8 years and two failed rounds of querying later, something wonderful happened.
On September 20, Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC emailed me and shared how much she loved my novel. We scheduled a call for the next day. On September 21, she offered me representation over the phone. And on September 28, after contacting other agents, I accepted Amy’s offer and can now say that I am represented by the amaaaaazing Amy Bishop.
Pinch me. Pinch me hard. This feels like a dream.
For eight years I’ve dreamt of this day. In 2009 I sent out my first batch of query letters for the book I’d worked on since I was 18. Bright eyed and hopeful, I queried to agents. One agent requested a Revise & Resubmit, and I had a feeling – I could feel it deep in my bones – that this would result in a representation. I poured all of myself into this project.
I went through two rounds of revisions with her, a back and forth that stretched on for months.
In the end, the agent snail mailed the hard copy to me, with red circles around a few typos, and told me to consider getting an editor. By this point, I was too emotionally drained to try again, so I decided to focus on my first year of university.
In 2014, I sent out another batch of queries for the rewritten-from-scratch version of my first book, and two agents asked for a Revise & Resubmit. Again, I was so hopeful – and felt this hope even deeper in my bones – that one of the agents would offer representation. An affirmation that my writing was worth advocating for.
After months of work, I sent out the revision to the two agents. I waited and waited. Weeks passed by. My emotions went through the most intense roller-coaster ever, making me lose sleep and even my appetite. Then their answers came: not for me.
I was crushed.
For the first time I began wondering if I’d made a big mistake by choosing to pursue my dream. I had poured more than 10,000 hours of my life into this one hope: that I’d land an agent, a step closer to publication. Now all the hours invested seemed like a waste.
Everyone knew me as the writer who would SQUEEL at any chance to write, but that excitement vanished. Writing now carried with it the weight of rejection and a feeling of defeat. So I stopped writing for a few months.
After a while, the writerly restlessness grew too strong. I needed to write again. Yet when I did try to return to writing, I encountered a problem. I no longer wanted to write about England. I still enjoyed BBC period dramas and Victorian novels, but England in my writing-world had become a land clouded with feelings of discouragement. So I had no country for my imagination to thrive in.
I’m so grateful that I went through this, though.
The reluctance to write another historical set in England made my eyes wander. I studied a bit about the British colonial period in India, I played around with the American Revolution, I looked into the lives of loyalists in Canada. Then my eyes strayed further and further to my homeland.
I knew little about the history, and suddenly, I felt this intense longing to read a Korean historical fiction. I searched the web and was disappointed by the limited reading selection.
I figured this was because Korean history wasn’t as interesting?
I picked up a book and read more about Korea’s past, not expecting much. What followed was absolutely exhilarating. Reading about Korean history, I fan-girled so hard, I highlighted every page, and several times, I had to cover my mouth from swearing because I HAD NO IDEA KOREAN HISTORY COULD BE SO KICK-ASS. I felt an urgency to tell a story about this place, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
This urgency led to the birth of Ten Thousand Rivers. I wrote it in a state of half-terror, as I’d never written about Asia before, so had no idea if I was writing this novel ‘correctly’. It was also really tough to find material to help with historical accuracy, so much of my time was spent searching the web and the libraries, getting headaches from entire days spent translating Korean sources. But mostly, I felt so liberated. I was writing because it was fun, letting my characters take me wherever they wished, encouraging them to go to new places so I’d have an excuse to research. I was part author, part explorer.
I revised and revised until I could no longer avoid it. It was time to query.
I no longer had any grand dreams of landing an agent, I had long ago stopped daydreaming about writing a ‘How I Got My Agent’ post. I prepared a query letter because it was almost like muscle-memory, a process in my writing journey I just had to endure through.
On May 2017, during my work break at the library, I sent out my first batch of queries.
One agent, then two, then ten, then more, asked me to send them the full manuscript. But for one reason or another, I received a rejection on those fulls (some very encouraging ones at that). Unlike the previous querying experience, I wasn’t too affected by this all. I slept well and ate well. I’d gone through this twice already, so rejections and R&Rs were nothing new.
In fact, I had expected this to happen.
I had pursued this dream for so long that I expected it to stay just that: a faraway dream.
Then on Monday, I received an email. The subject line read, QUERY: Ten Thousand Rivers. It was from Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. She had finished reading the requested full over the weekend and had really loved it. She wrote that she needed to do a little consulting on her end before getting back to me with a definite answer.
Even then, I told myself not to hope. Everyone around me was like, ‘This is great news!!!!!’ But I was just waiting for something not to work out. My inner doubt told me: ‘She’s an agent from Dystel…DYSTEL! She’s an advocate for diverse fiction AND she appreciates historical fiction! She’s way too good to be true.’
I had learned over the years to lower my expectations, so I told myself to anticipate nothing.
Not even a week later, I received another email from Amy with the subject line: “TEN THOUSAND RIVERS.” I found this odd. For nearly a decade, all my email exchanges with agents had come in the form of, Query: or Requested Material:
Very odd, indeed.
I was at work. I opened the email. I knew it would be a rejection and so prepared myself for it. But as I read on, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I couldn’t find the usual “I enjoyed the novel, BUT…” Instead, Amy wanted to chat with me over the phone.
She wanted to talk about representation.
I was at work in the middle of binding books with elastics. I ended up throwing the elastics into the air, because I wanted to scream so hard but couldn’t and wanted to explode. My heart was racing. My hands and face sweating. I couldn’t believe what I had just read.
I ran into the staff lounge and called my fiancé, Bosco. I kept telling him this wasn’t real. That I’d misread. So he read the email over, slowly. He assured me that if he was the real Bosco on the phone, and not a dream, then the email was real too. I was sitting on the couch at this point, rocking back and forth, saying in a hundred different ways, ‘This can’t be true.’
For the remainder of the day, Amy and I exchanged brief emails, and finally scheduled THE CALL for the next day at 11:30am.
I hardly slept that night, and the next morning, I prepared the questions I wanted to ask her. I still had one more hour left until The Call. So I just sat in front of my phone, paced around the house, then sat in front of it again. I counted down each minute.
By 11:01, I kid you not, I was sweating and my heart was beating frantically. I was minutes away from the moment I had dreamt of for YEARS. The moment I thought would never, ever come.
On the dot, my phone rang. An unknown number from NEW YORK.
I was nervous, and Amy knew, but she was super nice and understanding. I kept thinking: oh my gosh, I’m talking to an agent, an AGENT!!! With every passing minute, I became more convinced that Amy was a competent, creative and dedicated agent whose vision of my book not only agreed with my own—but crystallized it.
Our conversation ended with her telling me, “I love your story.”
So this is the story of how I landed an agent.
When I look back at the 8 years it took to get here, readers, I would not change a single day of it. The 100+ rejections taught me that hope is a fierce thing that carries you on its shoulder, no matter how steep the climb. And my experience with Revise & Resubmit requests truly humbled me. This experience taught me that I should never be so arrogant as to think that there’s no more room for writing improvement, or to put myself down so low as to believe improvement is impossible.
The journey ahead is still long, but I am so incredibly grateful that I now have Amy to advocate for my writing.
Of course, I definitely wouldn’t have made it here without support. I’m indebted to Shaylin and Evan for their invaluable critiques on TTR, and Windy for her support and always encouraging our group to write, write, write! To the WRUT crew for being real life writer friends and supporters! To Matthew, Kim S., Brenna, Clariza, Mina, Tatiana, Mado, for being early readers. To Julie Dao for helping me with my query letter and for being one of my greatest inspirations to never give up.
I’d like to thank all the Night Flower CPs that helped me become a stronger writer, especially to Rowenna (Congrats on your book deal!!!), Cassie, Becca, Flore, Grace V. To Yana for her contagious enthusiasm. To the readers of the version back when it was called TRC: Val-Rae, Kim S., Shaylin, Rika, Sarah Dill, Brenna. I hope I didn’t miss anyone, but it’s possible that I did (forgive me!), because so many people helped me with this project.
And, of course, a humongous thanks to my family. To my sister, for always being my greatest ally, and my brother, for his support. To my parents, who encouraged me to pursue writing, never pressuring me to do anything other than what I love. To my small group ladies who always embraced me on my darkest days, never tired of my writing woes, no matter how many times I cried over it. To Cristina for her pearls of wisdom. And to Bosco, my unshakeable source of encouragement throughout this whole process, thank you for the Agent Excel Spreadsheet and my mock book cover.
And a big thank you to my agent, the amazing Amy Elizabeth Bishop, for seeing potential in my work and pulling me out of the Query Trenches!
RUNAWAY COURTESAN (November 2009 – August 2010):
Queries sent: 30
Partials requested: 0
Full requested: 2
Offers of representation: 0
NIGHT FLOWER (October 2014 – October 2015):
Queries sent: 60
Partials requested: 0
Fulls requested: 2
Offers of representation: 0
TEN THOUSAND RIVERS (April – September 2017)
Queries sent: 85
Partials requested: 2
Fulls requested: 14
Offers of representation: 1*
*Fact: Even though I knew I wanted to work with Amy, out of etiquette, I contacted the other agents to let them know that I’d received an offer. Agents bowed out. A day after accepting Amy’s offer, I checked my Spam folder and saw that another agent had emailed me two days ago. Her whole office had read my manuscript, and she called Ten Thousand Rivers a ‘force to be reckoned with.’ She asked what time I was available… To chat? To offer representation? Or maybe not? I have no idea, and it’ll remain a mystery forever.