HOW I GOT MY AGENT (after 5 books and 300+ rejections)—Anahita Karthik
Updated: Jul 12, 2022
Wait, so you’re actually telling me I have an agent now and I get to write one of these?
I’ve dreamt about writing the HOW I GOT MY AGENT post for years, and always had some dramatic vision as to how I’d do it, but now that I’m holed up on my creaky hostel bed with my fingers hovering above the keyboard, I’m out of words and honestly, a bit overwhelmed. Ever since I got that OMG I loved your novel and I want to set up a call email, it’s like I’ve been living a fever dream. I’ve read tons of these posts, and when I say tons, I mean tons. I’ve been writing and sending my manuscripts out to publishers (and eventually agents) since I was 15, so you bet I’ve read my share of bizarre success stories.
My journey to landing an agent was nothing like the authors I kept comparing myself to, though, and now I truly understand what all those people who said NO TWO JOURNEYS ARE OR WILL EVER BE THE SAME actually meant.
Before we dive into the fun stuff (trust me, it has been anything but fun, and I still have nightmares about querying), my journey hasn’t been easy. It took
dozens of buckets of tears
and hundreds of sleepless nights
to get here.
Before I dive fully into the details of my querying journey, I want to clear a few things out. I already ranted about this on Twitter: the "don’t give up" attitude is super toxic. Hard work doesn’t always reap rewards; luck and timing absolutely do matter; and no number of full requests or R&Rs guarantee an offer. Take the break you need and deserve, and get back to writing only when you’re ready to struggle again. We’re writers, we’re here because we love our stories and we want our voices to be heard and read by everyone, and there is struggle involved. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel–it just takes a lot of time and patience to get to it.
Anyway, here’s what y’all came for: my HOW I GOT MY AGENT story.
I started writing when I was super young. To be precise, it was my Enid Blyton stage, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I’d just started reading. It was that stage where I’d devour like five-six of those tiny books, visit the library multiple times a day, and freak out about all these complex, funny, lovely characters Ms. Blyton had so delightfully crafted. I was especially obsessed with the Malory Towers series, and to date, I’ve read each of those books 60+ times.
The first full-length novel I ever wrote (this isn’t BOOK 1 though) was a Malory Towers fanfic that was about Darrell Rivers’ daughter going to the beloved boarding school. I finished that book in a month, and filled 80 lined pages of a lil blue notebook. I don’t remember what got me into writing, but I remember wanting to make other people feel the way Enid Blyton had made me feel reading her stories. Only my mom and a few cousins read/listened to anything of that Malory Towers fanfic, and they were so incredibly encouraging of my ridiculous stories and writing. Their oohs and aahs kindled in me a sense of glee I hadn’t really felt before. I used to illustrate stories all the time, but this was the first full-length thing I wrote, with chapters, punctuations, and dialogues, and I was delighted by it. I still have that blue notebook, and when I flip through it sometimes, I realise I got most of the formatting right, which is crazy. I’m so proud of baby Anahita, of all her dreams and ambitions and those silver stars in her eyes, because she was the one who got me here.
I wrote half of book 2 the next month, but dropped it fast. Even as an eight-year-old, I had enough sense to know that nobody accepted submissions on paper. Besides, my book was much too small to qualify as a novel. It was smaller than Ms. Blyton’s thinnest books. So, I set out to employ my elder cousin to type book 1 out, and as I read the contents out to her, I fleshed out the story. Added more words, dialogues, and emotions. This book was going to be published. People would gobble this shit up. I was a genius.
Until I accidentally deleted the document.
I cried a bit, had a book funeral, and then moved onto the next thing–this one an original story. Over the course of the next few years, all the way until I was 14, I switched between writing on random notebooks, tissue papers in hotels, spare pages I procured from my dad’s office, notepads, and sometimes drafting stuff out on dad’s old laptop. I completed maybe 5 full-length stories (none of them BOOK 1 yet), drafted bits and pieces of multiple others, and collected them all in thick folders. When I fully switched to writing on the desktop, I saved dozens of documents in my Google Drive account (I was a grown-up now, guys). I had caught the writing bug, and I’d caught it bad.
Writing was an addiction, an escape. When I wasn’t writing or reading (which was never), I was thinking about reading or writing.
Problem was, all of my stories were white.
Every book I devoured lacked diversity, and it never occurred to me that I could write desi stories that represented me. I wrote stories with Peters and Susans and Marthas, until my rockstar mom called me out on it one day and told me to write stories with Indian characters. I told her Indian names and characters weren’t cool, and if I wanted to be famous, I couldn’t possibly write Indian characters. I had planned my path to fame to such an extent I had considered dropping my surname when I got published, because Anahita alone didn’t sound as desi as Anahita Karthik, and that made the former cooler. I mean, I hadn’t ever picked up any books with desi-sounding names, had I? But my mom eventually got to me, saying that if I didn’t represent my ethnicity, who would?
So I started writing desi stories. And you know what? I fell in love with them, these characters, who looked like me, who sounded like me in my head. I had a long way to go before my stories would be completely rid of their white-washing, but my mom’s advice had given me a push. It was a start.
Then in ninth-grade, I had the profound thought most of us have in our lives at some point: what the hell am I doing with my life? I was a good writer for my age; I had written tons of stories and won a lot of competitions, and I deserved to be world-famous. I was 14, I had big dreams, and I wasn’t published or famous yet, which SUCKED. I decided I had to complete something proper, something that qualified as a novel.
I set out to draft my official BOOK 1, a YA Fantasy called Forbidden Destiny. I worked hard on it for a year. I switched between typing it out on the notes app on my dad’s iPad (thank you, dad, and I’m sorry if you still see some of my embarrassing stories on your various devices). I had become better at backing up my stories after that dreadful mishap that happened in fourth-grade, but I still lost 2 chapters of it. Yet I kept going. I pantsed the entire thing (I’m a hardcore pantser and I simply, for the life of me, cannot plot), and typed THE END when I’d hit a humongous 111k words.
This was my first, proper, complete story…that qualified as a novel.
I wanted to publish it.
I didn’t know anything about how the publishing industry worked back then, so I didn’t do much research. I just looked up HOW TO GET PUBLISHED on Google, clicked on the first, location-based result that came up and decided, yes, I was going to go with it.
The website I’d stumbled upon was one of a vanity press.
I was a kid. I didn’t know there were traditional publishers, agents, and ways to get published where you didn’t have to pay from your own pocket. Given my utter lack of research, I was lucky I hadn’t been click baited by a shady vanity press.
Here’s the thing with vanity presses. It is sort of like self-publishing, but it also isn’t, because instead of you doing all the work yourself, you pay a team of professionals and have them work on everything from designing the book cover, to editing, to marketing.
The vanity press I got my novel published with was a pretty decent one, and I had an okay experience with them. The reason I jumped to get published with them was that from the date of the receipt of payment, they’d get the novel out to all distributors in 30 days. I wanted a quick way out, quick success, quick everything. Because I was impatient, if nothing. I remember being over the moon as I went over the process with the publishing team (which was really cooperative, by the way), knowing I’d be published in 30 days. I had so many relatives; if every one of them bought a copy of my book, I’d become an instant bestseller. All the kids in school would be so jealous of me. I was a prodigy, I–
Look, I’m not really undermining my achievement. What I did was something not every fourteen- or fifteen-year-old does. I worked hard on that book; and drafted the thing during my board year, and still managed to get a good grade. I did something productive, something fun, something that gave me momentary happiness.
Momentary, because–despite me jumping and sobbing with joy when the first print-on-demand paperback copies landed on my doorstep–reality hit. I instantly became famous in school, of course. All the teachers and relatives were fawning over me, social media was flooded with congratulatory comments, my parents were so, so proud, and the people who’d read Forbidden Destiny loved it. But
I didn’t become a bestseller
Only my close friends and relatives actually bought and read my book (some people I’d been so sure would buy and freak out over my book didn’t even bother, and I legit lost friends because of this)
and my book was full of typos, overused ellipses, and errors
Turns out, there’s this thing called revisions.
Before submitting a (disastrous) Word document of my novel, I hadn’t even bothered to proofread, let alone REVISE the first draft. I got the first draft published…AS IT WAS.
*pained screaming ensues*
The vanity press had an editorial service, but it was too expensive, and I’d already spent (not much, as I recall, but it was a huge amount to me then) a lot of my parents’ money on the publishing package. I was so sure that Forbidden Destiny was a work of art that I had read the book out to my brothers and cousin sisters ONCE, and thought that was enough.
I did eventually proofread the book and republish it, but whatever. I was in my Divergent and Hunger Games phase, so it was a YA Fantasy that was cliched and problematic in a few ways. But it was decent. I was a kid. I did the best I could.
My official BOOK 2 was a sequel to Forbidden Destiny, and it was called Inevitable Destiny.
If you’ve been following my age timeline, you’ll notice that I wrote BOOK 1 at age fourteen and got it published at fifteen. The next two years, I didn’t really write anything, because I had to focus on my nightmarish eleventh and twelfth grade. I was studying all the time, crying over the board exams and entrance tests to get into college, and panicking over my career aim.
I never stopped dreaming though. In the little free time I got, I did better research, wrote a lot of fanfictions and short stories and got better at my writing, and kind of figured out that self publishing and traditional publishing were two very different things.
I want to clear this one thing out, though, before I move on: I have nothing against vanity presses (unless they’re scamming you) or self publishing. I have some incredible writer friends who’re self published, whose stories are so, so good. One of my favourite authors ever is Sarra Cannon, who indie-published her YA urban-fantasy series called Beautiful Demons–which is incredible, by the way, but self publishing was not for me. Since I’d tried it out so young, I’d been put off very quickly. That’s just my experience, really. Both traditional and self publishing have their pros and cons, and it's up to you, always.
After researching well and honing my craft, I wanted to traditionally publish. I still didn’t know about agents, since I was looking at Indian presses and publishers, most of whom accept unsolicited submissions. I even got interest from a traditional publisher for Forbidden Destiny, but that didn’t really pan out, exciting as it seemed. I knew I needed to write an entirely new book.
I planned out a timeline: I’d finish Inevitable Destiny and the third book of the trilogy, self publish both, and then write an entirely new book I’d traditionally publish. I was so exasperatingly impatient…I wanted it all so fast; it really killed the love I had for writing at some point.
I wrote most of Inevitable Destiny (BOOK 2) in the holidays after my board exams got over and before my entrance exams were to start. And it was really good. This time, I made sure to proofread and revise it a couple of times before sending it off to the same vanity press that’d published my first novel.
Apparently, they’d become a traditional press now.
What in the world?
It seemed to click into place, suddenly. I wanted to be traditionally published so bad, and the press that already knew me and my work was now a traditional press! I’d send them my second novel, remind them of my awesome first book they’d published before, and I’d get a book deal in no time.
I got my first rejection a day later.
Little did I know it would be the first of hundreds.
I bawled my eyes out that day. For the first time, a seed of doubt crept into my mind: was I actually a good writer, or had I been fooling myself all these years?
The press mentioned they had a self publishing imprint, though, and I could submit to them if I liked. I was too new to all of this, and scared to explore more, and I thought that since I originally set out to self publish the second book, I should take the same route. My father paid the press again, and while I was sitting for entrance tests for colleges and shifting cities, I worked with the team to get my book out. This time, the experience wasn’t great. And it wasn't the press. It was me.
The thing with me was, once I set out to do something and didn't get it, I crumbled. I wasn't used to it. I had never failed in my life. I was an achiever. And my impatience to achieve wasn’t helping.
It was in my desperate need for fame and international publication that I finally looked up…agents. And query letters. And agencies. And contracts.
I had a new goal.
I would submit Forbidden Destiny to agents and see if any of them liked it. Worst decision, because everyone knows you do not query agents with previously self published books. Excitedly, I drafted up the MOST HORRENDOUS QUERY LETTER ON THE PLANET. It:
was 6 pages long
Started with ‘to whomsoever it may concern’
I got 4 well-deserved rejections.
I decided to let my trilogy be. The second book would come out with the vanity press, sure, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. I wanted an agent. And I wanted an agent badly.
Now that I think about it, those two-three months before I joined college was the time I’ve written the most in my entire life. I finished BOOK 2, started BOOK 3 and wrote a pretty big chunk of it. BOOK 3 was the product of a vague but beautiful dream, and it was a YA Sci-Fi that’s like Carve The Mark meets The Lunar Chronicles. It was called Five Dimensions, and I loved it so much. I spent a year working on that book, fueled by determination to query it and land an agent. I was determined to do everything right this time. I had made many mistakes in the past, but I was 17 now (and 18 when I started querying the YA Sci-Fi) and I knew better.
God, I loved the book. It was everything I, as a Marvel fan, loved. It had a brilliant, sensory world, an epic concept, and I worked so, so hard on it. It was around that time that I was beginning to discover my queerness, and this story had two POVs–one of them being queer. I hadn’t fully admitted to myself that I could have feelings for people other than boys, because I had started dating my boyfriend a few months ago and maybe, I was a fraud, and not really queer. Writing made it easier to let the tough feelings flow.
I finished Five Dimensions after a year, in March 2020, when Covid struck. I wrote up a query letter I thought was amazeballs (it wasn't), sent it to a few close friends (who knew nothing about query letters, so obviously, they thought it was amazeballs too), and polished my book a bit. I had my mom, a few friends, and my boyfriend read it (he doesn’t even like reading books lmao; sorry Pratyush). I had researched agents for a year now, so I had a dream list typed out on my spreadsheet.
When I thought my book was ready, I drafted up a letter to a big, DREAM AGENT, and a few others to other agents, and hit send.
Rejections flooded my inbox. And like an idiot, I kept sending.
Rejection. Send. Rejection. Send. Rejection.
I sent out 86 queries over the course of 3 months. I think I revised my novel two-three more times, but they weren't structural revisions…I didn’t know developmental edits existed. I thought you just needed to edit for typos and plot holes and the job would be done. I was so wrong.
And I was so tired.
That period was horrible. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t understand what was happening. I was a good writer, for god’s sake, everyone knew that. And this book was good. SO WHY?
At some point in those 3 months, drowning in rejections, I stumbled upon #Pitmad and Pitchwars. Which changed everything for me, because if I hadn’t taken part in Pitmad, I would’ve never joined Twitter. I was pretty shocked to discover that the writing and publishing community was so active on Twitter. I wasn’t active though; I was just there to pitch.
I wrote up a few average pitches (I was learning) and scheduled them. They garnered a decent amount of attention and got a few likes: 1 from an agent, and 2 from editors. I submitted to the agent–whom I got a pretty quick rejection from–and to one of the editors, who was legit and accepted unsolicited submissions. I sent off the materials along with the manuscript to the editor in May. I got a reply in June.
I had given up on BOOK 3 already by then, and started to speed draft a YA Dystopian Sci-Fi that was like Divergent meets Black Widow (this will eventually become BOOK 4), which I was really enjoying so far and was already 30k words into. So, when I opened the reply email, I got the shock of my life.
The editor I’d originally submitted to had passed along the manuscript to a fellow editor, who got back to me saying they enjoyed my novel and characters and were interested in acquisitioning it.
SOMEBODY WAS INTERESTED IN ACQUISITIONING MY NOVEL.
I screamed and dashed to the other room, startling my parents. In between burbling, happy tears, I told them a publisher was interested in publishing my novel. They were beyond the moon happy to hear that, and enthusiastically asked me questions. I’d been considering shelving my novel, and I didn’t think I could be the kind of person who could have options. An editor loved it, the publisher was pretty big, and I was desperate. I said, yes yes ohmygod I would love it if you could submit my novel to the acquisitions board. The editor happily got back and said they’d have a response soon.
I waited, and waited, and a month went by. In that time, I scoured through the publisher’s website and scarfed down every blog post written by authors and agents who’d worked with them. They were big, and books rarely got rejected at acquisitions. I’d already imagined I’d go to the States for my book launch, and have a book signing at a Barnes and Noble–
I got an R&R. Not exactly what I’d been expecting, but that was okay. I knew my book had problems, and when the editor sent over their edit letter, I connected well with their vision. I was super excited to incorporate the revisions and get a polished manuscript back. The next 2 months, I set aside my dystopian WIP, revised Five Dimensions to death, had a few more friends read it, and took references for agents from the editor. I spent day and night reading and editing the novel until it was as perfect as I could make it.
Then I took a deep breath, and clicked send.
3 days later, the editor got back saying they were super impressed with my revisions and would love to submit the novel to the acquisitions board again. I was shaking where I was perched on the bed, and sent squealing messages to all of my friends (I just want to add that my boyfriend Pratyush and BFF Srishti were my literal rocks through this period, and I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without them. I love you both SO much <3)
I waited, and waited, and waited again.
1 month later, I received an email from the publisher. It was the middle of the night, and I’d been refreshing my inbox for no reason (which is something you probably relate to if you’re querying). I was both scared and excited. I was so sure it was an acceptance. I sat up, kicked aside my sheets, and opened the email.
In a split second, my dreams shattered.
It was a rejection.
I’d tried so hard to not get my hopes up, but the editor loved my novel so much, and I knew I’d sent across an amazing, revised story with fantastic world-building and breathless action. I knew I was good enough to be published. And yet…there it was. A rejection, with reasons for the pass that did not make sense to me. Those were things I could’ve worked on when I was revising, things they could’ve told me before.
The next few months were horrible. In my desperation, I sent off a lot of queries, and got more rejections. I was constantly staying up late, breaking down without reason, and losing confidence bit-by-bit. Hell, I couldn’t get myself to continue that dystopian novel I’d started, because it wasn’t even that good when I read it again.
But I mentally knew I wasn’t giving up yet. It took a few months to get myself out of that black hole of thoughts, but I eventually did, and picked up the dystopian novel again. I knew that if I needed to get back to drafting again (and this novel needed a major revamp), I would have to say goodbye to Five Dimensions.
And I shelved it.
I’d finally figured out the art of revising novels, and what made a novel not just good, but ready. My YA dystopian, which was titled Poison then, had the best hook I’d ever come up with and characters that sucked me into their head. To this date, despite my BOOK 5 being the book that got a shit ton of requests and landed me my agent, I still have the softest corner for Poison. I went through a lot with that book.
Five Dimensions got rejected by the publisher in October. I resumed writing Poison in December. I have my brother Manas to thank for helping me get over the terrible writers’ block I had for the story. He had the genius idea to make Poison into a dual timeline novel, and it changed everything. I rewrote the entire novel. Poison had originally just been the past timeline, so I completed that by the first week of January, and then started to draft the present timeline. I’ve had multiple beta readers for my book tell me the timelines seamlessly blended with each other, and that was because I already knew my characters’ pasts when I sat down to write the present timeline. Take that as a tip for writing dual timelines, if you will.
You might’ve seen me talk about Waida and Rafe on Twitter, the main character and the love interest of Poison. I’d been in Waida’s head for quite a while now, and I just…god, I’ve never written a complex character like her. It took a toll on me to get myself out of her head and connect to my other WIPs, because I’d been sucked so deeply into her dark, twisted mind. Poison is the darkest thing I’ve written, and I guess I sort of channelled my sadness from what was happening in the world, to having to shelve Five Dimensions. It was so dark I knew it couldn’t fit into YA, but I wasn’t sure about the adult market, so I initially queried it as a YA novel.
I’m getting teary as I talk about Waida and Rafe, because these babies of mine…they were so deeply in love; their connection was so true; and this was my first time pouring my queerness into this story, unlike the last time, when I'd still been questioning. I laid myself bare on the page, in the crude, rough world I’d created, the thrilling, violent action, and the painful, depressing narrative. Every time I read Poison now, it breaks me a tiny bit. I had so, so much hope brimming in me when I finished the first draft of the novel in March, and revised it multiple times for a month and a half. I was barely sleeping, barely eating, surviving only on that adrenaline-driven need to make the novel perfect, something agents would fall in love with.
I wrote a decent query letter (I was slowly beginning to understand the formula to writing a good query letter), polished my first pages, and with a lot of hesitant hopefulness, sent off a few queries. With BOOK 3, I’d been too impatient, too reckless, and hadn’t given room for revisions between each batch I sent out. With this one, I let each query trickle out like a drop of water, because I had so much hope and faith in this novel. I loved it so much. This novel would make it, and I would pull through, even if it took months, because I would surely break if I had to shelve it. I got about 12 query rejections, overhauled my first chapter and query letter (shoutout to Claire Winn, who helped me polish my first chapter and query letter, she’s an angel) with each batch, and finally got a full request after 4 months of querying agonisingly slowly.
It was my first full request.
It gave me the boost I needed, the faith I was so clearly losing. It was one of my happiest days of 2021. It was around the same time that I became a lot more active on Twitter, started tweeting regularly and immersed myself in the amazing writing community. This was when I met Sujin and Megan, who would go on to become my best writing friends and biggest supporters through this journey.
During one of the pitching events I took part in for Poison, an editor from the same publishing house that had rejected me before liked my tweet. I was excited and scared at the same time. The publishing house had already rejected me once before, could I bear to go through it all over again? And did I really want to submit to an editor directly again? I wanted an agent, so bad, and I wanted to go that way; it was just my choice. After a lot of thought, I didn’t submit my novel to them.
But the day after the pitching event, I had a Twitter DM from the editor who’d given me the R&R with Five Dimensions, congratulating me on the second interest from their publishing house. We somehow got to talking again, and they asked how querying my YA was going. I told them I had a few requests, which wasn’t great, but I guess that was because the genre wasn’t marketable. And then they did something super sweet–they offered to critique my first chapter and query letter for me.
When they got back with feedback a week later, they’d raised a point I’d been debating for a while: my novel wasn’t YA, and it wasn’t Sci-Fi. It had a nineteen-year-old protagonist in the present timeline, and very adult themes. While the original draft had been dystopian, which was a subgenre of Sci-Fi, this wasn’t. I made two tweaks to my query letter after that, marketing my novel as adult instead of YA, and an action thriller instead of a Sci-Fi.
I had two requests in my inbox that night.
THIS WAS IT.
I also had my best CP and writing wife Sujin take a look at my first chapter and she gave me the most amazing suggestion on rewriting those opening pages, and I had the most perfect sub package after that. Since my following had been increasing on Twitter, the September 2021 Pitmad was the one where my Poison pitch took off. It got 10+ agent likes and editor interest as well, and I nearly screamed from my balcony in happiness. I’d taken part in SO MANY pitch contests, and this was the first time my pitch had taken off.
I sent off those queries and had a bunch of requests over the course of the next week. It was the happiest I’d been in such a long while. Something exciting was happening alongside Poison doing so well (I’ll get back to this soon). September is also my birthday month, so it was just an amazing month in general. I got 11 requests total from a bunch of amazing agents, which was a lot for me at that time.
This was it.
Poison, the book of my heart, would get an agent.
And then in October, the full rejections came, one after the other.
I’d shoved the impatient, desperate Anahita into a hole long ago, and I’d been carefully querying Poison so far, but somehow, seeing the rejections crawl in and watching the calendar months flip closer to the end of the year made me panic. I had such a good sub package (the only reason I was getting rejections was marketability), why couldn’t I query my entire list? And none of the agents who were rejecting my fulls were coming back with feedback. I had revised my novel to perfection; I knew nothing was wrong with it. I was growing afraid, and the question of will I have to shelve this novel too came to me, and it hurt. I couldn’t give up, and sat down to query my entire list.
October 2021 was the worst month of my life. The worst. Worse than it had been last time, when I’d shelved Five Dimensions. Worse than when I set aside my trilogy.
I got rejection after rejection after rejection. My inbox was flooded with them. I got some really shitty anxiety attacks, sunk deep into depression, and lost myself. I barely spoke to people, became nocturnal, cried multiple times a day, and started considering quitting writing. I’m not going to go into detail about what I went through, but on October 7th, when I got 7 rejections in the span of 3 hours, I tipped over.
I shelved the thing I loved the most, and it broke me.
BOOK 5 (the one that got me my agent)
There’s one bit I left out before, about something exciting happening in the sidelines.
In the month of July 2021, shortly after the R&R editor and I had gotten back in touch, they DMed me and asked me if I would be interested in writing a marketable novel that we could work on together and present to the acquisitions board again. I’d already realised Poison wasn’t a marketable novel, and got into the habit of working on something new as I queried each novel, and I’d been wanting to work on something marketable anyway. When the editor texted me, I was thrilled. I immediately sent them the pitches of two YA Fantasy ideas that had been brewing up for a while now.
One was a Historical Fantasy, and the other was Desi Witch.
After a few passes, both the editor and I voted for Desi Witch, because something about the concept was so magnetic. It was fun, magical, desi, gay, and most of all, had a market. It was an idea that came to me when I decided to mesh my two favourite TV shows ever: Gilmore Girls and Just Add Magic. I had a vague idea for the plot too, because the editor was pretty shocked to hear I was a pantser, and I came up with a sorta plot for them.
I started drafting BOOK 5 around the same time I was getting all those requests and attention for Poison after Pitmad in August-September. But I couldn’t get out of Waida’s head, and I was kind of stuck on this other fantastic WIP I’d started drafting (which is the most perfect thing I’ve written, AHHH). I wasn’t someone who liked Contemporary novels, so drafting a Contemporary-Fantasy like Desi Witch was a new avenue for me. I wasn’t nailing the voice, characters, or world-building. The editor didn’t hesitate to tell me these things either, which hurt even though I knew they were absolutely correct.
And then the shitty month of October came. In an effort to take my head away from BOOK 4, I shut myself off from the world, shelved whatever I’d written of Desi Witch so far, and started all over again. Whatever I’d written before was a result of plotting with the editor, and I mess up when I plot. I dove into the story without a plot, and pantsed 40k words, fast. This time, it went better. I was connecting to my protagonist, Ira, to her voice, and I had read a few Contemporary novels that made me fall in love with the genre, hard.
I drafted almost half the novel that month. A huge motivator in the drafting process was Sujin, who I’d grown super close to, and we’d both read almost everything we both had written. Our writing styles were different yet worked well together, and she wanted to draft a marketable novel as well. We drafted our WIPs together, speed writing with the goal of finishing our novels by December, sharing every 30k words. Sujin’s Korean café rom-com–which was what she was working on, you can see me screaming about it here– is frankly the best thing I’ve read in a while.
It was the best feeling having someone to go through the process with, and I sometimes sat down to write just because I wanted to hit that target word count so I could send across chapters to her and read her screaming comments. We were each other’s biggest hype-queens, and without each other, we wouldn’t have been able to actually finish our first drafts by December.
Of course, I was also battling depression at that time, so Desi Witch helped pull me out of it the times it got too tough. I didn’t think I could love the story as much as I loved Poison, but I fell in love with it pretty hard as I wrote. Since Sujin and I were sharing frequently, our first drafts ended up being near-perfect, with most revision and edit suggestions already incorporated as we went along.
I’d also mastered the art of writing query letters and first chapters. I wrote my query letter in less than an hour in the month of October (Amanda Woody’s query letter for THEY HATE EACH OTHER taught me how to nail voice and stakes), and there’ve barely been any changes to it since. I knew how many revisions I’d gone through with my sub package with my older novels…but somehow, I’d gained so much experience in the trenches that I had a query-ready sub package with little to no revisions on either the letter, chapter, or synopsis.
Things were still going down bad with Poison, though, and I was nowhere near done with Desi Witch. I was missing that high of getting requests, because each request was a boost of validation, which I was craving and missing. #DVPit was on the 25th of October, and I wasn’t even halfway through my first draft, but I wanted to do something reckless. Something fun. And this voice in my head told me things with Desi Witch would be different.
I pitched my novel during DVPit with Sujin, who thought it was a crazy idea pitching our novels without them being complete. I had everything ready, from pitches to aesthetic boards to supportive-as-hell friends who had been eyeing my Desi Witch tweets. These were my best and most popular tweets.
desi CEMETERY BOYS x gay PRACTICAL MAGIC
When her coven’s magic collapses, 18yo kitchen-witch Ira must: 1. Take dead ex-BFF Alia’s help, 2. Arm her mom’s food truck w/ spices & magical ingredients, 3. NOT fall for Alia–unless she wants to be banished from her coven.
desi GILMORE GIRLS x gay JUST ADD MAGIC
When their coven’s magic collapses, kitchen-witch Ira & her mom are forced to: 1. Band together w/ a spunky spirit, 2. Prep for a road trip, 3. Take their rival covens’ help before time runs out–if they don’t get killed first.
Every one of those tweets took off, bigger than they ever had, bigger than my #Pitmad pitches for Poison. Likes and retweets flooded my notifications, and in those 12 hours, I momentarily forgot what I’d been going through. I was feeling a mix of utter shock and happiness, yet a part of me had already known my tweets would do well. This pitch was everything the market was looking for, and the mood boards sent across the exact vibe I was going for, plus it was close to Halloween, which meant the demand for witches was high.
I got 31 agent likes and 12 editor retweets in total (Sujin became an even bigger hit, it’s crazy).
I noted every one of those agents and editors on a brand new spreadsheet I made for Desi Witch, along with other agents I knew would be interested in seeing my novel once I finished it. I nearly considered querying those agents, but held myself back because I knew I would be done with draft 1 fast, and I could wait a bit more.
I finished draft 1 by November end, only a couple of days after Sujin finished her draft 1 of her café rom-com. It was exhilarating. This was the fastest, best draft 1 I’d written.
I jumped into revisions immediately (a few major suggestions Sujin had made while reading), and finished them in a week. Then I shot my beautifully formatted documents into the inboxes of the lovely beta readers who had expressed interest in reading it (read: held me at gunpoint and demanded that I send the novel to them). All of them got back in like, less than a month.
And not even one of them had any major revision suggestions. They LOVED my novel, cried about it online, made some amazing mood boards, and just were the best? Like, they genuinely thought the novel was ready. I couldn’t stop that voice in my head that said this is it this is it even though I wanted to tell it to shut up so hard.
But I listened.
And sent off 4 queries over a period of 2 weeks.
Every one of them was a request.
That is a 100% request rate y’all.
I couldn’t believe it. This had never, ever happened to me. There was something about this book. Everyone was loving it. And that slowly, so slowly injected confidence into me, confidence that had been sucked out of me by the absolutely horrid query trenches. I revised the novel again as the beta readers’ small edits dribbled in, bringing the word count down from 98k to 95k. When I was sick of editing the novel, I finally sent the novel to the editor, who’d been patiently waiting for it. It was mid-December, and they said they’d get back to me by the end of the month. Which was good, because I had my end semester exams coming up, and I needed to start studying.
It was such a stressful period, the months of November and December; I’d drafted and revised a whole novel in such a short period, and I also had my academics to focus on, which I’d been neglecting. I was also slowly recovering in terms of my mental health, and the validation I was getting from the response for Desi Witch, plus this huge internship I bagged helped speed up the recovery process.
I gave my exams and waited for the editor’s response. Some part of me was itching to send the novel to the agents who had requested the fulls and partials already, but I knew the editor would have revision suggestions of their own and I’d need to work on them before we could present it to the acquisitions board. So I waited. On 6th January, 2022, I received their edit letter.
I read it and started sobbing.
It was horrible.
I’m not going to go into the details of it, but I did not connect with their vision–I could not connect to their vision even if I tried. Working on these revisions would mean changing almost everything about my novel, everything I and my beta readers and the agents had loved. I took a couple of days to read and re-read the edit letter, just to make sure the impatient Anahita wasn’t resurfacing and I wasn’t making an irrational decision.
The more I read it, the more I knew I couldn’t implement the revisions. The thing with R&Rs (this was definitely one) is that you, as a writer, need to question if it makes your story better, not different. I talked to Srishti and Pratyush about it (seriously, what would I do without these two?), and even my mom, and all three agreed that these revisions would most definitely change what I loved about this story.
The rational part of me was convinced at the end that I simply could not work on these revisions–even if that meant losing out on an opportunity with the big publisher again–but the emotional part of me felt like I owed the editor commitment to what we’d started together. They'd helped me out so much throughout, and were my biggest supporter, the person who first believed in me.
In the end, it was the toughest thing to tell them that, no, I was sorry, I could not work on these edits. They were so understanding and so sweet, and we parted ways amicably.
Once we did, I thought I might be heartbroken again, but instead, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And that helped me power through another week of editing my novel before I jumped into the querying trenches. I line and copy edited Desi Witch, getting the word count down from 95k to 89k because I’d gotten a couple of rejections that I guessed were because of the high word count.
I started querying Desi Witch on 13th Jan.
I got my first offer of representation on 12th Feb.
That’s less than a month spent in the trenches.
Desi Witch got request after request after request. And not partials, but fulls. So many of them. Every time I opened an email, I’d see QueryTracker’s green upload button smiling up at me, and I’d smile right back at it. My submission package had an extremely high request rate of 80%. I have Aymen, Megan (and her Nick Jonas gifs), Kalie, and Victoria to thank because they were always there when I sent them a I got another full request! text. My brothers Padam and Manas would listen to me rant for hours about querying and full requests and pitches, even though I'm sure they rather would've done anything else, lol. In total, I got 31 full/partial requests for Desi Witch, something I couldn’t have imagined would happen to me in my wildest dreams.
And then, as usual, the full rejections started coming in, many of them getting back with very specific revision suggestions. I got multiple R&Rs, which made that tiny, anxious voice in the back of my head question whether I actually did need revisions, and if I should’ve worked on them with the editor. But I powered on, and listened to Victoria, who told me to query my entire list fast, because I could always work on revisions if needed and send agents an updated version.
There were some good moments too, which helped take away the anxiety from the process: one agent requested my novel within 10 minutes of me sending the query letter and sample pages, another requested my novel through Twitter DMs, and a third who had originally rejected my query and pages got back to me 2 weeks later saying they couldn’t stop thinking about Ira and Alia and they wanted to see the full manuscript…a thing that never happens.
At the start of February, I got my third R&R, and my confidence fell. This was the agent who had requested my novel through Twitter, and they were so sweet about the feedback and said they loved so much about my novel but there were a few changes that would make the novel all the better. I don’t know if I really connected with their vision or if I’d given up at that point, but I thought, what’s the harm in doing their revision?
I replied saying I would take up the R&R and withdrew all the fulls I had out. When I told Victoria about this, she was horrified and asked me why did you withdraw all your fulls?! What if another agent offers?! and I said I’ve already gotten multiple R&Rs and similar feedback, I need to do this.
Every agent I withdrew from got back with a kind email saying they couldn’t wait to read my novel once I revised it. All these agents were so enthusiastic and encouraging, but I had just joined college and I was alone for a whole week, so I was already miserable. I was so sick of revising. Like, why couldn’t someone love my novel the way it already was? And if they loved the concept, why couldn’t they offer me rep and THEN we could work on the revisions? Didn't authors revise after signing with agents anyway?
In my frustration, I posted a super sad thread that many writers resonated with. We were so sick of living up to this trying industry’s expectations.
But that very night, something unexpected happened. I got an email from an agent saying they were already 15 chapters into my novel and they were loving it and they would love to keep reading the novel as it was.
I jumped out of my bed in amazement.
I said YES YES PLEASE KEEP READING and the agent said YAY I’M SO EXCITED.
Like I mentioned before, I’d been having a lot of good gut feelings about Desi Witch, all of which had somehow manifested themselves. Agents had mostly been giving feedback about Part 1 of the novel, which I too, knew was the weakest part of the novel, but I was sick of revisions at that point. This agent, though, had read 15 chapters and enjoyed them. And I knew the novel only got better and better.
I knew this agent would offer.
Two days later, I had an email from this agent in my inbox.
It was 8 a.m. and I usually sleep until late, so I have no clue what it was that made me wake up. I switched my data connection because the mobile data was shitty for some reason and wasn’t letting me OPEN THE GODDAMNED EMAIL. The email finally loaded–
And there it was.
A call email.
The agent loved, loved my book and gushed about it for 2 paragraphs before saying that they wanted to set up a call. Who could’ve known that Victoria would be so right?
I couldn’t breathe.
I jumped out of bed, held my phone in my shaking hands and read the email again. And again. And again. A part of me had known this agent would offer, but I was still in shock. I had just…spent so long in the trenches and been let down so many times…this couldn’t possibly be happening to me, could it?
I immediately called up my boyfriend and screamed into the phone I HAVE A CALL EMAIL. Then I called up my mom. Both of them were beyond the moon happy for me. I hadn’t gotten an offer yet because I had to get on call first, but Pratyush sent me an AGENTED cake anyway LMAO. I told him what if it’s not an offer and he told me, smiling, you know it is.
I knew it was.
I got on call with the agent the very next day because they were so excited as well and we had the most wonderful call. It was amazing, and just so perfect, and I texted all my friends, I don’t care if I don’t get another offer, this agent is amazing and I love them so much.
Then I did something which no other writer probably has had to do. I un-withdrew all my manuscripts and notified the agents of the offer and gave them 2 weeks time to get back with a response. Many stepped aside, including the agent who’d been thinking of Ira and Alia, which broke my heart, but I forced myself to ride the happy feeling, instead of focusing on the sad bits.
Those 2 weeks were a mix of sad and happy for me. I would wake up on some days and would not be able to believe that I was going to be agented, and wonder if those years of misery were worth this moment, because I was feeling underwhelmed that it was all happening so fast!! A week went by and I didn’t get any agent offers. There were 2 almost-offers, who said they loved my novel so, so much and they would kick themselves over it later, but they didn’t have editorial visions for the story. There were a few R&Rs as well, who said they were stepping aside to cede to the offering agent’s enthusiasm. Imposter syndrome kicked in, worse than it ever had, and although I would be most happy signing with the agent who’d offered, I wondered if there was something wrong with my novel, again.
The thing is, social media glamorises the 6 and 8 offer situations so much, and that raises the expectations we have from ourselves, which is wrong, because this is the truth: those kind of situations fall in the laps of mostly white authors. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten the “I couldn’t connect with the voice…” or “I don’t have a vision for this…” or “There was so much I loved, but ultimately it wasn’t a right fit for my list…” that made me question if there was a place for my stories.
When a week had gone by, I ranted to Charlene, Megan, and Aymen about how unfair it was, and they consoled me (seriously, thank you guys) most gently. When I gave up on any hope of getting another offer, that very night I got a notification in my inbox. This agent had subtweeted about how much they loved food magic the day they had requested my novel, and even followed me on Twitter. I didn’t really think it meant they were going to offer, although Kalie told me it HAD TO.
I opened the email.
I had a second call email.
YES YES YES YES YES.
It was like all my dreams were coming true. My imposter syndrome vanished. This was a HUGE agent (literally on my dream agents list; one of my friends said they’d give up a limb to be represented by them) who wanted to set up a call email. Which meant there was nothing wrong with my novel, because this one sounded like it was going to be an offer. I had a good sob to myself in my room and called up Pratyush and my family yet again, telling them I had a second call email.
We had the call on Tuesday, and it was…beyond amazing. I’m not going to detail what it was that made me connect with them so hard, but it was like they not only got my ambitions for my book, but also my career. There had in fact been one important question that I’d wanted to ask them on call but I’d forgotten to ask, and after we got off call, they emailed me asking if I would be interested in knowing more about it.
That did it.
I had 2 amazing offers from 2 amazing agents, and there was nothing and no one in this world that could ruin this moment for me. I still had 5 days until my deadline, and I got 2 more emails from agents saying they were so regretful that they hadn’t gotten time to consider my novel, and they wished me the best. Pitchwars manuscripts were taking up all agents’ time, and that was the reason why I was getting so many almost-offers. One agent even offered to refer me to other agents if the need ever be. These rejections hurt because they were circumstantial rejections, and nothing to do with my novel. I wondered if I should extend the deadline. I was supposed to hear back from all agents by 26th Feb. But as midnight rolled closer, I still had 6 agents with my fulls I had yet to hear from, who’d promised they’d get back on time. It did break my heart a tiny bit, but I marked them all as CNRs (they eventually did reply later and tell me they loved how much ever they read). I sent off the emails to both agent 1 and agent 2, regretfully passing on the first offer, while taking up the second one.
It was the toughest decision I ever made, trying to pick the right champion for my novel and career between 2 equally amazing offers, but eventually I made the decision, and I know I made the right one.
And I’m thrilled to say that I signed with my dream agent: Rebecca Podos at Rees Agency, who is a literal superstar.
It’s been tough getting here. Most of us read success stories that don’t really reflect the struggles the majority of the writers go through to get an agent. The reason why I’ve written such a long blog post is because I wanted to lay my journey bare and hope it would resonate with writers waiting for their yes.
I believe in you, reader. You’ve got this. It’s going to happen, and when it does, you’re going to look back and wonder how much you went through to get here.
Here are my stats for Desi Witch:
DESI WITCH STATS
11 query rejections
11 step asides due to less time
29 full requests
2 partial requests
2 R&Rs on partials
3 R&Rs on fulls
2 offers of representation
DESI WITCH PITCHING STATS
31 agent likes
12 editor retweets
PS: Take a look at the query letter that got me my agent + query tips/tricks + resources that helped me through my querying journey here.