How I Got My Literary Agent!!!!
The fact that I get to write one of these posts now is so surreal to me. These types of posts were the only thing that kept me going in the query trenches, so I really hope that someone can find some comfort in my journey as well. If you are a querying author, please know that your dreams are absolutely within your reach and I am endlessly rooting for you.
So, let's go back to 2021.
On Prime day of 2021, my partner bought me a Kindle. I've always loved to read, but after I graduated college in 2020, I really fell out of the habit. When I got the Kindle, everything changed. I fell back in love with reading and started devouring 30 books a month. I started a #Booktok account to connect with other readers and find more recommendations. And in August, I decided it was time to write the book that had been living in my brain for so many years.
For those of you who don't know, I used to be involved in the gaming industry and I wrote for some popular tabletop RPGs. I've always adored building worlds and creating intricate magic systems, so I think I always knew I wanted to write my own fantasy series one day. The book I started writing in August of 2021 was heavily inspired by an old DnD campaign! I worked on the book daily for months, and with the help of my Grandma Kathy and my forever bestie Danie, the first draft was finished in November.
And it was an absolute mess.
I started editing it in December, but it was becoming increasingly daunting. The more I learned about the art of writing, the more I honed my craft, the more frustrated I became with the book. I became less and less proud of it every time I opened the doc. And then, in January of 2022, my Grandma passed away very suddenly. I was so broken by this. She never got to read the rest and I physically could not bring myself to continue working on it. I can barely write this now without sobbing. It felt like this was *our* project, and it was incredibly difficult for me to change anything from the last version that she read, despite knowing that the book was not in the best shape. After about 2 months, I finally did another round of edits on the book, but I was growing increasingly desperate to get the book away from me. I sent out 1 singular query to the only agent I knew anything about, and to my surprise, I woke up to a partial request the next day.
I was thrilled, and that request reignited my passion for the story. I thought that this was a sign or something that I was supposed to finish the book the way my Grandma would have wanted. I also didn't really know anything about querying, and I kinda just....assumed that she would sign me???????? She didn't, of course. The book was a mess. I was a mess. I was NOT ready to query, nor was the book, and deep down, I knew it. She sent me a very kind rejection about a week later, and I sent out a few more queries that were all rejected over the course of the next few weeks. During that time, I also started making my silly little tiktoks about the book with excerpts from some of my favorite chapters. To my absolute surprise, they started blowing up, and I went from like 3k followers to 10k very quickly. After I shared as many chapters as I could without spoiling the entire book, I decided it was probably time to write something new.
I had a ton of ideas bouncing around my head, but one REALLY stood out. I'd spent the last year working at Savannah Bee Company and keeping bees, and I really wanted to write a story with a magic system based on honey. Thus, THE HONEY WITCH was born. Danie was the first person I told about this idea, and being the amazing friend that she is, she let me ramble on about my ideas until a very bare plot emerged. I went in knowing that I wanted Honey Magic, and I wanted to write a strong relationship between a girl and her eccentric grandmother. I wanted to put some of my own memories with my Grandma in the story, and I wanted to decorate it with all the things that she loved—yellow flowers, luxurious desserts, romance novels, fancy dresses, snarky jokes, and lots of cute animals. I was more excited than I'd ever been about a story idea, and with Danie's encouragement, I decided to attempt to write the entire book in ONE WEEK.
I kind of did????? I documented the entire challenge on tiktok, and you can find my series about it on my page under the playlist "Writing a novel in 1 week." Full disclosure, the draft was not actually completed in a week, as you will see in the video series. About halfway through the challenge, an acquisitions editor of a small press reached out to me and asked to see my OTHER book—the one from my tiktok teasers that I had queried before. I *panicked* immediately because I had sort of already decided that this would be my "trunk" novel that I would possibly revisit years later after I had the skills to make it better. I paused writing THE HONEY WITCH for a day to polish up the MS of the other book before I sent it off to this small press.
At the end of the One Week challenge, I had about 40,000 words of THE HONEY WITCH done, and it took another 2? 3? weeks to finish the first draft. Please let me stress this—the draft was ATROCIOUS. It was all over the place. It was like 3 different books sort of stitched together with so many plotholes that it could have been a grave-robbed cemetery. However, I learned from my first book that I am the type of person who needs feedback right when I finish the first draft, even if it's an absolute mess. So, thank you to Danie (again) for reading this book in its awful state, and thank you to my alpha/beta readers who read a sliiightly better version that was still not very good.
In July, I was editing the book and getting very excited to reenter the query trenches with a project that I was much more proud of and had a lot more confidence in. And then, the most unexpected thing happened: remember that small press who requested my OTHER manuscript months ago? THEY OFFERED ME A BOOK DEAL. I was SHOCKED and thrilled and maybe a little confused because, as I have stated many times, the other book was a mess. But Lauren, the acquisitions editor, was ready to go HARD in the developmental edits with me and I was so excited to work with her. I paused working on THE HONEY WITCH and was gearing up to dive back into my other book. I posted a little teaser on tiktok that hinted that I had an announcement about it. I sent out more queries with an offer in hand, hoping that an agent would sign me to help me negotiate the contract, and then....
The press closed. It was about a week after they made me an offer, which included thousands of dollars for an advance, incredible royalty rates, and massive store distribution. It was all gone. I withdrew outstanding queries since I no longer had an offer of publication. My dreams were dead, and my heart was broken. I genuinely mourned for a few days and could barely get out of bed. Dramatic? Yes. But I felt like I had everything and then lost it all in the span of a week, and since my only other experience in trying to get published was met with so much rejection, I was anticipating a similar outcome for THE HONEY WITCH.
#DVPit was the day after the press closed, and I didn't actually have a twitter, but Lauren (the acquisitions editor who was equally screwed over when this press shut down) encouraged me to participate and see if anything came from it. As I cried over my keyboard, I created my twitter page and wrote some pitches for both of my books. The first day of the event was for YA books, so I pitched THE HONEY WITCH first. To my surprise, I received 7 agent likes and 3 retweets from HUGE editors. The next day, I pitched my other book and got 1 agent like. During all of this, Lauren was also working tirelessly to find another small press that might want to hire her as an editor and take on the books that she had previously acquired.
It was extremely hectic for the next few days. Lauren was handling everything for my other book, but I was feeling extremely defeated about it. I didn't expect anyone else to be interested in it because like I said, it was a miracle that Lauren wanted it in the first place. I need to take a moment to say that Lauren is actually an angel and I don't think I would've survived this process without her. Anyway, I was ready to focus on THE HONEY WITCH and start moving on from all of the heartache and disaster of my other book.
After I got those likes during #DVPit, I started my official query list for THE HONEY WITCH. I reached out to Megan Eccles to help me with my query package, and she seriously worked some editorial magic on my opening pages in particular. I was able to apply her notes to the rest of the manuscript and I felt like it was more than ready for querying after that final round of edits. I started sending out queries fairly casually, starting with those who liked my pitch during #DVPit. I got a full request quickly from an agent I LOVED, and I was thrilled. I got another full request shortly after while I was shopping for fall decorations. I nearly dropped a glass pumpkin in the middle of TJMaxx when I saw the email. Then, a few days later, I participated in #SFFPit on twitter as well. I got another agent like during that event from a HUGE agent who I never thought would be interested in me, and I sent my query off immediately. Then, I got an email from one of the agents who liked my pitch during DVPit saying that there was a glitch with her submissions and she couldn't open my query, but she wanted me to resubmit through a different link if I was still looking for representation. I resubmitted and she requested my full MS about an hour later. I was FREAKING out at that point, but nothing could have prepared me for the next day.
I woke up to my first offer of representation from the agent who had requested my full the day before. She read the entire thing in one night and offered me representation in less than 24 hours. I.....screamed. We had "the call" a few hours later, and it was incredible. She was so energetic and inspiring and we totally clicked. I sent out my nudges after the call to the agents who had my full, as well as the agents who just had my query. I got 2 full requests that day, and a few more in the following days.
All in all, I got 4 offers of representation and a handful of extremely sweet step-asides. Choosing between these agents was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my LIFE, but I think I knew in my gut who I was going to go with from the second I got off the phone call with her.
I have to say, sending "breakup emails" to the agents who you don't pick is heartbreaking, especially when they are all amazing. I quite literally cried as I sent two of them because I loved those two agents SO much. One of them was on my original list of dream agents, and if you had told me a few years ago that she would offer me rep and I would say NO?!?!?!?!? I would have never believed you. It really took me by surprise.
Ultimately, what solidified my choice was when I found myself at a low point in terms of confidence in my writing, and I asked myself, "Who would make me feel better about my book right now?"
The answer was Mollie Glick, the third agent who offered me representation. I emailed her that night and asked if we could get on a quick call just to go over a few more follow-up questions, but in reality, I just needed someone to believe in me and someone to listen. Even though Mollie was extremely busy, she carved out some time in her hectic schedule to speak with me before she even knew that I was signing with her. She gave me a confidence boost. She put me in touch with her clients who immediately welcomed me and gave me loads of encouragement. She was there for me when she didn't have to be, and I knew that I couldn't pick anyone else. She was THE one.
She IS the one. And now, I am officially represented by Mollie Glick at Creative Artists Agency. I could not be more honored to be her client.
Okay, here is the thing a lot of you probably came here for—the query letter that got me my agent:
Dear [Agent Name]:
Based on [specific reason I chose to query them], I am so excited to present my novel for your review! THE HONEY WITCH is a Sapphic YA Fantasy novel complete at 77,700 words. It combines the aesthetic of Bridgerton with whimsical magic akin to Practical Magic. With a swoon-worthy forbidden romance and overall fairytale feel, it would especially appeal to fans of WILD IS THE WITCH by Rachel Griffin and MIDNIGHT IN EVERWOOD by M. A. Kuzniar.
In a picturesque fantasy of manners, eighteen-year-old Marigold Claude is entering another season without any intentions of accepting a proposal. When her eccentric grandmother Althea visits and finally provides an explanation for Marigold’s strange magical abilities, they return to the Lake Isle of Innisfree where she begins training as a Honey Witch—an apothecary and alchemist who uses her magical connection with the bees to create enchanted honey for her spells. While this lovely power leaves her especially adept at helping others find love, it also comes with an ancient curse that none have been able to break: no one can fall in love with the Honey Witch.
When Lottie Burke, a notorious grumpy skeptic who doesn’t believe in magic, accompanies her best friend to the cottage for a love spell, Marigold can’t resist the challenge to prove to her that magic is real. She invites Lottie and her best friend, August Owens, to stay with her for the summer to prove her abilities, but Marigold begins to care for Lottie in a way she never expected. She longs to break the curse and escape her lonely fate, but when darker magic awakens and threatens to destroy her home, she must fight for much more than her freedom—at the risk of losing her magic and her heart.
As a beekeeper, writing stories that display the beauty of our pollinators is especially important to me. I have a BA in Communication from Columbus State University, during which I published award-winning research in metaphorical criticism and rhetorical theory. I am a Booktok and Bookstagram content creator with over 17,500 followers and multiple viral videos. When not writing, I spend an excessive amount of time playing chess and saving the bees. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Sydney J. Shields
I hope this post has been helpful in some way, and I am sending all of the love and positive energy that I possess to those who are currently in the query trenches. Don't ever give up. Your story is necessary, and someone is going to recognize that. I promise. <3