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?