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How I got my agent: A #PitMad Success Story

Having blown past my one-year anniversary of signing with my wonderful agent Paige Terlip of Andrea Brown Literary, now felt like as good a time as any to finally put my "how I got my agent" story down on paper (metaphorically speaking). This has also proven to be a great way to procrastinate writing my next book (sorry, Paige).

This story, like many stories, comes in three parts.

  1. The One Where I Struggle to Write Anything of Substance.

  2. The One Where I Finally Finish Something.

  3. The One Where I Finally Got Me An Agent.

Part 1: The One Where I Struggle to Write Anything of Substance.

Many people who eventually grow up to write books say that they always loved writing. I would say that I started loving writing, briefly grew to loathe it, and eventually found my way home again.

In school, I was always the writer. I loved English classes and preferred essays to tests. I took all the journalism and writing courses available to me and volunteered for the school magazine. Distinctly (and somewhat embarrassingly), I remember the first day of AP Composition where we had to turn in an essay that described us without revealing our names. Everyone else in the class wrote a one-page "I am" essay.

I wrote a short story about a bird struggling to find its flock. My teacher's face handed it back to me with a mix of confused anticipation. This is the reaction I strive for in all my stories. (More or less)

I still envy the days when I would stay up until the late hours of the night writing 10k days for books I had no intention of ever finishing. Mainly romantic Hunger Games rip-offs. I would jump from idea to idea, never making it to the 50% mark. Of course, at the time I knew nothing about publishing, and I didn't really have an interest in it other than the vague idea that it would be cool to have my books in Barnes & Noble one day.

This trend continued into college. But, everything changed when the fire nation that was Booktube attacked. I fell head-first into a niche community of people who loved reading, writing and most importantly, buying books. I was absolutely hooked. From Booktube I found an even more niche community of Authortube. There, I learned about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I did incessant research to learn about the different paths, how to get started and above all else, how to actually finish writing something.

Part 2: The One Where I Finally Finish Something.

My time in college didn't allow me to complete a manuscript between my studies and extracurriculars. When I graduated though, I used the summer to complete my first Middle Grade manuscript. This was revolutionary for two reasons:

  1. It proved I could finish writing a story from beginning to end.

  2. It was a middle grade book.

My entire writing career up until that point, I had never once considered writing middle grade. Honestly, I barely understood what it was. I had gone in fully expecting myself to write what I read: Young Adult Romance. But, as I started writing, the book just wasn't clicking. The reason being: I didn't have a voice for YA. I still don't.

My voice (and I realize how frustratingly vague and amorphous "voice" can be) lent itself to middle grade. Once I made the switch, the faucet turned on. For about 60% of the book.

Then, it stopped.

I was growing frustrated. It was supposed to be easy. I watched so many YouTubers write 10k words in a matter of hours. I had had days when I was younger when words would pour out. Now, with the end almost in reach, it was impossible to get a measly 100 words written. Something was broken and I feared it was me. That I wasn't cut out for this.

I wasted months struggling with the plot, rethinking the strategy. I spent hours sitting in the same chair at the library fussing over words. The piece of advice that finally turned things around: PLACEHOLDERS.

Once I realized that I didn't need to have the exact right word or plot point right then, I was able to stop stressing about whether the book was going to be great right out of the gate. (Spoiler: it wasn't).

I'll never forget typing the words "The End" on my first manuscript. I was sitting in the same seat in the library. I got to the point and realized "I think this is the end of the story." I sat for a moment, contemplating what my final words would be to wrap everything up before finally typing those glorious two words.

Then, I committed the ultimate writing sin. I queried it.

I sent out a few queries, barely knowing what I query really was. I didn't understand what responses I was looking for. I had barely read through my manuscript. To all the agents who had to read that draft that was surely riddled with errors: my bad.

I was shocked when I got a late night email from an agent requesting the rest of the book. Then another request came in. I gained a sudden burst of unbridled confidence that I surely did not deserve. And, as I would soon learn, would not take me far.

I sent out those fulls and turned my eyes toward #PitMad, a Twitter pitch contest I had read about online. I saw that it was coming up in a few weeks and I crafted some tweets.

Shock #2 came when my tweet actually got a like. And another one. Before I knew it, I had nearly 50 agents like my tweet. I was more certain than ever that not only would this book get me an agent, but the editors that retweeted it would definitely want to buy it. And I would be a millionaire.

Of course, none of those things happened.

Still, I sent out a flood of queries to the top agents that requested. And one by one, rejections started coming in. Every once in a while, a partial or full request would come. But inevitably, the rejection would follow.

I burned through 40 agents before finally deciding that this was not the book.

It was at this point that I decided to take a break from writing. Every now and then, I'd have a spark of an idea, write a page or two, and then step away. Occasionally, a query response from that manuscript would trickle in. I'd edit it some and leave it on my desktop. I had fallen out of love with writing.

Dear reader, it's okay to step away from writing when it's no longer serving you. It doesn't mean you aren't a good writer. Or you aren't cut out for success. Or even that it won't ever happen for you. Our interests change as we get older. It's important to experiment, see what you like, and see if you still like what you thought you did. CHANGE IS GOOD.

Okay, stepping down from the soapbox.

I took an extended break, and it wasn't until I had a spark of a new idea that kept pestering me in my mind. I had spent so much time finagling a book that wasn't working. The bigger issue was that I couldn't recognize what it was that made me love the story in the first place. I had been burning myself out over this book.

The thing was -- that book would always be there. It's currently still there. On my desktop. In case I ever decide I want to come back to it. But, if I only focused on that one book, I would keep running in place. I wanted to be moving forward.

So, I started writing again.

Part 3: The One Where I Finally Got Me An Agent.

I started working on another Middle Grade story, this time, I was letting the story dictate where it was going to go. When I got stuck, I changed location or writing method. I adopted dictation into my writing practice. I aggressively used placeholders. I did whatever it took to get the story written.

This time, when I finished it, I learned from my mistakes. I went back over it again. And again. Then I got beta readers to read it. I rewrote the ending. I did line edits with a fine-toothed comb. I read this book so many times I nearly hated it.

I gave myself a deadline of the next #PitMad, for no other reason than I needed a hard deadline that if I missed it, it mattered. On the same day of #PitMad, I also sent out a few cold queries, just in case no one liked my tweet.

My first tweet didn't get any attention.

My second tweet did. But, not nearly as much as my last manuscript. I was starting to get nervous. I felt incredibly lucky that a few agents were interested in my manuscript, but without the rush of attention like my last #PitMad, I worried that my idea wasn't good enough. I prepared myself for rejections to roll in again. I sent out a few queries from the agents who liked it.

Within 24 hours, an agent had requested the full. Within 48 hours, they wanted a call.


My hands were shaking as I read the email, in line at Panera Bread waiting on a green smoothie. My eyes were wet with tears when I pulled up to the worker (who surprisingly had a similar reaction to my teacher). I kid you not, Claire de Lune played in my head.

I had never made it to this stage before, and I had read stories online about agents who set up the call for an R&R. I was expecting anything.

We talked for 20 minutes before she said the words, "Oh, by the way, I'm offering you representation." The laugh that escaped me was a mix of relief and years of pent-up stress.

She raved about my book, how we'd go on sub within a few weeks, and how she thought it could be a movie. She was listing editors at imprints I had only dreamed about.

I jumped on my email after and reached out to every agent who still had my query to alert them. Some stepped aside, but most wanted to keep reading. A week later, another agent wanted to set up a call.

There was something about that second call that just felt right. She understood my book, she had a great vision for it. Most importantly, she had more edits than the other agent but edits that I knew would make the book better. After the call, I couldn't stop brainstorming all the ways I could improve the manuscript. I slept on it overnight, and by the morning, I was certain she was the right agent for me.

The customary period is 2 weeks between an offer and acceptance. I was about 1.5 in and I couldn't wait to accept. I sent an email out to the other agents who were reading to withdraw my manuscript (funnily enough, both agents had planned to reply that day anyway due to timing or workload).

Now, looking back over a year later, I'm more confident than ever that I made the right choice.

An agent is your partner in publishing. They will be with you through the toughest edits, the lows of submission and the highs of when the book deal finally comes through (more on that later). Having a good agent can make all those parts easier, more enjoyable and more rewarding.

Dear reader, if you are still on the hunt for your agent, I'm sending you all the best vibes and luck on your querying journey. It's never been easy, but it's harder now than it ever was. Publishing is a long game and one that seemingly gets longer by the day. But, the good thing about the long game is that if you're not where you want to be yet, there's plenty of time to change your position.


Rosalyn Ransaw is a children's author based in Columbus, OH. She graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science. At her day job, she is a Digital Marketing Manager focused on all things social media and paid advertising.

When not writing, she loves to cry watching romantic comedies, eat her weight in buffalo chicken dip and claim her best friend's dog as her own.

SMOKE & MIRRORS is her debut novel.


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