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critique partners

How I Got My Agent

It feels like I’ve been waiting forever to write this post.

I could tell the version where I write a manuscript, polish it up, and send 30 query letters. The one where 15 full requests flood my inbox. In that version, I sign with an agent in less than six weeks. That story is true, and it’s not.

I think I wrote my first novel to prove to myself that I could do it. I had no idea how long the journey would be or where it would take me. I sent that manuscript to friends to read, because I didn’t know any writers. I revised. I went to a conference. I learned about the industry and sent a few queries. One agent requested, but it was a quick pass.

Fast-forward a few years, through an unfinished second manuscript. By the time I wrote my third, a YA fantasy, I had a better handle on things. I researched. I went to another conference and met my first real critique partners. I joined the SCBWI and found my tribe. I started querying and had a respectable number of requests, but no offers.

Then I found the contest circuit. I was so fortunate to be chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee, not because of the exposure to agents, but because of the community. I really connected with other writers and got meaningful critiques. I ended up with R&Rs from two small press editors, but I wanted an agent. So I started a local critique group through SCBWI and moved on to a new story.

When this manuscript was ready, I started with contests. This story was a finalist in The Writer’s Voice, PitchMas, An Agent’s Inbox, Pitch Plus Five, and possibly some I don’t remember. I sent queries, too. I was sure this was the one. I had an even more respectable number of requests, tons of positive feedback, and one R&R that led to scrapping more than half of the book. I was willing to put in the work. Six months later, the agent still passed.

How much longer would I keep pouring my time and energy into this writing thing? My freelance work had led to a job offer that meant going back into an office, doing the perfect combination of media, branding, editing, design, and web coordination. But I couldn’t stop writing. On my lunch breaks. At night after my kids were in bed. I decided that even if I never landed an agent or a book deal, I loved writing, I loved books, and I loved the amazing community that had become so important to me.

I could not give up.

I moved across the state, readjusted to working from home again, and kept writing. When my fifth manuscript was finished and in the hands of my amazing CPs, I entered a contest. To my surprise, it won the 2017 SCBWI Rising Kite Award for the state of Florida. After a few more months of polish and revision, I dove back into the query trenches.

Which finally brings me back to thirty queries. Fifteen requests. More than one offer. A difficult decision. And finally a signed contract.

I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now repped by Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency.

 

 

The Elusive Voice

Source

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on revisions. While incorporating feedback from various sources on my own work, I’ve also critiqued pages for others from a wide range of genres. The elusive voice, the unique filter that makes a work our own, strikes me as both the most difficult thing to revise personally and to address for writing partners.

I love the drafting stage of writing because of the freedom it allows. The words flow unhindered because they can be tightened later. My voice as a writer is born during this stage. In the next phase, through learning and experience, I sculpt the story and the sentences. We have these rules drilled into us: use more active verbs, cut all the adverbs, stay within the restrictions of your point of view, and don’t pull the audience out of the narrative. These stick out in my mind because not only have I heard them in crits, I’ve used them with other people. But sometimes. Sometimes we need to break the rules to develop our voice.

Let’s take a look at the opening lines of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. 



Gaiman breaks every one of those rules. If I were giving comments on his first page in a blog contest, I could say:

Don’t open with passive voice. You could cut this first line to say, A hand in the darkness held a knife. Look, you even cut words that way! You could cut not immediately, too. Watch out for those adverbs! And four adjectives in the second sentence–try to cut that down to only the most important one. In that third sentence, you address the audience. You could change it to say who specifically would not know they’d been cut. I also don’t really get a sense of character in your first paragraph. Who is this book about?

I felt guilty writing the above paragraph, even in jest, because Gaiman’s opening line and chapter are my absolute favorites. (Not just my favorites of Gaiman’s, but my all time favorites.) Who cares if that first sentence is passive? The rhythm and the image set the perfect eerie tone for the rest of the book. Chills ran down my back the moment I read them for the first time, and I was hooked. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters? Being able to hook the reader?

I know we have the rules for a reason. I try to be ruthless with the passive voice and the adverbs. But sometimes we just have to trust our own voice as writers to tell the story in our own way, focusing more on our connection with the reader than on murdering all the darlings.

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies.

For a while now, I’ve thought that the greatest secondary benefit of being a writer was fulfilling my fan-girl fantasies of meeting the authors of books that I love. At my first writing conference, I had lunch with Charlaine Harris. (Well, we sat at the same table, and I was so tongue-tied that I barely said two words to her, but it still counts, right?) At  my second conference, I had an intensive workshop with the lovely Kristin Harmel. (Her amazing new book The Sweetness of Forgetting is an international best seller.) And don’t get me started on SCBWI. Jay Asher. Ruta Sepetys. Sara Shepard. Patricia MacLachlan. Tony DiTerlizzi. I could fill up a whole post with all that awesome.

But, you know what? I’ve decided there’s an even better writerly by-product.

I knew I’d struck gold with my critique partner Kip Taylor. I was so happy when my her first book was finally released, and you can read my review here But I had no idea then that I would keep hitting the writer-friend jackpot.

You guys, I am reading some amazing books. Books that I can’t wait to review and share with you, so that you can see how awesome they are. But I can’t do it yet, because they haven’t been delivered into the world yet. These manuscripts belong to my beta/critique partners.

And just like I felt when I first read Kip’s book Finn Flanagan, I cannot believe how lucky I am to get to read these novels before the rest of the world. But that’s all I can say for now.

How about you? I’d love to see some CP love shared in the comments below!

Music for today: Chained by the XX. (I get to see them in 4 days!)