There’s been a lot of ups and downs over the last two years. The last four years, really, but that’s something I’ll probably go into more later.
I parted ways with my first literary agent in March of 2014. The book I wrote hadn’t sold, but I still loved the characters and the title, so I scrapped all but the first chapter and started over again. Roughly eight months later I got into Brenda Drake’s “Pitch Wars” contest and actually won the middle grade category for most agent requests.
I was over the moon! I’d sent out over twenty full requests at that point, both through Pitch Wars (and after PW, with just normal querying) so I was sure I would get an offer from someone.
I didn’t. Instead I got rejection, after rejection, after rejection.
The feedback was all the same. No one connected to the character, they couldn’t get into the story, the voice was inaccessible. It all amounted to the same thing. And at the time it was something I didn’t feel ready to try to fix. Mainly because it was such a huge overhaul and I wasn’t even sure where to start.
So I got into a funk. A deep, chocolate-filled misery session that lasted several weeks.
But I can never stay in a funk for long, because there’s always some new shiny idea to pull me out of it. And The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryrony Gray was it. The idea of writing a kind of weird, MG retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray was enough to pull me out of my slump and get me to start writing again.
Six months ago I started querying the new manuscript. I was cautiously hopeful, allowing myself some excitement when the full requests started coming in.
And then, again, rejections started trickling in one by one. Some of them specific, most of them vague. And I was caught up in the idea that This is going to be the same as last time.
The thought terrified me. I wasn’t sure if I could take another roller coaster ride like that again, barreling to the tip top of the tracks and then crashing down over and over.
At the time I was sending out queries in batches of ten, and an agent from the second round of queries asked for an R&R. I read over her email and loved everything she’d suggested. So I immediately stopped querying and took about two months to make the changes.
Then, when I thought I might finally be ready, I sent the agent the new manuscript back, and sent out another couple rounds, confident this new version was so much stronger.
It turned out it was. In the morning on November 24th I woke up to an email from Silvia Molteni of Peters Fraser and Dunlop. She said she loved the manuscript and read it in one day, and she asked if we could speak on the phone.
A call. The call.
That’s basically what I did.
After recovering from my shock I sent her a very excited email back telling her I would love a call, and I was so excited she loved the manuscript. I gave her my phone number and then stared impatiently at my email icon for a several minutes before realizing…It’s 6pm in London, she’s probably home for the day. Crap.
Being a normal, non-mouth frothy type of person for the rest of the day was difficult, but I managed to pull it off for the most part. I went bookstore shopping with my family, and then we got lunch in one of my favorite little cafes.
The YA Word Nerds like to tease me that I’m still one of those people who talks on the phone instead of just texting. So when my phone rang I debated picking it up. It was a long number from Alberta. Telemarketer, I decided. Probably just someone trying to tell me I’ve won an Alaskan cruise. No thanks.
Then my phone rang again, another outrageously long number. I looked at it and hemmed and hawed and both my brother and my mom went, Just answer it! And I did, and it was Silvia, calling me really, really late her time.
We talked, it was loud inside. I went outside, it was even louder, due to the windstorm going on. But it was slightly better than the loud indie music in the cafe so I braved the weather for a few minutes.
Now picture me with a cell phone in one hand.
I had to run to the shelter of my car so I could actually hear her. After the call, I emailed all the agents with my full. I also emailed all the agents I had queried in the last two months who hadn’t answered yet, which is something that a lot of writers don’t realize they can do (I recommend it, since quite a few of them asked to see the full so they could read before the deadline).
A few days later, after the initial excitement had died down, I got another email asking for a call. I could barely believe it. It had been shocking that one agent had loved it, to have another ask for a call was something I hadn’t even dreamed of. We talked the day after, and she offered as well. I was completely floored, and spent the next few days in kind of a daze.
And then a third email asking for a call came in. This time the agent wanted to talk to me about an R&R. Changes she and her team wanted me to make before she could offer. Not an offer yet, but still three agents very interested.
I repeatedly pinched myself.
The day before the deadline I got a fourth email, and one I’d kind of been afraid of. By that time I had ceased walking around bumping into objects, and I was kind of leaning toward one agent in particular. I was fairly sure we were the best match. I felt our visions lined up. That she was enthusiastic and that we had “clicked”. But I knew a dream agent still had my full. An agent who had been on my “top agents” list since I’d started querying four years ago.
And then, the email came. The dream agent wanted a call.
And I knew I had one day to make the biggest decision of my life.
I know for some people it’s not “the biggest decision”. It’s not deciding where to live, it’s not figuring out if you want kids, it’s not taking the red pill or the blue pill. But to me, it might as well have been. Writing is my life, so this…this was big, and scary. A terrifying, life-altering decision that needed to be made in roughly half a day. One in a half if I wanted to stretch the deadline a bit, and I had too many people waiting to feel comfortable doing that.
So I paced back and forth. I agonized. I made pros and cons lists, lists of what was important to me, diagrams, maps…okay maybe not maps, but there was plenty of frenzied chart making.
This decision between the agent I had really clicked with and the agent that had been on the top of my list for years, was brutal. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The thing was, there was no WRONG answer. Both of the agents were awesome for different reasons. A cold, hard business decision would have been dream agent, because her sales are unbelievable and I right now I have NYT best selling books on my shelf that she reps.
But the other agent also had terrific sales, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the call we had. About her sheer passion for the project, her love of Oscar Wilde, the way she talked about the characters like they were real, live people. A choice guided by emotion or “gut instinct” was her.
So how was I supposed to choose?
But since there was also no wrong choice, since both the agents were with excellent agencies, since both had great sales, at the end of the day I decided I had to follow my heart.
Yes, I know that sounds less like a business decision and more like a Disney movie, but I also know that your agent has to be your partner, your cheerleader, your tireless advocate. That’s not to say that dream agent wouldn’t have been, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that the agent who had originally offered (Silvia) was also a dream agent at this point. The thought of turning her offer down made my stomach turn. The thought seemed…wrong.
I made my decision finally, sent off the emails…and sat there quietly for about ten minutes. Then I burst into tears.
But then I realized how silly I was crying, because I had an agent, so I was laughing at myself. And crying, and laughing and…it was ugly.
We’ll say no more about that.
Days later, having emailed back and forth with more questions and signed the contract, I know I made the right decision for me.
So it’s time to break out the happy dance.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28288882@N08/4548845462″>Still Life (35mm) – Typewriter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>