I first met Eagan Daniels during PitchWars 2018. This (now closed) contest was for querying authors who had a polished manuscript and wanted to sign with a literary agent. They would compete to win mentorship from an agented or published mentor. I was co-mentoring with author Katie Golding that year, and we'd already found our mentee pick amongst our 250+ entrants. But then. The instant I picked up Eagan's manuscript, I knew I had something special. It felt more like I walked into a coffee shop and met a group of new friends, rather than opening a book and reading about a character.
Her book is about a woman who acts as a personal assistant and photographer to a hugely famous (and charming) group of (charming) British rock stars. They were, as it happens, very charming, as was the completely unique and down-to-earth voice of her heroine. I already had my mentee pick, but I applied for a wild card pick to be able to officially mentor two authors that year, because I loved her ms too much to let it go.
At the time, I told her, "Publishing is slow. No, slower than that. If things aren't happening right away, please remember that it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong." That was PitchWars 2018, and in the years since, Eagan signed with an agent--Jana Hanson of Metamorphosis Agency. Her PitchWars book, Coming Into Focus, was published by Champagne Books in May 2022.
1. Did you query books before the one you signed with your agent? How many books/how many years, etc?
I only queried one book before my current novel! I didn’t think I’d ever try to get published, but eventually my brother was like … “You’re just gonna keep writing things and, like, putting them in a drawer?” And when he put it that way, I thought, well, I might as well try.
The hilarious thing is that I got a full request on my first query. I thought “Oh my gosh! Querying is so easy! I’ll probably be a millionaire by the end of the year! I should draft my resignation letter from my day job right now. Here we gooooooo!”
But … that agent didn’t offer representation, nor did the handful of other agents who requested the full. I got a lot of feedback that was like “Your voice is fun! The only tiny thing that would make this book better is if it had a plot.”
Which is FAIR. It did not have a plot. It was so voicy, though! And there was a really hot scene by a fireplace but as I was to learn, you need more than a voice and a hot scene.
2. What was the best part of PitchWars for you? Would you tell other authors to try similar mentoring contests, or just stick to querying?
I think it depends on the author. I had a lot to learn. Sometimes people are out there crafting these perfect books that just don’t land at the right time, but as far as voice and craft and everything that’s under their control, they don’t need help.
But that’s not me. I’ve always been a writer, but I haven’t ever studied the art of writing fiction. I’m published in the academic world – and I love that kind of writing, too. But most of the fiction I had written before my Pitch Wars book was mostly just for me and my limited audience (Her name is Sara. My limited audience, that is.) I had no idea how to structure a story so it would hang together. I didn’t know how to build a plot.
But then with this book, I started to get more serious. I had a few other wonderful beta readers who helped me get better. When I read about Pitch Wars, I thought I’d give it a shot. Then the perfect mentor for me actually chose my book, and things changed. Michelle taught me how to lean into the things I was good at, and how to build up the parts that still needed work. I ended up doing about an 80% rewrite during Pitch Wars. I loved the whole experience. It was hard work, but I didn’t have to “kill my darlings.” My darlings were my characters, and I didn’t have to give up on who they were. I had to give them a stronger, tighter world, and it was a joy to do that.
More than any of that though – and I know this isn’t an original answer but that’s because it’s true – it’s the community. I’m part of a writing group from PW 2018 and we check in with each other literally every day. We talking about writing and the trenches … but we talk about everything else, too. I’ve been through some tough life events since Pitch Wars and these friends helped pull me through it.
And I had the joy of working with Michelle, who not only is an amazing, creative, encouraging mentor who knows when to push and when to celebrate, she’s also become a friend who I am so grateful to have.
I’m getting mushy. But I really am mushy about all this!
3. Was there anything you’d point to as a turning point or turning points where you really leveled up your writing?
One of the things I learned that was a game changer for me is that in order to keep the story moving forward, you need your character to be in one place or expect one thing at the beginning of the chapter, and for their expectation to be thwarted by the end of the chapter. Their expectations need to be denied in some way. That gave me a sort of outline. As an academic writer, I can work the hell out of an outline. In my fiction, without that structure, I just strung together cute scenes. As soon as I learned the art of momentum and forward movement, things changed for me. Then I could fine tune it from there. Like, how can her expectation be upended in a way that plays to her misbeliefs or her fears? That creates the tension that pulls the story forward.
4. How did you find the agent who eventually offered? (Cold query, contest, introduction from a writing friend, conference, etc.)
#PitMad! I did get some agent requests in the Pitch Wars Showcase, but nothing panned out quickly. When the next PitMad came up on Twitter, I figured if nothing else, any agent interest might lead to the opportunity for me to nudge the agents who still had my full manuscript. I just got one agent like on Twitter from PitMad … but it was the right like.
Jana Hanson with Metamorphosis Literary Agency asked for a few more chapters, and then a few days later, asked for the full. About a week after that, she asked if we could schedule a call.
5. Tell me about the call. How did you know this agent was the right fit for you?
Jana started off by telling me what she loved about my manuscript, and who can resist that? But she also had some great ideas of what I could do to take it up a level. I completely agreed with her ideas and loved the insight she had into my characters’ world right off the bat. She told me what her plan would be for submissions, and we talked about our communication styles. I asked for a few weeks to think about it and to nudge other agents, but in my heart I knew she was right for me. I hung up the phone and burst into tears.
Until Michelle picked me for Pitch Wars, I hadn’t ever had that experience of someone loving your book for the sake of your book, not because she’s your roommate and doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.
6. You’ve gotten to have TWO calls! One for signing with your agent, and the next for signing your book deal. Which was your favorite?
I mean, it would be like trying to pick a favorite kid. You love them both for different reasons.
I actually had given up on publishing this book. I had zero regrets, because I learned so much writing it, revising it, and being on sub with it. So it was disappointing not to sell it, but I’ll always be glad I wrote Coming into Focus. I’d given Jana a date that I wanted to call it quits. That date came and went. I ordered myself some custom sugar cookies that read “Eagan Daniels, dead on sub” and were the shape of gravestones. I drank champagne and ate my cookies, had a good cry, and got ready to emotionally move on.
Less than a week later, I was in a conference call at work when my phone buzzed. It was Jana saying “I have some good news! When can we talk?” I muted the conference call so I could scream-cry.
7. What’s been the best part of becoming a published author?
Oh wow. I’m not sure I can pick one thing. The first moment I saw my cover. Writing my acknowledgments. Having an ISBN was a really, really magical thing for me. I love that. Seeing my book on Amazon was a big moment – the feeling of knowing that someone could pop on to Amazon to buy Jane Eyre and pick up my book at the same time. Knowing that strangers are reading something that you made from nothing? That’s an incredible high.
8. What’s your top tip for other querying writers?
I wrote this book and rewrote and rewrote in the midst of everything else in my life. I work full time, I was in graduate school, I’m a wife and a mom and a sister and a friend and all the other roles we all play. I had to learn that for me at least, it’s very difficult to be creative on demand. I need to feel inspired for it to be fun, and I need it to be fun for it to be good.
But at the same time, writing is work and you have to have discipline. You have to be willing to put the hours in, and you have to go into it knowing that if you want to be a published author, you’re going to have to revise and you’re going to have to cut things you loved and you’re going to have to work on revisions even when you’d rather watch Stranger Things or the hockey game.
So for me, it’s walking that line. Letting your creative well get refilled, whatever that means for you. Sometimes for me it helps to do a different art – my background is in photography, so I’ll spend a few days working on photographs rather than writing. I’ll listen to music and maybe make a play list that fits for my characters. I’ll read another author that inspires me. Those things tend to make me feel more creative. And sometimes you just really have to get your ass in the chair and do it even if you don’t wanna.
It also helps to save a file of nice things people say about your work. There will be times when you convince yourself you have no idea what you’re doing, when your imposter syndrome is raging. That’s when you want to go back to those messages to remind yourself that you have the power to make people laugh at or cry over or worry about people you made from scratch. That’s a super power!
Eagan Daniels has a Master’s degree in Literature, and a Bachelor’s in Photography. If there were such a thing as an advanced degree in fan-girling, she would certainly have earned that, as well. Her interests include sports photography (but only of hockey), live music, literature, and male musicians who wear eyeliner. She lives in Michigan but spends about half her time in her head with imaginary friends. Real life has gifted her with a wonderful husband, two amazing children, three naughty dogs, an arrogant cat, and a small tortoise who bullies them all.
Willa’s dream of being hired as a photographer for music magazine Offstage is a long shot when the only people she mingles with are the customers that come into the coffee shop, but she’ll think of something. But when her brother announces he’s going to college and practically shoves her out the door, and the rock star in question sweetens the deal by offering to pay her even more and giving her the opportunity to build her photography portfolio in the process . . . Willa has to admit that it seems like the universe is sending her a message.
"I’m a horrid reviewer. I can never say what’s in my heart when it comes to books, but y’all, this book. This. Book. I want to marry it and have its book babies." - Leslie Gail, Amazon reviewer