After three and a half years and two literary agents as a first time author, I finally landed a publisher for my own debut novel series! IT’S HAPPENING! Join me on my journey as I share my progress and the best advice for writers I’ve learned (and am learning) along the way.
Book agents: first time authors
Timeline: in 2017 I was close to finishing my novel draft. Friends talked me into attending BarCon at the Pike’s Peak Writing Conference, since it was too late to get in for the full conference. I’d been studying the Law of Attraction and said a prayer before entering, then I found my friends and networked around the room. A friend from my first writer’s group introduced me to a book agent because he felt she would be a great fit for my unusual book. I had five minutes with her as I pitched my novel, and right away she caught the vision and asked for a full manuscript! I couldn’t believe it! I stammered that it wasn’t quite finished yet, and she told me to take my time and to send it in once it was done.
WOW – I didn’t expect to connect with a literary agent as a first time author before my book was even done! A little over a year later, she became my agent.
My writing advice for authors: join local writer’s groups (find the right one for your needs), and begin attending writer’s conferences as soon as you can, even before your novel is finished. You will learn SO MUCH, make new friends, and some possible vital connections.
My first literary agent as a first time author
I finished my novel draft in a few months, but surprisingly it took me a full year to get through the revision process. In 2018, I won a scholarship to the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference and was able to attend the full conference this time. Again the Law of Attraction came through – usually you get to pitch to one agent or acquiring editor at the conference. But this year it worked out that I got to pitch to all five of the agents/editors that I was interested in! I couldn’t believe it!
My debut novel is quite unusual – a real potions textbook, interactive novel, and puzzle workbook. I received some interest from someone higher up within one publisher, but got all rejections from the actual agents. Still, it was great practicing my elevator pitch.
Writing advice for authors: be sure to craft and hone your elevator pitch for your novel idea. Do NOT start describing the whole story, plot, or characters to people (only amateurs do this and no one likes to sit and listen to more than five minutes of your story – make them want to read it). Just pitch 1-2 sentences to hook them.
I actually finished my novel in June 2018. I queried many agents and also sent the full ms to that first agent from 2017. After many rejections, that original agent got back to me in August and requested to become my book agent – as a first time author, I said YES!
It was such a thrill to be able to say the words “my agent” over the next couple of years. WOW!
How to find a publisher as a first time author
Getting a literary agent as a first time author is a rare thing – you’ve passed your first major hurdle and it means your writing really is quality. Your book agent is like the first test – you passed! They are also sort of like an angel investor – they are taking a chance on you and investing their own free time to help you revise and hone your work until it’s perfect.
For us, it took us another full year going back and forth as she helped me to uplevel my novel. We performed alchemy on my alchemy novel – taking it apart, improving the separate sections, then putting it all back together. It was a truly incredible experience which later led me to become a freelance editor, helping other new authors to perfect their novels via Upwork.
In late August 2019 my husband and I got to spend four days in London, which helped me to fact-check for my novel and make a few important changes as soon as I got back. My book agent was ready and she began pitching my novel to the major publishers in the US. She spent about a year – yes, through the 2020 Covid mess – but by October 2020, after she’d stopped communicating with me, I reached out and found out that she’d given up as she hadn’t been able to sell it. My magical book was now back in my hands and I no longer had an agent!
Writing advice for authors: when you have a book agent as a first time author, don’t wait around too long without hearing from them. Reach out regularly for updates. Agents and publishers are notorious for being really bad at communicating with their authors.
Getting my second literary agent as a first time author
I found myself in a really bad position. I did research and discovered this is a bad place to be. No agent would pick me up now that all the major publishers had rejected my novel – one of the struggles of finding a book agent as a first time author. What to do?
I was at a pretty low point through the rest of 2020 and most of 2021. I basically didn’t do much with my novel. Needing income, I built up my contract writing and editing services on Upwork and met with success on that platform, building a part-time income as well as a robust and varied portfolio. I maintained high reviews and became experienced as a professional contract ghostwriter, writer, editor, developmental editor, proofreader, and more. This later served me well in advancing my author career – I had real “writing cred” in the professional world.
One of my clients had me ghostwriting for him and knew my writing was top-notch. The Law of Attraction came through again and I received the inner guidance to reach out and ask this guy to become my literary agent. He was running three different businesses related to books, book marketing, and turning books into films. He wasn’t really an agent, but he’d been in the publishing industry for a long time. He was an American living in the U.K. and my novel is set in 1665 London.
So I contacted him and proposed the idea. I discovered that he is an agent to a few select authors. He requested my ms and then put it through his process – having his own team of readers to read it first. My novel passed his test – every one of them recommended he move forward – this was amazing! He told me that rarely happens. So then he took the time to read it, and in October 2021 he became my second book agent as a first time author! WOO-HOO!
My confidence restored as once again I could say “I have an agent.” I hoped that with his long-time connections in the publishing world, especially in the U.K., he’d be able to sell my magic school interactive novel/textbook.
Writing advice for authors: listen to your inner guidance and take a bold move when you receive inspiration. Have courage and do it!
Letting go of my literary agent as a first time author
For the following year I had an agent, but he was so busy and spread thin that he never got around to pitching my novel to anyone. I’d read of one woman who’d begun querying directly to publishers as a first time author – there are some smaller publishers which do allow direct queries. She landed her own publisher in two weeks after having had and lost three agents!
I gave my second agent a little over a year, but also began pitching it directly to small publishers myself. When one – a sci-fi publisher who I’d just interviewed with for a job and were willing to look over my ms – wanted to communicate directly with my agent, my agent did the job of talking it over with that publisher – it was another polite rejection. (I didn’t get the job either, although I was in the top three).
By now I was working through Lacy Phillips’ To Be Magnetic courses online, learning to build my Law of Attraction magnetism, working through subconscious blocks, etc. As the year 2022 turned into 2023, I realized I had to take the courage to “fire” my agent. He’d had health issues and just didn’t have time for everything on his plate. We parted amicably, both agreeing this was the right move. Once again I was without a book agent as a first time author!
By now I’d taken a highly detailed and well-done course by Sara Cannon (on YouTube as Heart Breathings) all about self-publishing. I had the information, but I couldn’t shake my inner knowing, which stayed with me without fail, that my novel was going to be traditionally published.
Writing advice for authors: be sure to learn everything you can about the three main paths to publishing: “trad” (traditional publishing, usually with a literary agent); “indie” which means self-publishing, becoming an independent author where you do all the work of publishing and marketing, every step as a small business owner; and “hybrid” where you pay a publishing company to handle many of the nitty-gritty publishing tasks. There is a slight difference, I believe, between “vanity publishers” which just want to take your money, and a true “hybrid” publisher which works with you, handles the cover art and publishing details (which you’d have to find and pay for a la carte in any case), who help you come up with a marketing plan, etc.
How to find a publisher as a first time author – without an agent
There are lists online of many small publishers which do accept queries by unagented authors. I recommend the Reedsy website’s articles on this. Also, you will meet publishers and editors at writer’s conferences – attend these! (I go every year now, saving up all year.)
I had made my “List” – a list of all the specific traits I was looking for in a publisher. Six months later the Law of Attraction (and all the years of inner work I was doing) used my own mother to help me find my perfect publisher! She heard of a small publisher in her state, Kentucky, and told me about them. In March 2023 I looked them over and submitted my manuscript. Within DAYS they reached out and told me they were interested in signing with me, and would I look over their sample contract?
OH MY GOODNESS – after all these years, it was FINALLY happening! I had a full uplevel experience in my whole being as I consulted with a lawyer friend, who looked over the contract (since I had no agent), I made a couple of tweaks and then signed with my own perfect publisher! They matched every single thing on my list. I also found out that they specialize in publishing unusual books. They sell their books at cons (like I’m planning to do) and the Kentucky Renaissance Festival every summer – wearing medieval garb like me! They are small but agile and will launch my book in six months – WOW – that’s unheard-of in the publishing industry. That means I could potentially publish one book a year of my magic textbook series! They are called Line by Lion Publishing on Facebook under the company Pixel & Pen Studios.
And what is my debut novel? Do you remember in the first Harry Potter movie when he opened a book in the Restricted Section and a face screamed out at him? I wrote that book. 😉 Okay, at least something in my creative mind triggered the idea for what that textbook could be – and I wrote it. It’s my answer to wishing I could go to Hogwarts and take a Potions class. I wrote a real beginning Potions textbook, only there’s something wrong with it (just like many things found in magic schools). It’s called Encyclopaedia Magica – Volume 1: Alchemy. Pre-orders are coming up and the book should be available Fall 2023! WOO-HOO!