So, as promised (and because I adore reading other people’s How-I-Got-My-Agent stories, and because by now my flail is a bit calmer and I can actually, you know, compose sentences), I present to you The Story of Me and Agent Lady:
In November 2009, I was in the midst of querying my YA fantasy, Earthshine. This was a couple of drafts ago, and it was ridiculously long. When I say long, I mean 250,000 words long. And this was almost 100,000 words shorter than my first draft.
This was also before I knew pretty much anything about the publishing industry. And the thing is, I knew I didn’t know anything, and this terrified me. So, instead of, you know, DOING my research and learning the ropes, I chose to bury my head in the sand and query a manuscript that was way too long and nowhere near ready for querying.
Funnily enough, if I hadn’t done this, I’m not sure I would have an agent now. Or maybe I would, but it wouldn’t be Agent Lady. It’s difficult to say.
See, even though the manuscript was 250K words long, something about the query and sample pages grabbed Agent Lady’s attention. She requested the full. Incidentally, I didn’t include the word count in my query (again, because I didn’t know what I was doing). I can only imagine what Diana thought when she first opened up that Word file and saw the word count. It must have been somewhere along the lines of “Jigga whaaaaaaaaa oh HELL.”
But she didn’t send it back to me with a “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” note, and she didn’t send me a rejection.
Meanwhile, I obsessively poked around Diana’s blog because OMG SHE REQUESTED THE FULL *FLAIL* and I saw that she would be attending the D/FW Writers’ Conference in April 2010.
“Perfect!” I thought. “I live in D/FW! Permaybehaps I can meet her! Zomg!”
So, I registered, and I requested Diana for my 10-minute pitch session.
I emailed her around February, I think it was (she had been silent since I sent her the manuscript). I told her I would be at the conference, that I had requested her for my pitch session, and that I hoped for the chance to meet her.
She emailed me back and said that sounded great, and also that she was still reading Earthshine and might even give it a second read-through.
Fab once again! If she was even considering a second read, that must mean she likes it!
Well, yes…with some caveats. But hold on.
So, the conference approached. I was so excited and terrified, the phrase “pee my pants” took on a new, dangerous meaning. The week before the conference, Diana emailed me. It was a fairly long and detailed email–certainly more so than any an agent had sent me before. In the email, she told me that there were a lot of things to like about Earthshine (she listed these; I flailed), but also some things that needed work (she listed these; I cringed), and that she would love to talk more about it in person. So, we tentatively planned on getting coffee or something in addition to my pitch session.
I had no idea what to do or what to think or how to prepare for this conversation. I knew Earthshine like the back of my hand (or at least, I thought I did), but talking to a real live AGENT?! No way. For real, though. Holy crap.
Then, the conference happened.
I had my pitch session.
By the way, I recapped all of the conference goings-on and aftermath in this post from way back in the day (warning: is super dramatic, but I wrote it in the midst of many FEELINGS, okay?), but suffice it to say, Diana did NOT in fact offer representation (an event of which I had daydreamed for like five months straight at this point).
Instead, Diana basically ripped me a new one.
After our pitch session, we relocated to her hotel (where the conference shindig was to be held later that evening, which I did not attend because OMG emotional trauma), and we talked for, like, I don’t know…three hours? Four? It was a long conversation. I have never sweated so much in my entire life. Somehow, I managed to keep from being a complete idiot…I think. Anyway, during this Epic Conversation, Diana elaborated on the points she’d addressed in her email–the things she liked, the things she didn’t, what needed work, what REALLY needed work, what books I really needed to be reading holy crap Claire you need to get to WORK is basically the message she conveyed here.
It hurt. But it was good.
As she talked, I scribbled down pages of notes, listing the books she recommended, the issues to address in Earthshine, etc. (By the way, I still have that notebook, and I hardly recognize my own handwriting. It is piss. It’s like my hand was scared out of its mind and instead of writing, it pissed itself.)
At one point, Diana paused and said, “You know, you’re taking all of this really well.” I don’t even remember what I said in response. I think I laughed it off and hopefully managed to not babble something inane. There was a serious disconnect at that moment between Outside Claire, dutifully taking notes and nodding thoughtfully, and Inside Claire, curled up in a corner of her brain, mortified and overwhelmed.
I went home. I cried. A lot. I was convinced that I would have to abandon these characters to a drawer somewhere. I had had a serious wake-up call. It hurt.
The next day, I wrote a 20-page paper for one of my graduate classes (seriously, all in one day; how I accomplished this with all these emotions running rampant, I have no idea).
I relayed the story to my family and closest friends.
That Monday, I started on revisions.
Okay, so I really should have let that conversation with Diana sink in for longer than that before diving into revisions. (This reminds me about a post I really want to write someday about skee-ball. Keep me accountable, friends.)
But, again, I knew very little about what I was doing at that point (although much more after talking with Diana). My entire heart was with this book. It was the first book I had ever written, and I had put so much time into it that the thought of letting it go was unacceptable to me. It still is unacceptable to me.
Luckily, that’s not an issue anymore.
A couple of months later, I finished that round of revisions. This draft was 130K words long, 120K words shorter than the draft Diana read, and 210K words shorter than the original draft.
I started querying again. I sent the revisions to Diana.
This time around, I was a little smarter.
I started on my next book–not Earthshine, book 2, but a completely different project.
In the meantime, I started reading again. I hadn’t read in a long, long time. When I was younger, I was a voracious reader of anything I could get my hands on. Then, middle school and high school happened. Band took over my life. In college, I studied music and had ZERO time for anything else, including reading. (This is largely why I changed my major from music to English, but that’s a story for a different post.)
So, like I said, I started reading again. I started researching the industry, connecting with other writers, following blogs, following people on Twitter–learning, learning, learning.
I got better responses on Earthshine during this second round of querying–more partials and fulls requested, more personalized feedback. I worked on my new project–The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.
This project was much simpler than Earthshine–shorter, for younger readers, and just plain fun. Instead of writing à la Word Vomit (which is what happened with the first draft of Earthshine), I wrote slowly, deliberately, choosing each and every word with care. I wanted the manuscript to be pristine. I wanted it to have, much like its heroine, a sense of burning purpose.
As I wrote Cavendish, life seemed to do everything possible to get in the way. Personal problems, friend problems, SCHOOL EVERYWHERE. I finished it anyway. I sent it to betas. I kept reading. Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I kept editing anyway.
During these long months of crazy, Diana and I maintained a correspondence, talking Earthshine and books, and just keeping tabs on how the other was doing.
I finished Cavendish. I sent it to Diana.
She loved it.
She offered me representation. Other people offered me representation. Crazy flailing ensued.
Now, 1 year and 3 months after she requested Earthshine, 10 months after our conference conversation, Diana is my agent.
And you know what? After all that, I don’t have to abandon Earthshine. With Diana’s approval and support, I’m going to work my ass off and make it happen. Something about Earthshine grabbed her; last April just wasn’t the right time. I needed to prove that I could do more and do better, and I did. Earthshine will be ready as soon as I can get it there, and in the meantime, I’ve got a couple of awesome projects to keep me busy and help me learn even more. And the great thing is, now I have an agent behind me every step of the way, an agent who believes in me and my books 100% percent.
What is the lesson here? There are actually several:
1) Attend writers’ conferences. You just never know. They could change your life.
2) Don’t get hung up on one project for so long that you ignore the chance to write the one that’ll get your foot in the door.
3) There is such a thing as destiny. Or at least, there might be. I don’t generally like the idea of destiny, it being a crappy cop-out to avoid doing the real work and accepting the mystery of the universe and all that. But sometimes things you never believed could work out actually do, and in strange ways.
4) That clichéd crap everyone says about working hard and not giving up? Those trite phrases that make you want to claw your eyes out sometimes? Yeah. They’re true. Work hard–really hard, so hard you start to think you might be a leetle crazy for working that hard–and never, ever, ever give up.
5) I <3 Agent Lady. (<< This is not a lesson. It is a fact of life and just needs to be said.)