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How I Found My Agent

When I wrote my post about being on submission, I realized I’ve never shared the story of how I got my agent. You’ve probably heard that there are a lot of different paths to getting an agent or getting published. The most common is to send agents query letters until you find one who connects with your book. This was the path I’d intended to take, but reality played out a bit different. 

I wrote a novel in November of 2015 as a NaNoWriMo project. I’d written many novels before this, but this was the first one I’d written with the intention of revising and publishing. It was around this time I discovered book Twitter, MSWL, and all the other resources out there for aspiring authors, and so it was the first time I had a serious go at publishing. After I finished drafting, I began to revise—and trust me when I say that that book was a trash fire at first and needed a lot of revision. 

As part of this whole “taking myself seriously as a writer” thing, I attended my very first conference—the 2016 AWP conference, which happened to be in Los Angeles that year. I bought a student membership and stayed at my aunt’s house about twenty minutes away. That conference showed me the value of conferences, not necessarily for finding agents but for its networking potential. 

Before the conference, I heard on Twitter about an off-site Kidlit meetup, and decided to crash it. I bought myself two glasses of wine and decided to talk to every single person. This took a lot of courage because before this event, I considered myself an extremely shy and anxious person. I still do, in many respects. But I told myself I might not have an opportunity to network like this again—after all, the conference is in a different city every year—so I forced myself to talk to people. 

I met a lot of really awesome writers, some of whom I’m still friends with on Twitter. This is where I got added to some really amazing Facebook groups, which have made a big impact on my career because of the support they provide and are honestly the only reason I still use Facebook. But the big connection I made was with the editor of a small press. He asked me to pitch him my book (I never pitched it without being invited to, because that felt tacky, but I did have an elevator pitch prepared). He asked me to submit it to him when I was done revising, and I connected with him on Facebook and Twitter.

I spent the next year revising my novel (most of that time spent procrastinating revising my novel, but you get the idea). Sometime in spring of 2017, he posted that his small press was open for submissions. I finished revising as quickly as I could and sent it in. 

And then crickets. I graduated college in spring of 2017, so I was very busy. I got my first post-college job as a library assistant, which is still my current job. I didn’t write much until that November, where I wrote the first draft of what would eventually become MAGIC BOOK, which is now done and on submission. 

In December of 2017, in that weird week between Christmas and New Years, the editor of the small press sent me an offer letter. He wanted to publish my book, with revisions, at his small press. He sent me a contract. 

It’s an understatement to say that I was freaking out. This was it! I was finally going to be published! My career was going to take off!

But wait. I’d done enough internet research about publishing to realize that I can’t just sign the first contract put in front of me. I’d always wanted an agent, and I realized that already having a publication offer gave me a leg up in my agent search. I consulted those Facebook support groups and crafted a query letter with a big ol’ OFFER OF PUB in the subject line. And I waited. 

The great thing about already having an offer from a publisher, even a small one, is that agents paid attention. I think I queried a total of seven agents—a fraction of what people usually query—and got two agents that read my book and offered me representation within a few weeks. Ultimately, I signed with my current agent, Travis. 

Now remember—this all happened in the first few months of 2018. It’s 2020, and I still do not have a book deal. So what happened?

After signing with my agent, he consulted the other agents at his agency and told me that the contract I received from the small press wasn’t the greatest. There was no advance, first of all, and no guarantee that I would ever make money off my book if it was published with them. He gave me a choice: he would represent me and shop my book elsewhere, or I could walk away and sign with the small press. 

Ultimately, I chose to sign. I talked about this in my last post, but that first book never did sell to another publisher. However, as an agented author I have a lot more resources at my disposal and a lot of hope for my future. And that book might not be dead—it can still sell in the future, but I’ve moved on to other projects in the meantime. There’s obviously no way of knowing how my life would’ve played out if I did publish my book with the small press. There are many authors who are published with small presses and have wonderful careers. But I didn’t feel like it was the right choice for me. If you’re ever faced with a similar choice, you may decide differently!

So that’s how I got my agent. It was a very roundabout way to get one, but a lot of things in publishing are. I find it helpful to read about all the different paths, because if you hyper-fixate on doing something just one way, you might shut yourself out of new opportunities. I definitely have a “plan” I try to follow, but I’m also flexible and try to keep an open mind. Especially with a global pandemic going on, no one really knows what the state of publishing will be like in six months, a year, or five years from now. The only thing I can do is keep writing, and keep moving forward. 

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Going on submission… again!

Last week, my agent informed me that my most recent book—which I’ve been calling, descriptively, MAGIC BOOK, to avoid the risk of getting too attached to a title I may have to change—will be going on submission to editors. This is exciting! But it also elicits a lot of conflicted feelings for me. But first…

What does it mean to go on submission?

A writing career is a series of submitting your work again and again and again and again until eventually it is book-shaped. At least, that’s how I’ve begun to see it. When I first started writing novels, my big goal was to land an agent. That seemed like the ultimate success, the one thing that would launch me on a path to greatness. Get an agent and then it’s easy sailing from there, I told myself! It turns out getting an agent is just the beginning. There is still a LOT of submitting that happens after that. And a lot of waiting. 

Every agent does things differently, but in general, after you sign with an agent and you complete any edits they want you to do, your agent will submit your book to publishers. This is called “being on submission” or “on sub.” Much like how authors query one agent at an agency, agents will submit your book to one editor at a publishing house. The big difference is that your agent will already have a relationship with those editors, so your novel is less likely to end up in the trash heap. The editors will probably (hopefully) read your novel. 

Unfortunately, this can be an extremely long process and still doesn’t guarantee your novel will become a book. Hence my conflicted feelings. It’s hard to feel excited about going on submission.

Why? Because my first book—the book that landed me my agent in the first place—never sold. 

I signed with my agent in February of 2018 (which is a long and strange story that I wrote about here) and went on submission shortly after. My agent sent me lists of editors at huge publishing houses, and I thought, this is it! This is the beginning of my career! All I have to do is wait!

So I started waiting. A lot of things happened in my life while I was waiting—I started and dropped out of grad school, my mother-in-law passed away, I moved to a new apartment. I didn’t start writing another book because I was waiting to see what would happen. I waited. And waited. And waited. 

And it turned out, nothing would happen with it. I got a lot of feedback from the editors who read it but didn’t want to acquire it for one reason or another. One editor said she loved the voice but didn’t like the plot. Another editor said she loved the plot but didn’t like the voice. Too dark, not dark enough. No room on the list for a book like this. Etc. etc. 

I asked my agent if I should revise, but since the feedback was so conflicting, it was clear it was a matter of personal taste. My agent told me to write another book. 

At the time, I was devastated. It’d taken me three years to write this first book and I had nothing to show for it. It was another heavy weight on my shoulders after a year of heavy weights. I’d lost a few good friends along the way, too, and I felt like a complete failure. And the worst part was that I hadn’t written a single thing in at least six months (that was the biggest mistake). 

You can see how this was an extremely discouraging process. I’d spent years dreaming about getting an agent, and then I was stuck in this weird limbo. Agented but not published. I was terrified that I was going to fail before I even got off the ground as an author. I joined some Facebook support groups, which helped, but I still had a hard time writing.

This was a really tough period of my life. But in 2019 I attended a few conferences that really helped me overcome this. I attended a local SCBWI conference, as well as the SFWA Nebula conference. These two—especially the latter—changed my perspective on myself as a writer. When you interact with other authors who take you seriously, you start to take yourself more seriously. I talked to a lot of people who got excited when I talked about my novels and encouraged me to keep going. This sense of community is now an invaluable part of my experience as a writer. Without it, I’m afraid I would’ve given up. 

But I didn’t! Last year, I wrote another book. Well, rewrote another book. I repurposed an old NaNoWriMo draft and rewrote it from scratch. That became MAGIC BOOK. I’m really proud of it. I finished the draft in about five months, then spent another three months revising. Most of that three months was spent procrastinating revising, but I eventually finished it. I sent it to my agent in March, and as of last week, we are officially on submission with editors. 

This is exciting but, as I explained above, also nerve-wracking. I’m excited because I’m proud of this book and I hope it connects with editors more than the last one did. Knowing that a bunch of people are reading your book is also a really cool feeling. 

But I’m nervous, too. After all, my last book was on submission for a long time and it didn’t sell, so it’s hard to be hopeful about this one. The disappointment before was crushing, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. I don’t want to feel that way again. 

Then there’s the whole COVID-19 situation. Editors are being laid off en-mass, which means many of my agent’s contacts are out of jobs. The entire submission process, already complicated, is now up in the air. It’s not a good situation for anyone, and I empathize with those who’ve lost their jobs. I’ve been out of work, too, which is another difficult thing for me emotionally that I won’t really get into right now.

I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, though. Being on submission is exciting! And if nothing else, I feel resilient—I wrote a book, it didn’t sell, and I could’ve given up but I didn’t. I wrote another book. And if this one doesn’t sell, well, I’ve already started writing another. For anyone going on submission for the first time, my biggest recommendation is to keep writing. Even if you just write for fun and it doesn’t turn into a book, do something. Don’t just wait around. Even if your book sells quickly, or sells at all, you’ll still need to write another thing eventually, so you might as well get started. 

In the process of writing this post, I realized there’s a lot of other things I can talk about on this blog. I’m feeling inspired to keep writing here and share more about my writing journey. If there are any topics you’d like me to talk about, let me know in the comments.

More soon!

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The Wall of Fear

Whenever anyone asks how I started writing, I think back to the beginning. My answer usually has something to do with fanfiction, or with sitting at my computer screen with one of Meg Cabot’s books propped open in my lap to use as a model. Sometimes I talk about the hours I spent roleplaying on the Neopets forums, or the life-changing experience of studying creative writing at an arts boarding school for my last two years of high school. 

Whichever way I slice it, writing has been an important part of my life since middle school. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and every decision I’ve made in my life has led me closer and closer to that goal. 

But as I gained more knowledge and experience about the craft and business of writing, something happened that I didn’t realize. I put up a wall of fear around myself. Rather than writing for the thrill of creating something new for the world, I’ve become a nervous writer: I don’t tend to talk about what I’m working on; I have a hard time taking myself seriously; I think constantly about whether what I’m writing will sell, or if it’s worth it; I rarely think anything I write is any good at all. It is a wall of fear and self-doubt that I wear like a comforting blanket so that I avoid doing any sort of writing work at all. Writing’s become work, a strain, a struggle, something that needs to be dragged out of me kicking and screaming. 

I know I wasn’t always this way. It happened gradually, little invisible doubts and fears piling up on themselves without my knowledge. It’s only now that they’ve congregated around me in such large numbers that I’m starting to notice them. 

I might never have noticed them if I hadn’t been working on cleaning out my old room at my parent’s house. We’ll be moving in with them this summer, which means the various boxes of books and memories need to be gone through and consolidated and sent away to storage. One of these boxes was a box I packed hastily when I moved out of my dorm at the end of my senior year of boarding school. Not being anything immediately useful, like clothes, it was never unpacked. It was filled with photos I’d had pinned to the walls, as well as a stockpile of old schoolwork. I found science notes stacked with old poetry homework and several copies of stories I’d written for a fiction workshop. 

I haven’t written a short story or a poem since I left high school. I’ve always had the intention of being a novelist—of taking characters on a long, long journey, so that when you reach the end, the characters are so dramatically changed you look back on the beginning with a sense of nostalgia. That’s something that’s difficult to attain in a short story. And in a poem—forget it. I only took poetry classes because they were part of the creative writing package. It was never something I took great pleasure in writing. 

But as I read through sheaves of old prose and poetry I’d written and promptly forgotten about, an odd realization dawned on me. Seventeen-year-old Amber knew less about writing than I currently do. She’d read fewer books on crafting plots and characters, she’d never been to a conference, she didn’t have an agent—heck, she hadn’t even written a full novel. 

But the most important thing she didn’t have was the wall of fear. She wrote as if she knew she was the best writer in the world. She wasn’t worried about whether these stories would sell. She wrote as if she were saying, Look at this. Aren’t you impressed? It’s good, isn’t it? She wasn’t afraid to try new things, to push boundaries, to write and show it off. She didn’t worry if the things she said were worth saying—she just said them with confidence, threw them out into the world and didn’t look back. 

These days, I don’t write short stories. Hell, I don’t even blog. I’m constantly worried about what other people will think (that old self-doubt drilled into me from childhood) or whether what I’m doing is good enough. I’ve surrounded myself with a paralyzing wall of fear that’s prevented me from moving forward. 

The worst thing about this wall is that it’s invisible, and it’s incredibly persuasive. It convinces me not to turn something in yet because it’s not ready, it could be better. It stamps down ideas I have before they’ve turned into anything, because it tells it me won’t be good enough before I’ve even tried. And in the process of doing all this, it convinces me that these are rational, logical conclusions—that I should be proud of myself for being responsible and revising again, or that it’s a good thing I didn’t speak my mind on a topic because someone might disagree with me and then I’ll be in trouble. The wall of fear convinced me it was a safety blanket, when really it cut me off from my dreams, my goals, and I what I really, truly want. 

If you’re reading this, then maybe you have a wall of fear of your own. Maybe you’re looking for ways to dismantle it, and to write with the confidence a teenager with a world of possibility in front of her can write. I hate to disappoint (another self-conscious fear attributed to my childhood), but I don’t have the answer. Not yet, anyway. But I hope that by becoming aware of this wall of fear, and consciously making an effort to not be afraid, I begin to rebuild my confidence and take it apart bit by bit. 

And hey, I wrote this and put it out into the world—it’s just one crack in the wall, but it’s a start.