Thursday, February 13, 2014

How I Got My Agent

I can get a little obsessive.

I think you almost have to be a little obsessive to be a writer. There's this crazy story stuck in your head and you have no choice but to get it out. Somehow, you squeeze in the time to do that in between feeding your children, tackling your full-time job, helping with homework, and, on occasion, showering.

Would anyone ever really do that if they weren't just a wee bit obsessed?

And... what does this have to do with my agent story, anyway?

A little backstory, if you will.

September 19something: I start college as a Creative Writing major. I know, without a doubt, that I want to be a writer. Real Life interferes. I switch my major to Communications.

Somewhere between 19something and 2012: I work at a Hollywood public relations firm. I move back East. I have kids. I read to my kids. I start a non-profit. I do PR for other non-profits. I drink coffee. I only read books my kids read. (I think I do other stuff too, but these are the highlights.)

Spring 2012: After years (and years and years) of keeping a journal and writing “for fun,” I tell my husband I’d like to write a book for kids. He tells me to go for it. I tell him that’s ridiculous because does he know what the odds are that I’ll even get an agent let alone sell a book? He tells me the odds are zero if I don’t actually write the book. I ponder husband's wise words.

Summer 2012: I take online classes about writing for children through MediaBistro and NY Writer's Workshop. I meet wonderful writers who are incredibly talented. I learn that your first chapter can’t be loaded with exposition. I learn that there is something called an inciting incident and I don’t have one. I learn that I have learned nothing prior to this class and I have a long way to go.

Fall 2012:  I join Twitter. I meet even more wonderful writers who are incredibly talented. Through Twitter I hook up with the best critique partners ever.

Winter 2012: I query finished MS, a middle-grade fantasy. I get requests! I faint. I get rejections. I cry. I get more rejections. I realize that as much as I love this MS, it isn’t ready.

Spring 2013: I write new MS, this time a middle-grade contemporary.

Summer 2013: I write and write and write and write and write. I take a self-inflicted crash course in writing and publishing. I sign up for webinars. I attend Conferences. I read books and blogs on writing for children. I read almost every middle-grade book ever written. Obsession is officially in high gear.

Fall 2013: My critique partners read the MS, and like it! I squeal. My critique partners suggest some revisions. I revise.

December 2013: I enter PitchMas. I get in! I get requests. I faint. I enter PitMad. I get more requests. I faint again.

January 2014: I query agents. I wait.

And here's where the plot thickens...

January 17: I send my query to my top pick, Sarah Davies. I’ve admired Sarah from afar ever since I started researching agents. The fact that The Greenhouse Literary Agency looks to nurture and grow their writers truly resonates with me. I’m looking for a place to put down roots, a place I can call home. I cross my fingers extra hard. I hit send on the query.

January 20: I’m driving home from a week in Maine. I’m about a block from my house when my phone lights up. While at a red light, I glance at it. It's an email from Sarah Davies. My heart beats so hard that I swear it hits the steering wheel. I pull over and read the email. Sarah requests the full. I scream. 11-year-old daughter is in the car with me. She tells me that while that’s awesome, I shouldn’t get my hopes up (she was in the query trenches with me a year prior). I hyperventilate all the way home anyway.

January 22: I get an email from Sarah saying she’s reading and enjoying, and that she’d get back to me soon. I flip out. I email my CP Friend with the subject line WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!?!?!?! and then she flips out.

I do not sleep that night.

Or the next night.

I check my email approximately 4,398 times.

January 24: It's Friday evening. I’m driving to my kids school for a meeting. My phone lights up. Another email from Sarah. I pull over again (and start to think I spend way too much time in my car) so that I don't hurt myself or those around me. Sarah asks if we could talk on Monday. I scream and yell and flail and call my husband who can’t actually understand a word I’m saying because I'm screaming and yelling and flailing. I email back to Sarah. Of course we could talk on Monday. I have no idea how I’m going to make it through the weekend. I also have no idea how I’m going to make a call work on Monday since I have back-to-back-to-back meetings for my day job. But when your dream agent wants to talk to you, you make time. I find an hour gap in the afternoon.

I spend the weekend obsessing some more.

I stalk her Twitter feed. I memorize her blogs. I even practice adding “Rep’d by Sarah Davies” on my Twitter bio. I laugh at myself. I'm all too aware that this is the adult writer's version of the tween writing her first name and her crush's last name all over her notebooks. The irony is not lost on me. (There’s a reason I write middle-grade, friends. I have the mind of a twelve-year-old.)

But wait. What if she just wants to call and say hi? What if she wants to tell me the MS has potential but needs too much work? I email CP Friend. Again. Thankfully, CP Friend talks me off the ledge. Again. She assures me that if an agent wants to talk, it’s never bad.

I calm down a little.

I still don’t sleep.

I eat lots of chocolate.

January 27: It's finally Monday. I distract myself with work meetings. In the afternoon, I sneak into an empty office in the building where I have said meetings. I stare at my phone. After about ten minutes, it rings.

And then Sarah talks about my MS. She tells me what she likes about it, and I nod. She tells me what she thinks I might change, and I take notes. As she’s talking, I'm wondering if she’s giving me a R&R, because there’s no offer yet. But she’s so brilliant in what she’s saying, I don’t even care. All I know is that she completely understands what I was trying to do with my story. She gets me.

After some more chit chat, she tells me she’d like to represent me, and I tell her I’d like to accept. The MS is still out with other wonderful agents, but I know, in my heart and in my gut, that I want Sarah to represent me. Everything I’ve researched about her, and everything she says about my MS, convinces me (plus, she has this amazing British accent that I could listen to all day). Although I had fully intended to let the other agents know about the offer and give them a chance to respond, I suddenly know that isn’t the right thing to do. I know I’m going with Sarah, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s valuable time.

So I email the agents that have both my query and my MS, I thank them for their consideration, and I accept Sarah’s offer.

I call my husband and kids and we all scream into the phone. I call my parents and we all scream into the phone.

Since I can’t properly celebrate while at work, I celebrate when I get home. I dance around my house like a crazy person. I pull a few muscles. It’s totally worth it.

And so is all the hard work and obsessing that gets me here!

signing the contract!

Now, I'm sure, I will obsess over all of the next steps in the publishing process. But that's okay! I'm delighted to have the opportunity to obsess over something I love so much. And anyway, I've decided to change the word "obsess" to "become a student of my business." Because, really, it means the same thing. It just sounds a lot more *ahem* mature.

I'd love to hear what crazy things you do as a "student of this business!"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Where Did 2013 Go?!

As I'm updating my blog with my new agent info (Eeep!), it occurred to me that I haven't actually blogged about anything since December of 2012. What the... Where did 2013 go?

When I sat down to consider it, I realized that I didn't write because I didn't think I had anything worthwhile to say. Which, as it turns out, couldn't be farther from the truth.

2013 was quite possibly the most important year of my writing life. It was the training year, the set-up year, the building year.

When I wrote my first manuscript in 2012, I had almost no idea what I was doing. I just dove in, because that's how I do most things. I'm not much of a look-before-you-leap kind of gal. Sometimes that works for me; sometimes I find myself living in a Hollywood Best Western (but I digress). While I'm still nostalgic for that first book (and someday may even go back to it), there was so much I didn't know. Luckily 2013 was the year to learn.

In January of last year, I met a couple of writers through Twitter. Since we lived in the same geographic area, we thought it would be nice to have a "writer's retreat." We had visions of renting a house with a fireplace, on a lake, relatively close to where we all reside... when it occurred to me. I live in a house with a fireplace, on a lake, relatively close to where we all reside. So I invited these complete strangers (Jen Malone, Melanie Conklin, and Alison Cherry) over for the weekend.

My friends thought I was crazy. You can imagine the conversations:

Friends:  You invited a group of people you don't know to your house for the weekend?

Me:  I know them. From Twitter.

Friends:  (blank stare)

Me:  I checked them out.

Friends:  Did you do a background check? Through the FBI?

Me::  No. I googled them.

Friends:  (blank stare)

Me:  They seem really nice.

Friends:  Of course they seem really nice. Con artists always seem really nice.

Me:  (blank stare)

But, I trusted my gut (after all, I met my husband online, and he turned out to be pretty awesome). So, Jen, Melanie, and Alison came over one foggy weekend in January. And it was incredible.

We wrote, we ate, we shared ideas. We even Skyped with other Twitter friends (and hey... they weren't con artists either!)

I walked away from that weekend feeling, for the first time ever, like a real writer.

As luck would have it, a spot opened up in the coveted MGBetaReaders, an online critique group for middle-grade writers. Jen recommended me, and I was invited in. What a blessing! That group has been instrumental in helping me grow as a writer.

That spring, I attended the New England SCBWI Conference and the NJ SCBWI Conference, where I met even more supportive and talented writer friends. At around that same time, I started on a new middle grade manuscript. I spent most of the summer and fall writing and revising.

Meantime, lots of cool things happened to my writing retreat friends. Melanie signed with an agent. Jen sold a book. Alison's book came out. I was surrounded by greatness.

In December, my new manuscript was pretty much polished and ready to go. I entered PitchMas, and got in! From there, I got 5 requests. Then I entered PitMad, and received another 3 requests. I had a feeling about this manuscript. Of course those feelings ranged anywhere from "This is pure magic" to "This is unmitigated cow dung." But, deep down, I believed in it. And, what's even better, my critique partners believed in it, too. That gave me the confidence I needed to query my most-wanted agents.

That's how the year left off.

2014 started out pretty darn well... I signed with my dream agent. And it was all because of the work that happened in 2013. Sometimes that prep work happens in one year; sometimes it happens in ten years. But it does happen. I'm sure of that.

If there's one piece of advice I'm grateful for, it's my family and MGBetaReaders reminding me to keep going. Persevere. The journey to publication doesn't happen overnight. And it rarely happens alone. Keep writing. Find critique partners you trust. Research the agents that represent your genre. And tell your story... you're the only one who can.

Stay tuned for my next post, How I Got My Agent!