MK Pagano

I have NEWS…

My book is going to be published!

I’ve failed miserably at my New Year’s Resolution to keep this blog updated, as per usual. But I feel compelled to come here and share that the thing I’ve been pursuing since before I started a writing blog has finally come to pass.

My debut YA thriller, GIRLS WHO BURN, is coming at you from Penguin Teen in Summer 2024!

I still can’t believe it. So I thought I’d do a post, both to announce that I am GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR and also try and figure out how I got here…

The road has been long and winding.

I shared here that after six years of writing and querying, I finally got agented in late 2018, with the second book I’d ever written. What I didn’t share was this: my first agent and I parted ways in late 2020.


There’s no scandal to share; after two rounds of submission, when my second novel didn’t sell, it simply became clear that we weren’t the best fit. My agent was more focused on YA contemporary, and I was feeling the urge to shift to YA Thriller. Agent/author relationships are kind of like other relationships: a lot of the time, no one has done anything wrong, it just becomes clear over the time that the two of you aren’t meant to be.

Parting ways with my first agent was terrifying, I will now fully admit. It felt like a giant step backwards. Like the foot I’d stuck through the door and into the publishing industry had been firmly shut back in my face. So I did what any reasonable author would do; I cried about it in the group chats, DMed my writer friends and made them reassure me that I was still a good writer. Also, I kept writing.

Girls Who Burn was one I’d started drafting already, but was more a random scattering of ideas at that point than a novel. My first agent had had me working on another contemporary, but once we realized it wasn’t working and parted ways, I was free to give into the call of the MS I really wanted to work on. And give in I did.

I spent the next several months working on what would become Girls Who Burn. It went through several drafts and over a dozen critique partners and beta readers before I began querying it in the spring of 2021.

Did I get representation again right away, given I’d already had an agent???


The difference between querying last year and querying in 2018 (and in 2014, with my first not-great novel) was that this time around, thanks to spending more time on Twitter immersing myself in the writing community and especially thanks to Author Mentor Match, I wasn’t alone. I had writer friends to read and reread my query package, help me rewrite my opening pages over and over again, and even refer me to their agents in some cases. (NOT that you need an in to secure rep — my first agent was still a cold query. My point is that having writer friends is an immense help.)

So here’s how I got my second agent(s)–the ones who would eventually sell my book:

One of the first agents I queried was someone I considered a “dream agent.” I queried her on referral from a good friend and she requested my full right away. This agent read relatively quickly and by midsummer I had a lovely email from her listing all the things she loved about the book–as well as the things she thought needed work. It was a pass–but with a note to send the MS back to her if I decided to implement her changes.

And her notes were fantastic. The main thing that resonated with me was that my opening was too info-dumpy. So I paused in sending out new queries, and I rewrote it. And sent it to new beta readers. Then rewrote it again. And again. I have no idea how many times it took me to nail the opening, but at some point I did. I sent it back to dream agent–and also began querying more widely.

Dream agent ultimately passed. But it was okay, because after nailing my opening, my request rate went up. Yet, as anyone who queried in 2021 is aware of, agents were taking much longer to respond than in previous years due to the pandemic, supply chain issues, being overworked, etc. So I waited. I sent out more queries. I waited some more.

My break came when another writer friend of mine referred me to his agent at Irene Goodman. This agent wasn’t taking on any more YA, and kindly let me know — but then she referred me to her colleague, who was only taking YA on referral. I queried this colleague–a rockstar veteran agent who reps some of the top thriller authors, named Barbara Poelle. My hopes were not high, but shoot for the moon, etc.

Barbara requested my full relatively quickly. A couple of months later–lightning speed in 2021 timelines–she reached back out to me to let me know that she and Sydnie Thornton, a junior agent at IGLA, wanted to have a call.

I freaked out. Was it the call? I convinced myself it was an R&R, since the email didn’t explicitly say it was an offer, and prepared myself accordingly.

I was wrong. It was an offer. I cried. Very professional.

I told them I had to notify the other agents I had queries and fulls out with, as per industry protocol, then proceeded to do so, not expecting much. To my utter surprise, I received three other offers of rep within a week–all from stellar agents. I was shocked.

And also, agonized.

I am a Libra. I’m horrible at making decisions. Now I had to choose between four incredible agents??? I was terrified of making the wrong decision. I made pro and con lists. I cried to all my friends. At one point, I even flipped a coin.

The coin toss ended up actually helping. It told me to go with Barbara and Sydnie. And I felt relieved when it landed on them. My gut was telling me to stick with them all along.

So I listened! I signed with them in January of this year.

Soon afterwards–within a week–they sent me an editorial letter. Edits were fairly minor. I revised quickly. They responded quickly. We came up with an edited version of my book within a month. It all moved SO MUCH FASTER than I was used to.

We went on submission in March, just a little over a month after I signed with them.

Barbara and Sydnie’s plan was to do an exclusive submission. I was a little nervous, I will admit–I had no experience with exclusive submissions, and wasn’t the whole point of sub to generate interest and eventually sell at auction? But they knew the perfect editor for my thriller, and an exclusive meant they could impose a deadline. And I knew, from my group chats, that submission was taking a very long time for everyone. An exclusive meant I’d get an answer in weeks.

The editor we ended up subbing to with the exclusive was Caitlin Tutterow at Nancy Paulsen Books, a children’s book imprint of Penguin Random House. I was able to speak to Caitlin via Zoom before making any decisions.

So firstly, she GOT my book. Like, maybe even better than I do? Secondly, she LOVED my book. I had a horrible fear that whomever acquired my book was going to make me take out things I didn’t want to, or try and warp it into something it’s not. Caitlin, I knew, was not going to do that.

And thirdly? It’s Penguin Random House! Not only A big 5, but THE biggest publishing house of all. So I said auction, schmauction — where do I sign?

It took four months for the contract to come through, and another couple of weeks before I was able to announce. In the meantime, I had another baby (excellent way to pass the time), and have continued to work on what I *hope* will be my next book. I only signed on for a one-book deal, but obviously I would love to sell another thriller to PRH, and in order to do so, I must finish writing one.

So that’s it. My road to publication condensed down into a blog post. Any questions?

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