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My Journey to Find a Literary Agent

In the summer of 2018, something happened that sent me on a journey I now hope never ends: I told my daughters a made-up bedtime story.

It was common for them to ask for a dream — a dream starter, really — that would help send them off to sleep. (We have boatloads of books in our house, but they are read about as quickly as they are purchased). On this night, I told them about the youngest aeronaut in the world, Clara Poole, and her partner, a washed-up old champion named Sir Godfrey Gildersleeve (a name inspired by a 1940's radio program). Together, with a llama named Dave (for whatever reason), they embarked on the world's most dangerous round-the-world air race for the World Organization of Balloon Aeronauts, or WOOBA. Each night over a series of weeks, I would tell another "stage" of the race, where Clara would be captured by desert nomads while crossing the Sahara, or crash on a mountain summit while blindly navigating cloud-covered peaks in the Himalayas. Eventually, my oldest daughter said I should put it all down in a book.

It was an intriguing idea, and I am indeed bent toward creativity. In my life, I have been a designer, animator, film editor, and co-creator of the entertainment industry's most popular software for creative collaboration. I have always been around storytelling in one form or another. However, I would have never considered myself a storyteller, let alone a writer. Adding to that, I am severely dyslexic, which makes the prospect of writing a novel ironic, if not terrifying. So, I put the idea away.

Over the next few months, I thought about it a few times but never seriously, until I took my daughters on a spontaneous trip to Yosemite, to give my busy wife a break from work and life (including us). Randomly, I downloaded the audiobook of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood for our seven hour drive from Santa Barbara. (Those who don't know Maryrose's work should stop reading this and go HERE… cool, huh? Back now? Great!). As we listened to The Incorrigibles, I thought more about turning my piecemeal bedtime story into a real manuscript. The moment we got home, I did something I wasn't expecting — I wrote to Maryrose Wood and asked if she would coach me. Luckily, she agreed and I spent the next four months being guided through the ins-and-outs of story craft by a true master.

Clara Poole

After, I set off to write Clara Poole and The Amazing Gildersleeve, and ten months later I had my first Frankenstein manuscript. Along the way, Gildersleeve changed from a man to a woman, the llama went away (thankfully), the name Godfrey was given to the antagonist, and Clara inherited the unfortunate backstory of causing the accidental death of her mother, setting up the critical conflict with her widowed father. The title also changed to Clara Poole and the Accident That Started Everything, something I felt was a better hook and far more evocative. Altogether, I had a produced a 115,000 word manuscript, far more than I should have for a middle grade book, hoping the comparative lengths of books like The Mysterious Benedict Society and Wildwood might provide acceptable cover with agents and editors. As such, I took my inflated manuscript and began trying to figure out if it was any good. I solicited a group of beta-readers — teachers, parents, independent booksellers, and kids — to take my story through the paces. The feedback was good but vague. I revised, but the word count didn't change meaningful, and I wasn't sure what to do next, other than I was not ready to query.

So, I decided to hire a professional editor to do a developmental edit. I looked on Reedsy (which IMO is an underrated resource) and found an editor who had two things: a strong editorial background in my genre; and agent experience working for a top literary agency. I paid for the pleasure, which wasn't necessarily cheap, but still worth every penny. I would do it again in a heartbeat, because not only did I get a solid edit and overall validation that my writing was professional enough, but I got the valuable sales mind of a former agent to boot. After her notes, I revised and cut ferociously (part painful, part liberating) to a final word count of 85,000. My editor also gave a quick edit of my query letter, and provided me with names (not intros) to agents she thought might be interested in my story. However, I could say she referred me, which I am convinced got me to the top of the pile. In short, she rocked.

I submitted to those few individuals and small handful of others I researched meticulously for fit. Here is an example of one of my submission letters:

Hello {agent},
I've known about {Agency} for a while. Still, when researching agents, your profile (and twitter feed) jumped out to me, in regards to the type of MG collaboration that I'm hoping to find.
I'm happy to submit my 85k word upper middle-grade adventure, CLARA POOLE AND THE ACCIDENT THAT STARTED EVERYTHING, a semi-magical story about moving forward after loss, wrapped in a screamingly fun world and quite a bit of nonsense.
I wrote this story because I was having trouble finding books that would appeal to both my 8 and 11 y/o daughters that weren't dark, dire, or steeped in anxiety. While those stories serve an essential role in childhood development, we have too few books in the MG universe that are lighter, hopeful, and humorous (even when tackling important themes). I want to help fill that gap.
I am a brave dyslexic and caffeine-infused father of two young girls, with a habit of making most things into an improv musical. I've been a designer, animator, film editor, and software CEO. Naturally, middle-grade author seems like the next logical progression. I live in the wine country of Santa Barbara, which has its perks.
This is my first book.
Thanks so much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Best wishes,Taylor

One note is that I submitted this letter via QueryManager, so the synopsis was separate. Here is that synopsis:

After her mother's accidental death, Clara struggles to quiet the daredevil inside her and respect the demands of her overprotective father. But when an unintended flight in her class science project brings instant celebrity, Clara is invited to be the spokesperson for an unusual round-the-world balloon race. Her father forbids it, but Clara runs away to Paris and signs an unbreakable contract pledging her involvement—only hours before she learns the real perils that lie ahead. Now, she must survive the deadly flights one stage at a time, (and a whacky thing called Air Academy), as she travels the world with an irreverent cast of aeronauts. On the way, she'll learn just how good a daredevil she really is, and find forgiveness for the accident plaguing her.

I personalized each letter, and I only reached out to agents I researched thoroughly, reading articles and interviews, trolling their tweeter feeds, etc. I also forked out the money for a subscription to Publishers Marketplace to find out which agents were the real dealmakers. In the end, I had three agents who asked for full manuscripts. I was floored. Two of those agents were ones my freelance editor had referred me to, one of whom represented a few big name authors in my genre.

Ironically, while this strategy appeared to work as designed, I signed with another agent who *got me* and with whom I connected with instantly

What was it about my actual submission letter that mattered? Sadly, the answer is somewhere between not much and I don't know. From what I've compared with other writers, my letter wasn't unique. And, while my synopsis sufficed, it was my book's title and the first ten pages that apparently sparked interest. Personally, I think it was because I submitted to agents specifically looking for big-hearted middle grade adventures.

So what does any of this mean?

Good question.

Was my query good?

Don't know... it's subjective.

Did my synopsis grab attention?

Seems enough so.

Did I get feedback on rejections?

Nope, none, nada... and I don't think you should expect detailed feedback either. Go research the number of queries agents receive in a given month and do the math. Honestly, would you be able to give quality feedback if it were you? That said, there is no harm in asking.

My query statistics:

Queries sent: 17

Time span: 2 months

Rejections: 9

No response: 6

Full requests: 3

Offers to rep: 2

Are there good support groups for querying?

I've found Sub It Club on Facebook to have extremely thoughtful responses. The participants seems to be quality people with little ego. Everyone wants everyone to win.

Has everything changed now that I've found an agent?

Well, I haven't sold my book yet, but without a doubt I found a fantastic individual deeply committed to crafting great books in my genre, who succinctly identified with the things about my story that I needed her to get.

Does my agent possess a working style that directly suits my needs?

Hell, yes. An openness to collaborate was key in my decision to sign with this agent. I also think she bleeds books, and while relatively new to agenting, she is deeply networked.

Was the broader agency a factor in my choice?

Indeed, the agency-at-large is well respected and has the ability to reach the best (and right) editors at the big publishing houses. Moreover they have meaningful relationships with film & television.

What's more, I built a small network of professionals from a best-selling author in my genre to a hired-gun-yet-well-connected editor, each of whom was a key mentor along my journey. In the end, I did exhaustive research and queried only those agents I felt were an appropriate fit for me. I was lucky to find one. I now have a straight-shooter and true advocate for my creativity that I respect, and that means everything. Plus it's reciprocal, I sincerely want her to succeed in her career as an agent as much as I want to succeed in mine as a writer.

Now all I need to do is write great books. (Uh... right?)

I wish you only luck on your journey and hope there is something here of value in your publishing pursuit. I look forward to turning the pages of your new book one day!



Taylor Tyng is a children's book author focused on middle grade fiction. Taylor is repped by Erin Clyburn of Howland Literary in New York City.


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