How I Got My Literary Agent: Jessica Arnold

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Jessica Arnold, author of THE LOOKING GLASS. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (An international winner would get an e-book.) You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: anniesisk won.)


jessica-arnold-author-writer     the-looking-glass-book-cover

Jessica Arnold writes YA, codes ebooks, and is currently a graduate student in
publishing at Emerson College in Boston. If she has a spare moment, she’s always
up for a round of Boggle. Her debut YA novel is THE LOOKING GLASS (April 2014,
Month9Books), a story about a 15-year-old who wakes up to learn she is trapped
inside a cursed 19th century version of a hotel. You can connect with Jessica
Arnold online through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.


This Is Easy. Or Not.

The first time I tried my hand at querying agents, I was painfully ignorant. I had my freshly finished first novel in hand and getting it published seemed like the logical next step. So naturally I started Googling publishing houses. (Yes, I am yet another graduate of the Google school of publishing.) When I finally realized that—who knew?—most publishing houses didn’t accept submissions from ordinary folk like me, I Googled those magic words: how to get a literary agent. Judging from the two and a half million hits I got, I wasn’t the first one to ask. I spent hours looking at query critiques (thank you Miss Snark), successful queries, and query writing tips. Eventually I sat down and wrote one of my own. This isn’t too bad, I thought. Yes, I was naïve. It didn’t last long.

I could probably dig through the musty archives of my email inbox and figure out exactly how many rejections I received for that first book, but that’s a part of the past that I have no desire to reacquaint myself with. If I had to guess, I’d say that the total would be looking at one hundred in the rearview mirror. Eventually I made a decision that ranks high on my Best Choices list: I ditched the dud manuscript and decided to write something better. I like to think that I succeeded. But, because I’ve buried my first book in a dank, dark place on my external hard drive and sworn never to touch it again, I guess doing a real comparison would be impossible.

(Definitions of unusual literary terms & jargon you need to know.)

Take Two

The good thing about having already queried a project was that when I was ready to submit a new manuscript (I even had a snappy title—The Looking Glass), I’d already found my querying legs and had a good idea of how to go about things. That said, I made a few fatal errors that to this day are enough to make me want to move to a foreign country. For instance, pretty early on in my querying I realized that I’d been typing the name of my previous book in the email subject line. Oh the horror.

My first months of querying The Looking Glass were at best disheartening, although I actually received fewer offhand rejections than I had with my previous manuscript. However there were many agents who requested the manuscript, seemed enthusiastic, then politely declined several weeks later.

Then—it happened. I looked down one morning at work and realized I had missed a call. The area code—New York City. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I listened to the voicemail and—yes, an agent wanted to speak to me. This was it. This was The Call. I called him back, only to find out that he was calling not to offer me representation, but rather to tell me exactly why he was not doing so. Lovely. Immediately afterwards I ran into the nearest restroom and nearly threw up.

The scarring Not-The-Call call effectively capped all enthusiasm I had for the manuscript. Signing it off as a lost cause, I sat back, brushed off the disappointment, and decided yet again that I would write something better.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)

Things Never Happen Quite as You Expect

When manuscript number three was just starting its journey through query swampland, I received an unexpected email. Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, the assistant to one of the agents who had shown interest in (but ultimately turned down) The Looking Glass, had now become an agent herself. She said she wanted to see the manuscript again if I didn’t already have representation. I was flattered, but honestly my gut reaction was something along the lines of “Yeah, whatever. . . . She’s not going to want that dud.” However there was also no way I was going to turn down an interested agent, and so I gritted my teeth, braced for another rejection, and sent the book over.

A few weeks later, I got a second email from Carrie saying she loved the book and wanted to offer me representation. It was a good day. It also happened to be my birthday, and you can’t ask for better than that. We talked on the phone a week later and Carrie was delightful and had great ideas for the book. I tried to be delightful too; the truth was I was just insanely nervous. In the end, I happily signed the contract and off we went skipping down the long, long yellow brick road of revisions, re-revisions, and submitting. Oh my—the original manuscript needed a lot of work. But I lucked out. Carrie was a dream to work with and remained enthusiastic about the project even when we were on round five of edits. And all the hard work paid off in the end—a two-book deal. I almost couldn’t believe it.

If there’s a moral in all this it is that getting an agent isn’t easy, but sometimes things work out better than you had hoped. If you’re slogging through the query swamp, stay hopeful. Stay stubborn. And carry on.

GIVEAWAY: Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (An international winner would get an e-book.) You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: anniesisk won.)


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25 thoughts on “How I Got My Literary Agent: Jessica Arnold

  1. Debbie

    Your advice helps release the trapped feeling of expectations, which coincides nicely with your novel about the trapped young woman. Your book intrigues me. Thank you.

  2. Matt Peavy

    I have just finished my first novel and have begun to search for a compatible agent. Some ask for a marketing plan. Is this typical? I must say I steer clear of those agents because I want to guard my (what I think are good) ideas from someone who may reject my manuscript but “borrow” my ideas. Thoughts?

  3. MaureenKovach

    I am just beginning the process of finding an agent and frankly find it quite terrifying. Reading your story gives me courage to be persistent until I find just the right home for my book. Thanks!

  4. madmom

    Jessica, congratulations on your success and thanks for the great story! I’d love to receive your book in the mail to read and pass on to my daughter. Jessica and Chuck, would you please comment on how important it is to start off a query letter saying something personal to the agent? It’s hard to do without sounding phony or cheesy and I hate wasting valuable page space on that extra paragraph, when everything I read says to keep the query letter a one-pager.

  5. acoywriter

    I realized I kept confusing MS2 w/ MS1 in my queries by stating it was middle grade instead of YA. Glad to know I’m not the only one who wanted to hide out in another country.

  6. NebraskaIcebergs

    The keys seem to be: perseverance, knowledge, and a little luck. As others have said, I’ll remember this article when I’m ready to start the querying process. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. anniesisk

    Love that it all came together on your birthday. I’m still so torn between self-publishing and going the traditional route. Lovely to get the perspective of another YA author.

  8. Must Love Musty Pages

    I am incredibly intrigued by the plot of your novel Jessica! Stories set in old hotels have always been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the movie Tower of Terror. Spooky and mysterious.

    Thanks for sharing about your query struggles as well. I just went and read a few of your blog posts, and they are really great to read for those inexperienced in the writing industry.

    Adding your book to my to-read list now!

  9. paulsix

    So glad that the third time (well sort of) was a charm. You talked about your struggles to compose the perfect query letter. However, you need to really be patting yourself on the back for successfully penning THREE novels. Most of us would give up after writing just one. I think the title is great and seems like it would be enjoyable to read. Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. amazonqueen9876

    Thank you for sharing. Honestly querying seems downright scary to me at this point. I’ve written numerous query letters, yet haven’t found the guts to send one off… Having read this, I’m feeling inspired to give it a shot.

  11. Dennis

    Thank you Jessica for sharing your experiences. I’m kind of dreading the query process but glad to see perseverance paid off in the end for you.

  12. madmom

    Jessica, I love your story, and I would love to read your book, and then pass it on to my daughter to read. I live in WI. I’m seeking an agent in New York. Did you travel to your agent’s city to sign your first contract or was it all done electronically? How many queries do you send out at a time? You’re not the first author that I’ve read sent out 100 plus queries. I’m wondering if those were in batches? Congratulations to you on your success. You did good!

    Mary Anne

  13. Izzie

    Thank you for the insight. It was very helpful. Rejection is definitely not something I look forward too. I know it will happen to me when I am ready. But from what I am gathering it happens. I wish you all the best with your writing.

  14. W Brown

    It is so nice to hear about he honest struggles and eventual successes of published authors. Without articles like this, I know I would throw in the towel after my first rejection! Hopefully, when I’m ready to start querying, I’ll remember this article to help me through what will surely be a somewhat painful process.


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