I am delighted to announce that I have signed with Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Kathleen is such a rock star, and I’m so excited to have her on my side. I love her vision for my book and can’t wait to dive into revisions! She was the first agent to ever request material from me a year ago on an earlier version of my manuscript, and she knew then that YA was the better fit.
I’m so proud to join her amazing literary family! Her clients have welcomed me with open arms, and I couldn’t be happier! I’m very excited to start this next chapter!
I’d love to share some thoughts about my journey thus far with the hope that it will help some of you currently querying or preparing to query.
- Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel: a great read for those who struggle with plot. Great to read while planning out your book or during revisions, especially if you’re stuck. This helped me a lot with pacing, and helped me cut the fat from my manuscript.
- Query Shark Blog. Thank you, Janet Reid! I read through every entry twice, and the winners five times at least. A summary of my tips for queries can be found in my posts here and here.
- Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, Market It…Successfully. An “all-in-one guide to publishing,” if you will. I bought this book later in my journey, but wish I had it earlier. I’m lucky enough to have had their mentorship after winning Pitchapalooza last year, but even still, I bought this book. It covers everything from coming up with your book idea to researching and pitching agents, contracts, submissions, self-publishing, marketing. They write with so much voice it was actually a fun read. Check out my detailed review here.
- For formatting, I used Chuck Sambuchino’s Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
I also followed many blogs like Adventures in YA Publishing, Operation Awesome, Writer’s Digest, Ava Jae’s Writability, and Michelle Hauck’s blog. (Thank you to those writers and contributers!) The great part about getting their weekly newsletter is that it didn’t feel daunting to learn more about your craft. I’d often read these in the morning as I nursed my cup of tea in preparation for the writing day. Looking back, I learned so much about all aspects of being a writer—plotting, characterization, querying, building your platform, etc—by just reading a few short articles each week. It was easier than sitting down and reading a craft book and somehow worked better for me. It sunk in more, and I got through much more material this way.
How I compiled my list of agents to query:
I used the acknowledgement sections of books I loved, MSWL, Writer’s Digest’s Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, and Publishers Marketplace. Querytracker was also a favorite and led to the discovery of a slew of fabulous agents that I didn’t find through the other resources. With Querytracker, I searched for both young adult and multicultural (separately) with their search tool. I then narrowed down my list by researching the agents in depth (thanks Google) through agency websites and interviews.
Also, because I have a diverse book (#WeNeedDiverseBooks!), the Writer’s Digest list of 30 Literary Agents Seeking Diverse Books and Lee Wind’s agent interviews were especially helpful (Thank you Chuck Sambuchino and Lee Wind!). I also searched “multicultural” and “diverse” on MSWL. Quite a few of my full requests came from these agents. I’m so happy that the campaign for diverse books is gaining momentum and that there are wonderful resources now for identifying agents interested in diversity!
I personalized almost all of the queries I sent, and only submitted to those I felt would be a good fit. The process of identifying these agents and personalizing each query was time-consuming and daunting at first, but it became easier with practice. And it’s well worth it to put in the time before sending out your query. It may increase your chances of success, and if you do get an offer, you’ll be better prepared.
A few things I learned:
- There is no right way to write. Plotting is not better than pantsing or vice versa. Some writers like to move on to a new manuscript if the first one is not garnering attention, while others like to revise, revise, revise (I fall into the latter camp). There are lots of blog posts about “rules” of writing (never use another dialogue tag other than said, never bury your dialogue, etc) and while these posts are valuable and discuss great guidelines to follow, they are not hard rules. In most cases, they can improve your writing, but there are cases in which they can hurt, too. As someone who follows rules to a T, I learned this the hard way. For me, instead of Ctrl+F-ing every “explained,” “suggested,” and “argued,” I realized it was better for me to internalize the guidelines and have them in the back of my mind as I revised. Otherwise, I tended to take it too far.
- When receiving feedback from critique partners and beta readers, figure out the why behind their words. Why isn’t this section working? Why are they turned off by this word, that action, this setting? Even if you don’t agree with their specific suggestion, it’s important to understand why they felt the need to comment. It often means something needs to be tweaked, perhaps not in the exact way they suggested, but tweaked nonetheless.
- Even though it’s completely impossible, try (and fail) to keep yourself moving forward. Don’t look back and get caught up in things you should have done differently. I wasted too much time stressing about “mistakes” I had thought I made, most of which turned out not to be mistakes anyway. It’s impossible not to feel like you messed up in this industry where hard decisions come at every turn (when is my manuscript done, when do I query, when do I stop querying, who do I query…) and there are no “right” answers. But it’s normal to freak out and you’re not alone.
- There is more than one path to success. Don’t get hung up on other people’s journeys. Sometimes it can be inspiring to read success stories, but other times it can be difficult, especially after reading about five authors who nabbed an agent within 2 days with their first book that they wrote on a whim in one month. Remember that these stories are selecting on the dependent variable: often the writers most willing to share their stories are the ones who hit big success, fast. It takes a lot of bravery for someone who struggled for years and years to come forward and admit how hard it was for them. Don’t let the 1 in a million stories get you down or worse, change your expectations.
Things I’m glad I did along the way:
- Enjoyed every small success! In a field full of inevitable rejection, no matter who you are, it’s important to celebrate when you can! I celebrated my first form rejection (as the Book Doctors say, “you can’t be a great writer until you’ve been rejected”). Then I celebrated my first personalized rejection, my first partial request, my first personalized rejection on material….you get the idea.
- Started building my platform, website, and blog early. These things take a lot of time and it’s best to start as soon as you’re serious about writing. The Book Doctors recommend a year before your book may be published. An additional reason I’m glad I did this in hindsight is because there are some non-productive writing days. These are perfect for building your platform. Over the past couple years, I took needed breaks from writing and spent that time tinkering with my website, networking with other writers on Twitter, researching writing contests, and trying to find something to tweet or blog about. I’m hoping to devote even more time and energy to this now that I’m lucky enough to have signed with Kathleen, but I’m so happy that I got the ball rolling early so it’s not as overwhelming now.
- Revised, revised and revised. Revisions can be daunting, but they’re worth the time and energy, even if they take you in the wrong direction briefly. This manuscript started out first person, changed to third, then returned to first. It has changed tenses. It has been rewritten for 3 different age categories. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but had a hard time finding where it fit in the market. I don’t think the manuscript could be what it is today without going through this winding, grueling path, and I’m glad I stuck it out even when it was hard to accept that I had just spent months making a change that I would have to now change again because it wasn’t working. I’m also ecstatic that I now have Kathleen to help me navigate the market!
- And finally, I’m happy that two and a half years ago, I made the decision to change careers. It was an incredibly hard decision at the time because of the amount of uncertainty in this industry (and how much blood, sweat, and tears—all literally—went into my dental career), but I’ve never loved my life more. I wake up every morning (okay, mid-morning) in disbelief that my real life is better than my dreams. I get to write every day, all day long. It’s a privilege and honor, and I couldn’t be happier. And I get to wear pajamas.
And lastly, here are some words of inspiration and advice from the ones who have earned the right to teach the rest of us: https://litreactor.com/columns/22-of-the-best-single-sentences-on-writing
Some of my favorite quotes:
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” –Zen in the Art of Writing
“Literature was not born the day when a boy crying ‘wolf, wolf’ came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying ‘wolf, wolf’ and there was no wolf behind him.” –Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature
And great advice:
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip…if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” –Elmore Leonard, New York Times
Thank you for taking the time to read!
In celebration, I am offering a query or first five pages critique! Enter the Rafflecopter below!
4/22/16: The giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Julie—I look forward to reading your work! Thank you to everyone who entered! Keep an eye out for future critique giveaways on my blog!
Thank you to all the friends and family who got me here! And thank you to all the writers, agents, and editors who blog about the industry, run contests, and give away critiques. I learned so much from you all and am proud to be a part of this community!
Thank you to Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry for your guidance to get me here! You two are amazing, and the only two doctors I trust!
Thank you to my CPs and support system: Susan Blumberg-Kason, Lauren Lykke, Meredith Ireland, Lisa Schunemann, and Gracie West. Thank you for being by my side through this journey and picking me up when I fell!
And a shout-out to my husband, always, for being the first to believe in me and for being the catalyst for all this amazingness to happen, starting with you.