How I got my agent

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy . . . this could take a while. You see, I’ve kept my writing under wraps for several years. For a long time, only my husband and kids knew I’d decided to write children’s novels. I wasn’t trying to be secretive, it’s just, well, you know, imposter syndrome. That little voice in my head that said you can’t do this.

Well, I did. Through doubt and uncertainty, small wins and big losses, and many late nights spent writing, I kept going. And now I’m represented by an incredible literary agent, Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, Inc. in New York City. Together we will work to get the books I write into bookstores, libraries, and readers’ hands. It’s been a long journey, and it’s only just begun.

The Quick Version

In October of 2019 I sent out my first query for The Spirit of Rose Hill Island. It’s a novel for middle grade readers set in the late 1800’s that incorporates Scottish folklore, including a deadly water horse known as a kelpie. It was my third completed novel, and the second I’ve queried.

Over the course of nine months I sent 50 queries to literary agents before receiving an offer of representation, which quickly turned into multiple offers. I signed with Christa given her 10+ years of experience as a literary agent as well as her enthusiasm for my book and future writing career.

My Query Stats:

Queries sent: 50

Rejections: 29

No response: 14

Full requests: 7

R&Rs: 3

Here’s How This Really Went Down

Before I signed with Christa, I wrote three full books (as well as several partials) over the course of more than three years. I read many books on the craft of writing, listened to countless podcasts, and read hundreds of blog posts. I found other (amazing) writers to swap work with. They read my books and offered advice, and I revised some more.

I sent queries out to literary agents and received many, many rejections, as well as some words of encouragement. There were times I felt discouraged, but I never felt like giving up. I enjoyed writing too much to quit. It gave me a creative outlet I hadn’t had in years, as well as something that was all “mine.”

My first manuscript was a YA historical I wrote and then re-wrote and revised for over a year. It received some attention from agents, but never an offer, but that was okay. I took every morsel of feedback I received and worked to make it better, even though I knew it was unlikely to be published. I was learning a new skill, and like any new skill it takes time and effort to perfect. That manuscript taught me so much about writing and the publishing industry.

My second manuscript was my first foray into writing Middle Grade. I wrote it for my two middle-grade-aged kids, who helped with the concept. It was fun and quirky, and I loved writing it, but after it was finished and we’d all had a good laugh, I decided to set it aside. I could’ve worked to polish it, then sent it to agents for consideration, but it wasn’t a book my heart loved. I decided that if I was going to put in the work needed to query and then hopefully have a book published, I wanted it to have the classic feel of the books I grew up reading.

My third manuscript, and the book that got me my agent, was the kind of book my heart loved. Classic and historic, with mystery, magic, and folklore. I wrote it for middle grade, which was something I’d loved about my second manuscript. I loved it, and it felt like it could be “the one.”

I worked with many other writers to polish it (thank you, awesome critique partners!), then started sending it to agents. Rejections rolled in, and I began to doubt myself, but I also received some feedback. Several agents liked it, but there were things about it that needed work. Their advice was gold. I took it and rewrote, revised, and polished some more.

I also joined a group of writers (hello Write Squad!) and more writers read it and offered advice. I worked on it some more (too many revisions to count) and sent it to more agents. I entered it into a couple of Twitter pitch contests, and quite a few agents “liked” it and requested to see my query. I was getting somewhere.

Then three R&Rs (Revise & Resubmits) came within a couple of weeks of each other. That’s three agent rejections, with offers to read again if I made their suggested changes. That feedback was gold. I stopped querying and spent several months revising.

During that time, the Coronavirus hit the U.S., and the publishing world (which is based primarily in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. at the time) came to a halt. My life did, too. My kids were doing school at home, and we were in lockdown in our house. All the momentum I’d built with my book died in a matter of days. I took several weeks off writing, as did most creative writers I knew. My head wasn’t in the right place, and I was spending any free time I had sewing face masks.

Eventually, we made it through the worst of the lockdown, and I started revising again. Soon, I was sending out queries of my new draft. This time, the response was different. Within a few weeks I received a call from an agent. She loved it. She wanted to see it on bookshelves. She wanted to represent me. I alerted the other agents I’d queried, and gave them two weeks to respond. By the end of that two week period I had multiple offers. I was elated, and also in a bit of shock. The voice in my head that said you can’t do this finally quieted. I had made it to the next step. I was doing this.

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

In the end I signed with Christa Heschke. She has years of experience, works for a top-notch NYC literary agency, and has sold dozens of books to publishers. She wants to represent me, this book I’ve written that I love, and any books I write in the future (I have many planned!). There are still hurdles to leap over before a book I write finds its way into a child’s hands (it could take years), but I’m one step closer.

For updates on what I’m writing, and the books I love to read, follow me on:

Instagram: @ShannonBalloonBooks

Twitter: @ShannonBalloon

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