How I Got My Agent

I want to be upfront about something: my journey to representation looks unlike most I’ve seen discussed (though I haven’t made a study of every How I Got My Agent post for comparison). This is due in large part to the incredible endorsements of Katherine Locke and Marieke Nijkamp.

We all have people we “couldn’t have done it without”, and that’s certainly true for me. My CPs Daniel, Joanna, Karen, and Laura have been instrumental to my career. My husband Kenton talked me through all my plot issues, and got up in the middle of the night with our newborn daughter so I could catch a few hours of sleep. But Katherine and Marieke played a very specific, important role in connecting me to my agent. I  absolutely believe that without them I wouldn’t have signed with her.

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When I first started writing LILY AND LION, I didn’t do it on purpose. I’d been working on another book (MOTL) for two years. Shortly after I finished revising, I realized MOTL had too many problems. It relied on tropes without subverting them, and simply didn’t bring anything fresh to the genre. But I loved the characters, and wasn’t ready to let them go.

Most of my inspiration comes in the form of songs. In this case, I heard “Muscle Memory” by Lights and could feel the tension of desperately missing someone. I wanted to capture that feeling. When I sat down to write, it came out in the shape of one of the characters from MOTL waiting at the top of the stairs for the arrival of the second. That became the opening of LILY AND LION.

The words flowed from there. I had a first draft in three months. I had a revised and polished manuscript in another three. With the blessings of my CPs, I started querying in July of 2015. I had one quick request, but otherwise mostly crickets. Querying is a slow business.

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In September I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch contest, and L&L did relatively well. But the real bit of luck was when Katherine and Marieke saw my pitches and decided they wanted to read the book.

The day after I sent them L&L, my Twitter blew up. Katherine and Marieke liked my novel, and were tweeting about it. Three agents saw, and asked for queries. One never responded (given her enthusiasm, I suspect an email malfunction). One read the full and decided it wasn’t for her. One read the full and gave me a referral.

During the time the third agent was reading, I was querying with surprising success. Then the rejections started rolling in, all saying the same thing. Nothing happened in the first part of the book. I cried a little, but moved on.

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In late October  I got my first R&R. It wasn’t the sort of R&R I’d come to expect from the writing community. There weren’t specific notes, just a request to make things happen faster. I thought about it. I figured if I moved a scene from around page 150 to page 50, wouldn’t that do what the agent wanted? I made the change. I made other narrative choices as a result of that change, which I later realized were mistakes. But at the time I thought I was doing what needed to be done.

I sent the revised version to that agent, and other agents who had fulls (the R&R had not come with a request for exclusivity).  The rejections started rolling in for the new version, including from the third agent who’d requested L&L on Twitter. But her rejection was full of praise, and with it came a referral to Taylor Martindale Kean at Full Circle Literary.

The problem was, I’d already queried Taylor in July and received a pass. I emailed the referring agent back. Was she sure? Did Taylor really want to see my work? She responded: they’d already discussed the referral, and Taylor was expecting my email. So I sent my query and received Taylor’s request. I could tell immediately from our correspondence how kind and thoughtful she was.

Mere days later, I received a pass from the agent I’d done the original R&R for. I have to be honest, I cried a lot over that one. Dealing with some pretty intense seasonal depression at the time, I took a Twitter break and put aside the book I was struggling to draft.

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I’m not sure what did it, exactly. Maybe it was the fresh round of requests from queries, or the fact my day job slowed enough that I could actually think again. More likely it was that I finally found out I was severely Vitamin D deficient, and started taking supplements. But I picked the new book back up and resumed drafting hard. I fell in love with the story. I put all my energy into that book and felt like, even if nothing came of L&L, my career as a writer wasn’t over.

And then Taylor’s response came in–another request for an R&R. But unlike the first one, she proposed to write up a full edit letter with specific changes. And just as when we’d originally corresponded it was clear how wonderful she would be to work with. So I agreed, and while she put her notes together I finished the draft of my new book.

The edit letter came. I panicked. The changes seemed so massive and overwhelming. How was I going to pull it off? Twenty-four hours later, it hit me. Much of what she was asking for were things I’d sacrificed when I did my first R&R. Looking back at the version of L&L Taylor read, I’m still amazed she picked up on the potential of the novel, when I’d made the grievous error of editing out the things she was looking for-the things I’d most loved about the story in the first place.

The original scenes wouldn’t work, given that Taylor was also asking for an extremely compressed timeline. But at least I knew how the new scenes needed to feel. I sat down and thought it through. I bounced ideas off my CPs, and emailed Taylor a few questions about her notes. Then I threw myself into the revision.

I gave it everything I had. I forced myself to address issues I’d been putting off since the moment I wrote ONE at the top of the first page. I sent my CP Joanna frantic text messages, and she talked me off numerous ledges and through a huge series of new scene ideas. I ate, slept, and breathed the revision. I probably drove my husband crazy because L&L was all I could talk about. Every moment not devoted to my day job or my daughter was given to L&L (okay, I admit some of my day job moments were spent on L&L too).

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And all that work paid off! Taylor read the revision and asked to schedule a call. Shaking, nauseous, I excitedly told my dinner guests we’d be eating late, because I had a call with an AGENT. We talked on the phone, and everything I’d already gathered about Taylor proved completely true–not only is she kind, thoughtful, and encouraging, but so incredibly insightful. I was moved by how well she understood my book, the little details she’d picked up on. When she offered representation, there was no question. I knew she was MY agent, and I accepted right there on the phone.

(Technically this is a big no-no, as I had other agents considering L&L at the time. But I knew in my heart that after working with Taylor it would be impossible for another agent to convince me to work with them. I ended up pulling my manuscript from the other agents, who all handled it gracefully, for which I am so grateful.)

I still kind of feel like this has all been a dream. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m confident that with Taylor’s guidance I will make this book the best it’s ever been. I can honestly say that after incorporating her initial notes, I’ve never loved this book more. It’s everything I ever wanted it to be, Taylor is everything I ever wanted in an agent, and I know that no matter where things go from here, I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout this process.

Thank you all for reading!

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The Elusive Inciting Incident

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel without an inciting incident.

But how is that even possible? I asked myself, as rejection after rejection piled up, all citing the same reason – Nothing happens in the first half of the book.

That was…painful to read again and again, let me tell you. My CPs and betas had loved the first part of the book, had told me they couldn’t put it down because there was so much tension, and basically that everything was awesome.

Before getting that feedback, I had assumed my “inciting incident” was something which happened on the first page. That was where my MC’s world was changing. That was where all the drama started. But the reality remained that all of my tension and conflict was internal, or inter-personal. There was no overarching external conflict, which is a pretty big deal in a book pitched as High Fantasy.

Eventually it became clear nothing was going to happen for this book if I didn’t make some big changes. I cried for about five minutes. Then I did a lot of research on inciting incidents and novel beats.

I stumbled upon this amazing resource: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers. Immediately I started analyzing my novel in new ways. I realized if I moved a certain event from the midpoint of the book to within the first 50 pages, I could blend the external conflict with the internal conflict, and omg wouldn’t that be way better anyway???

So I outlined how I thought things would go. Then I revised harder than I’ve ever revised in my life. It was difficult at first. I couldn’t wrap my head around the new sequence of events, and how it changed the dynamics between the characters. Things which had been sources of major conflict in the first draft no longer worked, and I had to make new conflict. But I did it, and I do think I’ve got a much better book as a result.

But then I started looking at my WIP, A FRAGILE LINE, and realized it had the same issue.

I cried for another five minutes. How could I have written three full manuscripts without a fundamental understanding of what an inciting incident is? Luckily, AFL was only at about 30k. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over.

While I intend to incorporate a lot of the original 30k in the new draft, so it won’t be a total loss, I wouldn’t be facing this if I’d taken the time to do the initial research about story structure and beats. As much as I love being a pantser, sometimes you need to do more than just throw yourself into a draft (at least, I did).

What about you guys? Any great tips or tricks for making sure your plotting and pacing are where they need to be?

WIP Update

Today marks three months and one week since I started drafting my current WIP, LILY AND LION. And as of yesterday, I have a second draft with my CPs.

Guys, this is unheard of for me. Even pre-baby, even when my husband was in Afghanistan and I had nothing better to do, I never wrote that fast. My first book took me three years to write and revise. My second, still a solid year. This is only my third finished and revised novel, and the whole experience has been an utter whirlwind.

It certainly helps that this is not the first book I’ve written about these characters. As I mentioned in my last post, this book was a new story set in the same world as my second completed, revised, and queried novel, with the same cast of characters. But what’s more is that I really let go of my process with this book. I wrote the scenes out of order. I changed character motivations and backstory halfway through the book. I left huge passages to myself of [INSERT SOMETHING HERE]. And as a result, I had a first draft in two and a half months – while working full time, and taking care of my daughter in the evenings (I’m not saying this to brag, I just can’t’ believe it myself. I’m pretty sure I blew off a lot of important responsibilities and didn’t spend enough time with my husband. It’s something I have to make up for now.)

Since this has been such an all-consuming process, it feels a little strange to not be working on it. Luckily for me, I’ve got some research to do before I start draft three – namely on voice. Because this book also happens to be my first ever first-person manuscript, and not only that, but it’s also dual POV. So I’ll be focusing a little more on how to distinguish between my two characters in my next draft. And, of course, there are agents to research and a Synopsis to write and CP books to read in preparation for sequels/revisions. But I just have to say that right now I feel really good about this book, and I can’t wait until the day when I can share more of it with all of you.

New WIP

Dear readers. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. I queried that novel and got…nothing. Ah well, so it goes. The novel was good, but it wasn’t great. It was kind of trope-city, and it certainly didn’t stand out in a crowded genre. I wasn’t heartbroken that the book didn’t get any bites. After all, I’ve only got a zillion other projects to work on, right?

But the thing I couldn’t let go of was these characters. Theses characters were, if I do say so myself, amazing. I was utterly in love with them, and in particular, their relationship with one another. So I started thinking…if I knew the issue was the story, and the trope-y-ness, why not write them a new story?

And then, on January 8, while listening to Lights “Muscle Memory” on repeat (yes, I’m obsessed with this song. Go listen to it now) I found that new story idea.

And now, dear readers. Now I’m almost 30K into this new book.

I can’t even tell you how excited I am about it. Does it still have tropes? Of course, they’re difficult to get away from, and some of them I just plain like. It still has princesses in ballgowns, and swordfighting, and typical High Fantasy creatures (unicorns instead of dragons, this time). But this story passes the Bechdel test. It has gender equality and diversity, things I didn’t realize I wasn’t writing until I got on Twitter. And it has an awful lot more standing in the way of our heroine and hero finding their HEA, making it a more exciting story.

Will this be the book that lands me an agent? Who knows. But at 30K, I know that I love, love, love this story and whether or not it ever gets published, I know that writing it is the right choice for me.

So what are you all working on that you’re excited about?

Oh Hi 2015 + Six Things I Did/Learned in 2014

On my last blog post, I apologized for not posting in a month. That was in December of 2013. It’s been more than a year since then, so I think it’s officially safe to say that I’m the worst blogger ever. I will say that this whole blogging thing does not come naturally to me. Like most authors, I’m a bit of an introvert, and struggle with the balance between sharing too much and not enough information. But that’s no excuse! And so, dear readers, I promise to try (try!) to be a better blogger from now on.

So, to kick off my return to blogging, I want to share with you six things I did and/or learned in 2014! And oh boy, some of them are BIG.

1. I learned the importance of Twitter. The fact that so many people in the publishing industry, from writers to agents to editors, all congregate on one form of social media, and talk about issues relevant to the industry, still blows my mind. The wealth of information, people, and resources is magnificent. There are authors on Twitter who regularly schedule events, called “Pitch Events/Parties” that help us un-agented, un-published writers, to connect with agents and editors. Agents and editors use the hashtag #MSWL to post exactly what they’re looking for. And the supportive community among all authors, agented or not, is incredible.

Of course it has its downside as well. Twitter is on the internet (I know, shocking!), which means it’s open to everyone. Which means it’s permanent. If you publicly step out of line, or make a fool of yourself, people are going to notice – and remember. Luckily my personal experience has been nothing but positive, but I’ve seen others crash and burn, and it’s difficult to watch.

2. I got a new Critique Partner. I’m still working with my amazing CP, Daniel Wheatley, who recently secured representation for his fantastic, diverse, YA fantasy THE ZANNA FUNCTION, but I also started working with the lovely Joanna Meyer, who writes stunning YA literary fantasy. We met on Twitter about a year ago (happy anniversary dear!!) and quickly became fast friends. Now I don’t know what I would do without her (forgive me, I’m still in the honeymoon phase even a year later).

3. I revised and started querying the MS I was finishing up last December. I’m not going to talk about how it’s going, because part 3b is that I learned it isn’t polite to discuss the querying process. But I will say that I adore this manuscript and I’m very hopeful that it will find a nice home.

4. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, and won! The MS I wrote was a YA High Fantasy retelling of Swan Lake. Right now I’m polishing, before I send it off to my CPs for the start of revisions!

5. My husband and I bought a house. This was a big one, as you can imagine. We moved out of the tiny little house we were renting in Baltimore, and moved to a bigger house in a tiny little town outside of York, PA. We did this because….

6. I discovered I was expecting and subsequently gave birth to my first child! So obviously that was a big deal. My daughter Lyra was born at 8:40 AM on September 4th. She’s now four months old, and the light of my life. As you might imagine, crossfit kind of went out the window, and while I miss my flat stomach and superior strength, I wouldn’t trade my little girl for anything!

So clearly I had a busy 2014! And I’m looking forward to an even more busy 2015! What about you guys?

Hello there, shiny new MS!

Well, I’m officially a terrible person and haven’t updated this blog in over a month. I know everyone has those periods where they just don’t have much to write about (and, come on, holidays), but the situation with me is actually the fact that I have been writing SO MUCH.

Because in the last four weeks, I finished my half-completed manuscript!

That’s right, I wrote half a book in a month. I have to admit that was awesome for me, considering that I also work a full-time job. It meant slacking off on crossfit, but. I finished my manuscript. You really can’t compete with that.

So I finished my manuscript. Now what?

Well, everyone does this part differently. But right now my rough draft is with my primary critique partner, and my husband is also giving it a read through. When they’re done, I’ll get notes from each of them, and the three of us will sit down and discuss the manuscript over drinks. Because that’s how we roll. And then the fun part starts – revising.

I love revising. As much as I like writing, I like revising even better. Someone once described theses two stages of writing as follows: Writing is like putting all the sand into your sandbox. Revising is when you actually build your sandcastle. And I think that’s absolutely true. When I’m revising is when I really see my characters develop, my plot lines connect, and the story flesh-out. It’s when everything finally comes together and my manuscript goes from being a rough draft, to starting to actually feel like a novel.

And I love it.

Right now, waiting for that first bit of feedback, is the hardest part for me. So I’m trying to distract myself by starting another book. Because evidently I’m insatiable.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a lovely holiday, and is looking forward to the rapidly approaching new year!

10 Things I Learned at the Baltimore Writers Conference 2013

This weekend I had the very great fortune to attend the Baltimore Writer’s Conference. It was my first time attending such an event and let me just say, I am incredibly thankful that I did. For anyone who has never considered getting involved in the conference circuit, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Not necessarily because you’re going to learn any incredible tips or tricks which are magically going to get you published (you won’t), but if for no other reason than to meet other people in the same situation as yourself. It came up several times during the conference that we, as writers, tend to exist in a vacuum. The nature of writing is that you do it by yourself. So it is a good thing when we are given the opportunity to interact with others who understand, and to learn about their triumphs and their failures.

Now I could write out a blow-by-blow of everything I did and heard at the Baltimore Writers Conference, but that would be boring. So instead, here is a list of the top ten things I took away from the event. If anyone has any questions or wants to hear more – please let me know!

In no particular order:

1. Every story has a backstory – try to find it. This will give you a deeper understanding of your characters, your world, and your overall story, even if the backstory is never put on the page.

2. Memorable stories on timeless themes will always attract readers – whether or not it fits into a trend.

3. Marketing is not a dirty word.

4. When writing YA, you must keep your audience in mind because your readers are at a formative stage in their life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address difficult subjects, only that you need to be aware of the difference between how young readers will receive the subject as opposed to how an adult would.

5.  Authors get virtually no say in what their cover looks like.

6. Kids like to read up – so if your target audience is twelve to fourteen, your protagonist should be fifteen or sixteen, etc.

7. The most important thing in writing is to find the voice of your character.

8. As a new, young writer you need to finish your first book, and then move on. A lot of people spend far too many years on their first book, and never get past it.

9. Sometimes you need to switch genres in order to get published.

10. There are three things you should consider when writing a new scene: First, what does each character want. Second, what will happen if they don’t do it. And finally, why now?

All in all, it was a very successful conference for myself. I met some wonderful people, had some great conversations, and found myself feeling a renewal of my enthusiasm for the entire querying/publication process.