Thank god for Sarah Dessen or How I got my agent

I’m about two years late on this, but here goes.

I’ll start with two things. First, in case you don’t know already, Sarah Dessen is YA royalty. Second, I write women’s fiction, not YA.

Which is why if I followed the rules the name Sarah Dessen and mention of any of her books shouldn’t have been anywhere near my query for my first novel (then titled Watch the Sky). But it was because I knew the type of book I wanted to write. The type of book that meant everything to someone and for me Sarah Dessen books–particularly The Truth About Forever–were those novels.

I wanted, and still do, to capture the love story, coming of age, family dynamics of a Dessen novel in my own writing, even though it wasn’t YA. I wanted to bring everything I loved about a YA novel and put it adult fiction. So, Sarah Dessen ended up in my query for my women’s fiction novel.

Danielle Burby (then of HSG, now with Nelson Literary) was one of the first agents I queried. I remember reading through her #MSWL and seeing this one: I am interested in the moment when a character breaks mental chains and realizes that something she always believed to be true isn’t, and I thought that’s my book. That’s my entire book. So, I queried and waited, and tweaked and waited, and received many, many rejections.

Almost four months after I queried her, Danielle requested my full with an aside that she also adored The Truth about Forever. If I wanted to work with her before, you can imagine how I felt now. Yes, please. Make me the Sarah Dessen of contemporary women’s fiction.

Eight months, and several more rejections later, I received a revise and resubmit from Danielle. R&Rs are hard. They don’t often turn into offers, and it’s still a rejection, albeit a nice one with plenty of notes, but a rejection. It’s something you have to consider doing not just because you want an agent, but because it’s right for your book. Sitting in my driveway, having just pulled in from my commute, reading through Danielle’s notes, I didn’t know what was right for my book. It had already been through so much.

It was the beginning of summer when I got Danielle’s R&R, and I’d already decided to participate in Pitch Wars, so I read Danielle’s notes and tucked them away for a few months. Until I was ready. Because an R&R from one of your top agents is no joke. Especially not when you’ve had your query and manuscript with them for close to a year. They were good notes and hard ones, but over the course of that summer I incorporated them into my novel, and feeling less than confident that this would pan out I sent it back to Danielle in October.

I’d decided right before this to stop querying Watch the Sky. It had been over a year with no traction. So I decided I’d send in my revision and if not thing came of it, I’d focus on my next novel and start again when it was ready. When I was ready. Because in October 2016 I was four months pregnant and life as I knew it was only five months away from changing forever.

A day after I emailed my revision to Danielle, she wrote me back. I expected it to be a confirmation of receipt, but instead I found myself with an offer of representation, and an agent who read my R&R the moment I sent it in, who wondered if she would hear back from me. It was, to say the least, wholly unexpected.

Danielle’s email, as they often did, came at the end of the work day, and there was definitely a lot of freaking out in the middle of the office. It was a good day, a big day.

And there was no question that I wanted to sign with Danielle. She’d sat at the top of my list from the moment I started querying. So I took the weekend, chatted with my husband, celebrated, and then told the few other agents that still had my full that I was accepting an offer of representation and thanked them for their interest.

Fifteen months to the day that I queried Danielle, almost 80 rejections, and only a handful of full requests later, I sent in my agent agreement.

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