Everything they say about finding the right agent for your work is true, so
The thing about coming out of the query trenches, is you quickly realize, if you've made the right match, that everything your writing peers tell you is true. While you're sending off your query, balancing your heart between hopeful and blind optimism, you think people are just offering platitudes. You've heard them: 'it only takes one', 'you're better off with no agent than the wrong agent', 'it'll happen'. Every request for a partial or full sets you up to believe all of the good and every rejection knocks your feet out from under you.
Those authors who have not found their agent soul mate might find it hard to believe that someone who is agented "gets it". But they do. They really, really do. Because they're at a different stage but it's very much a similar journey. Going on submission is much like querying, only you have someone at your side through the process. I'm not going to lie, that part is nicer. It's nice to have that fallback of, okay, I got a rejection but this person believed enough in me to sign me. It takes some of the sting out. Every writer who has achieved success (and that measure is different for everyone) has been where you are right now-- wherever that is.
But what everyone tells you is true: it does only take one, it is better to find the right one, and it WILL happen.
I've gone about learning this the long way. My querying journey has been a bit...unique. I have experienced having an agent I was not properly matched with and the disappointment of parting ways-- even when I knew it was the right move. This journey isn't an easy one: it can be hell on your self-esteem. That's why the people you surround yourself with (IRL and online) matter so much. You need people that will build you up, help you up when you fall, and keep pushing you. You need to do the same for them because whether they're unagented, agented, self publishing or on submission to big publishing houses, they will have their moments of teetering on the edge too.
We're all on that ledge, repeatedly, wondering whether to keep going or give up. But only one of those options can possibly lead to success and I can't tell you how happy I am that I kept going, kept writing, kept pushing down the feeling that I might not be good enough. Because what makes you good enough is your willingness to keep going.
Want some stats as proof? For the book that finally got me an agent (one I'd wanted for quite some time-- which could be another post in itself, titled: establish and maintain connections and relationships because they matter-- okay, maybe that title is too long) I actually tracked the process this time:
47 queries sent = free
4 partial requests = optimism
8 full requests = nail biting
34 Nos or no responses = grumpiness
1 agent (the RIGHT one) = PRICELESS
When it finally happens? You'll be like: Yup,
Know your limit. Write within it.
It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
Making words matter
Writing has always been something that has come easily to me. I whip off genuine, personalized report cards in a day. I can write a blog post in under ten minutes. I wrote my first novel (without edits) in four weeks. When the story is there for me, it's not difficult to get it down on paper. That's not bragging-- it's just the way I've always written. Having said that, in the past, my writing has always been for me so it hasn't mattered that there were glitches in the plot or character inconsistencies. Now that I'm actively trying to make my stories stand out above others, to make my writing catch the eye of an agent, what was once good has to be spectacular. Good is not good enough and speed doesn't count for anything.
It's difficult to separate yourself from your writing long enough to see the faults and weaknesses. I'm okay with having them and I'm okay with fixing them but the thing that is hard for me is narrowing in on where they are. This is why it's so important to utilize the feedback that anyone, particularly anyone in the writing/publishing/editing/agenting industry, has to offer. The people that I have "met" in the last year through social media and because of putting myself out there as a writer, have been incredibly supportive and kind and positive. I feel as close to some of them as I do to some of the friends that live down the road from me. I believe you can establish strong bonds and friendships via social media and email. It's new age pen pals. The difference, however, is the personal element is removed so they can, perhaps, offer that extra bit of hard criticism you need. Why? Because even though they like all your statuses on Facebook and retweet your tweets, even though you chat more frequently with them than others who live a few minutes away, they haven't seen you cry when you get a rejection letter or laugh like an idiot when you get amazing feedback. They know you but they don't KNOW you. This can be a very good thing for a writer as it allows them to be a stronger critic. There's an element of detachment that comes with online friendship that can only be changed by actually physically meeting. And I hope that one day I get to meet some of the amazing people that have befriended me. In fact, I already have met some of them and it's a pretty awesome feeling when they're just as cool as you thought they'd be. However, until I meet the others, I can let that buffer level of detachment work in my favor. They can be just a little harsher than my best friend who has to put up with me being moody when she tells me what I know is the truth. If they don't want to deal with my irritation over pointing out something that needs fixing, they can move away from the computer. Trust me, my best friend can't. I will show up at her house cause I'm fifty shades of needy and clingy like that.
So the point is, I'm going to spend some time really letting the feedback wash over me, knowing that these people who are offering me pointers and suggestions, for some reason, want me to succeed. I've said it before but it bears repeating: writers are the most supportive, encouraging group of competitors you could align yourself with. I guess it's because there can never be too many books. Or maybe it's because the same story can be told a million different and compelling ways. Whatever the reason, the writer's I've met want every bit as badly as I do to succeed. But they fall over themselves with praise, feedback, encouragement, and their valuable time to make sure I'm right there with them.
For the next little bit, I will be drawing on them to help me make my work the strongest it can be. I will also be checking out as many articles, blogs, posts,and websites as I can. Here's what I'm starting with this week:
Any good sites you'd recommend for character development or building conflict? Share.
The difference a year makes
This time last year, we were just returning from California. We visited Disneyland and had the best trip...EVER. While there, we met up with friends and I told them that I was attending a writer's conference in October. I said that I was getting to sit down with an agent and an author to share some of my work. They said to let them know how that all worked out. September came and went in a blur, much like this one will, and in October, I attended that conference. If you've read my blog before, you know I ended up signing with an agent for my picture book: The Princess and the Please. Signing with an agent was like a catalyst for me. I had always been "a writer". But after a professional said, "I like your work enough to sign you", ideas and words exploded. Since that time, I've written 3 more picture books, a young adult novel, 2 full length novels, and a novella. That wouldn't have happened, at least not at this point in my life I don't think, if I hadn't gone to the conference last year.
Since then, I've also amicably parted ways with the agent, met a wide network of absolutely lovely, helpful people that I wish I knew in real life, not just on Twitter. I've grown stronger as a writer, listening to and accepting feedback. I've learned how to write a proper query letter, a synopsis, and what a chore editing can be. I've learned to pitch my work in 35 words, I've had requests for pages, partials, and fulls. I've received multiple rejections and learned to take the advice in them (if they had any). I learned what CP (critique partner) means and I have one. I'm even hosting a give away for the re-release of Jessa Russo's book EVER. I've become a part of an amazing writing community and learned that it's okay that I'm not yet published or still agented. I always say I started in the middle and got put back at the starting line.
In October, I'm attending a writing conference. This time, I'll have a better idea of what I'm doing so there'll be no flukes or luck. When I sit down with an agent this time, I'll know what I want and be offering them my best writing. In the last year, I've also learned that my heart lies in contemporary romance, though picture books are great fun. It'll be very interesting to see what this year brings.
While you were waiting...
This has been an interesting week for querying my contemporary romance manuscript. I've received 1 "No thanks, not for me, best of luck" rejection and 1 "The writing was clichéd and I did not connect to your main character" rejection (OUCH...that one hurt). However, in the good news column, after entering the pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website, I received three requests: one followed up by requesting the full manuscript the day after I submitted two chapters. It is quite the paradox to have two people tell you they don't want your writing while trying to convince yourself that one of three will. So I'm distracting myself in the best ways I can and thought I'd share some ways to wait because, let's face it, waiting patiently and forgetting that my manuscript is in the hands of three people that showed interest, is not going to happen.
Ten Ways to Wait
What did I miss? What do you do to keep from going crazy? There's a great line in The Search (by Nora Roberts) that I love: "[We] worked on keeping each other from going crazy." Find someone or something to help you channel the crazy that inevitably comes along with waiting. Now, taking my own advice, I'm going to go read Jill Mansel's Staying at Daisy's.
Keep anxious and carry on
Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
Journey of a writer part 3 of 3
That call? The one that makes you feel like you haven't been wasting your time and fooling yourself? It came in an email first, for me anyway. In the email, Carly said she really liked The Princess and the Please and thought it had great commercial potential. She asked what I wanted in an agent and could she phone me? Um, YES! So she did.
You think it went like this: once we went through edits and revisions, Carly sends off the manuscript, editors and publishers loved it, and Carly phones to tell me I have to decide which book deal I want to take. That's a lovely ending. But it's not the one that happened.
We did go through revisions and Carly did send it out to editors and publishers. They did not love it as we did. They did not offer any such deal but they did offer us best wishes. While this was happening and I was at home wondering, every single day, if today would be the day, I began writing more and more. I sent some of that writing to my agent who responded with feedback. Still, I waited. I wrote. Waited, wrote, waited, wrote.
What's the worst thing that can happen? This book isn't going to work so you and your agent get the next project ready to go and try again, right? Maybe. In a lot of cases, I'm sure it does. For me, I got another email asking about a good time to phone. I thought (hoped, prayed, and wished) that it would be to talk about my contemporary romance novel that I had sent her a couple of months prior. It wasn't.
For me, this part of the story ended like this: Carly phoned to say that while I was professional to work with and had done nothing wrong, Princess wasn't getting picked up and she wasn't in love with any of the writing I had sent her in the mean time. She felt that she was no longer the best agent to represent me and this would be the end of our journey together.
Questions and thoughts that jump around like mini madmen in your mind:
"It's me, isn't it?", "Will I ever get another agent?", "Is this a sign?", "Did I make this happen?", "Do I actually have talent or was this a fluke?" All of those questions, and more, looped through my brain and still do. Really though, it's just a matter of it no longer being the best fit. No hard feelings, unpleasant words, or mixed messages. I suppose it could have gone down differently but in the end, it's the most civilized "break-up" I've ever had and we didn't even have to give each other back our stuff. She didn't unfriend me on Goodreads or block me on Twitter. In fact, she said she'd give me some advice on the last thing I sent her and if I had questions, I knew she was always around on Twitter.
Was it easy? No. Was I sad? Yes. Can I do anything about it? Yes and No. I can't make her take me back but we parted ways gracefully so I can only hope that it means new things will come. I've spoken of the writing community many times in the past year and once again, they are this amazing group of people that don't hate you if you succeed and don't pretend not to know you if you don't. I emailed Tanya, spoke to Carolyn (storytime), and reached out to new friends made on Twitter. They offered regret on my behalf, words of wisdom, and positive encouragement. How much more can you ask for than that?
It's not the ending I wanted or any author wants. I doubt it's the phone call or ending Carly wanted either. So what now? Well, I still have the Children's Festival next week, which I thought I should cancel because I was feeling like a 'fraud'. Then I decided no, I still have things to offer, things that made Carly notice my work in the first place. I'll do that. I'll keep getting to know the writing community. I'll keep writing and reading. I'll keep hoping it wasn't a fluke.
Five things that wouldn't have happened if I had not gone to the writer's conference that weekend: