I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, but finding the spare time has been a challenge. My husband and I both work. (I write, and he has a Chandler Bing kind of job, by which I mean no matter how many times he tells me what it is he does, it’s hard to remember the specifics.) We also have a two-year-old and a two-month-old, so basically we have to trade spare minutes like they’re Pokémon cards. Blogging time is like a Rattata—I’m willing to give up a whole bunch of them if it means I can keep a hold of my holographic Charizard, aka Manuscript Writing Time.
But Pokémon cards aside, this was an important post for me to write. Not just for me and what it means for my writing journey, but for other writers out there who feed off of author success stories. Because I was definitely one of those writers. I devoured “How I Got My Agent” and “How I Got My Book Deal” posts like they were Rare Candies. (FYI, I’m here to talk about Pokémon anytime. Seriously.) So here’s my story, all jumbled into one very long post.
When I was seven years old, I wrote a Lion King fan-fiction, back before I even knew fan-fiction was a thing. I thought it was amazing. It was terrible. But I found out then how much I loved to write stories, and that was significant.
More (terrible) books followed. A story about a girl who lived with wolves. A series about a family of pterodactyls. A fantasy about three kids and a dragon that was probably more than a little inspired by my growing love of video games. And another about a girl whose horse was stolen by an ice-cream truck driver. (They can’t all be winners, okay?)
And then I got older. I stopped writing, went to high school, joined the Navy. I felt sad more days than I felt happy, and I didn’t know how to make sense of that. I thought falling in love was the only way to cure the black cloud that always seemed to follow me around. So I tried to fall in love a couple of times, only to find out the hard way that other people had no control over the black cloud.
When I was on a deployment in the Middle East, I had the urge to write again. I don’t know where the urge came from—maybe it was just overdue—but it felt good. So I started a manuscript about magic and fairies and enchanted dolls, and I went home with most of a first draft (and a British boyfriend who would later become my husband, but that’s another story).
I spent the following months editing, revising, and learning that a query letter was the first step towards trying to get a publishing contract.
And then I spent the following months sending out query letters. Lots and lots of them.
It didn’t go very well.
So I decided to write another book and try again.
The next manuscript was about witches and time-travel. Many, many more query letters followed.
Aside from a few encouraging “There’s a good idea here, but not right for me” responses, that didn’t go well either.
So I decided to write another book and try again.
I queried another YA fantasy about magic and tribes and robots. And despite a few Revise and Resubmit requests, it didn’t work out.
So—did you guess?—I decided to write another book and try again.
At that point in time I had left the Navy, moved to Scotland, got married, was pregnant with my first child, and was in the final year of my Bachelor’s program. But writing had become one of my greatest loves, and it helped keep the black clouds away. So I wrote a YA sci-fi called I AM THETA and started to send out queries at the end of 2014.
In December of the same year, I found out about a Twitter pitch event called SFFPit just a few days before it was starting. I only ever used Twitter to stalk agents [insert something that sounds cooler than “stalk agents”], so all the stars must have been aligned that day.
A few days later, I tweeted my pitches and did a celebratory dance every time one of them got favorited.
This is the tweet that caught the attention of someone we’ll call Agent A for the time being.
I sent Agent A my query letter and sample chapters, and a few days later it turned into a full request. About a month after that, it turned into a Revise and Resubmit.
After querying four different manuscripts and receiving what felt like a trillion rejection letters, an R&R wasn’t disheartening—it was a possibility. A window left open. I was genuinely thrilled, especially because I was getting specific notes back from an actual agent on how to improve my manuscript. That kind of feedback was like being handed a piece of a treasure map. Even if it didn’t lead to the “X,” it kept me on track, which was so much better than wandering aimlessly around a jungle.
Anyway, I did the revisions, and continued querying while I waited for Agent A to read the new version of I AM THETA.
Sometime during the wait, another agent—we’ll call them Agent B—requested the full. A few days after that, she emailed to say she wanted to talk on the phone.
I freaked out. And cried. And then panicked because she didn’t actually say she was going to offer representation. I basically spent an entire two weeks googling every single shrivel of information I could find on what an agent scheduling a phone call really meant. Most people seemed to agree agents only called to offer representation, but one person said their “call” turned out to be a more in depth discussion on an R&R. And of course I ignored the majority and decided this was going to happen to me.
Except it didn’t. Agent B said she loved my book and wanted to represent me. There was a lot if internal screaming. I spent the rest of the evening in a daze while emailing the other agents who were still considering the manuscript to let them know I had an offer, including Agent A, who quickly replied to say she was moving it to the top of her reading pile.
Two days after that, Agent A emailed me to set up a phone call, and by the end of it, I had a second offer of representation from someone who seemed equally amazing.
So I freaked out again, skipped the crying, and went straight into panic mode. Because now I had to tell someone “no.” I recognize what an incredible position it was to be in, having more than one agent interested in my manuscript, but it felt horrible. I felt physically sick the rest of the week not only trying to make my decision, but also trying to find the right words to turn someone down.
The “no” email was awful. The “yes” email was like a dream.
And in April 2015, Agent A—aka Penny Moore from FinePrint Literary Management—became my agent. She is the absolute BEST, by the way, and I am grateful every day that I get to call myself one of her clients.
While I AM THETA was on submission, I started working on another manuscript—a contemporary YA called STARFISH. It didn’t have any magic or robots or fantastical kingdoms in it, but it had pieces of my heart, and that felt important in ways I’ll never really be able to explain.
I remember being terrified to send it to my agent. I was worried she’d hate it. The thought of sharing it, of someone reading my words—those specific words—made me feel strangely vulnerable.
After I sent the email, I panicked some more, and probably ate a lot of cookies. (I can’t remember for sure. I don’t keep track of the amount of cookies I eat because why ruin a good thing?) Also, at this point I had a one-year-old, and I will say that one-year-olds are very, very good distractions. They eat time. Seriously. They eat it. Children are part wizard, part warlord, and part adorable. It’s a dangerous combination.
Anyway, it turned out my nerves were unnecessary because my agent loved it, and we went on submission not long after that.
At some point during this super calm and collected time, I was doing my daily Twitter stalking [insert something much cooler than “stalking”] when I noticed that one of the editors with STARFISH had tweeted something really positive about a manuscript she had just read. On the same day, she started following me on Twitter. Not going to lie—I freaked out. AGAIN. And then told myself to calm down, because this editor had only just gotten the manuscript a few days before, and there was no way, absolutely NO WAY, that she could have read it that fast.
More time passed. And then, in the middle of February, we found out STARFISH was headed to an Acquisitions Meeting with the same editor from Twitter.
I got an email later that week from my agent. The subject was “CALL ME ASAP!!!!” We had an offer. Like, a real one. I was not hallucinating, or half-asleep, or being affected by baby brain. (I was seven months pregnant by then, and majorly needing good news to take my mind off of the horrible aches and pains that nobody mentions when they talk about “pregnancy bliss,” which is a lie, by the way. Sometimes pregnancy just hates you.)
That day was a whirlwind. We got the most beautiful email in the world from the editor about STARFISH. (I’m going to hang it in my office as soon as I find the perfect frame for it because I still can’t believe someone loved my story as much as I do.)
In April the announcement showed up on the Publisher’s Weekly site. STARFISH had been sold to Jennifer Ung at Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
And that’s my story. STARFISH will be a real, hold-in-your-hands book in 2017. And I’ll have a second book out in 2018. It still doesn’t feel real.
If anyone is still reading this, thanks for sticking around. And for those of you who are still on your journey to publication, or a journey of some other kind, just remember to work hard and dream big. Most importantly, don’t give up. And if you think all the doors are closed to you and you can’t find a window, then make like the Kool-Aid guy and knock a wall down. (But, you know, just don’t hurt anyone along the way, and please make sure they have house insurance, because that’s just good manners.)