I just got my contract in the mail.
This news is about a week old, and I’ve been sitting on it, trying to figure out how to turn it into a post that contains words outside shrieking in caps. I’ll just say it first –
I’m now officially represented by Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency!
I sent my first query mid-November. By January 4th, I’d gotten over twenty full requests and had six offers of representation.
My holidays were filled with a lot of happy yelling, dazed wandering in circles, and breathlessness at the decision I had to make. I was incredibly lucky, got a gigantic amount of help, and the best thing I can think to do is share the three most important things I’ve learned throughout this whole crazyamazing process.
Take your first book with a grain of salt.
It all started with my first book. My awful first book. Everybody has one. Mine was an urban fantasy wish fulfillment thingy. At fifteen, I decided that it would obviously shoot me into success, but never worked on it seriously until the summer before last. I did, however, make a playlist for it, doodle its title in pretty notebooks, compose music videos for it in my head – pretty much anything except actually write it, and when I did write it, I had no idea what I was doing.
I figured I had plenty of time, and the idea of actually sitting down and working sincerely on something I needed to form my career scared the heck out of me. I figured if I ditzed around long enough, it would pop fully formed into the world and magically get published. The concept of genuine hard work hadn’t really entered my head.
The summer I did get down to business was when I’d just turned nineteen. I met up with an online writer friend in person and realized how seriously she was taking this writing thing – and how seriously I wasn’t. I did what I now understand I’m capable of doing with every book, which was to write the big first draft in about a month. That was me learning that I could work hard. And that I liked it. And I wanted to keep doing it.
But there was the problem with the book itself being awful. I sent out four queries for it. I knew it was bad and I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, so I didn’t bother with more. It didn’t go anywhere. The nice thing about not expecting anything is that you’re not super disappointed when you don’t get anything, so I was okay. The thing was, I’d loved First Book. Of course I did. It carried all the threads of everything that’d inspired me to become a writer. But I had to let it go.
Experiment with all different genres, all different styles.
The next mistake I made was to immediately start work on something that was the same genre as First Book. A huge problem I’d had with First Book was that I hadn’t figured out yet how to untangle worlds in my head and build them, and I started my next project, a fantasy, with the same issue. I wrote 50k words in a month, as First Book had taught me was my writing style, but my worldbuilding was a train wreck. And it was way too long. 50k words brought me to the halfway point. I’d started off with something that had a lot of the same challenges as First Book, and the same challenges brought me up short.
The thing was, I’d always envisioned myself as a fantasy writer. The idea of writing a contemporary was boring. What’s the point of writing about your own world when the whole point of reading (to me) was to escape it? Sure, a contemp would involve less worldbuilding/be shorter/give me a chance to actually tackle character before geography and culture/probably be more appealing to agents, but I was a fantasy writer! There was no way I could write a contemp!
Then, the summer after I’d banged out First Book, I worked as an intern for a literary agency in NYC. It was amazing to see all the different kinds of projects flowing in and out, and it made me realize that if I wanted to get published, I couldn’t waste time. If one thing hadn’t worked out for me, it was time to try something new. I wanted to write a contemp. I was apprehensive about such a big change, but I shut myself in a Starbucks for the day, watched the sun set, and left with the idea for the book that would get me an agent.
I made it different. Where I’d been wordy before, I was sparse. I wrote in first person instead of third. I went in an entirely new direction and it worked. The draft came out so easily and naturally I could hardly believe it was real. I’d found my place, and it was only because I gave a different genre a chance.
Find someone with more experience than you, and ask them for help.
So it was a year after I’d written First Book, I had a new book I was ready to send out, and despite research, despite my internship, I still didn’t really know what I was doing. I hadn’t done this before. I would have made a thousand beginner mistakes if it hadn’t been for a couple older writer friends with years more experience. Having someone to ask about little things and big things makes all the difference in the world. The only reason I didn’t make those beginner mistakes was because these people made them first, and showed me what to avoid.
Even with that first draft I felt confident in, there’s no way I would have gotten an agent if it hadn’t been for all the help I received – with my query, with revisions, with every step of the process. You guys are amazing. I owe you a chocolate cake for every day of the month.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. To my writing mentor who walked me through every step, to my beta readers who took time to make my book better, to the LitBitches (you guys are so cool!), to the amazingly supportive and helpful people on AbsoluteWrite, to everyone on Twitter who said congrats, to all the agents who read my manuscript over the holidays and gave polite rejections, helpful feedback, encouragement and belief in my work –
Thank you so much.
For anyone who wants to take a look, my Querytracker interview is here. For anyone else who has multiple offers and is struggling to decide, my new agent Sarah wrote an excellent blog post about the decision process.
THE FINAL NUMBERS:
Total books finished: 2
Queries send out for Book Two: 76
Form Rejections: 29
Full Requests for Book Two: 24
Offers of Representation: 6