Today, gentle viewers, I have decided to crank up the periscope and give you a view into the query trenches, where I have spent the past five months. For those of you unfamiliar with the process of getting traditionally published, allow me to fill you in briefly on how it goes.
First of all, it’s not as simple as chucking your manuscript at a publishing house and seeing it on shelves next week.
The road goes something (complete with various scribbles) like this:
Write something awesome. Revise and edit the hell out of it. Compile a list of literary agents who represent your genre and similar projects (but not TOO similar). Draft a crappy query letter. Get someone else to look at it. Make crappy letter better. Email query letter (or go retro and snail mail it) to agents.
Wait some more.
Lots of rejections.
Then more rejections.
What you’re hoping for is for some agent to read your work, be moved to laughter and/or tears that have nothing to do with the writing being craptastic, want you to be THEIR author, and ask you to move in with them.
Or something like that. Basically, if you want to see your book on a shelf, you have to get an agent. Agents are elusive creatures who know editors. There are ways to publish without them, but if you want to be published by one of the Big Five (formerly Big Six), they’re sort of vital people.
Anyway, you start out looking around at the agents of the world and sort of going like this:
But they’re busy and probably don’t see you, so you try to pretend you were minding your own business anyway.
Then you send out a few queries. And you get a few requests!
Then you send out a few more queries.
But then the rejections start flooding in.
And you feel more like this…
The weeks and months roll by, and you twiddle your thumbs and knit hats for schnauzers and/or iguanas, and when your inbox goes (1), you hyperventilate until you see it’s another rejection.
After a while, it’s this…
And you WANT to believe, so you try and tell yourself this:
And some of the feedback you’re getting from agents is great! It’s helpful and charming and lovely.
But some of it is also confusing. This person says you have a phenomenal voice. That person says she loved the premise but couldn’t connect to the voice.
In spite of the feedback and happy little notes, you still feel like all the agents are just sort of seeing your query and going:
Which makes you feel like this:
Here’s where this story goes from general to personal. Ready?
So after several months of living these GIFs on repeat, a couple weeks ago I got an odd sort of DM while I was at work. It was from a friend who interned for one of the agents who had had my full manuscript since September, and she started talking a bit too casually about sitting at home with her cat. A couple weeks earlier, she’d told me that she was quietly transitioning into agenthood herself, about which I went SQUEE for her, because she is awesome, and her boss (who had my manuscript) is awesome, and both of them deserve every good thing to come their way.
Anyway, back to my friend’s DM about sitting at home with her cat.
I was working and a little confused, so I wrote back, and she responded by asking if I was working late. I told her I’d be off in about an hour and wondered why she’d asked. Our conversations usually started with query woes or other random moments, and I did have a passing wonder-if she’d gotten into the wine. A few minutes later, as I was rolling silverware, she sent another message telling me that she would not take it personally if I didn’t go with her agency when I started getting ALL THE OFFERS.
I buahaha’d at that a bit and snortled (it’s hard to take ALL THE OFFERS seriously when your inbox looks like a sea of no), then felt abashed because I figured she’d probably felt nervous about saying that and just gotten up the courage to do so and I was very inconveniently not at home to discuss it.
When I got home, we started chatting a bit more, and she asked what my plans were for the evening. At that point, I started wondering what was happening. I told her I had no plans except to stare at my screen and veg out. To which she responded, “Well, then I better give you something to stare at.”
So I waited for the next message, unsure if I was about to get a funny YouTube video or something else.
Instead I got this:
So I checked my email, and I went like this:
And inside I was all:
Because not only did her email say she wanted to speak to me on the phone about representation, but several days before, I’d been tweeting about some of my goals and wrote this:
AND SHE HAD TOTALLY SEEN IT AND USED IT!
So the next evening, we talked for an hour. And I think at some point she said douche and I said ass or shit in this professional conversation, but hey. It’s totally okay, because we’re awesome like that.
I got off the phone feeling exhilarated and joyful and really, really, really excited.
But I couldn’t squee to the world. Because I had to let other agents with my stuff know.
I sent all the emails the next day, and I started waiting.
Except I’m not as peaceful as a sloth.
I’m friends with the agent that offered. As soon as I talked to her, I KNEW I wanted her to be my agent. She had the same vision for my project as I did. She’d told me before (very vehemently) that SHRIKE DESERVED to be published, and when I told her about my new projects, she said she got goosebumps. The more I talked to her over the last couple weeks, the more I wanted to just do this:
But I couldn’t just pounce on her and fling signed contracts at her.
So I waited.
Through all the waiting, I got an offer of publication from an awesome small press that had requested my manuscript during a Twitter pitch contest, which was super amazing and flattering. I also had my manuscript with someone I was referred to by a friend of a friend, and I wanted to give her the chance to respond, because she is an awesome agent who has been super kind to look at my work. There were a few other agents I had to hear back from as well, so I just…twiddled my thumbs and knit woolly jumpers for my friend’s pet lizards.
But FINALLY after two weeks, I AM UTTERLY THRILLED to announce that I have signed with Jessica Negrón of Talcott-Notch Literary Services!
(Seriously. I was so excited when my deadline came up that I ran — literally ran — out and mailed the signed SAMPLE contract before realizing I was supposed to wait for an official one on letterhead.)
Excuse me while I EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Jessica and I saw each other (?) at the Writer’s Digest Conference last year in New York, and we later formed a friendship on Twitter. She critiqued a short story for me over the summer, and when I queried her boss back in September, I had NO Idea she worked for Gina. It wasn’t until she requested my manuscript that I put it together and felt like an idiot. She was the first industry professional to fall in love with my book, and when she was given the go ahead to start taking on her own clients, she said she immediately wanted me to be her first client.
I am so excited to finally be able to say this — not only do I have an agent, but I have one who is completely smitten with my book and who loves the ideas of my other projects. I could not be more excited to start this new leg of the journey.
In closing, I wasn’t expecting things to happen this way. And as far as the rejections and the months of waiting went, every once in a while something just randomly falls into place.
So look out. Jes and I are fixing to storm the publishing world together. Bring it on, 2013.
Oh, and for those of you who are stats-aholics, here you go:
- Queries sent: 63
- Requests: 9 (3 partials, 6 fulls. 2 fulls began as partials.)
- Offers: 2 (one agent, one small press)
- Contests entered: 2 (resulting in 2 requests)
- Friends met: HEAPS
- SHRIKE is my third completed manuscript (though it was only the second I queried, and the first I only sent 4 queries out)
I don’t often blog off of prompts. I usually fly by the seat of my threadbare sweats and write whatever I goll darn feel like writing. I opened up my computer today to write le blog. I thought about describing my rewatch of Pride and Prejudice and how this moment:
…still makes my heart speed up and makes me feel All The Warm.
I thought about blogging about the top five things I’ve learned about being a cat, but decided that could wait a bit.
My little brain, in all its codeine-filled glory, fired up at that.
This time last year, I was determined things would be different by now. I’m still not where I want to be, but some things are in motion that I have to be proud of. So here’s what would go in my time capsule.
This picture, printed out and framed.
I have a folder in Gmail entitled “Agent and Publisher.” And there is STUFF in it. 41 different emails, to be exact. This time last year I was getting excited about the Writer’s Digest Conference and trying to get myself pumped up to put my writing out there for the first time.
The first thing I pitched and submitted wasn’t ready. But that taught me how to tell when things are ready. I learned that, in the time it took me to write my first two and a half books, my style started to emerge. I started to learn about voice. And as a result, trying to submit book one was like hoping a high school term paper would cut it as a senior thesis at uni.
I fuzzed out any identifiers in the inbox, but if you look at it with an eye trained in the Query Trenches, you’ll see some rejections. You’ll also see the words “FULL MANUSCRIPT” and the beginnings of a request or two. This little image marks the beginning of the most important thing I’ve ever done for my writing career. Sure, you have to write books. But you also have to put your work out there.
This comic book.
I made it through my first year of marriage! And we don’t hate each other. Spouse made me this comic book (we had Jean Grey and Logan cake toppers at our wedding, and I made our place settings from an Astonishing X-Men comic) for my anniversary gift.
It’s been a rough year on both of us. 2012 might not spell the end of the world, but it’s been a sobering year in many ways for us. Here’s to making 2013 our year.
This teeny tiny ketchup bottle, because Scalzi himself would not fit (and would probably not take kindly to being put in a time capsule).
Capclave was a weekend of a lot of interesting feels. I hung out with John Scalzi. I watched a newly published friend do his first reading. I met publishers and editors and bestselling authors. And I found this wee bottle of ketchup that will forever rather encapsule the whole damned weekend.
Too bad I couldn’t bottle all the scotch…
Dried roses from Gram’s funeral.
This last year has held a lot of loss. Even though it happened in 2011 and not in 2012, I still feel my cousin’s death as if it were yesterday. It’ll be a year on the sixteenth since I got that awful call on the way to work on a Friday morning. I don’t have anything from Nate‘s memorial. Nothing but memories, and hard ones at that.
When we all arrived at the funeral home, people were collapsing like balloons with all the air let out in one gust. That’s my clearest memory of that service — all of us felled by grief over and over again. And later of his baby girl, my namesake, asking a day before her first birthday, “Where Daddy?”
Gram’s was different. There was laughter and stories. Smiles through tears. When my cousin Karen got up to sing “I’m Going Home” in her rich, velvet contralto voice, tears fell all around. But no one deflated. No one lost footing. Because Gram had the long, full sort of life that was riven from Nate, and as a family we knew that her passing was only the denouement of her finished story.
The dream blueprints of my cottage.
I’ve had them for four years. I drew them myself, with only the skills of a 9 week course in drafting and a vague idea for how it works. But I love it. It’s a reminder of a dream, of what I’ve wanted from this life for a decade.
It might not come out looking like that.
The blueprints are a reminder that dreams have to be built, stone by stone, and that you pour the foundation when you start making decisions to move toward them. This year has been a year of foundation pouring. Next, let’s hope for the first stones. I’ll be ready.
So that’s what would go in my time capsule, gentle viewers. I’m writing this on the eve of the Pitch Wars announcement. Maybe because I wanted to preserve this moment. Tomorrow, things are going to change. I don’t expect to get chosen for Pitch Wars. I do know that regardless of what Brenda Drake’s blog says in a few hours, I’m going to take new steps tomorrow, whether it’s sending new queries or finishing this WIP.
I’ve got two days off work to recover from my plethora of illnesses. Since I have to be in bed anyway, I might as well let my fingers fly where they need to go.
What would you put in your 2012 time capsule?
EDIT: Well, the Pitch Wars announcement happened, and I did not get picked. BUT, one of the mentors who I applied to (the wonderful FizzyGrrl, aka Summer) offered to work with me behind the scenes…which is awesome and lovely of her, because she certainly didn’t have to do that. So this is me, with a new friend and coach…minus the fetching. Well, maybe with the fetching.
Edit again: Kristin McFarland’s husband made THIS:
In which you can actually level up as a writer, because yes, writing is totally an RPG. Use too many adverbs, craft -5. Make someone cry? Magic +12. 😛 If you click the picture, you can make your Very Own Skill Tree! Go do it. For the funsies. And go read Kristin’s blog.
It is Thorsday, so I shall write what I want — and what I want to write about today is part of the writing business. Pitching. No, not like baseball or cricket. You don’t want the end result to be someone smacking your work away with a bat. But the kind of pitching where you hope someone falls in lurve with your fuzzy little novel.
What a week to be a writer.
There’s so much going on that my little Emmie brain is full of lightning and fur. And I think there are a few Jelly Bellies stuck in there from my Thanksgiving binge. (Raspberry, FTW.)
This week is home to not one, but TWO massive Pitchapalooza events all about helping writers get requests and exposure. It’s also the first time I’ve done any contests.
So here they are, in all their glory:
Hosted by the indomitable Brenda Drake, this awesome contest struck me as unique from the start. First of all, it starts by pairing writers up with agented authors, industry insiders, and agent interns for mentors. After the pair-up stage, the mentors will help their authors hone their manuscripts and pitches for the agent/editor round. Sound great?
It gets better. As a writer, you could apply to three different mentors. And I found three AWESOME ones. One of my favourite bloggers, Summer Heacock, happened to be one of the mentors. Add to that, fellow Whedonite and Browncoat Becca Weston. And on top of THAT, an actual ninja — Tina Moss.
So I applied, I flailed, and now I wait. *eats imaginary popcorn ‘n’ parm*
To distract myself from waiting for the 12 December announcement of mentor-writer lurve, I’ve been doing…
It’s like Christmas, but with pitches…and oh, you know what I mean. This bad boy was put together by Jessa Russo and Feaky Snucker. If you’re around The Twitter Writer World AT ALL, those names ought to ring a bell. Not only are they awesome, but they set up a phenomenal pitch extravaganza for all of us hopeful folk with finished, polished manuscripts. (Or we tell ourselves they’re polished…eep.)
Yesterday was the blog pitch day which landed me a request from an editor (yay!)…the downside was a bunch of the agents (scheduled and swooping ninja agents) had already seen my query. So today it’s onward to the Twitter round, where we’re tweeting our pitches at the #PitchMAS hashtag. Here’s mine:
Super strength? Check. Questionable spandex suit? Check. Now accountant Gwen just has to save Scotland from her bomb-crazy boss. #PitchMAS
What’s Racing Through Emmie-Land
Both of these things are new territory for me. Between the personal stuff that’s happened this autumn and the financial woes Spouse and I are slogging through, I’ve been feeling really, really discouraged. About my writing. About the chance of ever getting an agent. About the state of my toenails, because let’s face it, after their encounter with a metal bar this summer, they’re still hideous.
What I’m clinging to is hope. Hope that all the people who said my manuscript moved them, thrilled them, attack hugged them — that they weren’t just lying through their teeth to encourage me. Hope that the agents who have told me they loved it (unfortunately with a but that followed, for instance, one was looking only to sign non-fiction) meant it too — and hope that it’ll make it in front of the right eyeballs before I reach the end of my query list.
Hope that I’ll get a chance. That’s all I want. A chance.
Till then I’ll keep writing.
Happy Thorsday to you! Where’s Mjolnir when I need it?