The contract has been signed and everything is official, so I can announce it at last!
It was a long and hard road to get to this point, but where I’m at right now is proof that you should NEVER GIVE UP.
I started planning my YA novel, ROYAL ROSE, in the summer of 2006 (my third novel, nothing happened with the other two). I wrote the first chapter, then registered for the SCBWI NY conference the following February. This was the first year they were doing critiques, so I brought the first few pages of ROSE with me. It was still a first draft, with less than half of it finished, so I didn’t know all the details of how the story was going to get from the beginning to the end – I had a road map with major points to hit along the way, but I always let my characters decide how to get there.
Anyway, my first critique session was with an up and coming agent, and she really liked ROSE. She gave me some pointers, asked a bunch of questions, then asked if it was done yet. When I told her no, she said she’d love to read it when it was. I was thrilled! When I got home, I buckled down to write this story...but it didn’t go so well.
ROSE was so far out of my comfort zone that I had no idea what I was doing. I’m a plot person, but ROSE is definitely a character-driven story. I had to learn how to write from that angle. Plus, I was so emotionally invested in this story that I was mentally exhausted after each writing session. It sometimes took days to recover. As a result, it was a year before I had a completed draft. When I sent my query to the agent who’d critiqued it, she said she remembered me (!) and still liked the story. BUT she was swamped with YA, and didn’t have the time to take on anything new at that moment. So she referred me to a few other agents and wished me well.
I queried those agents, making sure to mention her referral, and got a partial request from one of them. I sent it, and she replied back with a revision request, saying the story was weak in certain areas of the craft of writing. I had no idea how to fix that, so I sat down to learn. It took months to figure it out, then I revised the manuscript and re-queried her. She asked for the whole thing this time, and my fingers were doubly crossed... Alas, she did not come back with an offer, but she did have another revision request. I did more research. More writing. LOTS of work. Then I ended up rewriting the whole thing in a different Voice.
I sent it back to her, over a year after I’d sent her that initial query, confident I’d done what she’d asked. And she said I had, BUT... She was more familiar with MG than YA. She didn’t feel confident that she could make my manuscript stand out with what she knew of the YA Contemporary market at that time, with that particular project. So she passed. On the one hand, I was devastated (I'd worked so hard!). But on the other, I admired that she knew her limits and didn’t take me on out of some weird obligation. I will say that I really enjoyed working with her, and anyone would be lucky to have her as an advocate.
Even though it felt like it at the time, I was not back at square one. I had a much stronger manuscript, and a much better understanding of craft. Plus, I’d proven to myself that I could work my tail off on my stories instead of give up on them. And I could definitely bring that to the negotiating table of other agents.
I started researching agents – for this I highly recommend both AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net – then sent off my query letters. I got a solid request rate, 40% to 50%, but no offers. The rejections rolled in, and as they piled up it was hard to keep going. Especially considering the number of complimentary rejections.
"There was much I admired here, but..."
"The premise is compelling and marketable, but..."
"I didn't want to let this go, but..."
It was really hard to hear so many people compliment me and my writing, but still pass up representation. I wondered if there was something really wrong with my story, and no one had either the time or the guts to tell me. Regardless, I wasn't going to give up. I loved ROSE too much to set it aside. So I took what feedback I got, researched more agents, sent off more queries, and still had that same request rate. I told myself that I would find someone who loved ROSE as much as I did.
And I did. Two, actually. :)
On August 18th, I got a phone call from fabulous Agent#1, saying she loved ROSE and wanted to talk about representation if I was willing to make some revisions. I was on my way out the door to take my kids to an amusement park when she called, so, in between hyperventilating, I had to ask her if I we could talk the next day. She said that was fine, and I floated out the front door.
A few hours later, I got an email from fabulous Agent#2, asking to schedule a phone call to talk about ROSE. I get email on my cell phone, so I read this while I was out with my kids, and my brain pretty much exploded. Poof. Gone. Little bits sticking to the inside of my skull. Apparently, I can handle only so much good news in one day. :) Fortunately, I was with another mom and her son, and she had driven us there. So I didn’t have to drive in my incapacitated state.
Over the next few days, I spoke with both agents on the phone, both offered me representation, and it was obvious that I’d be lucky to work with either one. I ended up going with fabulous Agent#2, also known as...
Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Literary Agency!!
Not only because of her years of experience in this industry (or how much I was drooling as she talked about edits) but also because we really hit it off on the phone. I can’t say enough how excited I am to be working with her, and already have my sleeves rolled up, anticipating the hard work to come. Which I wouldn’t miss for the world!