This is that post. The how I got my agent post.
This is exciting to write, but also a little daunting—which I suppose is why I'm writing it about a year after I signed with my agent.
During the years I spent querying, these types of posts were so helpful and encouraging. She got an agent! I will too.
So here we go. I'm going to lay out the whole sordid tale, from start to finish. And it starts in a very scary place, my friends . . . high school.
I finished my first "book" my sophomore year of high school, at the ripe old age of fifteen. Book is in quotes because I am really pushing the definition of the term by using it to describe this tangled mess of words I weaved together. I started the thing in middle school and worked on it for about four years. I changed the title so many times I don't even know what to call it. (It began as FIRE AND ICE—whoa, original!) It was fantasy, or something like fantasy, and if I remember correctly, it featured several of my then-friends (some of whom are still my friends and probably remember joking about their roles in the story during math class).
Okay, that's enough about that.
My next manuscript was titled TIDE LINE, and it was a NaNo project. I wrote 50k words of the manuscript during November of my junior year of high school, and I finished it up during that same year. The manuscript was literary fiction and was set in the 70s, which I knew absolutely nothing about. Again, this one was not great. I did actually query a few agents with it though—27 to be exact. And these included snail mail queries because not all agents were accepting email queries at the time.
I feel old.
Surprise surprise, I did not sign an agent for this manuscript. I didn't get any requests from those 27 queries.
My senior year of high school, I wrote another manuscript, titled THE BOY'S FATHER. This was the first step toward what my writing was trying to develop into, and it was a little ambitious. I still really like the idea behind this story—and a couple of the characters—but as a seventeen-year-old, I was nowhere near ready to write it.
But with blind ambition and pride in a story that was at least partially coherent, I queried 108 agents with THE BOY'S FATHER. Those queries resulted in three partial requests and three full requests. I also sent two partials and one full to agents who requested during the #WritePit Twitter pitch event.
After my unsuccessful querying (and partially driven by favorites from a couple presses during #WritePit) I decided to submit THE BOY'S FATHER to some small presses. I submitted to seven presses, with no luck.
I queried THE BOY'S FATHER through my sophomore year of college. During this time, I was writing my next story, titled GHOSTLINGS. It was about some truly deplorable characters, and I had a great time writing it. I learned a lot about character development and really getting into the psyche of my characters.
I started querying this one my junior year of college. I queried 67 agents, including the one I would eventually sign with. (She rejected this manuscript.) I got one partial and three full requests for GHOSTLINGS. But all eventually passed. And I'm glad they did. Looking back, this one was a great learning experience, but it wasn't up to snuff.
I started writing LEFT AT THE SYCAMORE the during my senior year of college. Hold on for the ride, folks, because this one's bumpy.
I set up an independent study for the second semester of my senior year. My creative writing professor was going to oversee the drafting of a novel, and I would get college credit for it. So I started prewriting during the the first semester, intending to be ready to do nothing but draft during the independent study course.
All went according to plan during the fall semester and winter break. I even started drafting during the spring semester. Then in January, I got hit on the head during an intersquad softball scrimmage, weeks before I was set to begin my final season of ball.
I won't get into too many details here—that's not what this post is about—but a simple concussion turned into a four-month-long brain injury that was . . . nasty. The list of things I couldn't do was much longer than the list of things I could. I had to be in sensory deprivation for weeks, and I couldn't read for months.
I did try to write a little during this time, but most attempts resulted in "brain flooding" and ended with me curled in a ball, in survival mode.
Obviously, I did not make much progress.
I was actually able to graduate, primarily because I had done all the reading for my classes over the winter break, in preparation for spring softball season. My professors also agreed to make an exception to the attendance policy, since I wasn't physically able to be in a classroom.
After graduation, I returned home to East Tennessee to finish recovering. When my brain was feeling better, I wanted to write. I was dying to write. I was dying to do a lot of things, actually, but working on SYCAMORE was high on the list. I built on the meager words I'd written before and during the injury, and before too long, I had a draft.
It was rough. I mean rough. I wound up basically rewriting the thing before I began querying near the end of 2016.
I sent a total of 85 queries. One of those resulted in an R&R (revise and resubmit) request. I felt the feedback was strong and the changes would improve the manuscript, so I rewrote it, but that agent ultimately passed.
The queries resulted in three partial requests and nine full requests, including a full request from Sandy Lu on March 14, 2017.
I queried her 3:45pm and received an email requesting the full at 8:28pm. I was living with my parents at the time, since I still wasn't fully recovered from the brain injury, and I remember running down the stairs, yelling "GUESS WHO WANTS MY BOOK!" They displayed appropriate excitement, though I'm not convinced they knew at all what was happening.
I sent the full manuscript, and then I waited. I checked in on June 18 to let her know I had revised the manuscript (based on the R&R) and to ask if she wanted the updated version. She did. I sent it and waited some more.
On February 11, 2018 (yes, 2018) Sandy sent an email letting me know she was enjoying my manuscript and asking if I was still looking for representation. That is 334 days after the initial query and full request. She asked that I send a bio and synopsis. I did. Five days later, she emailed to set up a time to discuss the manuscript over the phone.
I always imagined—don't ask me why—that when I received that email, I would be sitting in a coffee shop, working on my next book. I would throw up my hands and exclaim in sheer delight. Strangers would ask me why I was so happy and I would proclaim that an agent wanted to speak to me about my manuscript.
In reality, I was sitting on my couch in my cabin. (During the time between my query and this email, I had bought a house.) I don't remember what I was doing before the email came through, but after I read it—on my phone, I believe—I didn't move for a solid thirty minutes. I sat and stared at the wall. I absolutely could not believe that six years of hard work and rejection after rejection was coming to fruition. It didn't feel real.
When it finally sank in and I had responded to confirm the time, I started making calls. I called my best friend, who lives states away and has supported me and my writing from the beginning. I called my mom and dad, who were overjoyed and proud because, even though they may not be writers, they know what writing means to me. I called the friend who was with me and contributed when I plotted the initial outline of SYCAMORE on napkins in a coffee shop. (I still have those napkins.) And I called my college friend who somehow kept me alive during the brain injury—really, she's amazing.
There were a lot of emotions during those phone calls, and looking back, that evening was it for me. We're all working and slogging and taking the rejections on the chin, hoping that it's all going to result in one moment of success. Even though it isn't a moment we're working for, really—it's an entire career—that single point in time makes everything worth it. For one evening, I had succeeded. That feeling is worth more than any book royalties.
The rest of the process went by fast. We talked on the phone. I asked questions. She was very up front about everything, including the fact that SYCAMORE needed a lot of work. But I was up for it. Writing this story had been a battle, more so than any other I had written and not in small part because of the timing of the brain injury. I had poured so much of my soul into it already, and I believed in it. I believed in the characters, and I wanted their stories to be told. So after I had all my answers and had given the other agents who were reading the full a chance to respond, I decided to sign with Sandy.
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