April 27, 2011

After The Call: Lessons Learned From One Year Later

Exactly one year ago today, I was in the midst of choosing an agent to represent me--which meant I was a veritable mixing pot of emotions. One second I was on Cloud Nine, jumping up and down and screaming like Xena the Warrior Princess. But in the next second, I was utterly overwhelmed and completely afraid of making the wrong choice.

Ultimately, I was incredibly lucky to have signed with Jim McCarthy of DGLM, who's smart and funny and just about the quickest reader on Earth. I was so excited that I made my husband take a picture of me signing my contract.

Look at me! I'm so nerdy!

Now, a year later, it has been fun to reflect on what I've learned and how I've changed since then. On one hand, I kind of miss the starry-eyed look that I had in the picture above. I was going to be a bestselling author! The next Rick Riordan! A superstar! (Ha!)

But on the other hand, I'm really grateful for the writer that I have become. I have thicker skin now. I'm more realistic. A bit more cynical perhaps? Yes, but I'm still very hopeful. (Although I no longer think I'll be the next Rick Riordan!)

Anyway, here's a list of lessons I've learned in the past year as an agented writer:

1.) An offer of representation can come at anytime. Back in March 2010, I was just about ready to give up on my middle grade sci-fi novel. I had been querying for about a year and I had collected dozens upon dozens of rejections, which made me want to stab my heart with a fork. But a month later I had three offers of rep! I was completely blown away. So yeah...keep your chin up! You never know when you will get The Call.

2.) Sometimes you won't talk to your agent for over a month. And that's okay. When I first signed with Jim, I didn't realize that agent communication would fluctuate depending on what was going on with my book. That's why I freaked out when I wouldn't hear from him for a week or two. Surely, he hated me! He despised my book! Woe, woe is me! But...this is all part of the business. Sometimes there simply isn't a lot to talk about!

3.) Reach out to other agented writers via blogging and Twitter. I'll be the first to say it: going on submission is tough. I'm not sure if it's as tough as querying, but it is definitely just as gut-wrenching and heart-hurting. During my own roller coaster ride of submissions, I've been really grateful for my agent sisters and writerly friends who can commiserate with me whenever I feel down in the dumps. Their support has certainly kept me going when I've wanted to give up!

4.) You can't control the market. Or trends. Or an editor's reading taste. The only thing you can control is your writing. That's it. So make your book as shiny as it can be and then move on to the next manuscript.

5.) Writing books is a creative pursuit but publishing is a business. Somehow, you have to marry these two ideas in your mind. Case in point: my YA dystopian. I've been working on this book on and off for about a year and I was hoping that it would become my second manuscript to go out on sub. But when I talked to Jim about this novel, he told me that dystopians are increasingly harder to sell since editors have become inundated with this genre.

This put me in a quandary: should I keep pursuing a manuscript that belongs to an over-saturated genre or should I work on something new? After a lot of thought, I decided to shelve my dystopian for the time being and work on a Shiny New Idea that has turned into my YA alternate history. At the end of the day, I thought it made more business sense to pursue a manuscript that would stand out in terms of genre. (Of course, I definitely plan on taking another look at my dystopian because the creative side of me can't let it go. It's my baby!)

Well, it's about 1PM now and I really need to get going! Perhaps I'll turn this post into a two-part series because there's a lot more I'd like to say. If you have any questions, please leave them for me in the comments! And if you have an agent, please tell me the lessons you've learned since signing your contract!


  1. I love hearing your take on all the "after" stuff. And I love that after so much rejection, 3 offers came at once. Definitely gives the rest of us hope. :)

    But I most love that "starry look" on your face. What a roller coaster this writing world is!

  2. This post is so true! I just had this conversation last night with a crit partner about how it's been a year and a half since The Call. Wow, things do change since then.

    Only thing that's the same is that I'm still waiting on things. :D

  3. Such a good post. Unagented authors like myself can get the idea that life's all rainbows and puppy dogs once you get an agent.

  4. Caroline, this is such a great post. So succinct, so true. Would love to read a part 2!

  5. I love the pic of you signing the contract!

    It's definitely hard to put something aside for any reason but market flooding is probably the roughest. You have no control over it. Just remember the market will change and when there are less of that genre on sub, you could dust off your story. Having stories on the back burner is never a bad thing.

    How much does Agent Jim advise you with which stories to work on? Did you throw several ideas out to him and he recommended one?

  6. Such sound advice - the bit about how often you hear from your agent is particularly pertinant to me since I'm still at the twitch stage.

    And I do so hope she likes my new WIP!

    And it's so true about seeking our other newly agented authors - I do that and everyone I've found so far has been really supportive!

  7. Janet, thank you! I really do hope that my story brings other writers hope! Looking back now, I'm really glad that I didn't give up on my MG novel!

    Shawntelle, I totally agree! Things definitely change after getting The Call but the whole waiting game stays the same. Alas!

    Tracey and Erin, aw thank you guys!

    Monica, I usually tell Jim about my WIPs when I'm halfway done writing them! Since I don't have a book deal, he's told me to pursue whatever manuscript I feel the strongest about. Which is nice because I'm a total genre whore!

    Kate, I'm so glad to have met other writers like you through blogging! It really is nice to commiserate with other writers who are at the same stage that I'm in. :)

  8. Such a great post! It hasn't been a year yet for me as an agented writer, but I was already nodding along to most of your points. :) Hope you write a Part 2!

  9. I love the picture! (I totally did something similar, haha.) I loved this post--so incredibly helpful to hear from someone further along in the process. And I agree about the creative/business side issue--I'm kind of struggling with the same thing as I decide what project I'm going to pursue next, and now I'm thinking a lot about marketability, which I never have before. I loved hearing what you've been doing and how you made the choices you did.

    And happy agent anniversary! :) Super exciting.

  10. You're so cute in your signing picture, and this is a fantastic post. It's reassuring to hear that you queried extensively and that everything eventually worked out for the best.

    Love this: "Writing books is a creative pursuit but publishing is a business. Somehow, you have to marry these two ideas in your mind." :)

  11. I really heart this post!
    And I love that pic! :D
    I wear glasses, too, did you know that? :P