How I Got My Agent

agentFirst off, I should state that this is not a how-to post. As you’ve likely heard in the publishing industry, everyone’s journey is different. Here’s how mine went down.

Four years and eleven months ago, I started a book of historical fiction. I researched it for a year and wrote it for another year and loved it. I began querying in early 2015. At first, I got form rejection letters, so I re-worked my query. Then I began getting requests, and subsequent rejections. I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) from an agent, did the revision, resubmitted and got a rejection. I put the book away for a while and started a new one. But I kept getting pulled back to the first one because I loved the story so much. I overhauled the whole thing on and off during 2016, and began querying again in the beginning of this year. I received many requests for the full manuscript, but still no offers.

A long-time critique partner suggested over the summer that I enter my manuscript in the #PitchWars contest that takes place every August. I had read about the contest last year and didn’t quite understand how it worked, so I didn’t enter. This year, I scanned the website, found a mentoring author who was only looking for historical fiction submissions, and I decided to give it a try. She received over 100 submissions.

She picked mine.

While I screamed and cartwheeled, my mentor read through my manuscript and then sent me a thirty-eight page, single-spaced editorial letter. That floored me for a couple of days. I fully acknowledge that I grumbled and cried over it. But once I let go of my ego and absorbed her input, I put my butt in the chair and, for the next three weeks, did little else but overhaul my manuscript with her notes and guidance. A week after that, when she’d given it a second read, she had more suggestions. I got back to work for another two weeks.

On November 1, the agent showcase opened on the #PitchWars website. When it closed a week later, I had nine requests from agents for the manuscript. NINE! I had asked for an extra week to finish my second round of edits, and worked diligently toward that home stretch.

At 3pm on November 15, I submitted my full manuscript to eight agents, the first 50 pages to the ninth (per request) and a cold query to another agent I’ve admired for years.  She immediately asked for the full, and I sent it. Figuring it would take them all several weeks to get back to me, I exhaled and thought, “thank goodness, I can finally clean my house and catch up on my laundry”.

At 9:30 that night, I got an email from Ann Leslie Tuttle at DG&B. She’d been excited to read since she saw my pitch, told me so when I submitted the materials, and now wrote, “I haven’t finished reading, but I’ve read enough to know I want to have a call with you.”

6.5 hours. That’s got to be some kind of record.

I gave the other agents until after Thanksgiving to read, and in the end, signed with Ann Leslie. Her enthusiasm for my book rivaled my own, her excitement over my other projects was palpable and I felt like I’d found a true partner with whom to embark on this often rocky and challenging journey toward publication. With luck, my book will be out on submission exactly five years after I sat down to start writing it. All told, I had racked up 100 rejections before signing with Ann Leslie.

Do I wish it hadn’t taken so long? Sure. If you’d told me that first day that it would be five years before I’d find an agent, would I have decided against writing it? No, because I believed in the story I had set out to tell. I can also say without reservation that both my story and my writing skills are stronger for having gone through the process they did.

As I said, everyone’s journey is different. The one thing that is true in this business is that it takes perseverance, passion for your story, a willingness to learn and a bit of luck to get an agent. I never stopped believing in my story, and I never gave up on my goal of securing an agent. I’ve learned more about the publishing industry and myself as a writer than I ever knew before, and I was lucky enough to have a critique partner nudge me in a direction she thought would help me succeed.

Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. And godspeed on your journey.

Fighting Writer’s Block

WritersBlock

It happens to all writers. We have a tough day when the words won’t come. Or we go through life events that consume our time and focus and the writing gets pushed aside for days or weeks at a time. When we sit back down in front of the computer, the well is dry. How to get going again?

I fondly recall the torturous month I spent after accepting the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge some years ago. Sitting down and forcing out 1,700-some-odd words every day (weekends too) for thirty days made clear to me the level of commitment many classic writers possessed. As the laundry piled up, the dust bunnies multiplied and the children got tired of eating cereal for dinner, I reminded myself that those writers also had wives to handle the details of life while they hid in their studies with a typewriter, a bottle of bourbon and plenty of cigarettes. In other words, it’s doable, but not practical. At least, not for everyone.

What I learned about myself that month is that when I write every day, I build momentum. My brain begins to know what’s expected. It’s working even when I’m not at the computer. While I’m cooking, my subconscious is concocting plots, drawing characters and creating conflicts that will make their way onto the page when I sit down the next day. The conscious part knows I will be writing soon, and the subconscious steps up to the plate.

So when we can’t write every day, how do we start from zero and get going again when we have no momentum?

I’m sure each writer has their own tricks. For me, reading is the best thing I can do when I can’t write. Fabulous prose and rich stories get my mind working. My imagination fills with lush worlds and complex characters, and it helps clear the cobwebs out. Poetry also reminds me not to waste words so that when I’m ready to write, my mind searches for just the write ones to convey my thoughts.

As a last ditch effort, I like to open up an old project and do some editing. Often I’ll find a better way to say something, or a chapter that needs enhancement, clarification or more tension. And once I get going, it’s hard to stop.

What tricks do you use to break through writer’s block?

Avoid The Proverbial Vacuum

CritiqueGroup

From the time I got my first job, I was surrounded by co-workers. Managers who put me through training, old pros who’d been at their profession for years and fellow newbies and trainees filled each office in every industry. We all worked side by side, a hive of new ideas, eager optimism and valued experience co-existing productively. I learned more in those environments–about life, work and people–than in all my years of college and graduate studies.

And then I became a writer.

The writing profession is an odd mix of contradictions. Writers daydream and percolate ideas, often craving quiet to organize our thoughts, and we take care to carve out time just to work on our words. But in order to become better at anything, we need to gather. It’s imperative that we feed off the energy of other artists, exchange ideas and frustrations, offer solutions and learn tricks of the trade. How to strike a balance?

It was always a wonder to me how writers accomplished so much before the Internet. Conversely, I often muse what an achievement it is to produce anything today, now that we have the Internet, the super highway of distraction. The answer lies not in the tools we use but in one action: connection.

Writers of old had their klatches: Hemingway had Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Emile Zola had Gustave Flaubert, Edmond Goncourt, Guy de Maupassant , and Ivan Turgenev. These groups would gather, talk, drink, smoke and energize each other in their art. They knew their words were vital but the craft and its ideas had to grow: an artist could not exist in a vacuum.

Today, I am part of several writers’ groups, both locally and online. I draw ideas, feedback and knowledge from my fellow writers. We have  different degrees of experience, and we vary in style and proficiency, but we don’t compete. We encourage and cheer each other through failure and success. As it should be.

Whether you’re suffering from writer’s block, lacking inspiration or doubting your talents, the key is not to give up. You are still a writer, despite setbacks. Connect with other writers. They’ll be just what you needed, no matter what’s ailing you.

How Writing Saved Me

Writing

I go into every new venture with a sunny outlook. Change is good, learning opportunities even better. Of course, there will always be challenges; that’s how we grow. But I don’t fear change.

I sort of backed into writing as a career choice. Over the years, I’d worked jobs ranging from administrative to retail, customer service to tech support, and gained something from each experience. But I didn’t love any of them.

So I welcomed motherhood as yet another positive change. While I was on maternity leave, a dear friend suggested I start a blog on his computer server. This was over fifteen years ago, when “blog” was a relatively new and unknown term.

“But what will I write about?” I asked. After all, I was home with a newborn, rocking and singing and feeding him all day, doing laundry and catching cat naps while he slept. There wasn’t much of interest going on.

“Write about motherhood,” he said. This from a single, techie guy who knew about as much about mothering as I did at that point.

“Well,” I reasoned, “my parents are the only ones who’ll read it anyway. I guess I’ll write about my baby and how he’s growing.”

And so it began. I wrote every day, and it quickly came to feel like a personal success amid the constant drudgery and sleep-deprivation. Like a shower but more satisfying. My far-flung parents, as first-time grandparents, thrilled at the daily news, and I admit it made me a more attentive mother. I had to really think about what to write each day. Then something strange happened: I began to write not just what Jacob was learning about his world, but what I was learning about myself.

Fast forward six years. Our house now held a grade-schooler and a special needs toddler who confounded me at every turn. He didn’t sleep. He hardly ate. He cried all the time. He just never seemed happy, no matter what I did. The only thing that kept me from crying all the time too, was writing.

I wrote to puzzle out what was happening, what I was doing and what I would try instead. I wrote about how hard it was every day, all day long. I wrote about feeling like a terrible mother who was failing my child, and about how much I loved him, even though I had yet to understand him. And when I finally realized I couldn’t meet the challenge of understanding him, I switched gears. My new challenge to myself was to find the humor in each mystifying situation.

So as he grew, I laughed. I wrote about the things he did and what was funny about them because, of all the reactions I could have, I decided that was the best. No tears. Instead, laughing made life tolerable, manageable. As I got stronger, so did my writing. Ben gave me more material for my blog over the first five years of his life than I’d had in all the decades I’d lived before that. The challenges kept me writing, and the writing helped me cope.

Now that my boys are older, I use writing to set goals for myself. Articles, blog posts and, this year, a novel. With all it’s helped me survive and accomplish over the years, writing is the best job I’ve had alongside my other, more important job of being a mom. It’s evolved as I have, and helped me create a tangible record of my relationships with my sons.

But above all, writing was something I could count on during all the years when nothing was certain. Because I never knew what to expect, I relied on writing. And in the end, writing is what saved me.