"It's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap."
~Wicked, Defying Gravity
Every author waits for the day they'll get 'that email'. The "Let's talk...", "I'd like to discuss..." or some variation of it. I'm no different. I wasn't sure when it was going to happen, but I knew it would happen. The whole, 'paying my dues' BS we tell ourselves when we, as authors, are down. The 'it'll happen in time...' trope to keep us writing that next page, chapter, book.
That's a lie. More than once I thought it never would happen and almost gave up.
But February 28th, 2017, a day I was dreading because I'd have to live blog Cheetos' Joint Sessions speech that evening, I got the email. And for me, it started with "I'd love to schedule a call..."
But, as many writers know--the journey in these blog posts is just as fun to read as the pay off, so let's start from the very beginning (A very good place to start)...
Strap yourselves in, get some apple juice, and get comfy. This is a long blog post.
I think its important before we start this, that you know the theme of this blog post is, 'it takes a village'. You'll see why.
I've always been a writer. Before I dabbled in science, or medicine, or politics, I was a writer.
Ever since I was about six. I used to write short stories (that I thought were massive...aka 3 pages) about kids going on camping trips and being eaten by bears. I'd read them to my parents during commercial breaks of Wheel of Fortune (how domestic, right?).
I never really thought I'd be a professional author though. Sure, I wrote consistently through high school. i dabbled in stories--in fact, my first novel called TEAR, a very cliche fantasy novel (finished at about 200 pages) was written in 9th grade while my mom was prepping her classroom before the school-year started. I knew I liked writing, I knew I wanted to write, but that was about it. It was a dream for me; a "one day I'll be a writer" dream.
In high school, I came to terms with my sexuality, more so in freshmen year of college. I think that's what triggered me wanting to write professionally. I saw a space where I, as in me, didn't exist in books. I didn't see gay characters in stories where they just happened to be gay and going on adventured. I'm not sure why, but the two books that really made me want to write were The Pendragon Series & The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
I continued to write, mostly stories that would never be finished, dabbling in honing my craft (I didn't know it then, but I was), until about 2013 rolled around. That was a dark year for me. My friends had graduated from college (due to some personal choices, I wasted about 2 years of college education dicking around), and i was alone at school. So I turned to the one thing I could rely on; books. At the same time, i found my professional passion; social justice non-profit work, and what better way to change the world, than to change the minds of one teen out there, feeling like shit?
2013, around August, was when I decided to be a serious author and boy, did I fuck up.
THE FIRST FEW ROUNDS...
So, I knew what I wanted to do. Become an author. Next logical question: How do you do that? You write. And that's what I did. I sat down, thought about a story I wanted to do, and went to werq (yes, work with a q.).
But--as everyone knows--writing a novel, or rather, having an idea, is only half the battle. The first novel I wrote I queried without finishing. The agent, was nice enough, to tell me in oh so many words "This needs a heavy edit, but the idea is good". Ouch. But, remember kids, you don't query till a book is done. No matter what you think or how good it is--or how fast you can finish writing it.
I scrapped that novel, and went back to honing my craft. I reached out to talented authors, talked to them about how they got there, and wrote a book that was good, decent, but not really publishable. It was a YA Eco dystopia. And though it got a full, thanks to the help of a mentor (shout out to Alex London), it wasn't publishable. At all. But it, like every other novel, taught me a lesson.
LESSON ONE: how to start a story, and finish it, no matter how good (or bad) it was.
This was 2014, February. I remember because of how cold it was when i came up with the novel idea, and how the cold played a huge roll in the novel. And without that experience of failing--miserably--I wouldn't be where I am today.
Do I miss THE DECEMBER ZONE? No, it did what it needed to do. It taught me how to write a novel. And it opened up a whole new set of doors.
PITCH WARS (2014)
For those who don't know, Pitch Wars is a contest where many writers choose mentors to craft their book. About one-hundred something people are selected and each year, the pool is huge. In my class there were 1900 submissions. The mentorship is invaluable. But, he's the trick many people don't learn till after. You don't go into Pitch Wars to get an agent. You go in to learn how to craft a novel. Remember that.
That being said...I highly recommend you enter if you have a finished MS.
I entered (another) dystopian novel, this time with commentary on the housing market. Long story (and obviously) short, it wasn't selected. But a mentor who I submitted my work to gave me sage advice. She said;
Which changed my life forever. I just didn't know it
LESSON TWO: how to write hooks--good ones--and take what you know, & make it into something interesting.
A lot happened in 2015. I started a new novel, a science fiction thriller that combined my love for SF, with the advice I got. I entered more contests with it, and probably (most of you Twitter people) got most of my friends during my 2015 stint. The novel, JAILBREAKER, got moderate interest, and one thoughtful, open ended R&R, but in the end, it wasn't the novel for me. Too many twists, not enough care taken to edit, too violent for YA.
LESSON THREE: how to create one meaningful twist, that brings everything together--even if the rest was shit.
But its failure, led me to the current project.
I took some time to think about my writing career, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to write. I knew having LGBT characters was important to me, I knew including some commentary about society was important, and I knew I wanted to dabble in some genre fiction. Bonus if I could include my love for period pieces and spy movies.
So about 2 months went by and due to a real life circumstances of a friend going to work abroad in Spain (Hi, Emily!), I came up with the idea of my heart. I wrote the novel and edited it fairly quickly, sending it off to agents. Perhaps, again, too quickly. To keep this from being as long as The Bible, it’s fair to say the novel didn't get picked up. But, this time--an agent--steered me in the right direction with some advice. They said;
I can't say it enough, writing takes a village. And as you can see, my path came from those who helped me form that village. Such advice was invaluable to me and forced me to take on massive edits. The edits took months, and resulted in the novel being what it is.
I submitted the novel, again, to Pitch Wars, this time getting no requests, but being getting solid endorsements of my writing skills. That, after years of mostly cold rejections, felt like fresh, clean water. It refueled me.
I took the advice of this agent and mentor, and went at it again, editing, crafting, honing. All this time (and even before) I had someone very particular, Lana Johnson (follow her, y'all, be amazed), not only helping me and pushing me to be better, but cheering me on. She helped me create the world that my novel has become. She challenged me, and she supported me.
She would be there (and still is) through the highs and the lows, and through 2016, the year where everything changed--for many of us--but especially for me.
THE YEAR OF YES
2016, was a bigger year than 2015. Professionally, and writing wise. I got a new job that I loved, I finished my Americorps tenure, I got a boyfriend (!), and I expanded my network of twitter family members--all while editing the novel; again.
My edits took me through 2016, and resubmitting it to agents who were interested. While waiting, because publishing is slow y'all, I dabbled in other online twitter events that allowed me to get my novel out there.
And then April happened. During April of 2016, during an event called "dvpit", I tweeted a pitch of my novel that got retweeted by a friend of mine, the amazing Angie Thomas, author of THE HATE U GIVE (buy it, y'all). The pitch was...
I'd like to say me getting interest was from my own skill alone but it wasn't. It was from her retweet, and the community on twitter rallying behind me in supportive confidence that got some interest. The twitter community, writers, if you don't know is the most perfect thing you can ask for. It's like a constant convention, anywhere in the world. This resulted in many initial agents interested in my story...
...but not enough to offer. To say it was a blow was an understatement. Every writer, no matter who, feels some form of grandeur when agents want to read your work. Validation in the time and effort you put into crafting words. Every writer dreams of the "24 hour turn around call for rep". But wanting to read it is just that; interest, not an offer. And I didn't get any.
For 5 months the rejections trickled in and in November, I tried one more time on a whim to enter Pitch Wars--for the third time. I found a last minute mentor, one who seemed like the right fit, subbed to her...and tried to think of new ideas for a novel.
And then one August night, I got the email that I was selected. 3 times trying, and I got into Pitch Wars. My mentor, Kip Wilson, believed in me and my novel. My war novel about crazy teens called A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER, was being taken seriously. And though I KNEW Pitch Wars didn't mean an agent off the bat, I thought, this was MY time.
The months were long, the work was hard and the editing was fast paced. But in the end, I got it. I was confident things would change. Did I learn from the situation? Oh, yeah. I learned how to edit, how to plot, how to challenge and push myself...if you're following along, you'll notice this novel started in 2015. That's almost a full 2 years of editing it and working on it.
In Pitch Wars I made amazing friends and learned so much. And during reveal week I got a good amount of requests. Nothing panned out--but the good thing about the years of work, was I had grown a thick skin. I went back to writing, working, and dabbling. I stayed involved with the twitter community. I subbed so many agents, and kept beating on doors.
Then, in 2017---almost a full 3 months since reveal day of Pitch Wars, someone answered.
Like many authors, I wasn't expecting the call when it happened. Honestly, I got out of the shower, saw I had an email (assumed it was another rejection), and got distracted by texting my boyfriend. 10 minutes later I decided to check the email...and read it three times.
An agent wanted to call. An agent wanted to talk about my book.
Now, I had been here before. An agent wanted to talk before and it didn't pan out, and honestly, the situation almost broke me. I learned so much about myself, about my writing, about my friends in that situation--but I was hesitant. So I was wary, but excited.
This agent seemed interested. Their tweets seemed about me and the whole process (from query, to full upgrade, to call) was only 2 weeks. It all sounded like what happened to others. And finally, it was happening to me.
So I wrote a quick email back, saying we should talk at 4 pm (aka 5 hours later) and went about my day, screaming inside.
I had to work that day but rushed home in time to have 30 minutes to prep. I paced, I put on comfy clothes, listened to my favorite music, did more research on the agent, and had the call.
And let me tell you, all. The call? Was everything I wanted. We discussed the book, each other, our passions, what we wanted in each other, our future together, how they saw my book, what I saw and eased all my fears. The call was only about 35 minutes, but I came away with the coveted....
"I WOULD LIKE TO REPRESENT YOU."
it was a dream come true. I barely knew what to do. I texted my boyfriend, I called my mother, I told my crew, and I did what all writers have to do when this happens. Emailed every person who had my full, or my query and hadn't openly rejected it--and freaked out.
Word of advice for people reading this--when you get the call, send an OFFER OF REP email to everyone who hasn't said officially no. Yes, even CNR people. I had requests from people who had the query for 243 days.
Now, for the average person, that might be maybe 20. But for me, a query fanatic, it was over 60 people.
And I waited.
Almost instantly I got some upgrades, and almost instantly I got some passes, which is normal. The process continued for the full 10 days of getting requests and passes and even some offers. I followed up with the first agent, asking some follow up questions, did some research, made (this) website, and waited.
More passes trickled in, many from full-upgrades, mostly from people who said they would offer "a revise and resubmit" but since I had an offer were stepping aside. In the process, I got 2 more offers who helped put into perspective this career, my future, edits and what I wanted out of my career as an author. Then the decision day game.
Before the reveal, it's important to say 3 things, I think.
First, it took a village to get me here. From my mother who took hours to read my novels and edit them, to Alex London who helped a new writer believe in himself, to Kes who read my work and pushed me in a different direction, to Lana who helped challenge me always and be a sounding board, to my boyfriend who never let me sacrifice my happiness, to Angie who retweeted and supported a fellow POC writer, to Kip who took a chance on this story, to Sara who gave me guidance and answered questions when there was no direct gain for her...to every other person who came in my life in my writing. I didn't get here on my own talent, I got here because of Twitter & the community I made there.
Second, from writing, I learned to take risks, to trust others, how to edit and most importantly, how to truly believe in your work. To say this process, of almost exactly 2 years (I sent my first query out to a non-reference agent on 3/4/14), didn't change me in my professional life, would be a lie.
And third, stats. I believe almost all author stories, at the core, are the same. But numbers, can help us see how much effort it takes, and how we can never give up. A blog told me to "not stop querying till I hit 100 queries". Well...my stats...
Years spent (seriously) writing: 3
Novels (completed) written: 4
Novels Queried: 3
Months spent on current novel: 25 months
Revisions: 3 major ones
Queries sent: Over 260
Full Request: 35 (11 from offer nudges)
Louise had my query for a while from a contest hosted by Beth Phelan called #DvPit--back in April. She not only saw 2 versions of the novel, but was passionate enough to come back from her trip abroad and call me almost immediately--after flying for 2 days! That passion, plus her vision for the novel, and her commitment to my career (the way she dove into my other books + my career was so inspiring). Louise is also a no-nonsense agent; she knows what she wants, and she knows how much she expects. All of that meant a lot to me.
And in this career, that's really all you have. Your choices. Whether it's the words you choose to use, the story you decide to write, the agent you take, or the friends you make--your choices are you. And at the end of the day, you have to be happy with them.
And I'm happy with mine.
OH, almost forgot the last lesson.
LESSON THREE: never give up. no matter who tells you to--if this is the novel of your heart, query 50, 100, 200, 500 agents. But don't you dare give up.
Edit 3/15 10:45am: I forgot to add that my agent, Louise, came from me entering #DvPit mentioned above. She liked the tweet mentioned above which got the ball rolling on that end. Do not underestimate the power of Twitter Events, people. I entered every one under the sun and it paid off for me.