January 22, 2013

On Launches & Legacies

Filed under: Backstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:36 am

It’s been four years since I started blogging, and this site has been quieter over the past week than I think it was since the day I launched it.

Launch. There’s that word.

I began blogging at my husband’s behest in 2009. I was far from the first, but blogs weren’t quite as ubiquitous then as they are now, and my husband, a tech guy, wanted me to jump into the pool while there was still water left in it.

I was wary, though. After all, who was I to write a blog? After a whole decade of writing novels and querying agents and trying to get published, I still hadn’t broken in. I wasn’t a writer…I was a failed writer.

I solved my problem in two ways. If I invited other authors to contribute posts, then I wouldn’t have to put myself out there. And if I sought in those posts some source of wisdom, perhaps I could glean nuggets that would help me along my own journey.

Mysterious BookshopThus was born the Made It Moments forum. Over 275 authors have to date answered the question, “How did I know I’d made it?”

The funny thing is that every single one of these posts is utterly unique, and every single one says the exact same thing.

“I haven’t.”

Over the past week, a lot of wonderful friends and writers and readers I’ve come to know–in no small part due to blogging; thanks, husband, you were right–have written to say things like, “Congrats on your Made It Moment!”

You see, after that decade-long struggle, and then another four years thrown in, my debut novel was published just last Tuesday. After fifteen almost-offers, and more no’s than I can bear to count, my eighth novel finally found its way to the brilliant editor who could help me become the writer I always wanted to be.

But like all the authors who have been kind enough to appear on my blog, I don’t feel I’ve made it. I haven’t even gotten close enough to write a post about how I haven’t really made it.

The Bookstore PlusWhat have I done? I’ve launched. Like birds leaving the nest and six year olds starting school and marathoners getting to the starting line, I now have something that I can bring to you, that I can try to do myself.

What about you? Have you launched anything lately, or do you hope to? Please tell me about it. Please join me in my hopeful march to the Made It Moment.

May 22, 2011

Voodoo dolls, backyard bonfires, & daisy petals

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:59 pm

I know, I had trouble figuring out the name for this post myself.

I hope I came up with three iconic things that will make sense once I start typing.

It took me about as long to find a publisher as it did to find my soul mate. A little longer, but not much.

I’m dating the soul mate search from one day in eighth grade when I spun a long fantasy about my social studies teacher, who greeted me and the guy I was crushing on and said something like, “I always knew you two were meant for each other.”

OK, sure, it was the teen romances I gobbled by the dozens–Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams, Silhouette, does anyone besides me remember these?–and the model of my mom and dad, each other’s one and onlies, and married almost 49 years now, but I always thought the first guy I really dated would wind up being my husband.

And he was. It just took me 9 years more to find him.

What’s the relevance, you’re wondering, to this blog?

Well, here’s the thing. Even though I was only a college senior when we met and a recent grad when we got engaged that July, I *felt* as if I’d been looking forever. There were lots of letdowns and bitter disappointments and feeling lost and lonely along the way.

And I vowed that once it happened, and I became someone I could hardly imagine myself being–or even really relate to–that I would never forget what it was like to be single and hurting.

And I haven’t. I can still feel those times, I can still go out with my single or newly divorced or struggling in marriage friends and genuinely commiserate.

So is it with that other great divide–publication.

As most of you know from other posts, I’ve found a publisher now. An editor who believes in my work. I just sent her a card, and writing it didn’t feel *much* less meaningful to me than saying my marriage vows. When I found it, a piece of art with the word ‘begin‘ practically carved into the layers of color, and lace, and sparkle, I began to cry right there in the aisle.

It’s easy right now to say I haven’t forgotten anything, especially that feeling of not knowing if your work will ever find a home–but I promise the same thing will be true when as many years have passed published as not.

And after that.

I will always remember. I will always be able to empathize enough to offer support and hopefully concrete help to anyone else on this crazy road.

But just to make sure, I thought I’d jot down a few memories of my lowest points trying to get published over the past 11 years.

Like the games of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, bonfires of photos and mementos with the girls, or dudes we make small copies of so we can stick a pin into their nether regions (sorry, guys…not *you*) some of these times may be recognizable to other writers.

So, low points on the road to publication…

  • There was the time I was sure, absolutely positive, despite the monumental odds against me, that my novel was destined to win ABNA. That’s why I’d never gotten published all these years! It was because I was due to take the rose-strewn walk across that Seattle stage (*is* there a stage in Seattle?) to accept my award. And then it seemed that my husband had messed up my entry–included my name, grounds for automatic disqualification. And I howled, a bleat of pure, sheer despair, loud enough to wake (and scare) my children. Well, my husband hadn’t actually messed anything up. And I didn’t win anyway, or even come close.
  • My second agent decided she had come to the end of our road one morning when my husband was pulling out of the driveway to go to work. My kids, then not even 2 and 4, awaited. A whole day of reading stories, and fixing snack, and dancing till we got dizzy, and I knew that I. just. couldn’t. do. it. Couldn’t do anything at all. Couldn’t keep an agent. Couldn’t run my day. “Come back,” I mouthed against the window as my husband started the car. And he did.
  • One night I sat in the bath and my agent called and I spoke to her from in the tub. She was actually calling to give me good news–an editor at William Morrow was interested in my first novel, which my agent had submitted second. But this was still a low point because when I said words to the effect of, “Finally. Thank goodness. Because I can’t go through [another failed sub] again,” my agent replied kindly, “Well, Jenny, there are no guarantees.” And there weren’t. That novel, too, failed ultimately to sell.
  • The agent who rejected me after asking for one page, one chapter, three chapters, then more, all drawn out over the course of months approaching a year–before rejecting the whole manuscript. She was right to. But that didn’t make it any easier when I saw that whole period slipping like sand back into the sea I was facing.
  • The stack, twenty high or higher, of beautiful, snail mail queries, on 100% cotton bond, with clear address labels, and stamps that featured great writers–can you say OCD??–and Every Single One came back no.
  • The novel–a whole novel–I couldn’t interest a single agent in even though the great Jackie Mitchard herself called to say it was terrific. “Won’t sell,” she said. “But it’s terrific.” She too was right, though it took me a year + and over eighty queries to accept it.

There are other lower than low points, I am sure. I’m sure they will come to me, and I promise I will never forget.

But since the only thing that really gets us through–the only thing that worked for me anyway–was communing with other people who know–for now, what are yours?

May 18, 2011

The Story Behind the Story, or How My Book Was Bought

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 12:51 pm

Maybe this should be filed under front-story instead of backstory?

It finally happened. As many of you already know, my novel, COVER OF SNOW, has sold to the great Linda Marrow at Ballantine. Linda edits some of my all-time favorite authors, and enough New York Times bestsellers to intimidate the bejeezus out of me.

Here are the deets (as literary Janet Reid, aka Query Shark) taught me to say if I wanted to sound cooler than I am.

Ballantine will do the hard cover version, Random House the trade paperback, and RH has the world rights, which means my agent called me one day and said, “They’re talking about your book at Random House UK.” And I swooned.

Seriously, guys. After over a decade at this, to go from not being able to get in the door, not able to squeeze one toe through the door–or worse, to be standing in the doorway, all bright-eyed and smiling hello, only to have it slammed against my nose, ending up at Ballantine with (should I say it again?) the great Linda Marrow is more than a dream.

How did it happen? A lot of you have asked that, and I feel as if Suspense Your Disbelief readers, authors, and contributors are the best kind of family, supportive and boisterous and always ready to chime in. So I am honored to tell you this.

But I also have to say that this is in some ways an intensely private story. It’s a story of being desperate, of wanting something so badly that even with my nose broken and bleeding, I decided to try again.

And it’s a story that can’t help but name names, because I am all about giving credit where credit is due, so I would just ask you guys to be your tactful selves with those names. Obviously nothing is confidential on the blogosphere, but as I say, you guys are like family, which is why I do find myself spilling a lot of confidences here.

OK. So where were we in the backstory? The party had fizzled. I was t-h-i-s close to an offer from Viking, manuscript up there at the very top, process drawn out over weeks and months, as is often the case, and the possibility dried up. No offer was made. My agent and I, even the editor herself (who will be thanked in my acknowledgments–hear me now–because she made me believe in myself in a whole new way) were flattened.

I began to develop a new plan. Someone approached me, and she had a really great idea. An alternative, brave new world idea, but you guys know how I like those. Maybe traditional publishing just wasn’t for me.

It wasn’t as if the books needed more editing, or work on craft (beyond the more work on craft every writer needs at every point in her career). We’d gotten all those almost offers–weren’t they proof that things were in good enough shape? Maybe my work just didn’t fit a genre perfectly enough. Except authors were telling me it did, expressing surprise (and dismay) that I hadn’t been published yet. In fact, authors had been an enormous source of support, often heartening me when I was most flagging.

So I wrote to another. An all-time favorite author, whose work seemed the closest to what I aspired to write, and whose latest novel had been all the talk at a mystery list-serv I spend many of my waking minutes at.

“I never do this,” Nancy Pickard said, after I told her my story, gave her the stats. (Remember? 11 years. 3 agents. 5 novels. 14 almost offers.) “But your story really touches something in me. Send me the manuscript.”

Nancy Pickard read my work (I know, let me rephrase: Nancy Pickard read my work!!!) as the final word was coming down from that last almost offer. It was during a cold, bleak, winter-intruding-into-spring night, when the writing was beginning to appear on the walls that this time too would come to nothing. My husband called me upstairs to say an email had come in.

I read it with my eyes all but squeezed shut. I just couldn’t stomach any more blows.

I will never forget Nancy’s words. “I couldn’t wait till I finished to tell you how impressed I am,” she wrote. “Unless it totally lets me down at the end–and I can’t imagine it will–I will want to recommend it personally to my editor.”

And she did.

I emailed Nancy as soon as I heard that Linda Marrow liked the book. “I’m afraid to hope,” I typed. “But I do know this would not be happening without you, and even if it doesn’t happen, I owe you so much for bringing me this far.”

Don’t I sound gracious? You can’t hear the clenched fists or gritted teeth (please. let. this. work) in there at all.

Actually, every word was true. I was immensely grateful. No author can get a book sold for someone else. But for Nancy to have done what she did was spectacular. Simply reading the ms was spectacular.

Anyway, Nancy is far more gracious than I. She wrote back words to the effect of: “Linda is incredibly busy. If she didn’t truly love your book, she would not be doing this, no matter what I or anyone else had done.”

So Nancy’s editor has become my editor.

What do I take from how this happened?

Well, first of all, keep knocking on doors. If one doesn’t open, knock on wooden things that aren’t doors. And if that doesn’t work, start knocking on things that aren’t even wooden.

If you’re a writer and want to be traditionally published by a major, the road can be extremely long. Mine was longer than extremely. I had a lot of learning to do about craft and I also had not a little bad luck, with the almost offers. But since this novel, COVER OF SNOW, wasn’t done until right about now, and certainly not in this (let me say again, great) editor’s hands, the “bad luck” was maybe good luck after all.

I would also add that the road doesn’t have to be as long as all that. Traditional publication a) can happen somewhat faster–not a whole lot faster maybe, but even half my time would be considered more than putting in one’s dues and b) is not the only way to get your work out there. Not even the only respectable, optimal, wonderful way. New doors are opening every day, and the e-volution will return power to the up and coming writer, the mid-list writers, and the mega star alike.

Decide what you want and go for it. Be open and flexible to new ideas. I’m not saying anything new, or anything unique to writing even.

More in my graduation song? Make as many friends as you can. Be as good a friend to others as you can.

Know that the world of writers is the most loving and supportive you could find yourself in and the only way we flourish is all together.

And never, never ever, give up on your dream.

April 17, 2011

While I’ve been waiting, the world has changed: To E Or Not To E

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:48 pm

Today on his blog Joe Konrath asked me if I was an idiot. OK, he may not have used quite that word. And I suppose he wasn’t exactly talking to me. (Joe doesn’t know me).

But I felt as if he were.

It used to be that if you wanted to publish a book, and you hadn’t been graced with validation from a publisher, then it meant one of two things.

1) Your work wasn’t very good


2) Your work was good but publishers didn’t agree and so you’d better be ready to fork over a lot of money, and a lot of shoe leather, to try and prove it

I know several people who did exactly that. One fell into category 1) and the other into 2). All that differed between them was their level of success eventually. But the blood, sweat and tears along the way were the same.

No more.

Now, as Joe points out, and out, and out (because dummies like me might need to hear it twenty-hundred times as my five year old would say–the twenty-hundred, not the dummy part) you can publish a book that publishers won’t touch. For free. And quickly, too.

All it takes is a smattering of technical skill, or some cash to pay someone with a smattering of technical skill–or a baby and six years.

By that time, the baby will be able to get your book out on however many apps we’re using then. Maybe imprint it directly onto your retinas. Saves the piracy problem.

What does this mean? Well, first of all it means a lot of [insert word here] stuff will be put out there.

Mystery novelist Jeff Markowitz said at a recent Writing Matters panel that 80% of Americans think they can write a novel.


“Eighty percent of Americans,” said Jeff. “Can’t boil pasta.”

So there’s going to be a lot of [insert word again] clogging the pipelines. But so what? Did you think everything the majors publish smells like daisies?

Joe wisely points out that most self-published writers won’t make a living off their writing. Then again, most traditionally published authors don’t either.  The figure I’ve always heard batted around is 200.

Two hundred Americans earn a living off their fiction.

I am pretty sure my book isn’t [insert word]. It’s gotten more than a dozen blurbs from big authors. Ones who weren’t contractually obligated to read my book since, well, no one would ask them to do that. It’s been blogged about and tweeted by two authors whom I’d count among the best.

So why I don’t I follow Joe’s advice? Like, tonight?

Two reasons. First, I love print. I am thrilled if people–more people by all accounts–are reading digitally. I’m happy (OK, more than happy) for them to read my work that way.

(Ooh, and now you can! Yes, go to this link and you can download a short story of mine that represents my very first paid for piece of work. No one’s reviewed it yet as far as I can tell, so if you do you get an extra doughnut, or at least my heartfelt thanks).

But, all the above notwithstanding, I do love print, and I love bookstores (duh, that’s obvious, my 7 year old would say before I nailed her with a mommy look) and I’d also like to be able to read my own book. Joe’s method doesn’t cover that because he believes books are going the way of the T Rex.

The second reason is that I’m searching to repair an age old wound of invalidation and lack of recognition left over from childhood days at school.

Well, I am.

Don’t a lot of us want to be published traditionally for the validation? The, “See [insert name of prom king or queen/varsity star/valedictorian here]? I did it!!! You wound up dried up and dried out and wallowing in a bog somewhere and I. Got. Published.”

Joe would say that a hundred thousand readers and a million bucks will afford a lot of validation.

And maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time to put away childhood–and childish–things and follow the eleventh commandment of Nike.

You know what that is, don’t you?

April 14, 2011

Sometimes You Just Have to Jump

Filed under: Backstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:41 pm

11 years, 3 agents, 14 almost offers.

I used to feel pathetic writing those numbers out. Now I just feel matter-of-fact. Or maybe it’s numb.

No, it’s matter of fact. This is me. This is my path. For whatever it turns out to be worth.

In some ways it was easy. It took me 8 months to get my first agent, and I naively thought that was a long time. I got two offers, and I got to choose whom to sign with. The next time I signed I got to choose, too. And the time after that.

I haven’t gotten anywhere near as many rejections as some writers have. I know some who have racked up triple, even quadruple digits before finally breaking through.

My hats are off to many of my friends who have kept going and going in the face of being told their work wasn’t good enough.

Obviously, as the end result shows, it was.

My situation, as many of you know, is a little bit different.

And it is unique in one way: I don’t know of one single writer who has been this close for this long, stuck at this exact same point.

I’ve been lucky enough that agents, authors, and editors have recognized something good in my work for over a decade. Good enough to publish.

But for some reason that recognition hasn’t translated into an offer.

I don’t know why.

Because the perfect offer is still out there, about to be made?

Because I’m meant to go another way, take an alternate route?

Or because there’s no real reason and this just happens to be the way things are going?

Either way, in the words of the great head banging song by The Dream Team

I can’t take this, anymore
I guess I’m not the only one that’s keeping score
I can’t change this hangin’ around,
I’m sick and tired of always being
Fed up with this crowd

So what to do now?

I don’t exactly know.

But I think it will happen soon.

April 8, 2011

And Then There Was One

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 1:34 pm

One major, that is, left considering my work.

My novel got to this house in a way that will make a wonderful back story post all by itself one day–for now I can’t say anything, or reveal the person I hope to thank.

But for the purpose of this post it doesn’t matter how it got there. What counts is that it is, and so I’m in the waiting game again, with literally my last shot at being launched in a traditional way.

It’s the final shot because I’ve decided that if no offer results, then it is time for my work to be published some other way. Yes, my “first” novel will be coming soon–maybe sooner than expected–to a bookstore near you.

Or to a Kindle app. Or a Nook. Or one of those other things I will have to learn about, but don’t even know enough now to name intelligently. Smashwords? Kobo? How do those figure in?

Don’t know yet.

But the book is ready. An author I love even tweeted about it the other day, bolstering a flagging confidence, or maybe a confidence that hasn’t yet been rooted enough to flag.

How will I take the next step? I don’t know quite yet. As many of you probably know the revolution going on doesn’t just mean new writers are dipping their toes in, but new publishers are, too. A couple of ones who are just getting started have offered to publish my work.

There are some already nicely established independents, whose interesting works and talented authors I’ve been thrilled to trumpet here–Oak Tree Press, for one. And others.

But my writing doesn’t quite fit with mystery publishers. My books are a little more loosely formed, I guess I’d say, with elements of mystery, suspense, thriller, and even women’s fiction. It’s one reason perhaps that they’ve been a hard sell. Maybe.

Or maybe I’m just reserved–by energy in the universe, by whatever you might believe in–for a different path. You guys might remember the blog post where I wrote about getting rejected by every college I applied to.

I didn’t go to my high school prom.

And when I got engaged, my husband didn’t get down on one knee. We created my ring together, from a pair of diamond earrings left to me by my grandmother.

Somehow I don’t seem to get the traditional moments. It’s, We got engaged! versus He asked me to marry him!

But I’m still married to a man who almost 19 years later is my soul mate, the one I can work beside every day, then break to read to our kids and snuggle them in, before remembering to look at each other, and think, It didn’t happen in the exact way I imagined–but it turned out even better than I ever would’ve hoped.

Could the same hold true for my publishing path?

March 22, 2011

When the party fizzles

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:53 pm

Imagine you’re blowing up this great balloon, it’s brilliant blue or bronze or scarlet, and you’re blowing, and blowing, and blowing, and it’s gonna be great, the biggest balloon ever, you can just see where on the wall you will hang it to welcome all the guests…and then it suddenly escapes your lips and flies all over the room with that horrible farting sound, only to lie dead and shriveled on the floor.

I promised you guys no more back story posts because I thought I might be done. I mean, I wasn’t counting chickens or anything. I was knocking wood, and feeling humble and humbled by my time so far in this industry. I was hoping other writers better than I would hurry on their own way to success.

But I did think mine was in sight.

You see, my agent  had found a fantastic editor. An editor who grokked my work. Who seemed more passionate than any of the 13 before who have wanted to acquire something. She was working like crazy at the house to be able to make an offer. A wonderful writer, whom I am not naming only because I don’t have his or her permission, had read my work and offered support, and the editor had already managed to get many of the people at the house on board. I was closer than I’d ever been–and I’ve been close. Achingly close.

[Interruption. Authors are the most wonderful people on the planet. If you have to try and come up in a notoriously difficult profession, it better be writing. I've heard whispers of professional competition, but all I've ever seen have been writers helping writers, remembering what it's like to toil unpublished, and wanting to extend a hand. Sending the elevator down, as Dennis Lehane puts it.]

Things got tenser. I filled out some things for my agent, putting down on paper plans that have been roiling around in my head for years now. The editor had read my other book a year ago, and liked it. Now she wanted to have it on hand again.

I admit that I began to get just a little–OK, maybe more than a little–hopeful at that point. (It had been 5 weeks).

This was really going to happen. Wasn’t it?

No, it wasn’t. There are a lot of moving parts to a publishing house, and a lot of people have to see things the same way for a book to be acquired. It seems baffling to me, because of course, books are acquired every day. But for whatever reason, mine won’t be. Not this time. Not by this editor.

How do we pick ourselves up after raised hopes, crushing disappointment, and battered self esteem? (How good can I be if time after time I ultimately fail to sell?)

My agent has been wonderful. She is a champion in all respects of the word. Her loyalty, faith, and passion are unmatched–every writer should have an agent like this. I have to repay her soon, and I do mean repay.

I don’t know what will happen next. I’ve hosted Writing Matters panels on alternate routes to publication. Am I meant to go down one of those roads? Barry Eisler just decided to, but Barry Eisler has been making a living in this industry since he was a young man. He has the means–and maybe more important, the validation, to try something different. He’s also got an audience, but others have shown how that can be built.

But the validation. Getting this close this many times doesn’t feel like validation. It feels like I couldn’t hack it in the final minutes of the game.


Aye, there’s the rub.

Doesn’t every writer dream of holding her book in her hand–a book somebody else believed in enough to put there?

Should I give up that moment we all yearn for?

It’s like not getting to go to my senior prom all over again.

I don’t know what I should do. Please leave a suggestion. And tune in again.

March 15, 2011

A Book By Any Other Name…

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 12:10 pm

…is actually not a book, unless it’s published.

Right? Isn’t that how so many of us feel, even about manuscripts that are garnering great praise, maybe offers from agents, or interest from editors, awards from foundations, even blurbs from authors? That we’re still not quite “real” until that book is, well, being read.

In ON WRITING Stephen King talks about how an unread story is a circle not closed.

Last time I wrote a post in this column, five editors were interested in my on-sub ms. (Sub. Ms. See how I feel the pathetic need to show my knowledge of the industry by using lingo to combat my utter death of closed circles?)

Anyway, all those editors were turned down by their editorial boards. The reasons were, well, crazy. One house said it was too literary for suspense–too much time spent on the characters. OK. That could make sense. Even though that character development seemed to be what was unique about my work according to many who read it. Still, cross-genre can hit a sweet spot, but it can also be a tough sell.

Except that another house called the novel too fast-paced and said they would *see it back if I slowed it down*!!!

I’ve concluded that reasons are tea leaves. They mean nothing and you can read what you want into them. Actually, an astute tea leaf reader can probably derive more from the dregs at the bottom of a cup.

A couple of things happened then. One, I got scared right down to my toenails. I mean here I am, moderating a panel on the Brave New World of publishing, hearing that micro presses and straight to Kindle options abound, while remaining the most die-hard devotee of the Old World as one could find–and yet that old world just would not let me in.

So two, I started contacting authors whose work I loved.

Now authors, especially award-winning, top-selling ones, have mountains of mss to read (more lingo). Their agents send them some. They are contractually obligated by their publishers to read others. In short, they have absolutely no reason to read mine–it’s not like most aspiring writers are lucky enough to be friends with best-selling authors.

But read my book they did, usually after agreeing to look at a first chapter or two, then offering to read the whole thing. And they provided blurbs. One especially kind author even sent his blurb to the entire world, or at least 5000 or so mystery readers and writers in it, so that I wound up getting emails asking, Hey, where can I read the book?

Uh, nowhere. Not yet anyway.

I can only thank these gracious authors for their kindness and their time, and hope that someday a book will be available to be read–with these authors’ words on it, and drawing new readers to their work.

Right now we are poised waiting to hear if another deal will be offered. We should hear any day.

Based on past events, I am just out and out scared.

And I guess that’s where I have to leave my back story. You’re caught up.

I hope I catch up one day, too.

I hope that like the circles that have come before, mine can be closed as well.

February 11, 2011

On Agents & Other Angels

Filed under: Backstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:46 pm

I told you guys. I feel I have to keep the backstory coming right now.

But I realized that in so many of these posts there’s someone hovering, unseen, in the background, and I don’t know if I’ve given her her due.

Or, for your sake, dear readers, spoken enough about how to get one of these rare birds to alight.

I’m talking, of course, about literary agents.

I’ve worked with three over a period of, well, a lot more years than that, and they have been to a one, committed, devoted, enthusiastic, and selfless. How else can you explain someone working–for free–to further your dream? Even when my relationship with agent #2 ended on an abrupt note, all of the above still applied to her efforts on my behalf.

One day soon, I hope to send gifts just to say thank you.

So, how do you find a literary agent?

We’ll be talking about exactly that in the course I’m teaching this Sunday, but I thought I’d give a quick and dirty rundown here, before allowing the backstory to finally catch up to mostly present tense.

Let’s say first and foremost that you must make sure you have a great (not just good), polished manuscript that a decent number of people outside your family (unless your family happen to be your toughest critics) love and said they can’t put down.

Then, try these 3 strategies–

#1: Cold query. Websites, print guides, industry rags (such as Publishers Marketplace) are all good resources. But the single best way I’ve found to cold query is to read the acknowledgments in books by authors you admire and contact their agent. If the author is very famous, this won’t work. But if you have a handful of debut authors or mid-listers in hand, you should get a better than average hit rate using this method.

#2: Conferences. There are several where meeting agents is part of the point. Backspace. Wilamette. Check ‘em out. Conferences have the advantage of some face-to-face time. The disadvantage is that everyone there is clamoring for that time and people tend to blend into a blur for an overwhelmed agent. However, if you meet an agent at a conference, your query will almost certainly be looked at. This isn’t necessarily true for a snail mailed query–and even less true for an emailed one.

#3: Personal referrals. This is often the most effective method–although not even the heartiest referral will make an agent take on a project s/he is lackluster about; but it will get you read, and often faster–and yet the hardest to pursue. After all, not many of us know well-positioned authors with great agents. Still, you can try to grow a place yourself within a network of writers. And even if they don’t have an agent to refer you to, they may know another writer who will. So how can you meet writers? Again, go to conferences,  where authors appear. Go to author events, such as reading or signings. Take classes with published writers. Keep in mind that this is not a “method” to “get” an “agent”. Instead it’s a way to begin entering the world you hope to be part of someday. And who knows where that might lead?

So what happened after I signed with Angel–I mean, agent–number three?

She sent out the novel my second agent had been submitting, and we had a few editors hold onto it “with interest”.

For a while.

Because I knew how the business worked a little better at this point, I was hard at work on a new novel.

Which I finished.

Many of you may know that just because your agent likes one book of yours is no guarantee she will like another. Luckily my agent did.

She sent it out.

And within a month or so, no fewer than five editors were interested.

So what happened? Why is that book not out, or soon to be coming out?

One more backstory post, I swear.

Then–said with a dramatic swishing of curtain cloth–all will be revealed.

February 6, 2011

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 10:24 pm

For some reason, I feel compelled to keep the backstory coming. In part because I actually have readers asking for it–and how amazing does *that* feel. But also because a crossroads is coming. I can sense it. One way or another, something is going to happen.

It might be a triumphant victory. Or a quiet acceptance that I have to face another path. Maybe a leap into a great unknown.

But either way, whatever way, I want you guys to know what got me to this point before I get to it. If that makes any sense.

So there I am, dropped by my agent, a novel that almost sold to Knopf (so it had to be decent, right? Decent enough that I didn’t want to give up on it), in the game now for long enough that I have a bit of Concorde fallacy going…

No, that’s not it. None of those are the reasons why, after I’d all but demanded my husband take a day off of work so I could both panic, and stew in the juices of being dumped, I brushed myself off and kept going.

It’s because I love this. I love writing stories. Novels. I love it with a passion, and I want to find readers who will love it, too.

You know that haze you acquire after you’ve been dumped? Everything takes on a sort of not-quite-real aura?

The first thing I remember doing in that hazy time is reaching out to my friend, author Debra Galant, who had recently read my novel. Debra had a good friend who was a literary agent. Maybe she’d be willing to take a look?

Authors are some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met, and oh, did Debbie extend herself for me. She called up her friend. She told her she’d been riveted by my novel.

So of course the agent was excited to see it. It was all going to be OK. I breathed a faint sigh of relief. I let my husband go back to work.

What came next, and at least it was in a blessedly short amount of time by industry standards, was my biggest blow yet. In kind-considering-what-she-really-felt words the agent told me, I’m not surprised your agent hasn’t sold this yet. Sure, it’s good. But it isn’t great.

We need an awful lot of self-delusion to survive in this business.

I deluded. I got up. I did *not* demand that my husband come home from work. I brushed myself off…again.

And I did two things. I majorly revised the good-but-not-great novel, which indeed was flawed–that’s why the team at Knopf had ultimately passed. And I signed up for New York Writers Workshop Pitch conference.

This experience, in addition to being the most exciting, American Idol moment yet of my pre-career, not only refreshed my battered ego (all three editors I pitched to were interested), while a little later leading me to a teaching spot I still feel grateful for every night…

It also led me to my next agent.

Ms. Right.

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