1) Get a degree in theater. (It doesn’t have to be theater. Just whatever artistic discipline you choose. Also, it doesn’t have to be a degree. You can probably substitute that for a lot of experience actually practicing said art. Though don’t tell that to my father, who paid for my very expensive degree.)
2) Spend fifteen years writing plays. And okay—it doesn’t have to be plays. It doesn’t even have to be artistic. It could be sports. It could be medicine. Something that requires you to learn discipline, and how to put yourself out there, and receive feedback, and try again, and get knocked down, but you get up again, and my apologies if you’re now humming that Chumba Wumba song. It also probably doesn’t have to be fifteen years, because maybe you’re a quicker study than I am. (Here’s hoping.)
3) Have a baby. All right, you can skip this one unless you have several other decent reasons to have a baby. They definitely cut into your writing time. Alternately, read picture books, then chapter books, then middle grade books aloud for many hours a day. By doing so, you will start to think in middle grade fiction.
4) Write your first manuscript. It won’t get you an agent. (Or it might, but in that case, I do not like you very much. Also, you don’t need this list.)
5) Master the art of the query letter. Avail yourself of the various online resources for query critique. Build thick skin. Eat chocolate. Learn to discern the helpful feedback from the…less helpful. Research agents. FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES.
6) Write your second manuscript. By this point, you should also have found several particularly excellent critique partners.
7) Write your third and fourth manuscripts. Congratulate your excellent critique partners when they land amazing agents and deals with major publishers. BE GENUINE. Their success does not diminish your chances. (If anything, it increases them, because wisdom and experience.)
8) Eat a lot of chocolate.
9) Be jealous. That’s okay.
10) Have a phone call with a top-selling agent who tells you you’re a wonderful fit with the agency and she loves two of your manuscripts and just wants some revisions she’s completely sure you can pull off. Complete those revisions and wait nine months for her to read them and ultimately reject you. (This step is completely optional. There are things to be learned in this step about grit, and grace, and perseverance, but on balance, you’d probably prefer to remain a less evolved person than go through this one.)
11)Eat your weight in chocolate. Desperate sobbing is also advised.
12) Write your fifth manuscript. By this point, it’s best if you don’t care anymore. Bonus points if you really don’t care, rather than saying you don’t care, but still feeling stabbed in the eyeballs every time an agent tells you they love it but can’t sell it, or love it but it’s too close to a client’s work, or love it but WHATEVER.
13) Start your sixth manuscript. And I didn’t mention this on points 6, 7, or 12, but each time you start querying one manuscript, you should have begun writing your next one. This point is non-negotiable. I’m not the quickest study (CLEARLY) but I learned this as a playwright and it is seriously the only thing that has gotten me through around 700 rejections, between books and plays.
14) Finish your sixth manuscript, complete with query letter ready to go. Be in the middle of a final polishing pass when you get an email from an agent who’s had Manuscript #5 for five months, saying she loved it and couldn’t put it down and could you talk on the phone? Bonus points if she’s an agent with absolutely amazing sales, clients you adore, and complete confidence in your work and a plan for how to sell it.
Anyway, that’s how it worked for me. And okay, maybe those steps aren’t all that easy. Except the chocolate-eating. And maybe you don’t have to write six manuscripts to get there. Maybe you write one, or three, or fourteen.
When it comes down to it, it can mostly be summed up in one easy step: Keep writing.
How much chocolate have you consumed on your journey toward getting an agent?