Bring your cookies and mug of tea because this post is long.
I was the stay-up-all-night, reading-under-the-blankets kind of kid (even now!). I thought that becoming a writer and creating books for readers like me would be the coolest job ever. I just never thought that I could do something that had always seemed like an elusive dream.
I dabbled in writing when I was young and was amazed when my middle school teacher assigned us to write a story. I thought, “Is this even homework?” In high school, I wrote a lot, but I didn’t focus on craft or finishing stories. I didn't believe I could write as a career.
After I started working full-time, I needed an escape and started writing again. Then I couldn’t stop. I wanted to become an author.
My writing journey (so far)
Starting in 2013, I began tracking my writing progress. (As a note, in addition to drafting/editing, I count days of plotting, reading craft books, etc. as writing days. Not just days with words on paper. Sometimes I write for five minutes, sometimes I write all day.)
In 2013, I wrote on 31 different days. At the time, 31 days seemed like a lot—two or three times every month, so almost every other weekend, right? (haha!) Didn’t finish either of my two projects.
In 2014, I worked on one of my previous year projects. Wrote over 32 days on a YA contemporary project. Still didn’t finish.
In 2015, I kept writing my previous year’s project, and had an idea for a spin-off that I called Stars. Wrote on 10 days total on two projects. (I switched jobs this year, and had less time for writing.)
In 2016, I decided that I wanted to make my dream of becoming a published author into a reality. I finished Stars, learned about editing, and *gulp* sent out four queries at the end of the year. Wrote on 131 days for four different projects.
SPOILER: The query was horrible. The manuscript was not ready. The rejections were swift and excruciating.
In 2017, I realized that if I really wanted to learn how to write, I needed to consider writing my second job. Instead of writing “when I had time,” I made time for writing.
I edited Stars a lot more. I edited the query a TON with help from amazing authors that reached out and helped, including Marie Meyer and Erin Entrada Kelly (THANK YOU!), and more help through agent query critique giveaways from one of my favorite blogs, Literary Rambles.
As I queried my YA Contemporary, I wanted to write a comfort book. I wanted to write something that would make me happy to write and a story meant to touch readers’ hearts, so I wrote Magic, an MG light fantasy.
But I didn’t want to give up quite yet on Stars. I tried a few pitch contests (I highly recommend DVPit!) and got likes (yay!) and more full requests. I still had fulls out for Stars but once I realized that Magic was something that made me truly happy to write, I withdrew those fulls.
I began finding some amazing CPs for Magic through CP match-ups. This time, I knew, I needed more rounds of revisions. I dug into world building and the characters. I wrote and re-wrote the query.
I submitted Magic to Author Mentor Match…
… And the wonderful Sean Easley selected me as his mentee.
Then came the heavy revising based on Sean’s insightful feedback. I rewrote the first chapter again and again, trying to hit the right notes and set up the proper expectation for readers. I tore out the middle. Rewrote it. I kept adding and removing, and slowly built up the world, plot, and characters of Magic.
By the end of 2017, I had written on 286 days for a total of 14 different projects (many unfinished, most unedited). I still wasn’t ready to query.
In 2018, I dove into more rounds of revisions of Magic with CPs, including friends I met through AMM. I added new characters, more intense plotlines.
And I tore out the middle again (poor middle!) and reorganized the plot.
My CP feedback started getting optimistic.
Finally, in April 2018, I was ready to query.
Querying, aka the best and worst thing ever
I had taken more than six months, while I was editing Magic, to curate my agent list. I wanted an agent who had a passion for middle grade stories, a strong editorial background, clients that adored them, and, most of all, loved my story as much as me.
After sorting out my list of agents into tiers based on interest and response time, I began sending off my first queries for Magic in April 2018. I sent queries in rounds of about 7 to 10 queries at a time. I got full requests the next day, and rejections on the next day, too. I knew these faster requests were better than Stars, but I wasn’t sure if the full would work out for agents.
After sending out a few batches of queries, I waited (impatiently). I wanted to hear back on my fulls before I started querying more, in case I needed to make more revisions.
In May 2018, about six weeks after I started querying, I got an email and I could tell it was short, so I thought it was a rejection.
It was a request for a call.
My heart stopped.
Agent A said she was charmed by my novel, and wanted to talk.
I couldn’t tell if it was an R&R or THE Call. We set a time for the following day.
When I chatted with Agent A, I began to imagine the possibilities of what Magic could become. She understood its strengths—and how to take the best parts of Magic and make it into something more. With her 15 years of experience as an editor, I knew she’d be able to guide me and my story onward. She was everything I was looking for in an agent...
And then she offered!
But it got complicated in the best way possible. After nudging the agents that still had my queries and fulls, I got multiple offers.
I hopped onto call after call, and the way that all of these agents spoke about my story simply blew me away. They understood my story and characters. Best of all, they understood me: my goals, my vision. I adore them all, so much. They took their time to outline what changes they wanted, if any, further showing their understanding and amazing vision for my story.
When they spoke about my future as a writer, I wanted to cry. I never thought that I could make my dream come true, but these agents wanted to be there, with me, working to make my dream into reality.
After the calls, I reached out to their client references. Each agent’s clients were beyond extraordinary. They generously spent time out of their busy days to chat or email, telling me with full honesty why they chose their amazing agent, what makes their agent so special, and even giving me advice on how to pick the right agent for me. I am still overwhelmed by how much they truly appreciate and love working with their agents. If any of them are reading this—thank you so much!
The client calls made my decision even more difficult, to say the least. I made spreadsheets and lists, talked with friends and my amazing mentor, and spent many long days and nights thinking it through.
Throughout the calls, I couldn’t stop thinking about Agent A, the first agent to offer on Magic. Before I knew it, my two week deadline was up, and it was time to make a decision...
I’m so lucky to say that I'm now represented by the magical Sarah Landis of Sterling Lord Literistic!
Sarah was Agent A, the first agent to see my story in the same way as me. The first agent to notice Eva and understand the story I was trying to tell, and the agent who is everything I dreamed about and more. Thank you so much, Sarah, for believing in me and my witchy, whimsical story. I’m so excited to be part of #TeamLandis and the Sterling Lord Literistic family!
For everyone who’s reading this and dreaming about The Call...
Keep on writing! What I’ve written out doesn't include the days of doubt and self-rejection. It doesn't even begin to brush upon the actual rejections. Or the days when I was positive that my edits were ruining the story. I wouldn't be able to finish this post if I focused too much on the tough days, but... there were many.
You may be comparing my journey to yours, and if you are, please keep in mind:
Everyone's path is different.
Everyone will have different amounts of requests or rejections or offers.
It doesn't mean that one person's journey is better or worse. After all, you can only have your journey.
Keep working at your craft, keep revising, find a wonderful group of writers to support you, and never ever give up. You will find your dream agent, too!
There will be a lot of adventures up ahead—thank you, reader, for supporting me now and in the future!
I’ll be sharing query and the call tips in future blog entries. I usually post tips through my 4 on 7 series, released on the 7th of every month. I hope these posts will help encourage and inspire you on your journey to publication. Good luck!
About Julie Abe
Julie writes magical MG and YA adventures. Julie's debut, EVA EVERGREEN, SEMI-MAGICAL WITCH, is a middle grade fantasy releasing in 2020 (Little, Brown Young Readers), and the magic will continue in 2021! She is represented by Sarah Landis at Sterling Lord Literistic.
How I Got My Agent!
My Top Questions for The Call
Tips for (Before) The Call
How-to: Create an Author's Website
4on7: Author Mentor Match