Thursday, June 6, 2013

Heeding the Bat Signal: The (seriously) Epic Tale of How I Got My Superhero Agent

Warning, this blog post will contain overuse of GIFs, flagrant capitalization, and excessive exclamation points because

HOLY CROW, PEOPLE, I HAVE AN AGENT!!!

And so you don't skip down to the bottom of the post, I will announce right here and now that I am being represented by...

Batman.
You didn't REALLY think it was gonna be that easy, did you?


Here's the story of how it happened. Complete with Disney GIFs!

But, D, what does Batman have to do with Disney?
Nothing. It turns out it's really hard to find funny yet appropriate Batman GIFs online. Who knew? Interwebz, you should be working on this. In the meantime, PRINCESSES!


A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away (Orlando), I wrote a very different, very ugly version of what would eventually become a rough draft of Imperfectly Fine. I tossed it to three of my most loyal beta readers, whose response was something like this...



So I decided, "Hmmm...Maybe I'll get back to that, ya know, eventually."

Eventually happened in Spring 2012 when I was six months pregnant. My doctor pulled me out of my completely insane day job and, knowing I was not the kind of person who could grasp the concept of "taking it easy," put me on bed rest.

And I was like, "wait...you mean I have to sit or lay down, like...all day?"
To which she basically replied, "yes, you dumbass, that's what bed rest means."

She conceded that I could sit on the couch. For three months.

Within a few days, I got busy making Imperfectly Fine into Imperfectly Fine. But in May (that's two months early for those keeping track), this happened...


Completely and totally impatient and working on her own timeline. Yeah, she's mine.

Stitch would be spending at least a month in the hospital getting closer to gestational age zero. So now I was a mom, but I didn't have a baby at home. Also, as you can maybe imagine, C-SECTIONS EFFING HURT. There was a lot of sitting around in my near future and a lot of feeling less than up to par.

I started editing. On hydrocodone. (Have I mentioned I'm a substance abuse counselor?)

In August, Authoress, the goddess behind Miss Snark's FirstVictim, announced that she'd be co-hosting a Teen Eyes Pitch Contest with KristaVan Dolzer and Brenda Drake (all of whom you should be following rabidly, btw). 

I thought my manuscript was in pretty good shape. 

Okay, I was wrong. But that's what I thought. So I entered the contest to win a partial manuscript critique. I was totally shocked when editorial and agenting intern Brent Taylor picked me out of the slush and made me his winner!

For those looking for a take home message in this post, it might be worth noting that the pitch I used for the Teen Eyes contest is nearly the same pitch I used in my query and all along the path that led to me having an agent. My concept has never been the problem.

No, the problem was me. But we'll get to that.

In the meantime, I may have let Teen Eyes get to my head a little.

But the fact that I had something was further confirmed at SCBWI Carolinas where I had the privilege of having my first ten pages critiqued by the incredibly talented Megan Miranda.  I also participated in a blind first page cold reading and got some incredibly helpful feedback from Divergent editor Molly O'Neill and I volunteered to have my "so-what" factor ripped apart by awesome agent Jen RofĂ©. Short story long, I had a lot of really, really good eyes on my words in one weekend. 


My maternity leave was almost up and going back to work was inevitable. I buckled down, using the feedback I'd gotten from SCBWI, Brent, WriteOnCon, and Scribophile with the goal of having Imperfectly Fine ready to query by November 1, 2012. I was nearing what I thought would be the end of my pre-agent editing...


and though I had a couple good CPs and a WONDERFUL pack of beta readers, I wanted a few more eyes  before I started querying.

One of the resources I picked up while doing WriteOnCon was the YAStands blog, for which I'm excited to be a contributing blogger now. They did a post about upcoming contests which mentioned that Brenda, Deana Romito, and some chick named Kimberly Chase were hosing an upcoming contest called Trick or Treat with Agents.

Since the last contest had gone so well, I decided to enter. This time there would be actual agents involved, requesting manuscripts. Since it was a Halloween contest, they'd be "disguised" by costumes.

Three things you should know about me: (1) I am extremely superstitious in random, nontraditional ways (2) Halloween is my favorite holiday (3) I have had a life-long affinity for all things Batman.  

When Kim picked IMPERFECTLY FINE as one of the top ten YA entries I was beyond excited. I maybe almost peed a little. Then? This happened...



Which meant that the mystery agent costumed as Batman wanted to see my partial. *And* it just so happened that Batman was on my "to-query" list. Well, not Batman, but you KWIM. My reaction was something like this...

Still I had committed to beginning my querying process by November 1st, so that's what I did. In my first batch, I sent out ten queries. From that I got three requests. But despite this positive start, these requests ultimately ended in rejections. The good thing was that they were detailed, helpful rejections. My plot was still a problem. My hook was there, but needed to be stronger. And Noah? Oh poor Noah. My love interest was hurting me more than he was helping. More on that later...

On to Pitch Wars and MSFV's Secret Agent contest, neither of which I won, but both of which led to some more really helpful feedback for me. They also further introduced me to Kim and to Marieke Nijkamp, both of whom offered to beta my manuscript even though they didn't pick me as their mentee. I could not have survived what follows without these two amazing writers.

I edited some more. I queried some more. I got a couple more requests and got my ass handed to me, which I rightly deserved. One agent, we'll call her Agent M, was an agent I'd queried because I heard she gave thoughtful feedback even when sending a query rejection. When she requested my full, it made my year. I squeed a little more quietly than I would have in October, because I was starting to figure this whole process out finally, but I still squeed. Agent M was my pipedream agent, someone I thought was perfect for my book, but in no way expected her to give me the time of day.

A few days later, Agent M sent me an invitation to R&R. I started to revise yet again.
Two days before New Year's Eve, while I was in the midst of Agent M's revision, Batman requested my full.

Oh...um...I should probably mention at some point that Batman is, in fact, a woman. Anyway...

I was editing! But there was my bat signal! That had to mean something, right?

So what did I do? Did I write Batman and say, "hey, I'm doing some editing, can you gimme a few?" Hell no. Because Dannie is not a patient person. I sent off my half-edited manuscript and crossed my fingers. 

Do not do this. Seriously.

Once I realized what a colossal mistake that was, I hurriedly finished my R&R. and sent it off to Agent M and another agent who was waiting on my full, and for the hell of it asked if Batman might consider taking a look at the revision instead.She urged me to send it on straight away.

Why? Honestly, you'll have to ask her. Cuz I totally deserved for her to drop me like a Hot Pocket. Especially because I was going to get even flakier.

Get it? Hot Pocket? Flakier? 

...

...

February is when things finally started to come together. And by come together I mean that all hell broke loose.

I got another rejection from Agent M with another opportunity to R&R (because apparently she is a glutton for punishment? Or really nice? Probably both.) I'd stopped querying at that point because I was burned out on the manuscript, and was knee deep in drug binging kids with my day job to the point where I couldn't deal with the drug binging kids in my manuscript. So while I was excited about the third chance with my dream agent, and I was still hopeful I'd hear good things from Batman soon, the R&R was a little bittersweet. 

So what did I do? I did what every perfectly rationally thinking burned out writer does when she's backed herself into a clusterfuck.

I made my love interest gay. 


Yeah.

I am, in each and every aspect of my life, a plotter. And I was pantsing my ass off. Which should have been my first (no probably third) clue that I was screwing this up big time.

Just as I began to realize my fuckedupedness,  Batman wrote me an email with some very specific feedback, offering me an "Exclusive Revision."


So I wrote her back in as professional a way as I could manage basically saying, "Do what now?"

It's actually just what it sounds like. I'd rescind my manuscript from the agents who currently had it, and work exclusively with Batman to revise it, and then after that, if we were both happy with the way the revision went, she would offer representation. Which, really, is a cool opportunity--You get a feel for how you work together, a true sense of whether your vision for the manuscript is the same. All before you have to commit to someone you should really feel good about before you put your book's life in her hands.

Still, it scared the hell outta me. It felt like a proverbial all-eggs-one-basket sort of thing. I decided to contact the other agents considering partials and fulls (I was standing at 7 at the time) and see how that went. Keep in mind, at this point half of the agents had manuscripts with Noah straight and the other half gay. The next week went a little bit like this...


And in that time I learned three crucially important take-home lessons: First and foremost NO ONE IS HURRYING IN PUBLISHING SO YOU SHOULDN'T EITHER. When you do, you make stupid, desperate decisions that are absolutely no good for your writing. Two, the feedback you get from agents on fulls and partials will vary. A lot. This is a good thing because it lets you know if you and an agent are on the same page. Also, you cannot possibly adhere to all of it and have a manuscript that makes sense.

Three: Don't ever, ever make your love interest gay on impulse. Like, ever.

As my deadline approached, I spoke to three agents on the phone: Agent M, Agent B--who had been considering my full--and Batman.

Agent B had the strongest reaction to my decision to make Noah gay. In fact, her reaction was so strong that when I told her I kinda hated the decision myself, she offered me representation.

Yeah, you read that right. Two days before I owed Batman a decision on her exclusive revision, I got an offer of representation from somebody else. 

Which was great. Beyond great. And I felt a connection with Agent B when I talked to her on the phone. It was a dream come true...

Except, it didn't feel like a dream come true. It felt like screeching brakes and a migraine.

I spend a lot of time in my day job talking to kids about that little voice. You know, the one that tells you something isn't right?

I really, really wanted to ignore it.

I talked to Agent M next. I'd informed her of the offer from Agent B and laid all my cards on the table--my confusion, my frustration with my own wish-washiness with Noah, and how I felt about losing the opportunity to have her as an agent (she was my dream agent after all.) Agent M was not calling me to make me an offer. She was calling to help me figure out what my next step was, which, by the way, she had absolutely no obligation to do. It was such a good call, though. I heard nothing but good about Agent M going into the querying process, and every single thing people said about her was absolutely true.

My manuscript was in shambles. My judgment was clearly lacking as far as my L.I. was concerned. I was the actual personification of the Hero Lost in my own story. This was not how I wanted to feel when I signed with an agent.

In my moment of despair, Batman emailed to say she was still very interested in my manuscript despite my offer and that she wanted to chat. My heart fluttered. My pulse raced. Batman was going to counter-offer. I just knew it!

Actually, Batman was calling to say that my manuscript was in shambles and I needed to really consider if that was how I wanted to feel when I signed with an agent.

I ended that phone call baffled and irked. Which makes absolutely no sense. Why? Because it was exactly what I had been thinking before I took Batman's call! Which is why I did the only thing I could possibly do that was crazier than making my love interest gay.

I rejected the only offer of representation I had on the table. And I rejected the offer of exclusive revision. 


I wrote Batman, Agent M, and Agent B and told them that I had decided to revise independently. What I really meant was "I'm at the ledge and I want to gleefully fling my computer over it, so I need some time." They all offered to look at the manuscript again once I revised. So that's what I set out to do.

Sort of...

You know that "all hope is lost" moment in every great story right before the hero goes from hero acted upon to hero in action? That's where I was. It sucked rocks. 


I was exhausted. I was confused. I had royally screwed up my manuscript. And on top of that, my non-writing life was nuts. My preemie was sick on and off to the point we had to pull her out of day care. My job was off the chain. And my husband and I both got struck by what will go down in history as the worst, most life-altering case of stomach flu in unrecorded history. 

I took a full break from writing. Not just writing but all things writing related. Everything. Part of that was forced upon me by the worst, most life-altering case of stomach flu in unrecorded history. Part of it was that my brain was in worse shape than my body.

When I finally straightened my shit out (and Noah's) I revised thoroughly. I beta'ed and CPed the hell out of it. Then I sent my book baby off into the agenting world one more time.  When Batman responded, it took me nearly a day to open the email. I was seriously having trauma flashbacks to February. This time, though, Batman was writing to offer me representation. The tone of her email was passionate enthusiastic. Everything you want an offer of representation to be. Which, combined with the trauma flashbacks made me ugly cry.

Cuz, ya know, I had to send out a whole bunch of emails. I had 20 queries or submissions unaccounted for.  I had to follow up with all of them and tell them I needed an answer in seven business days.


I sent my emails. And then Batman and I had *the call*. And it was everything THE CALL should be.

And because hindsight is 20/20 and whatnot, looking back I can see that Batman was the agent for me all along. She saw through my crazypants moments and was patient when I couldn't be. She kept in touch with me while she was reading to let me know how much she liked my book. She's as excited about my manuscript as I am, even with all its imperfections. We're totally on the same page on the edits I still need to make. She fought to represent me.

And she's friggin' Batman, for crying out loud.

But now, I can officially and formally say that I am beyond ecstatic to be represented by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. And I feel like this:


Which is exactly how it should be.

There are a ton of people I need to thank for getting me this far, only a handful of whom got a shoutout in this post. That's what a fourteen month trek toward finding an agent will do for you. So I'll save that for another entry. Or better yet, for my Acknowledgments. Cuz Thao and I are gonna do our thing here in a bit and get Skylar, Cole and Noah a book deal.


Final Stats:
Queries Sent: 63
Partials requested: 7
Fulls requested: 19
Contests Entered (with agents): 4
Contest requests: 7
Offers of representation: 2

Timeline with Thao:
11/2/12 Partial Request
12/28/12 Full Request
2/11/13 Offer of Exclusive Revision
4/20/13 Revision Submitted
5/21/13 Offer of Representation

16 comments:

  1. I think that is the crazies "How I Got My Agent" story I've ever read! And I loved it! Congrats!

    And I totally know what it means to get an R&R, revising like crazy, and then the MS ending up in shambles. One of mine is like that so I had to put it away for now because I just can't look at it.

    Congrats again, and I can't wait to read this book that was such a labor of love.

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    1. Thanks, Melanie! I'm going to bust my butt make it worthy of reading!

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  2. Congratulations!

    avi

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  3. Sweet! Sounds like me on any given day except for the no agent yet part.

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  4. Only the well tended garden yields the best fruit. Well done.

    Dah

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  5. Kudos! What great news!

    http://www.miaceleste.com/?p=376

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    1. Yay! I'm glad. Thanks for stopping by, Sophia!

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  7. ...I may have teared up a bit at the end there

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    1. **passes you kleenex** thanks for reading! =D

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  8. Just seeing this but omg CONGRATS!!! So excited for you!!!

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    1. Thank you, Anne! Thao is amazing. It's an honor to be working with her.

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