Monday, July 16, 2012

The Power of Three (or How I Found My Agent)

I started writing seriously on January 15, 2009. Not for publication, but for me. At the time I had a 1 year old, 3 year old, 6 year old and 8 year old, so I stole time when I could. Mostly at night, sacrificing tv. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was sleep deprived, which no doubt fueled my insanity.:)

Six months later, I finished my YA magical realism novel. (Yay! It rocks! I rock!) After a celebratory round of cupcakes, I read it again. And died a little.

It was ROUGH. Terrible, actually. So terrible that even as a baby writer, I KNEW it was terrible. But I didn’t know how to fix it. And the endless tinkering began.

During this time, I was fortunate enough to meet Charles Martin, a high school friend of my husband and a NYT Bestseller author in his own right. He kindly read the first three (awful) chapters and told me to pick up the pace. He suggested I look at my novel from a different angle, maybe start in another place. In hindsight, Charles was SO RIGHT.

Meanwhile, in October 2009, I started Novel No. 2, a YA post-apocalyptic, inspired by a phone call from my husband when he was on a Costa Rican surf trip. Then in February 2010, my husband and I took our first week away from the boys since having babies--to Hawaii, the big island. (GORGEOUS!!!) Inspiration hit, hard, and I wrote 10K of a fresh YA light sci-fi novel (Are you counting? Novel No. 3!) while we were there; 2K on the return flight alone. (I know what you're thinking: bad wife. :D In my defense, it was also a work trip for him so I had plenty of down time to write. Plus, my sweet husband gets my writing addiction. Another reason I love him.:D)

For the next few months, I flitted between books, writing two and tinkering with one. And I worked on my craft. I read blogs, Stephen King’s book On Writing, and just plain read. Books, lots of them. I discovered querying, entered writing contests on Janet Reid’s blog, and realized publication was out there, like a crazy carrot. And I wanted it. I hunkered down with novel number one, slashed and revised tinkered, and by summer 2010, it was ready. And it was AWESOME! My friends and family told me so! I joined QueryTracker (great resource), researched agents, drafted my query (personalized, of course) and sent it out.

And the rejections poured in. Mostly form, occasionally personalized. Sometimes they’d arrive in packs, which was especially crushing. That fall, Charles gave me some valuable advice. He told me to put my first book aside,  and write something else. It wasn't easy to hear, but again--he was SO RIGHT.

Around the same time, I met local YA writer, Jessie Harrell. She became my hometown CP. It was HUGE. Game-changing. She introduced me to the YA writing community on-line, and she let me critique her WIP, which was a gift. She have me incredible feedback, and soon I realized I’d never truly revised Novel No. 1, just tinkered, and they’re not the same. But it was too late. Novel number one was dead.

Everything --and everyone-- was telling me to move on. Charles, Jessie, and the pile of rejections. And so I did. I put my first book in a drawer, and let it go.*

Flash-forward to February 2011. I had first drafts of two very different books: a YA post-apocalyptic and a YA light SF, and I had to make a call. Which to polish? I chose NIL, my YA light SF. And I got to work.

I went to Backspace Writer’s Conference in May, where I found awesome crit partners Laura Stanford and Tonya Kuper. (That's another crazy story. :D) Also in May, I won a crit from the talented Natalie Whipple (love her!). After Backspace, I revised my opening pages based on agent feedback (revision no. 1). Then I sent my MS out for critique from this fab four. Each gave me constructive feedback, encouragement, and inspiration, which not only helped my MS, it helped me. Especially my confidence, which you need fully intact before you hit the query trenches. (SO GRATEFUL y’all!) And I became a better CP myself.

Based on the crits, I faced revision, again. This one was tougher. Bigger. But worth every difficult minute. After a *slight* initial freakout ("I can't do it!"), I dug deep, added more layers, and in the process, I fell in love with NIL all over again.

Now my MS was shinier than a Christmas tree. NIL was ready. I was ready. Game on. :)

September 2011: NIL queries went out. This time I got requests right away, and within a month I had a R &R from one agent, a big gun. I mulled it over, even as more requests rolled in and the holidays approached. (One of those requests, a partial, was from Jennifer. Woot! *dream agent alert*) One night as I pondered the revision request, a new sub-plot fell into my head, one that pulled pieces together I didn’t even know were missing. I wrote furiously for the next month, weaving in the new plot line, not sure whether I was addressing the agent’s R & R concerns but knowing this last revision was how the novel was meant to be. (This final revision was revision number 3). Meanwhile, I got more requests. Rejections too. I checked my inbox obsessively. The holidays were S-L-O-W.

But then January arrived. I got an email from Jennifer that she loved the first 50 pages, and could I please send the rest? Uh, YES! She was one of the very first agents I queried on NIL, having loved her interview on the Mother.Write.(Repeat.) blog. Fingers crossed, I sent Jennifer the revised version, which was also in the hands of seven other agents, including the one who requested the R & R. A few weeks later I got "the call" from Jennifer, almost three years to the day after I began writing again. Her enthusiasm for NIL blew me away. We clicked, and I felt she “got” NIL. I notified the other agents considering NIL, including the one who’d requested the revision. (That agent passed BTW; our visions for the book didn’t mesh, and that's okay). That week was a roller-coaster, full of emails and phone calls, but my feeling that Jennifer was the agent for NIL (and for me) never changed. I accepted her offer a week later.

I’m still pinching myself. :D 

Here are the dirty numbers:

Novel 1 (YA magical realism):
55 queries, 2 requests. A dismal 3.63 request rate (Ugh!)

Novel 2 (YA post-apoc):
Still in drawer

Novel 3 (NIL, YA light-SF):
35 queries, 14 requests. A much-improved 40% request rate, resulting in my signing with Jennifer. :D (BTW--I'd queried Jennifer on novel 1, and she'd passed.)

Why the improvement? My query was better. My writing was better. But most of all, my MS was better, and it was READY. I let it marinate, then I revised. I got feedback from other writers (CRUCIAL!) and revised again. And then I revised AGAIN, when my gut said it need it.

3 years. 3 books. 3 revisions. The power of three.

I’m still learning, improving my craft. That part of a writer’s road never ends.

But here’s three things I’ve learned:

1. Don’t stop. Don’t stop writing, don’t stop reading, don’t stop improving. Don't stop working. And like Journey sings (*cheese alert* :D): don't step believing--in your writing, in yourself. In your ability to make it.

2. Reach out. Get on-line, go to conferences if you can, make friends with other writers. And remember that old adage, to have a friend you must be a friend? Offer to read their work. Be positive as well as constructive.

3. Remember that your journey is your own. For me it was the power of three. 3 years, 3 books, 3 revisions. Every writer's road is different. But if you keep going, I believe you'll get there, wherever your "there" is. :D

Where are you on your writer's road? *offers travel snacks* And where are you headed? Wherever you are, I wish you safe travels. And I leave you with this song. It gave me heaps of inspiration, reminding me why I refused to stop. :D

"We know, we know, that we are more than this
More than we know, there's a reason we exist"

The Matches "Point Me Toward The Morning"

 Happy Monday!

*for now:)


  1. The more I read other writer's blogs, the more I realize that I -deserved- the 70+ rejections I received on my first attempt at querying. I was not ready. This time... I will be.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. You will be. Like many blogs note, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Time is our friend. It's just hard to be patient sometimes!!

      Good luck!! :)

  2. Lynne,
    Thank you for the shout-out, but more than that, thank you for this inspirational post. I love your story, the power of 3. And you are so, so right. If it's something you love, you can't stop.

    I'm thrilled to follow you on your writing journey, my talented friend. It's an honor to be able to read your writing and know you as a person.

    1. Aw, I feel the same way Tonya! I can't thank you enough, and I know it WILL happen for you too. (Are you singing the Journey song in your head right now?!) :)

      ((HUGE HUGS))

  3. What an amazing success story, Lynne! I'm soooo proud of your tenacity, and Jennifer is one of the FAB agents, so you're in good hands. :) Let me know when your query tracker success story is up over there and I'll tweet you up! CONGRATS!!!

    1. Thanks Anita! I feel so blessed--Jennifer IS amazing. (Like your Jenny.:D) #JennifersROCK

      Will do on the QT story! :) xo

  4. Lynne - this is an awesome blog post and I'm beyond thrilled that you gave me so much (undeserved) credit. You are a writing star and this is only the beginning for you. I can't wait for that day - hopefully not 3 years from now - when we're popping the champagne and celebrating Nil's debut!

  5. Thanks Jessie! I can't wait to celebrate with you too! *sits on news* :)

  6. Lynne
    I can not tell you how much I needed this today. I finished my first novel a week ago and I am a little fearful of "dying a little" when I begin editing. I scraped so many hours together in the morning before work as I too have two young kids and I did not want to miss a thing. Your determination really does help and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing. It is nice to hear that you are not alone in this situation.

  7. Jay,

    Deep breath.:) YOU CAN DO IT. You're smart to let it sit for a few weeks, eyes off. Then when you dig in, realize that you'll have equal moments of "this-is-brilliant" and "omg-this-is-total-crap." :) But it's NOT crap; just rough.:)

    Do you have a crit group? If you need another beta, let me know.:) YOU CAN DO THIS!!!:)

  8. Thanks Lynne! I had planned on letting it sit for a week, but I am just not ready to dive back into it, so I am going to wait a few more days.

    As for the crit group, I actually never really thought about it until recently. I started writing just for me. This novel, is actually the first of a series of four I hope to write. I have gone to a few conferences, met some great people, got some great feedback from an agent and editor on a few pages and have been reading as much as my kids will let me! I have an offer from someone on Twitter once I am done my edits but I will get back to you when I am at that point too. Thank you so much for everything here and on Twitter!

    1. Great plan Jay! While you let your MS rest, you might consider checking out 3 blogs w/great evergreen posts on craft, writing & revision. I learned tons from these three: Janice Hardy's The Other Side of the Story, Natalie Whipple's Between Fact & Fiction and Mary Kole's Kidlit. All have timely posts about how to approach revision--which is different from drafting, and definitely different from tinkering (i.e, moving words around, tweaking sentences).

      Yay! Congrats on finishing!!!:)

  9. How did I miss this?!? HUGE CONGRATS TO YOU, LYNNE!! *fires off cupcake cannon*

    1. Thanks so much Jess!!! *catches cupcakes, shares* :) Yummy!:)

  10. Loved this!!! And, thanks for the shout-out, my friend! Can't wait to see NIL on the shelves of B&N so I can buy it for every human being on the planet as a Christmas gift! :o)

    1. Thanks sweet Laura! :) ((hugs)) Have I told you lately how thankful I am that I met you at Bksp?! :)