I didn’t mean to wait so long to write the final installment of my quest to get an agent. (Sorry about that.) The good news is that I’m revising my tactics and actively pursuing ways to become a new and improved, more competent blogger. More to come on that later, but for now it’s back to the world of agenting. If you’re coming late to the party, grab a snack and catch up…
*The Truth About Getting an Agent – Part 1
*The Truth About Getting an Agent – Part 2
*The Truth About Getting an Agent – Part 3
It’s time to enter the Land of Revision BWWWAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Revision is an epic journey, especially the very first time you tackle something that is novel length. I’ve broken my journey down into four steps. I hope it helps you walk that lonely road. The first step is…
SIMPLE: You can start your giggling now…I thought REVISION was going to be simple. The first reason I believed that was–well– because I wanted to. I’d just completed the unthinkable–I’d written a novel from first page to last. I wanted to celebrate. I knew it wasn’t "done"–but I wanted it to be. I’d expended every ounce of my brain power to get that far on my journey and I didn’t really have a next level to take it to.
This is that perfect time to put your work in the drawer and start something new, feed the muse, read some books or do that mountain of laundry. I sort of did that, but I did it with training wheels and a pull-up on. I hired the lovely and talented K.L. Going to critique my manuscript. She was amazing, the experience was fantastic. I had everything I needed to move forward but…
STUPID: I was stupid. I received a wonderful, multipage critique letter from Kelly and I had no earthly idea what to do with it. I was not "developmentally ready" to revise. I hadn’t learned enough. Now that bit of information should not mislead you into thinking that I didn’t try. I really did. But the truth was–I didn’t know I was stupid at the time. *grin* So I made some surface changes and fixes, called it a day and started to send it out to agents.
The good news is that stupid doesn’t have to last forever. Somehow, while submitting to agents and beginning work on book two, I made the decision to always be reading at least one book on the craft of writing. It was a darn good thing I did, because it was the best thing I could’ve done. I took the time to learn what I did not know.
Here are some books that you might find helpful in the daily fight against stupid…
*THE FIRST FIVE PAGES: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile-Noah Lukeman
-I also recommend his other books…(I’ve currently read two more)
*THE PLOT THICKENS: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
*A DASH OF STYLE: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation
*HOOKED: Writing Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One an Never Lets Them Go-Les Edgerton
-Just finished this last night, the quest to avoid stupid never stops.
*WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS: Everything You Need to Know, From Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal-Regina Brooks
*WRITING & SELLING THE YA NOVEL-K.L. Going
*NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: Uncommon Ways to Revise-Darcy Pattison
*THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS-Harold D. Underdown
*WRITING IT RIGHT! How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories-Sandy Asher
-This book includes advice on PB to YA.
*SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: How to Edit Yourself Into Print-Renni Browne & Dave King
*78 REASONS WHY YOUR BOOK MAY NEVER BE PUBLISHED AND 14 REASONS WHY IT JUST MIGHT-Pat Walsh
*THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers-Betsy Lerner
*ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft-Stephen King
*THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises-James Scott Bell
*BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life-Anne Lamott
I learned valuable things and found inspiration in every one of these books. I urge you read and re-read these and other books on the craft of writing.
So, now that I did some reading, I was no longer quite as stupid as a I was before, but now I was…
SCARED: I was really scared. Now I knew the truth–revision is a whole lot of work. At about this time I had submitted a query and/or sample chapters to 33 different agents. That number is a grand total, not a mass emailing. I sent a handful of well thought out submissions that were personalized. Sometimes I would get a request for a partial, other times I would get a rejection. Whenever I got a rejection, I would research another agent I thought would be a match. Sometimes there were agents where a lack of reply by a certain date was also considered a no.
I had two agent requests that seemed promising… In August 2009, Michelle Wolfson requested 50 pages. Of course I accidentally sent the document in the wrong format. *head thunk* She was really cool about it and from our brief emails and banter, I felt that this could be promising. The second agent, after reading a partial, requested a full in January 2010. I heard from this agent in March. She was terrific and gave me praise for what I’d done right with my manuscript and then proceeded to give me some advice on what would make it better. She offered to look at it again if I decided to make the changes. I was first and foremost appreciative that an agent had taken the time to point me in the right direction. I was also scared. I pulled out the critique notes that I’d been given by K. L. Going and almost had a panic attack–they were very, very similar. I hadn’t been able to fix it before, so what made me think I could do it now?
SKILL: I had acquired new skills. I’d been reading, writing and thinking like a writer. I’d been learning and growing and as I looked over all the notes and suggestions, something amazing happened–I knew what to do. It wasn’t going to be SIMPLE, but that’s okay, I wasn’t as STUPID as I used to be. I was still a little SCARED, but I think you should always have a little fear in your life to keep you on your toes. Besides I knew I had two things going for me, I had gained new SKILLS and I’d learned that there were always new skills to gain. I began to revise and a funny thing happened–I learned to LOVE the Land of Revision.
It took me about a week of mulling-it-over time, to figure out what I was going to do, then I began to write. About halfway through the revision I heard from Michelle Wolfson. It had been awhile and she apologized for the delay, but she was interested in seeing the full manuscript of TOUCHING THE SURFACE. I explained to her that I was in the middle of a revision and didn’t want to send it out until it was complete. She asked me to keep her in mind. I did. She was on my radar daily because she was on Twitter LOL! As I was writing, I was following and the more I saw of her, the more I liked her.
In October 2010 I finished my revision and sent it out to both agents. A month later Michelle Wolfson loved the story and wanted to have a phone conversation. I honestly didn’t have any idea what to expect. All I knew for sure was that I was so darn excited I could barely sleep. I finally had to do the Jedi mind trick on myself. I convinced myself that she wasn’t really interested and then took it down a notch and waited for the day of the call. We had a fantastic phone conversation. I was nervous, but it went well and she *drum roll* gave me revision suggestions. The recommendations were framed in a very positive way, stressing that she was still very interested and I only felt the tiniest bit of disappointment that she hadn’t made an offer.
In retrospect, I will always be grateful that she never made the offer that day. I know it sounds strange, but sometimes life is like pot roast–if you cook it too fast–you may not enjoy it as much as if you’re patient. I think if she had signed me, and then asked for the revisions, I might have ended up with a stomach ulcer LOL! The people-pleasing component of my personality would have kicked into high-gear and likely undermined the success of the revision. Instead, I mulled-it-over and did what I’ve learned to do–my best–for me. A beautiful thing happened–I knew what to write and just how to do it. I quickly made the improvements and then sent it back to Michelle. She was leaving on vacation and was taking it with her, but she wasn’t sure if she would get to it over the holidays. That left me only one thing to do…stalk her on Twitter.
In the meantime the other agent contacted me and said she still had me on her radar and would be reading after the holidays. I sent her the updated manuscript and then settled into wait.
I learned a lot from my time on Twitter. In light of all the debate about the importance of cyber interactions, I recommend you join the conversation. Not only did I discover a million things about Michelle on twitter, (she has young kids like me and adores Pop-tarts) I also saw first hand, the type of relationships she has with her authors (AWESOME! Kiersten White, Tawna Fenske and Linda Grimes to name a few) It was also evident that she has amazing connections with her followers: other agents, editors, writers, readers and book lovers for starters. As time went on and we bantered back and forth, I came to realize that she was the agent that I wanted. The other agent was wonderful, but I had a relationship with this one. It was so hard to wait for her to read the revisions, but I knew that if this did work out, I was going to be right where I belonged.
Then this happened…she signed another YA client. *head thunk*
I heard the news directly from Michelle and she assured me she was reading and loving SURFACE. She wanted me to know that this had no impact on her interest. Oh, the stress…LOL! I did the only thing I could do…I cyber stalked the new girl! I was fully prepared to dislike Monica Bustamante Wagner, but you can’t. She seemed sweet, her story ideas sounded amazing, she’s the mom of three boys too. To top it all off, she lives in Chile and english is her second language. I started "writer crushing" on her immediately and twittered over to her page and wished her luck with her awesome new agent. Of course, she WAS sweet and she thanked me for the good wishes and we struck up a friendship on the spot. (You may want to read her saga of signing with Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary–it’s on her blog and involves a trampoline!)
On January 6th, I…ME…THE GIRL WHO IS WRITING THIS…signed with Michelle Wolfson!!!!!!! (The excessive punctuation is deliberate!!!!!!!) I did a lot of jumping that day and there wasn’t even a trampoline in sight LOL!
When I stopped jumping I realized, six years had passed since I’d lost my dad. His death at 57 was unexpected and I’d never imagined, at that point in my life, needing to rethink what I thought was written in the stars.
We can’t always win, sometimes we lose–everyone does. But we need to keep in mind, that if we’re lucky, we learn that we write our own story and if it isn’t going as planned–then we revise.
Hmmm so where were we? Oh, that’s right–Dad just died, pregnant with 3rd child, recently discovered the benefits of being an emotional risk taker and now dedicated to being a children’s book author.
I’m sure you’re all saying… “Blah, blah, blah–sweet story and all–but what has this got to do with the truth about getting an agent???”
It’s coming. I promise. I’ll also add–Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary– well worth the wait.
It’s June of 2005 and although I’m now dedicated to being an author of–something involving children literature–this little guys is still one of my best creations EVER!
My 3rd little boy. *heart squish* We thought for sure he was going to be a girl. He corrected that notion straight off by taking a well aimed whizz on my head–twice LOL! From the moment I laid eyes on him, I’ve never missed having a girl. I’ve felt pretty lucky to have my very own super hero and–if you squint–he looks almost exactly like Mike Jung.
For the next year or maybe it was an eternity–lets be honest–I wiped a lot of butts. I had a newborn, a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Hell, I’m just lucky I survived LOL! My ability to stay afloat was illustrated in my Christmas card for 2005. I stuck with two very important goals in the making of the card…
…find the easiest way to deal with outfit stress and containment. This was the only way I could get a picture without someone running away LOL! I also have to give a nod to photo technology for making this picture possible because I have a pepto-dismal pink tub.
So, I dabbled in poetry and then in picture books. I couldn’t wrap my mind around something that wasn’t “bite sized” (I had no earthly idea that size and level of difficulty are not related when it comes to the world of outstanding picture books)
Even within my comfort level, I didn’t write much, but I learned another important lesson that has come to serve me well–I always have time to think. I’ve now come to call these days “Mull-it Days.”
Not this kind of mullet…eeewwwww
My mull-it refers to using that computer on top of your shoulders. Mull-it days have replaced the days that used to make me feel bad about myself because I couldn’t sit to write. I mean, come on, with the Sabatini Zoo Crew there were days I didn’t even get to sit at all! So, I’ve learned that there’s value to writing and plotting and developing characters in my head while my kids are at the play ground, or while I’m doing laundry. It’s important to push yourself, but there is also value in learning what works for you. Maybe to write a unique book, you have to be a unique person too. You also have to have a little courage thrown into the mix.
Courage is an interesting thing. Some people find it when someone else validates them.
Other people are cliff divers–they just jump right in without thinking. Ummm….that scares the heck out of me in case your wondering. If I’m taking a cliff dive, call the cops–I’ve been pushed! I’m the kind of courage that comes in baby steps. You’re gonna see me revving my engine for a good bit before I hit each speed bump one at a time. *grin* Slow and steady…they should write a fable about that.
In the summer of 2006 I entered a short story contest (Hudson Valley Tale Spinners) in my local paper. I didn’t win or garner any attention, but I decided to have my little courageous moment and emailed the the POC at the paper and asked what I could do to improve my writing. He contacted me and said he doesn’t normally provide feedback to contestants but he very kindly looked up my entry. (Give me a high five for asking!) He told me that while it was well written, it was (honestly) boring. He said it much nicer than that, but that was the truth. I thought about it and decided that this was good news. (Can you tell I’m a cup half full kind of a gal?) I decided to focus on the fact that my writing was good-he could have said it wasn’t! And when I thought about it, yes, the story was boring. It had no hook. In fact it was the same thing that 12 other people wrote about–lesson learned. I was going to keep that on file.
FYI just because I file something, it doesn’t mean I’ve completely absorbed it right away. Repetition is key. I promise I’ve got it now…ask my agent *grin* But that agent is still a long way off…
This is where I send my deepest apologies to Writer’s House and hang my head for being ignorant and clogging up the slush pipe. *blushes with shame* I finally decided to send out my first picture book submission. (Honestly, I’ve blocked the exact date from my memory.) But I can tell you that I sent it to Writer’s House Literary Agency because of one very important reason–LOOK HERE TO SEE THE REASON–the building was adorable! This loosely translates into–I didn’t know my ass from my elbow and had no business submitting to an agent, but by golly, I was even to green to know that. *sheepish grin*
It gets worse. This is what I sent them. I KNEW that it was just a matter of time until they were calling me back telling me that they couldn’t live without me!!!!!!!!!! (Just a reminder–this occurred in 2006 and I did not sign with my agent until 2011) Time to get your chuckle on folks…
Reginald Jones was a very nice boy
He always said “Thank You” and picked up his toys
And although there were days he had construction to do
He played with his brother, who only was two
Now Reggie was nice, but he also was clever
He could count up to five-teen and sing all his letters
He knew all his colors like red, green and blue
He puzzled and sculpted and painted things too
When you’re nice, when you’re clever that seems like a lot
But there is one more good thing that we almost forgot
Reginald Jones was funny as well
That spry little guy had great jokes to tell
Like all boys and girls who have swell things to tell
There are a couple of things that he doesn’t do well
When things don’t work out the way Reggie might think
Well, that’s when that boy can sure make a stink
For example there’s problems with tying his shoes
Causing ranting and raving and lots of boo hoo’s
He yells “I CAN DO IT!” so everyone hears
But he won’t let his Mom create bunny ears
Reggie has problems with wetting at night
But he always insists that he’s doing it right
Dad thinks a wake-up’s a good thing to do
But that boy picks a puddle instead of the loo
Reginald Jones can squeeze out the toothpaste
But the squirt on the floor just seems like a waste
Then he insists that he give it a rub
His mother just sighs…now there’s some in the tub
When Reginald Jones pours his drink in a cup
It is guaranteed someone will mop the floor up
Next time they’ll guide his hand up and down
So he’ll sneak in the fridge when no one’s around
Last but not least Reggie can’t blow his nose
Air comes out of his mouth and shoots down to his toes
That boy gets upset when his mom holds his head
He just likes to use his finger instead
Reggie is clever, funny and nice
But when his parents describe him they never think twice
Independent, willful, a bit stubborn too
A boy with his own mind about what he should do
They are proud of their son and know that what makes him tough
Will serve him quite well when the world gets too rough
They are also aware that when Reggie gets surly
It’s probably best that he go to bed early.
Ummm as you might have guessed–they were KIND in sending me a form rejection. But I also did the smartest thing I possibly could.
I had a lightbulb moment, I revved my little courage engine and in April of 2007 I became an official member of the SCBWI. This was one of the smartest things I’ve EVER done in my quest to get an agent…I’ll tell you all about it in installment #3.
I wish I could’ve sent a card to all of you–but I had to stop when I got that envelope-licking, paper-cut thingy on the side of my mouth. *grin…ouch*
Dear Fabulous Agents, Family & Friends:
Usually I let one of the kids write the yearly update, but since I’m stalking agents, I thought it would be a great idea to combine my Christmas letter with my query letter; allowing me to highlight my voice in a different venue. By the way, Santa has a copy of my YA novel and will be placing it under your tree very soon. For those of you who celebrate Hanukah—I sent it with the Hanukah armadillo—it will get there eventually (those animals are slow and hardly ever in picture books).
I also thought it would be helpful if you were aware of all the things I do in addition to my writing. (Can you see the multitasking?) Working towards publication is ALWAYS my top priority: but this year I’ve also taken and taught dance classes, coached Jr. Pee Wee soccer and started running. Did I mention that I’m also the “Box Top Fairy” for the Elementary school? (Impressive, I know!) But there’s more. Please be aware that the children NEVER ran out of clean underwear (they only wore my socks that once) and I tip the pizza guy every single time. Obviously I’ve got this marketing thing down–he’s a shoe-in to buy a copy of my book.
You should also know that I managed to write spectacular prose, even when sleep deprived. My oldest son Jamison has made a huge life change and is now a 4th grade student at The Kildonan School (a magical, mystery land for kids with dyslexia). He’s doing fantastic: his reading has improved, his self-esteem has rocketed, he’s learning to ride horses and he’s a kick-ass mountain biker. (I can say that because I write for Young Adults, right?) The one downside we’ve experienced, was the 4 hrs he spent on the bus every day–the bus picked him up at 6am. But never fear, because of the diverse platform I’ve developed and my powers of persuasion, I was able to get Jamie’s bus route switched. This cut off almost 2 hrs from his daily commute. (Additional good news–I think the Superintendant and the Board of Education would gladly buy my book in order to shut me up. Can you see the potential sales?)
My other two boys, Ty (2nd grade) and Aidan (Kindergarten) are also doing fantastic at Fishkill Elementary. This year we researched every detail of the Scholastic Book Fair. Working in tandem, we heavily pushed books by SCBWI and Blue Board authors. As you can see, I’m very aware of the importance of networking and helping out my fellow writers. Additionally, all three boys are now blue belts in Jujitsu, have scored goals during soccer games and can do many amazing acrobatic tricks and hip-hop moves. I’m pretty convinced that they would add tremendous appeal to any author event.
Recently, John and I were fortunate enough to wish on a falling star. Obviously I’m still waiting for my wish to come true (hint, hint), but John has wonderful news! He’s been hired as a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. We are so proud of him. It was really hard for him to leave E&Y (he loved it there) but he plans on staying close with all his old friends and hopes to make new ones too. Right now things are a little crazy, but I’m sure, in time, he would be more than willing to hand out TOUCHING THE SURFACE swag.
My mom (Jean) is doing well and although she still struggles with joint pain, it benefits her to be active. Trying to be helpful, I have arranged for her to be on “grandmother duty” in January. I’m excited already. Can’t wait to see all my friends at the NY SCBWI Conference! I’m also hoping she’d like to stretch her limbs a little in August—I hear LA is amazing.
My brother Terry and his girlfriend Amber are also very happy and doing well. Amber is a pediatric nurse and continues to be very helpful as a reader, even though she has to deal with kids all day. Terry is keeping me on my toes by switching jobs. He’s no longer driving all over several counties, so I guess I’m going to have to nix the car magnet idea. Because he’s the best little brother in the world, you can count on him to pitch in anyway he’s able. Hmmmm… He’s still a volunteer member at the firehouse–perhaps he could talk to them about the magnets. (I’ve always wanted to see my name in lights.)
My mother-in-law (Joanne) has continued on as the head secretary at the middle school. (I don’t need to highlight the implications of that one.) She was considering an early retirement, but it’s hard to walk away from a gaggle of hormonal pre-teens. To keep things quiet, I’ve suggested that students waiting in her office would benefit from the implementation of a supplementary YA reading program. She’s looking into it.
The Lanes (Laura, Justin, Kyle and Jessica) are on their way home for Christmas, so of course the whole family is excited. It isn’t often we get visitors all the way from St. Louis (aka my primary remote fan site).
Last but not least, we have a wedding!!!!! Chris and Tom are tying the knot the day after Christmas. We are sooooo thrilled to welcome Tom and his two children, Kristin and Nick, into the family. (What luck–a tween and teen reader!) We love them already and look forward to celebrating this wonderful day with them.
Well, I’ve already had to reduce my font and narrow my margins, so I guess its time to go. The good news is that its only one page and its in easy to read Times New Roman. I’m hoping you have a Happy Holiday and a good sense of humor.
Kim and her Fan Club Members…John, Jamison, Ty and Aidan