Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I'm so glad to bring you a site moderator from Agent Query Connect, RC Lewis, one of the bosses who snap fingers to keep people in line and answer questions. (Just kidding on the finger snapping. She goes for the toes.) Once again, AQC is the place to hang out to rub shoulders with the agented and famous. RC writes YA, and I'm certain we will be hearing more news from her in the not distant future. What a fabulous author head shot, by the way. I love the black and white.
I've dubbed the day I got The Call the best-worst day ever. It was awesome in the end, but I thought it'd kill me.
It was a Wednesday. I had a full day of work at school, and I was also looking for a new job out of state, so I had two phone interviews scheduled—one during my morning prep time and one during lunch. I also had to sit on an interview panel for an applicant to be my replacement in the afternoon, and Wednesdays meant staying at school until five. Lots of end-of-the-school-year things to do, too, so I already knew it'd be a busy day.
Just before the end of my morning prep time (and that first phone interview went nicely, thank you), I got an email from one of eight agents who had my full. She wanted to know if there was a time we could chat.
Commence panic mode.
After a little back and forth, we decided she'd call me at seven that evening. Plenty of time for me to get home, get settled, and carry out a professional phone call. I proceeded to tell myself it might not be THE Call—some agents like to call and hash out possible revisions, get a feel for the writer without necessarily offering representation, right?—and carried on teaching my physics class.
The rest of the school day was semi-normal, if hectic. No substitute showed up when I was supposed to go sit on that interview panel, so there was a bit of running around. The interview was long, and I didn't get much done after school, but finally I hit the road to head home.
Major backup on the way to the freeway. A traffic light at a major intersection was out, making it a four-way (well, more like twelve-way) stop. No problem, just delayed me maybe ten minutes. Onto the freeway!
MEGA backup. They decided to start a major road resurfacing project that day, during rush hour. This was a much bigger delay. I should've gotten home just after six. I walked in the door at 6:52.
I took a deep breath, kicked off my shoes, and answered the phone when it rang.
The Call was great. We talked about the manuscript—what she loved, questions she had. We talked about what I want to be as a writer and how she works as an agent. We talked for over an hour, and I've probably forgotten half the conversation. (I do remember that my critique partner texted me five minutes before we finished to say, "Are you STILL on the phone???")
For me, it turned out to be The Calls. After notifying other agents (and ending up with a total of eleven fulls out), the following Tuesday became Agent Phone Call Day. I talked to four more agents that day alone—one of them cold-called me during my prep time, which was cool, but startling.
In the end, I signed with the agent who offered first (Jennifer Laughran). Not because she was first. A couple of the others made it REALLY difficult for me to decide, and I had to think hard through pros, cons, and what I really thought would be the best fit.
You can find RC at twitter or her blog, Crossing the Helix, besides AQC.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
If there is one thing to be learned from these posts, it's the value of persistence. I'm glad to welcome a new friend and writer of historical fiction, Amber Brock, who has this quality in abundance. She wasn't afraid of tweaking her manuscript until it sparkled enough to catch an agent. And she also names her picture file "Me" which means we think alike. Her novel sounds like my kind of story, I'll be looking for it on shelves soon.
In October 2011, I “finished” my historical novel, Blessed Among Women. I thought, hey, this is just like what’s in bookstores! I need to get this to a publisher! Then I did a little research and found out that you don’t send a novel to a publisher, silly, you send a query letter to a literary agent. So I sat down to write a query letter. And boy, did I bomb. I’m deeply ashamed to admit that I went after some of the top agents in the field with a poorly-written query letter and a 55k word “novel”. When their assistants got done wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, I got form reject after form reject.
So I dug back into the novel and made additions that enriched the story, and then completely re-wrote the beginning when my beta readers made the comment that it was a good novel “once they got into it”. To me that said the beginning was too slow, so I concentrated on my strong suit (dialogue) to make the opening punchier. Then I joined the “Where Past is Prologue” critique group on Agent Query Connect and learned invaluable lessons.
In January I started the querying process again and got my first requests for pages. Hooray! Then I got form rejects on pages. Ouch. So I set it aside—stepped back, worked on other projects. I thought I had shelved the novel, but it kept whispering to me from my Documents folder. I read Writing the Breakout Novel, On Writing, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and, for the thousandth time, Bird by Bird. Then I thrashed my novel into submission based on what I learned. I attacked my query with the same fervor, and then started sending again in March.
That’s when things really started to happen.
I started getting requests—I was still getting rejections, but now they were personalized, with real suggestions to help my novel, and invitations to re-submit. I incorporated those suggestions and then sent another batch. If it sounds like I sent a lot of queries, it’s because I sent a lot of queries. Over 130. Maybe even way over 130. 130 is when I stopped counting. If you can’t tell, I’m deeply stubborn. Plus I had tons of support from my husband and family. I’m glad I kept going!
So I sent my just-good-enough query plus the first 30ish pages to Clare Wallace of the Darley Anderson Agency (among others—I sent out batches of ten). Within a couple of days, I got an email from the agency’s editor, the delightful Vicki LeFeuvre. She and Clare and read the first part and wanted a synopsis and a full on exclusive. When they read the full they approached me with a suggestion for revision that would draw the novel more to the “faction” side of historical fiction (basically, they wanted me to draw in more of the true historical element that inspired the novel). I considered it, decided I’d give it a shot and see how I felt about the changes.
Well, they’re the experts for a reason. The suggestions strengthened the novel enormously. I sent the revision and got an email from Clare a couple of weeks later. I was actually standing in the grocery store when I opened the email! She said she wanted to talk about representation. Let me tell you, there is no better feeling than standing in the frozen foods aisle reading those words. Several days later my phone was ringing and I was trying to keep my cool.
We talked for about thirty minutes, but I knew immediately that she was the right one. Her vision for the novel perfectly aligned with mine, and she was excited to hear about the other projects I’m working on. She sent me the contract later that afternoon. I haven’t stopped celebrating since!
Amber Leah Brock is a sometime Spanish teacher who moonlights as a novelist. She lives in Atlanta with her English teacher husband and their three crazy rescue dogs. Her novel BLESSED AMONG WOMEN is loosely based upon the unique love triangle between Henri II of France, his wife Catherine de’ Medici, and his lover Diane de Poitiers. You can follow her on twitter at @AmberLBrock. She whines about writing at allmyfriendsarepretend.blogspot.com.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
I get to introduce another fellow member of AQC's Speculative Fiction Forum. I have to say that forum is the place to be if you write fantasy, paranormal, science fiction, or horror. It must be in the water because they're getting agents or publishing deals right and left.
A big thanks to Precy Larkins for sharing her story. Our husbands must be cut from the same cloth, because mine refuses to get excited anymore. When I give him any news he rolls his eyes and says he's not getting his hopes up. Now I can make him read your story and say na-na to him. It does happen.
For me, I didn’t get The Call, but The Email.
Rewind back to May 3rd. I woke up early because I had a doctor’s appointment that morning. The day before, I’d received great feedback on my query so I decided to send out two, just to test it out. While waiting at my OB’s clinic, I checked my email because I’m highly neurotic like that. Or maybe it was the pregnancy hormones making me extra neurotic. Anyway, there was a partial request sitting in my inbox. I might have fist bump my husband, who was there waiting in the lobby with me. Since he’s not a writer, he merely smiled. Sheesh.
The next morning, I woke up two hours earlier than my wake up time. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Sans eyeglasses or contact lenses, I squinted at my iPhone screen just to see if there was an email secretly delivered while I was asleep.
There was one. And it went something like this: Your query intrigued me so much that I read your partial first thing this morning. Would you please send me the full manuscript?
I grabbed my glasses and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Yes, I confess: I write on my kitchen table. Ever since I got a laptop, the kitchen has become my office. Which is really nifty since, you know, snacks are within reach…but that’s for a different story. Onward.
I sent the full with fingers crossed. In the meantime, another full request came in my inbox. It was shaping up to be a very good day. But then it was the weekend, and the crickets learned a new song in my inbox. My eye probably twitched a lot during that time. Hm. Can’t remember.
Tuesday! Tuesday came (and we’ll just skip over Monday because nothing ever happened that day, except for swollen ankles) and this time, I woke up four hours earlier than usual. I think I was dreaming about emails and possibly zombies along with them. Anyway, I of course did the most sensible thing to do when one’s groggy and highly disoriented from having just woken up from a nightmare: I checked my email.
It was The Email. The one that said I’m no idiot and someone other than my mother likes my book. No, wait, the word was LOVE. Someone loves my book. All of it. It wasn’t a “hey, I like your book but I’ll like it better if you’ll just twist a few scenes around” kind of like. It was a “I was totally captivated (CAPTIVATED!) from beginning to end”.
I waddled down the stairs to get to my laptop (because, you know, I needed to see it bigger and make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating from squinting too much at that tiny phone screen). It was real. And then I panicked. I didn’t even have a list of questions handy! I thought I would be waiting for months before anyone with my full sub gets back to me with their feedback. This is where your writing friends come in. This is where you’ll send them a freaking-out email with Help Me! stickers plastered on every space of your letter, and they’ll respond back with much squeeing and a handy-dandy list of what to ask Fabulous Agent Who Loves Your Book.
Because Fabulous Agent is based in Germany, there was no The Call, but lots more of The Email going back and forth. After letting the other agents who had my query and full submissions know I had an offer of representation, I had to wait again. Ten long days with six more fulls out. Eventually, the deadline came, and with all loose ends tied and out of the way, I was able to type those wonderful words to Fabulous Agent: I accept your offer of representation.
This was my first ms to query, and I landed an agent within six weeks! I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t believe it sometimes. J
Precy Larkins is a mother by day, a dreamer by night, and a writer in between. She grew up in the Philippines, a country steeped in superstitions and rumors of enchanted beings roaming the woods. She now lives in Utah with her husband and three kids. She’s represented by the lovely Julia A. Weber of J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH.
Precy maintains a blog and a Twitter account, where her friends know her affectionately by her nickname, Cherie. Her Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy novel, HIDDEN, is a story of a girl battling demons in her head only to find out they are real. With dark magick and soul-suckers on the loose, and a boy who can’t be trusted, she must use her visions to survive the world hidden beyond her own.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
A first! A writer actually came to me to be included in these inspirational posts. Gail Eastwood’s call for her regency romance came ten years ago, and now she has stuck her foot back in the door and taken up her pen again with ebooks. I'm sure time doesn't dull down the tremendous feeling of getting that first call. Your cover art is beautiful, Gail.
Authors often get asked “What have been the best and worst moments in your career so far?” In my case, those moments happened all at the same time, when I got The Call. But let me lead you up to that moment. In the process of getting there, I had taken a lot of baby-steps, and had even received an “almost” call from an editor.
You need to know that I am not a “fast” writer, one who easily dashes off two or three or even more books in a year. When I set off on my journey to publication, I planned not to send out my first book until it was finished, so I could get a head-start on the next one while that first manuscript was making the rounds. Great plan, right? Well, I had joined a writers group, learned of some contests, and decided to enter a couple, just to get feedback. I had a few chapters. I struggled to write the synopsis, but I did it.
No one could have been more surprised than I was when my submissions won both contests I’d entered! The winning submissions were being sent to editors, so you may understand why I was also a little panicked. By the time I heard from those editors, I had –gulp—FIVE chapters finished.
One editor said sadly that she would have been interested, but her line was shutting down. The other editor was very excited about my book! Was it completed? If not, how soon could I get it done? She had an open slot in her schedule and wanted to buy it, but she could not buy on a partial from a new, unpublished author.
As a new, unpublished author, I had no idea how fast I could complete the book, but I was pretty sure not fast enough. I despaired, thinking I’d blown it. My door of opportunity had opened, but I wasn’t ready when it did.
The smart thing I did was get an agent at this time. The contest wins and the editorial interest gave me a step up in attracting some positive attention, and through my writers group I heard of an agent who, after gaining experience assisting an established agent, was starting her own “stable” of authors. I sent her my work, which she loved, and then met with her at a conference in NYC. We hit it off so well (talked in the lounge for two hours straight), we agreed to work together.
That was the final step that really led to my getting the “real” call. When my agent got a call from NAL/Signet looking for manuscripts, she sent over what she had of my book – NINE chapters by then –not quite half the book. “They want to buy it, but you’ve got to finish it first,” she told me. So much for my great plan!
I worked my tail off to finish A PERILOUS JOURNEY (nothing like an agent breathing down your neck to help with that!). Then I waited, wondering if it really would sell. Finally, editor Hilary Ross, the grand dame of editors in my genre at that time, was on the phone. “I love it, I want to buy it,” she said. Euphoria!! The Call!! “But you’ll need to cut 100 pages.”
One hundred pages. That was ¼ of the manuscript! Yikes! I knew I could say no. But really, who does that? Say “no” to The Call? Here’s what went through my head that day:
1. Signet is my #1 choice of publisher, the one at the top of my list, the one I never really expected to sell to.
2. Hilary Ross is one of the most respected editors in the business and she has been doing this a long time.
3. If HR thinks my book can lose 100 pages and be better, she must be right.
4. This is my “trial by fire.” If I am going to be a professional author, I should be able to do this.
So, I said yes.
Days later, after my friends talked me out of my panic-induced total paralysis, I set to work on the book, and taught myself some of the best lessons in editing (and pacing) ever! But that’s a story for another day/blog. Thanks, Michelle, for letting me share my tale. There are a few lessons in it that I hope may be helpful for other writers! I’ll be happy to chat if anyone wants to know what I think those are!
Find Gail and more information about her books on her website (www.gaileastwoodauthor.com), which includes her blog “Musings on the Journey”, and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/gaileastwoodauthor).Her first book, A PERILOUS JOURNEY, is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes, to be followed in July by AN UNLIKELY HERO, a related story, and more to come.
Gail Eastwood has come back to the fold after ten years of being out of the writing game. Originally published by Penguin/NAL as an author of Signet Regencies, she feels like a new author all over again now as her backlist begins to be reissued as ebooks, and she works on a new one! She writes what she calls “Regency romance with a twist of suspense” although her award-winning first book, now available for Kindle etc., is more of an “adventure romance”. She was hailed for expanding the boundaries of her sub-genre, pushing for more complex plots and deeper emotions.
Friday, June 1, 2012
What am I to write? How? I have so many questions. Too many questions. The tap of the keys are my only sound in this empty room, their noise like a constant mantra of sorrows and joys. Life is abundant with typos and corrected words, errors that we cannot catch, cannot fix on our own. But rainy days may speak volumes, sunny days may inspire us. The muse speaks, sings, into our ears the words of our lives that must be recorded through the keys and pens that spill the truth onto the page. Thus, we write it down.
Even to the silenced and broken, words are the key that unlocks our deepest, darkest secrets and our pain and brings it all to light. We write with furious abandon. We write with muted hearts, with hesitance as the heart cries out for more, for us to dance, for the words to affirm something. The fingers upon the keys are our songs, our lyrics, our paintings, our souls and dares to the world. Our pens are the swords that battle with the world; ask us to challenge those that beat us down. With words we say: No more will I be broken. No longer will a gag be placed in my mouth; no longer will I be a child afraid of my own self, born of hatred and pain. Born of a broken, brittle womb. With my gift, I will write and my children and my children’s children will know me as they did not know me in life.
We write to pass something beautiful on. To be heard in this world of silenced, broken people. To touch lives.
We write to pass something beautiful on. To be heard in this world of silenced, broken people. To touch lives.