I needed some time to process, but I wanted to record my thoughts while it’s still pretty fresh, to preserve this feeling of amazement and disbelief and everything else that’s come with it.
It’s a strange thing, having a dream come true. I know that sounds super cliche and I’m supposed to be a writer and everything, but there’s no other way to say it. Also this is a blog, so give me some slack. (DISCLAIMER: Unrevised, quickly written blog posts are not my priority or the pinnacle of my writing talent.)
This is long, rambling post, so if you want to skip ahead, I've included ten things I've learned personally from this toward the end.
Since I was little I wanted to be a writer, to have my writing published, to have a physical book with my name on it in my hand. As I got older and gained experience, I learned the many, many difficult steps in attaining that goal. One of those steps is to have representation from a literary agent.
So, starting about ten years ago, I decided I was going to get an agent. This became my goal, my dream, my everything I was working toward. And then it happened. What? What?
So, I’m going to tell you how it went down as best as I can remember.
I believed I had finished my novel “Glinda, the Good” sometime in 2019. (Hahahahahha!) I loved it, it was perfect, it was funny, and exciting, and romantic, and everything in between. I felt good. My last project had been shelved after a resounding no from many, many agents. That’s for the best. Turns out there’s not much of a market for a romantic comedy starring Cthulhu. Also, I just wasn’t as good then. Turns out, writing more makes you better… who'd have thought?
I submitted the first chapter to the Frisco First Chapter Contest (a local writing competition that we here in DFW take very seriously) and won! I won! In my writing circle, that’s a sign of good luck, a sign you’re on your way. I got a certificate.
So, I pitched it at the DFWCON 2019 and got several requests. (Go to this conference if you can!) A couple agents seemed pretty excited. I was excited. It was all very exciting. 2019 Lauren needed to calm the hell down. I plan to talk about my experience pitching to agents in a later post, so stay tuned.
I sent that manuscript out to a handful of agents and waited… and waited… and waited. And then the rejections started. Okay, no biggie, that’s part of the process. I know that. I sent it out again. I got my subscription to QueryTracker, I made spreadsheets, I worked on the first chapter more, the query letter. I read more, tried to find comp titles. I got more rejections.
And then, it happened. I got a revise and resubmit. This is the first time I had received an R&R and I was so confident this meant I’d made it. I took the agent’s extensive notes to heart and revised. A couple of months later, I submitted the revised draft to her and waited.
Then Covid hit and the world stopped.
No DFWCON 2020. No in-person workshops. No late nights at IHOP to pick the brains of my friends and fellow writers.
And then the agent replied with a kind rejection.
I was crushed. I set the manuscript aside and didn’t write for several months.
Thankfully, I have some amazing friends, who keep me accountable, and they weren’t done with Glinda, even if I thought I was. They mentioned it every time we met. They believed in it.
So, I started writing again. I started a brand new project. I mentioned it in a previous post. It's something that got stirred up in my brain because of COVID, because of the months of isolation, of all the books and podcasts and shows I was consuming to stay sane. I got wrapped up in it and officially shelved "Glinda, the Good."
Then, one summer day, out of curiosity, I opened the folder again and read it. It was really good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than I had remembered.
I sent the following text to my friends:
With their encouragement, I did it. I revised again and I changed the name for a fresh start. I sent it to five agents.
And then something changed. I give complete credit to the revisions I’d made. I hadn’t sent it to anyone since and out of those five agents, I got three full requests.
First, just two, pretty soon after I sent the query out. One responded after a couple of months. She was so nice, said she’d had my manuscript on her desk for awhile, debating whether or not to accept it. In the end, she decided she didn’t have a vision for it. Now, this is unimaginably kind and affirming for a writer, but also a little frustrating. I couldn’t help but think, if I’d only written a little better, changed one or two things, maybe, maybe she would have swung the other way. I’ve since figured out that it’s not as simple as that. I think, in the end, agents have to go with their gut. And that’s okay. At the point you make an agent stop and think and feel torn, you’ve crossed a threshold. You’ve written something good. Now, you just have to find the agent that’s going to gel with you and your work. She wasn’t the one.
I got another full request right before Christmas.
I sent the following to my friends:
(Additional disclaimer: I don't advise "bugging" an agent. I used that language in a text with my friends, but what I meant was gently nudge with a follow-up after an appropriate amount of time, which I ended up not doing because of what happened after Christmas.)
(Also, I'm using my friends full names because they are all very talented writers and you're going to see their names on the spine of books soon enough!)
The holidays went by and I still had two full requests out. So I started working on Rattlesnake again and tried not to think about it. The world was waking back up. I was seeing people I hadn’t seen in ages. I was getting inspiration from this weird, imperfect world in a way I’d never appreciated before COVID.
And then I got the email.
She loved my book. She loved my style. She wanted to talk more on the phone.
From that moment forward, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I was insanely nervous. The morning of the call, I got dressed up, did my hair and makeup, and set up a section of my dining room… all of this, just in case she wanted to Zoom instead.
I am so fortunate to have a couple of mentors at the DFW Writers Workshop, people who have been where I am, people who have gone through the process and now have incredible novels on the shelves of stores and libraries. Three of them talked to me before the call, prepped me, told me their experience, gave advice for what to ask. And each one of them said essentially the same thing: She may make you an offer, but if she’s not the right fit, you have to turn it down and find someone who you can work with, who understands your work.
I haven’t told them this, but it was incredibly humbling and touched me so much. These three believed in me, really, really believed in me. They told me I was good enough I didn’t have to settle. I was good enough, I’d get another chance if this didn't work out. So, Brooke, Leslie, and Dana, thank you. I will never, ever forget the way you believed in me before I truly believed in myself.
But, back to the phone call! The agent called, I took a breath, and then--and then we spoke for an hour. And it was easy. She was wonderful. She was smart and cool and she really believed in my writing. Toward the end, she hadn’t actually said the words “offer of representation.” I mean, we were talking like she had, but I’m still a bit unsure of myself, so I worked up the nerve and asked her. She laughed, realized she’d gone off on something else when she’d meant to say it, and then confirmed, yes, she wanted to represent me.
When I got off the phone, there was no question. I waited the customary two weeks, let the agent who still had a full manuscript know. He graciously bowed out. Turns out, like the first agent, he had been debating whether or not he wanted to move forward. I had the opportunity to speak with one of my agent’s other clients. She happily shared her experience and it made me even more confident in this choice.
I let my agent know. My agent. Signed the contract. And then I got to celebrate, although I still don’t think I believed it was real. I was convinced she’d reread it and change her mind. (Spoiler alert: She didn’t.) I'm told this feeling of inadequacy doesn't go away, no matter how many books you publish.
So here’s what I learned from this experience:
What made this real for me was when she sent the first set of notes for revisions and I went to work on them. Polishing this book is a pleasure. It’s satisfying and I feel like I’m in my element when I make something that wasn’t quite working, not just work, but shine.
I know this was lengthy and I feel like I just scratched the surface of my experience. This phase of my journey, querying agents lasted years with lots of ups and downs. I don't want to minimize that. Also, I want to talk about what this revising phase has been like, but I’ll save that for a later post, after I’ve done more work.
In conclusion, I am ecstatic. I AM OVER THE MOON! I also think I have the greatest agent on the planet! She’s been absolutely wonderful and she actually “gets” me and my work. I couldn’t ask for anything more!
EDIT: Thanks for the amazing response to this post! I honestly didn't think anyone would read it, but I hope it encourages you, if you're still in the trenches.
Also, I added an 11th thing I learned.
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King
I know, I know, it's bad form to start with a quote. We're not in freshman English, after all. But it's a damn good quote and Stephen King is a genius. So there.
I've run into many writers who have told me flat out that they don't read much or at all. The reason they give is usually that they are too busy or that they'd rather be writing. I get it. This isn't a judgy post or a self righteous post. I've been there. I've had reading dry spells where I've an entire year *gasp* without picking up a book. This is what I've learned.
To begin with, as a child and young adult, I loved, LOVED reading. From sugary pop series like Sweet Valley Twins to The Babysitter's Club, to Beverly Cleary to Lois Lowry. I read Judy Blume and Avi and Roald Dahl and Gary Paulson. I read The Indian in the Cupboard and The Castle in the Attic and Parrot in the Oven. All nouns in all the things, I read it.
And then I read harder books, older books, like Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Pimpernel. In fact, I was so obsessed with The Scarlet Pimpernel that I tracked down the rest of the out of print series online and read those too. One time I heard about an out of print (at the time) book called Vendetta: The Story of One Forgotten by Marie Corelli, saved up my allowance and bought a copy that was no more than photocopied pages of an older edition. It wasn't that great.
I spent 9th grade struggling through Les Misérables (unabridged) and chased that down with some lighter Victor Hugo and read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 10th grade I discovered The Lord of the Rings and after I finished that I thought, I will never again read something that moved me the way that book did. I always do that. It's kinda stupid. I read something great and I feel like I'll never ever find anything as good ever again.
Then life happened. I discussed my writing break in my previous post and it was the same for reading. I was busy and the spaces between books grew longer and longer.
We aren't born knowing how to read. It takes skill and practice and the sad truth is, the longer we go without using that skill, the more and more reading starts to feel like work. That's the sad state I found myself in. I wanted to write. I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't reading.
Remember in my previous post where I said my writing used to suck, like really suck? Yeah, I wasn't reading. One of the major things that changed was that I got back into the habit of reading and *magically* my writing improved.
It was tough at first. In fact, Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters is still sitting half read on my dresser mocking me. I haven't picked it up in over a year.
But then I tried something that I'm going to call a "Life Hack" or whatever. It's pretty simple. I used audio books. I listened to audio books while reading along with a physical copy of the book. I read my first book start to finish in a while and was very pleased with myself. Then I did it again and this time, found that I had to speed up the recording to keep up with my eyes on the page. In other words, my reading skills came back and were overtaking my listening skills. That's how I did it.
The other thing I've discovered about reading is that, for me, it's the only cure for writer's block. Any time I go more than a few days with severe writer's block I know it's time to read a book. Reading unlocks my brain, makes the ideas swirl, makes the page more mailable.
I'm not one of those people who reads a hundred books a year and I doubt I ever will be. The way my life is, right now, I don't have time to parent, write, have a life, and then read piles and piles of books. But I read a lot. And I make myself familiar with different authors and new titles.
The final piece of advice I would give anyone who wants to get back into reading is this: READ WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY!! Don't get caught up in reading a popular title because everybody is reading it. Read something sappy or something scary or read Young Adult. I LOVE Young Adult! I want to write adult books that have the same ease and intensity and passion that Young Adult books have.
Whatever you do, read. Reading is essential to writing. After all, how can we expect other people to pick up our books if we don't pick up other people's.
So, to conclude, I will give you my top four book recommendations from my reading this summer:
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman A contender for one of my most favorite books I've ever read and a debut novel!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee YA and freaking fantastic!
The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey Hey! I know her! A beautiful and hilarious novel about old age and youth and everything in-between.
Fractured Tide by Leslie Lutz YA! Scary and poignant! Great book!
I'm going to go finish Underground Airlines now.