How I Landed A Literary Agent & What You Can Learn From It: Renée Ahdieh

On a chilly winter’s eve back in 2013, my forlorn, un-agented self was perusing Janet Reid’s blog. I kept noticing the Query Shark speak in a teasingly scathing tone of another agent. An agent who had been driving her mad of late, yanking riches out from under her well-primed nose.

That agent’s name was Barbara Poelle. (For more on Barbara, click here.)

I’d seen this agent’s name here and there, but wasn’t certain I wrote in her wheelhouse. Nevertheless, I’d already relegated myself to a night of Google tomfoolery, so I conducted a search and found that she and Holly Root were offering a Query Critique Webinar through Writer’s Digest in a few short weeks.

Renee-AhdiehThis guest post is by Renée Ahdieh, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds.

She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.

Her YA novel, The Wrath and the Dawn, is available in stores now. Its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, will be available May 3, 2016.


My wallet was handy. My desperation was replete. So I signed up.

The webinar was a wonderful chance to see the minds of highly successful agents in action. Holly and Barbara live-critiqued my query, and I was able to see what worked (my voice) and what did not work (everything else).

[Get Query Help: Click here for The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter]

Two weeks after receiving my critique, I decided to attend the Writer’s Digest East Conference in NYC. This may be a bit too much window into my crazy, but I do think it’s important for any writer intent on pursuing traditional publishing to be aware of what this process should entail. Which is not to say that I recommend following in my stumbling footsteps. After all, Kanye West provides much better source material for that.

Needless to say, I knew if I wanted to go to a conference and spend that kind of time and money, I needed to make the most of it. So I researched all the speakers and took the time to decide which seminars I wanted to attend.

One of those seminars was being taught by a Barbara Poelle.

Fate, and all that jazz? Nah. For as much as I appreciate the notion of fate and can understand other writers speaking of “Dream Agents,” I don’t necessarily subscribe to that school of thought, mostly because I think it puts a lot of pressure on all parties involved, including fate. But I will say that after hearing Barbara speak at her seminar, I was more determined than ever to see if I could at least get her to read my pages. She was so smart and so refreshingly honest. I could see the passion she exhibited for her clients’ work. The earnest drive for success in all aspects of life.

And I wanted that for myself.

After Barbara’s seminar, I waited in line to speak with her. I remember clearing my throat at least five times while moving forward, one slow step at a time. Believe me when I say the irony of that was not lost on me, after languishing so long in the query doldrums. When it was my turn, I reminded her of my query from the Writer’s Digest critique, and a few subsequent pleasantries were exchanged. Mostly surrounding a shared love of designer bags and how cool Holly Root is. Then I decided to throw caution to the wind—

And I asked Barbara if she was free for lunch.

She laughed. Loudly. I mean, nigh on head-back-and-cackling.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

After her laughter died down, Barbara told me I was absolutely doing the right thing, but she unfortunately already had plans for lunch. I guess the story could have ended there. But I’m a persistent sort of chick. Kind of like the gum on your shoe. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] So I reached into my purse and pulled out a partial of my book. With even more laughter, Barbara took it.

Two weeks later, she offered me representation.

In the end, I suppose fate might have had a hand in it. Because I do believe getting traditionally published involves timing and a small measure of talent. But I think a lot of it has to do with tenacity.

Kind of like the gum on your shoe.


Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PMYour new complete instructional guide to finding an agent is finally here:
The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT  includes more than 110 literary agents
who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents,
much more.
Order now!

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter







You might also like:

10 thoughts on “How I Landed A Literary Agent & What You Can Learn From It: Renée Ahdieh

    1. Libby Austin

      Thank you Ms. Ropal and Ms. Ahdieh for your suggestions. I’ve often heard about these helpful, supportive writer groups and forums, but after a few experiences, I gave up. I’m looking up the sites the two of you suggested. I’ve learned so much over the course of these blog post already, and none of it has been how to sell your book over social media. I plan on listening to the webinars that have been mentioned and some of the online writing resources. When you realize all you didn’t know, even after doing homework, it’s like going back to school.

  1. Libby Austin

    Ms. Ahdieh,

    Great advice! The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I stumbled upon this series from a Facebook ad. Not sure why I clicked on it, as most of the sponsored ads seem to be get rich quick writing schemes and such. It’s very hard to wade through all of the information to find the useful tips. Most webinars or sites that offer guides to writing are fee based, and once you pay the fee, you realize the “inside information” is nothing more than regurgitated, out-of-date suggestions gleaned from other sources and repacked as new and innovative.

    I admire you tenacity in pursing your goal. Do you have any suggestions on ways to obtain reliable information for those of use who can’t travel in pursuit of connecting with an agent?

    1. reneeahdieh

      Hi Libby! I think joining forums like Absolute Write and the Blue Boards were really helpful for me. I also think there are some great Facebook writer’s groups out there in which you can find reliable information. Many of the authors in these forums are at various stages in their respective careers, and I think they are such a great fount of knowledge.

      1. reneeahdieh

        Yeah. My “Totally worked for me” reply was meant to be a response to Barbara’s comment. Clearly we Poelleans are not the most technologically adept. BUT WE WRITE GOOD, eh? :-/


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.