the offer of rep before I left town for the weekend.

I received requests for fulls from agents that afternoon and the next day. Starting on Monday the 17th I started setting up more calls with interested agents. I also spoke with more of the team at New Leaf, some of Patrice's clients, and sent Patrice questions as I thought of them.

I had THE CALL with some amazing agents. Here's what I learned:

  1. When the agent wants to set up the call, you can ask to have it on Zoom/video call. For me it is easier to understand the other person if I can see them.

  2. Feel free to ask agents if they are okay with you recording the call so you don't have to frantically take notes and can be more present.

  3. If you use a planning/outlining board, it doesn't hurt to have it behind you. It makes for a good conversation piece about your other projects.

  4. The agents I spoke with all wanted to know about other projects and ideas I have in the works. So if your first book doesn't get you an agent, don't worry! It is helpful to have others to talk about! And if your first book does get you a call, congratulations and hopefully you have other thoughts in mind that you started on when working on revisions/querying.

  5. Just like you research agents, they research you. If you have a website or blog, they may read it. I had multiple agents talk to me about my #WNDB post and how they have suggestions for more changes to the beginning of my story. If you recently commented on Twitter that you have a new book idea, they might bring that up. Be aware of your online presence!

  6. Have your list of questions ready for them. One agent I spoke with opened with asking me what my questions for them were. Thank you Alexa Donne again for this fantastic list and corresponding video. Watch that video before you start querying, just in case things happen more quickly than expected.

  7. If you get to the end of the call and aren't completely sure if they are actually offering representation, ask! I did this on my very first call with Patrice. We got to the end and she asked what my timeline was and I was like, " this an offer of rep?" She laughed and said it was and that she is bad at that part. Agents are nervous too! Ask questions, discuss next steps and timelines!

  8. Every agent thinks their agency is the best. Makes sense, right? Of course they'd want to work with an agency they love. But the interesting thing is that agencies operate differently. New Leaf, for example, has an in-house foreign rights and film rights team. Some other agencies doesn't. Agents from both firms like the way their firm operates and will let you know why it is better. And both ways have pros and cons. Do what makes sense for you, but ask all the questions.

  9. Every agent I spoke with had different visions and ideas for my story. EVERY. ONE. I am grateful for this peek behind so many curtains because I do truly see how subjective this industry is. I received totally contradicting feedback on pacing (but pretty uniform feedback on needing more character development in the beginning).

  10. There are a lot of amazing agents out there. If you do your research and only query agents you really want to work with and you get multiple offers you will be faced with a really hard choice. Don't get me wrong, you are totally privileged to be in that position, but that doesn't mean it is an easy place to be. Make a pros and cons list. Talk to your CPs. Talk to a trusted advisor. I got my mom involved as a sounding board. Go back to what your career goals are. You should definitely have career goals, even if they are vague, in your head because you want a partner that can get you there.

It was a really full, exciting week of phone calls and scheduling. By the end of that weekend I knew my mind was made up. I wanted to work with Patrice. But I still had 5 days to go and a number of fulls out. I asked Patrice if we could move our call up from Thursday to Tuesday, due to other commitments at the end of the week.

Patrice agreed and we chatted. I asked her more clarifying questions, and she made me feel more sure of my decision with every response. I told her I wanted to work with her, but was concerned about ending the 2 week notice period 3 days early. She understood, and said she'd lost out on other authors by not acting quickly enough. Basically, if my mind was made up then it didn't make sense to waste anyone's time setting up calls and going through the motions. I felt awful, but it made sense. I spent the rest of the day emailing agents.

Then I felt like a huge weight had been lifted and I could really get excited. I danced a hula I'd been practicing since I started writing LEI AND THE FIRE GODDESS. It was choppy and rusty, but I did it.

That's my story! Cold query, slush pile dreams can come true. I am so excited about this next chapter of my writing career. Patrice and I will get to work on whatever revisions she thinks I should do, then maybe we will be going on submission later this year! We shall see how that goes.

Any questions, drop them below. I am so so thankful for all of the support I have had to get to this point. Find your writing community. When you finish a story and are ready to query, start writing the next thing.

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