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  • Holly Brunnbauer

How I got my agent


Earlier this year, I signed with a literary agent, and couldn’t be happier. There aren’t many in Australia, and securing one can be as challenging as opening Chupa Chups without scissors. Whilst having an agent isn’t a guarantee for publication, it allows writers to bypass the slush pile and hear from publishers sooner. As an impatient Virgo, it was always my goal to try for an agent first, so let me tell you how it all came about.

How I got my agent - Holly Brunnbauer

JULY 2023

My agent’s name is Sarah, and I first met her at the CYA Conference at the Online Agent & Editors Assessments. The assessments aren’t a pitching opportunity, but deals have been known to happen.

The main purpose of the assessments is for writers to receive verbal feedback from agents/editors on their first chapter and synopsis.

I booked with Sarah to get her expert opinion about whether my story had commercial appeal and if the opening scene would hook readers/publishers. I was also keen to meet her because she was the top agent on my wish list—I’d been scribbling her name in my journal for a while to manifest a professional relationship. Huzzah, it worked!

We had a great sesh; by that I mean she was lovely while I visibly shook from nerves on the other side of the screen the entire time. At the end (I'm talking the last 30 seconds), she invited me to send her the FULL manuscript.

Dead. Dying. Died.

We got cut off before I could tell her I’d only completed a first draft. Gulp!

Did I rush revisions to pounce on this opportunity while I was fresh in her mind?


I knew my story needed more sweat and tears and if I only had one chance with this agent, I wanted to present my best work.

I emailed to ask if it’d be okay if I sent it later in the year. I’m glad I did; she was completely fine about it.


I revised my manuscript, sought feedback via beta readers, got a manuscript assessment, completed relevant writing courses and edited my little heart out.


I emailed the agent with an update.

My manuscript had been shortlisted for a national award. I was flabbergasted they picked my rom-com. Whilst I’d done well in competitions before, this felt like a huge turning point in my writing journey. I thought my dormant asthma had returned, but upon reflection suspect that what I had experienced that day was an anxiety attack. Shit was getting real.

The prize included an incredible program to get my work publishable-ready. As per the terms and conditions, my manuscript was embargoed whilst undergoing the program—meaning I couldn’t enter it into any other competitions or send it to agents/publishers. Quite understandable, considering it’s a developmental opportunity.

I explained this to the agent and asked for another extension. She was thrilled about the award and happy to receive the manuscript when it was ready. Phew!


During the program, I worked with a mentor (mainly on building my confidence), received another assessment, and continued to spruce up my manuscript. I also started and finished the first draft of a new story in two months. I wanted to pour myself into another project before I possibly had all my hopes and dreams crushed. Dramatic much?


Once I’d completed the program, I crossed my fingers and sent my query letter, synopsis, and full manuscript to Sarah. December probably isn’t a great time to contact an agent, but it had been five months since the initial manuscript request, and I was keen to get it out before the end of the year.


Waiting to hear from an agent goes a little something like this:

No new emails.

No new emails.

Target 50% off bedding.

No new emails.

Target bedding sale ends in 4 hours.

Every day that passed without a response pushed me further into a spiralling panic. Similar to that feeling of being left on read, where every insecurity bubbles to the surface.

Then one day, there it was, the email sitting in my inbox as promised.

Did I rush to open and read it?


I made a cup of tea, grabbed the tissue box and sat at my desk, preparing for the worst.

To my surprise, it was a YES, followed by the loveliest compliments. My story had made her laugh and cry. Not that I aim to upset readers, but it was nice to know it had an emotional punch. I then sobbed happy tears for hours. I've never been puffier.

After I had my husband read the email and confirm I wasn’t seeing things, I replied with this:

Reply email to my agent


Four days after I’d officially signed with my agent, my manuscript went into the inbox of some of the biggest publishers in Australia. Cue freakout!

If I thought querying an agent was stressful, waiting to hear from publishers is like having a premonition you’re going to have a car crash, and then volunteering to drive.

Stay tuned to read about how the book deal went down.

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