Ten years ago, while sitting at my computer in my sparsely furnished office, I sent my first email to a literary agent. The message included a query letter—a brief synopsis describing the personal-essay collection I’d been working on for the past six years, as well as a short bio about myself. As my third child kicked from inside my pregnant belly, I fantasized about what would come next: a request from the agent to see my book proposal, followed by a dream phone call offering me representation. If all went well, I’d be on my way to becoming a published author by the time my oldest child started first grade.
Things didn’t go as planned. I spent the next several years querying agents while writing other books. I read blogs and interviews to get the latest industry news and figure out which agent was looking for what kind of project. I attended several dozen writers’ conferences, residencies, workshops, craft lectures, book festivals, and readings. I joined critique groups and exchanged work over email with countless writer friends. For my novels, I hired freelance developmental editors (one of them a former senior editor at a major publishing house). I enrolled in and graduated from an MFA program in creative writing. And yes, I did get that coveted offer of representation—twice. My first agent tried her damnedest to sell my second nonfiction book, but after two years we amicably parted ways. My second agent and I weren’t a good fit, so we split up earlier in the process.