Congratulations to Christy Swift, who just signed with Cathie Hedrick-Armstrong of the Purcell Agency for her romantic comedy manuscript Hashtag, Celebrity Crush!
Did you query books before the one you signed with your agent? How many books/how many years, etc?
It took me three manuscripts and about six years to get my agent.
My first was a YA sci-fi novel, and I started writing it with absolutely no knowledge of how to write a novel. I basically took the attitude of, “I know what I like to read, so I’ll just write something I’d like to read.” Of course, I had very little luck querying it because it was a hot mess! Weirdly enough, someone I didn’t know very well sent me a Facebook invite to SCBWI, and I felt like I should join, so I signed up for their annual conference. It was eye-opening. I paid for a critique from an industry professional (Lorin Oberweger from Free Expressions) and she very kindly pointed out all the rookie mistakes I was making, including my lack of mastery of show-don’t-tell and too much exposition in my opening pages. But she did it in such a way that instead of feeling discouraged, I felt empowered. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to work on my craft.
Was there anything you’d point to as a turning point or turning points where you really leveled up your writing?
There were a few “leveling up” points. The first was that very first professional critique I received. The next was learning about “voice.” I didn’t know what voice meant, but once I understood it, it was a game changer and helped me tremendously with my next two manuscripts. Next, it was finding my amazing group of critique partners.
First, it was the Write Squad—this little group of Pitch Wars hopefuls I met in 2019. We banded together to get through the waiting period, became friends, and suddenly I had people reading my manuscript who were writers and not just readers—although my readers were amazingly helpful, too—but the CPs were able to offer a deeper level of critique. Not to mention the support, because querying authors need querying author friends! It’s the only way to get through the rejections—knowing you’re not alone.
A year or so later, I saw a class being offered by NYT bestselling author Emily Colin and I just KNEW I needed to sign up for her class. I felt extremely strongly that I needed to get to know her and network with her. During the class, sure enough, we hit it off and she invited me to join another critique group, where I met Lisa Amowitz, another successful author and former Pitch Wars mentor.
Lisa took me under her wing and helped me get my sci-fi manuscript hammered out. There was not enough external action in it, and she got me to fix that. She helped me with my adult romcom, HASHTAG, CELEBRITY CRUSH, too, the one I got signed for. But she wasn’t a romance writer and something wasn’t quite right with it. I had gotten some really specific feedback from two 2021 Pitch Wars mentors who didn’t choose me (crushing blow) and a friend’s agent who rejected me (another crushing blow—seriously, there have been so many crushing blows—I haven’t even scratched the surface).
Anyway, there were some problems with the manuscript not meeting the expectations of the genre, especially at the beginning, so I hired YOU, Michelle, (on Emily and Lisa’s recommendation) and you knew just what I needed to do. It was quite a bit of work, but finally I had the direction I needed to fix those final pesky issues. And that’s the version of the manuscript that was picked up.
How did you find the agent who eventually offered?
I should mention that in September 2020, I got a “like” during Pitmad for HASHTAG, CELEBRITY CRUSH by a brand new agency from overseas. They signed me on a per-project basis, but a few months later, they notified all of us U.S.-based clients that they couldn’t help us the way they had hoped, so they released us all from the contract. I still have a good relationship with the editorial agent there.
Anyway, fast forward to March 2022— my good friend Joel Brigham (a member of the Write Squad group) got signed by an agent at the Purcell Agency and has since become an editorial consultant there. He pitched my romcom during a meeting and he said they were fighting over it, lol. Cathie Armstrong-Hedrick won. I had just finished revamping the beginning based on your edit letter and I queried her. She requested the full and took less than a week reading it. I opened up my email one morning and there was a message from her saying she wanted to have a phone call!
Tell me about the call. How did you know this agent was the right fit for you?
I had some insider info from Joel, so I knew Cathie was awesome—hard working and a real champion for her clients. She's relatively new, but she already had some good deals under her belt, so I knew she had the chops! I could also tell from the way she spoke and the stories she told me about communicating with editors that she would be influential in that space as well as a pleasure to work with. She had a really warm, positive vibe—I think she called it “Minnesota nice,” lol. And she loved my book!
Anyway, we were also on the same page as far as a submission plan, and she reiterated that she was very open to communications and she never wanted me to feel like I couldn’t reach out to her or like I was bothering her. Sure enough, she’s been super responsive with everything and I’m really excited to see what we accomplish together!
What’s your top tip for other querying writers?
Oh boy. It’s brutal, and I don’t want to be negative, but I don’t know any other way to put it. I hosted a presentation the other day at the creative writing club at my daughters’ high school, and the publisher I invited to speak said that it takes one to two years to get an agent, and I wanted to cough loudly because it took me six years! And I have read manuscripts that are absolutely magical, yet those authors still can’t find an agent! Agents reject for a lot of reasons, and many of them have nothing to do with the actual quality of your writing (i.e. the “your writing is great but I’m going to pass anyway” rejection).
I guess my advice would be this—find your people, keep learning, keep improving your craft so that the product you put out there is undeniably great. Don’t rely on your querying stats when judging your manuscript. Rely on your critique partners, beta readers, and editors, as well as any specific feedback you get from agents or mentors from contests like AMM or KissPitch. If they say your manuscript needs work, keep working on whatever isn’t quite right. When they tell you it’s great and it’s ready to go, believe them.
At this point it’s going to be luck and stars aligning and that one person finding you that carries you the rest of the way. All you can do is be ready.
Christy Swift is represented by Cathie Hedrick-Armstrong of the Purcell Agency. Christy writes geeky love stories, sometimes as smexy romcoms and sometimes as sci-fi with a little heat in the engine coil. She daylights as a freelance writer and social media content provider for medical and technology clients across the country. She’s also editor of the award-winning Heartland LIVING magazine and runs the “Dream It, Write It” creative writing club at her daughters’ high school.
In her free time, you can find her living her best life in the Florida outdoors or playing the nerdiest board game you’ve ever heard of with her husband, kids, and friends.
Find out more at https://christyswift.com/