The Fear

The longer I write, the more I try to make this a legit career, the more I realize one important thing. It never stops being scary.

Writing wasn’t that scary when I was younger. Those short stories and attempts at novels that failed before they ever got off the ground were all warm-ups. They were laps around an empty track. They were throwing a softball and shagging fly balls behind the house with my dad.

The first time I sat down with a book idea and actually began to write it in earnest, that’s when it got real. Committing an idea to the page and investing ninety-something-thousand words in it is a scary thing. At least, it was for me. Letting someone read it made me really nervous. (Later realizing I let them read that many words of crap embarrassed me to no end). Reading it in front of a critique group for the first time petrified me. I was no longer hidden in the back yard, I was on the practice field with the whole team.

Writing the second one wasn’t any easier. The writing improved, but that manuscript came with a new, even scarier step. Sending it to agents. Querying. Oh my gosh, querying. All of a sudden, I went from the practice field to a game. People were watching. What if I messed up? What would happen then?

A fair amount of tears, it turned out. Rejection. To be honest, the first rejections weren’t as scary as the requests for fulls. Knowing an agent had my work was ten times more frightening than the critique group reading it.

Each step in the writing process has come with a new fear. The fear of committing to a new idea then discovering it sucks. The fear of someone else reading my words and thoughts. The fear of rejection. Of judgment. Of revising and doing it wrong and having to do it all over again but still not getting it right. Of letting down my family and friends and agent and myself.

It doesn’t stop. It’s an infinite roller coaster that you never get off.

I just finished my fourth manuscript. I love it. SO. MUCH. This is a big deal. It’s uncharted territory. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like my writing, and there are always passages and phrases that I love in each manuscript. But upon finishing my final read through before I send it off to my agent, it hit me that I’ve completely fallen in love with this book.

Loving a book isn’t that different from romantic love. Before my husband, I had several boyfriends, each of whom I thought I had a deeper connection with than the last. It wasn’t until I found my husband, though, that I realized what true love is. Those feelings for those other boys all paled in comparison. I still like my other stories, and I still harbor a deep affection for my last manuscript. But I didn’t know true book love until this one.

And that scares me more than anything else has so far with my writing.

When I went on sub with the last book, it was pretty nerve-wracking. I made my standard color-coded spreadsheet. I jumped at every new email. I prayed someone would want it. The first rejections came and, even though I’d steeled myself, they stung. I cried. I wallowed for a bit, then I brushed myself off and moved on. I’d already starting writing another one–and I’d already started falling for it–so I had something to keep me preoccupied. Each rejection was a little easier to deal with. When six months went by and the list of editors with my sub dwindled, I was prepared. I knew we weren’t giving up on the book, just putting it aside awhile until the timing was right. It was hard, but I’d seen the writing on the wall. Instead of fretting, I threw myself into finishing the new book, and despite trying to keep it at arm’s length, I fell head over heels for it. So much so, that sending the final draft to my agent was the scariest thing I’d done.

Falling in love with your writing is a dangerous thing, and I really felt that danger for the first time when I submitted the draft. The more you love something you’ve written, the harder it is to tear it apart. “Kill your darlings” isn’t just a cliche. Writers can get so swept up with something small that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. I’ve never had a problem cutting into my writing. My agent signed me after a massive revision in which I reworked the entire story. She’s hands-on and editorial, which I love, and I know she knows her stuff. But I didn’t want to see this story carved to pieces. If she’d come back and said it needed major revisions, I would’ve heard her out and given it a shot, because I trust her and I know she sees things from a different vantage point, she sees the whole forest. It would’ve been hard, though.

Fortunately, she loved it too. No major changes, no ripping my baby to shreds. I was thrilled (and shocked, haha). Now it’s time for this one to go on sub. It should be old hat this time around. I’ve been here before. I’ve played a game under the lights in front of a big crowd. This time, though, I’m naked. I’m terrified to sub this. I actually cried when I found out it’s time to send it.

I’m not ready. I’m not ready for this manuscript to get rejected. I love it too much.

When I started writing seriously, I thought I would eventually reach a point where it isn’t scary anymore, where I’d be comfortable. There is no comfort in writing. Each step is just as terrifying, or more so, than the last. If the impossible happens (which I can hardly begin to hope for) and this book doesn’t get rejected, if someone wants it, then I have the fear of it getting ripped apart again. The fear of the whole publishing process. Of readers not buying it, or worse, hating it, or not caring at all. Of never selling another book.

It never stops. Just because you reach that next step in your journey, doesn’t mean it gets easier. Rejection doesn’t hurt less, you just get used to the pain. Fear doesn’t lessen, but you figure out how to cope (at least not until you get into Stephen King/John Grisham/John Green territory. I bet they don’t feel the fear anymore. Although, who knows, maybe they do?). I’m, obviously, still working on that coping bit. Maybe I’ll get the hang of it one day, but until then, I’m going to build my color-coded submission spreadsheet, eat some chocolate, wait to pounce on my phone when I get an email, and write another book to fall in love with.

Because regardless of how scary writing can be, I love it. I can’t imagine not doing it. Fear and all.

(Also, this is the song (Lily Allen “The Fear”) I’ve been humming while writing this post. It will get in your head. You’ve been warned).

Just Write It

Yesterday, my amazing CP, Alison, wrote an equally amazing guest post for YAHighway. It got me thinking about my own writing process.

A couple weeks ago, I finally finished the manuscript I’ve been working on since June. Right before Christmas, I posted on Absolute Write looking for a couple beta readers. I told them I’d just finished my first draft and needed fresh eyes before submitting to my agent. I had some great people offer to read, and they all told me the same thing. When they saw the words “first draft,” they got really nervous, until they started reading and realized it read like a later draft.

“Well,” I said, “I guess technically it’s not a first draft when I think about it, but in a way it is.” Which, I realize, makes no sense. Around this time my agent tweeted that she’s convinced everyone’s first drafts are complete crap. Everyone.

This all got me thinking: what is a first draft?

See, I consider my first draft to be the first one I complete. When I type those last few words and lift my fingers from the keyboard, I have finished my first draft. But I don’t think it’s crap, necessarily (depends on the day, haha), because I’ve already worked it to death by the time I finish. Technically, I suppose, it could be thought of as a second draft, or even third–but that feels weird to me, since it’s the first time I’ve finished. See how I talk it in circles? It’s kind of confusing, so let’s back up.

Google “writing advice.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. One of the first links you’ll get is a post called 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors. I linked it for you in case you didn’t Google it. The very first tip comes from Ernest Hemingway. It says basically the same thing my agent tweeted. If you keep going through the links, though, or talk to the majority of writers, or read writing blogs or websites, you’ll inevitably see these words over and over again: “Don’t self-edit. Just write the first draft, then go back and edit later. Keep that momentum going.” Pretty much everyone hands out this little piece of advice like Halloween candy.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Don’t close the page just yet, hear me out.

Ever read Query Shark? Janet Reid gives excellent advice for writing queries. One thing she constantly harps on is following the rules. No rhetorical questions, no gimmicks, no first person, start with the plot, etc, etc. However, she says once you have a good grasp of the rules, they can be broken. The famous example of this is the wonderful Josin McQuein’s query. It breaks all the rules, but is so darn captivating it doesn’t matter. (The book, by the way, is also excellent. Go pick up a copy. Get Arclight while you’re at it. You’ll thank me for the cover alone. All the pretty!). Man, I’m all about some links today!

Janet’s query advice should extend to all writing. When you’re just starting, yes, follow the rules. If you’re having trouble getting motivated to write, by all means just get words on the page. Get the first draft down, however crappy and messy and convoluted it may be, and fix it later. I started this way. I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

But it didn’t work for me. By the time I finished, I had SO MANY WORDS! Plots that started and dropped off. Threads that twisted into a tangled mass. Characters that weren’t consistent. Revising was such a headache. I would look at the draft and think “I can never do this. It’s too much.” You know what? I was right. I got overwhelmed by the amount of work the first draft would need. It was like finding some pretty necklaces at a yard sale, but they’re all in a box together and the chains are intertwined. You try to tease out the couple you like, but everything is so tightly knotted you just throw the whole mess down and say screw it.

Then I found my CP. We started working together by exchanging a few chapters at a time, initially of a finished draft, and then of a WIP. I’d write a few, then she’d email and ask how the writing was going. So I’d send her the pages, she’d send feedback, and I couldn’t not go through her comments when I got them. (How do you like that little double negative? Here’s another). Then I couldn’t not incorporate changes and fix problems she’d noticed. Next thing I knew, I had a finished first draft that read more like a second. I self-edited. And I didn’t die. (By the way, I totally have this scene from Mean Girls in my head. Except insert “self-edit” for “sex,” and “write terribly” for “pregnant.”) My writing didn’t suffer. In fact, I think it got better.

My most recent WIP went through lots of changes I as wrote. I ended up plotting more than I ever have, even though I didn’t marry my outline or anything.The initial words that went on the page: yeah, they were crap, but I fixed them as I went.  I rewrote the beginning and moved chapters around. It went slower than any other ms I’ve written, which frustrated me. I’ve always thought of myself as a quick writer. When I think about it, though, it really took the same amount of time. Before, I wrote the first draft in three months, and revised for three. This time around it took six to get through the “first draft,” but it wasn’t the sloppy, just-get-words-on-the-page kind of draft I used to turn out. It was polished, edited, neat. Reading back through and revising was a breeze.

So, self-edit, or don’t self-edit. Revise chapter by chapter, or revise all at once. Follow the rules, or break the rules. It doesn’t matter. Just write it. Everyone is different, and everyone works in their own way. There is no one size fits all writing advice. Find what works best for you and do it.

I’ve heard a few writers refer to their first drafts as “draft zero.” Personally, I’m not sure what to call mine. First draft? Second? Fred? Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter (although I’m partial to Fred). As long as the ms you finally query, or submit to your agent, or whatever, is polished, who cares what you call it? Forget rules and advice and labels and everything. Clear your mind of all but the story, and write.

Let’s Talk Career Direction

Want to be published? Want your book out in the world to be read by a bunch of strangers? If you’re serious about writing, then the answer is probably, “Uh, yeah. Duh.” Sure we love the stories we craft and we love the act of writing itself, but the point (for most at least) is that other people read and enjoy that writing. *Okay, so how do you do it?

Well, there’s a tricky question. Back in the day, it used to be easy. Take it to a publisher. If it’s good they’d publish it. Then publishers got too busy and too big, they had too many submissions rolling in to address them all.  Enter agents. Gatekeepers of sorts. Today, most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts–meaning it has to come through an agent. If you look at the “Big Six,” Hachettte Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Random House all require a literary agent. MacMillan and Penguin do not. (It will be interesting to see which way Random Penguin goes–yes, I will always call it that). Smaller and indie presses, like Dalkey Archive PressPress 53, Entangled and Month9Books don’t require an agent, but having one can get your manuscript read sooner. There are also publishers like Angry Robot and it’s imprint Strange Chemistry that have open submission windows for unrepresented authors once a year (please note that AR and SC’s links go to last year’s open door. They haven’t announced one for 2013 yet).

So what does this mean? Basically, if you want to publish traditionally, you should look into getting an agent. If your dream, like mine, is to see your book on shelves in major stores, an agent is the way to go. It is almost impossible to get a store like Barnes and Noble to shelve your books if you self-publish or go with a tiny publisher.

But.

If you don’t care about that. If you just want your book published and out in the world, there are a lot of other options. Musa Publishing, for example, is an e-book only press if you still want the backing of a house. OnStage Publishing is a small press that produces both print and e-books. Or, you can self-publish. Amazon and Create Space are frequently used formats for self-publishing e-books. The problem with them, though, is the volume of self-pubbed books they have available. How do you make yours stand out? How do you ensure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?

This can also be a matter of concern if you go to a small press. Small publishers may not have the time or money to market your book. You may have to do most, and in some cases all, of the legwork. This means literally going to stores and libraries and begging for your books to be shelved, school visits, blog tours, websites, tweets, Facebook–getting a presence online and in the real world. Online, obviously, is more important for e-books. For every self-published e-book that makes it big (I mean Amanda Hocking and, yes, E.L. James big), there are millions of others that are barely read.

There’s something else to think about if your long term goal is seeing your books on shelves in major stores. If you have already published on a small scale, low sales numbers could scare potential agents and big houses away. I’m not saying it definitely will, an excellent book is an excellent book, but there’s always that chance. So I caution you to think about that if your plan is to start small and go bigger.

It boils down to this: where do you want your career to go? There is no right or wrong way. Each person has their own path and what works for one may not work well for another. Timid and shy people (like me) may have a hard time self-promoting, they may need the marketing of publishing house, or an agent backing them. Outgoing folks may be able to market up a storm.

My recommendation? Imagine your book. Dream as big as you want. Do you see it on shelves in big stores? Do you see it on the top of Amazon’s e-book list? Do you see it in local libraries and in the hands of friends and family? Whatever it is, go do it. Query agents if that’s the route you want to go, or hire an editor and self-publish, or send it out to those small publishers. It doesn’t matter how big the dream is. Go make it happen.

I leave you with the song that’s been playing in my head as I wrote this post. Runnin’ Down a Dream. Now quit procrastinating on the internet and chase that dream!

*This is by no means an all inclusive guide to publishing, and doesn’t even come close to listing all the publishers out there. I intend this as something to get you thinking and maybe highlight some options or issues you hadn’t previously considered. Do your research. Google is your friend!

Um…What’s An Agent?

It turns out blogging isn’t easy as I initially thought it would be. I started with the grand idea of blogging twice a week, then twice a month, and then, well, life got in the way. I may have neglected my little blog here, but I haven’t forgotten it. I’ve been so caught up with revising my manuscript that every time I’ve thought about a blog post my brain has rebelled. “No!” the cells holler. “We can’t think of anything else! Our limited supply of witty and clever and interesting things has been used up. We’re a dry inkwell, leave us be!!”

Well, today I gave those brain cells a what-for and returned to my dear blog. Take that brain!

So, yeah, I’ve been immersed in revising my manuscript, which inevitably comes up any time someone (usually Hubby) mentions my writing. The conversation usually goes like this:

Hubby: “I can’t wait for Sarah to finish her revisions and get a big book deal so I can quit work and play golf all day.”

Me: “Yeah, that’s not how it works.”

Friend: “Revisions, what for?”

Hubby: “Her agent wanted her to rework some things.”

Friend: “Agent, what’s that?”

Since I’ve signed with a literary agent (still not old, squeeee!!), that last question is the one I encounter second-most. (The first being, “what’s your book about?”) Friends, family, people I don’t even know that Hubby mentions my writing to (I know, I should be glad he’s proud of me, but quiet, mousy Sarah usually just wants to stand against the wall and not be noticed, so Hubby bringing up my writing induces an “eek! hide!” response. I’m working on it.) none of them know exactly what an agent is or what one does. Now, I could talk at length about what a good agent does, especially my agent, who is fabulous beyond words, but with the average attention span growing shorter and shorter, I find myself with a one to two sentence window to break it down for them.

“It’s kind of like a real estate agent, except they choose you, and it’s really competitive. They’ve got all the industry contacts and shop your book around to the right publisher.”

This answer usually gets the “Oh, you’re getting published!” response. People hear publisher and run with it, despite my, admittedly quiet and soft-spoken, protests of “No, not yet, but hopefully” before letting it go. (I can’t help it, I just don’t have a loud voice and I’m easy to talk over. At work when I pass someone in the hall and they say “hey,” I always end up doing this embarrassing thing where I say “hey” back, but no sound comes out, so I’m really just making some weird mouth movement).

I’ve tried a different approach. “It’s like a sports agent.” Which brings blank stares from people who don’t know how a sports agent works, or nods and smiles from those who are pretending. Honestly, I’m not surprised the sports comparison doesn’t turn on cartoon light bulbs. The closest most people have come to a sports agent is Jerry Maguire which, let’s face it, doesn’t really compare to the literary world that much. (I’ve yet to hear my agent yell “Show me the money!” Although, I have to admit, it would be kind of cool).

I’ve even tried “It’s sort of like Greek mythology. Publishers would be the gods on Olympus, writers–mortals–can’t get to them, so they need agents–demi-gods–to act as intermediaries. The agents get lots of requests, though, and can only represent a small number of mortals.” That’s not so great either, though.

Frustrated with my lack of a good response, I asked some *writer peeps. “What is an agent?” Here are some of their responses (with their permission of course):

“A substance that can bring about a chemical reaction or a biological effect.”

Hmm, perhaps I should have been more specific.

“They pick you based on talent and represent you because they have connections and the publishing companies don’t have time to deal with loads of peons. A talent agent gets you gigs and a literary agent gets you publishing deals.”

Closer, but let’s go deeper.

“They’re sales people (to publishing houses), lawyers (contracts), editors (self-explanatory), psychics (predicting market trends), accountants (fees and royalties), marketing assistants (this will sell/this won’t sell/this will this more palatable), translators (the editor means this…the contract means this…) and babysitters. As well as gods/goddesses.”

Yes, yes, yes to all of this. Agents wear many, many hats and roll sevearl jobs into one. I think it’s hard to wrap your mind around how much they do if you’re not neck-deep in the publishing world. How to break this down more simply, though?

“An agent is definitely a middle man. But I kind of think of mine as a representative.”

I love the word “representative.” I think it combines a lot of those hats into one big, ten gallon Stetson. Someone else used the term “advocate.” Love it.

There were a lot of excellent responses, but I think these capture an agent best.

A literary agent is someone who spots a talented writer with a great story, takes what the writer created and shows the writer what needs to be done to make their book the best they can write, what needs to be done to make it marketable, and pushes the writer in that direction. Then the agent takes that best book to the publishers and tries to show them the beauty they saw in the work. If things go well, the agent negotiates the resulting publishing contract, then sees the writer along through their career.

Of course, this varies slightly from agent to agent. Some are more hands on, they like to be involved in the writing and editing process. Some are only interested in one book, or one series, not the writer’s whole career. Some don’t do much at all (I recommend staying away from these–See Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors when you’re looking for agents). A writer has to decide what they want in an agent, what sort of relationship they’re looking for, and seek out the agents who fits them best.

If I have to boil it down to future people Hubby may blather about me to (he means well and I love him for it, even if I may want to sink into the furniture at the time) I think I’ll say this: agents are advocates, who believe in the writers the choose to take on as clients enough to devote their time and effort into helping those writers succeed. They have the publishing experience and contacts the writers lack and represent the writers to the publishers to sell their books.

It’s not some jazzy dressed up metaphor, but I think it conveys the gist of what an agent does. If the person I’m talking to is interested enough, I’ll keep going and explain all the hats the agent can wear, in particular my agent.

What do you think? How do you see an agent?

For some common misconceptions about agents, check out Literary Agent Carly Watters blog post on the subject.

*Special thanks to the writers at AW who contributed their thoughts, especially “SomethingOrOther,” “Maramoser,” “The Ink Goddess,” and “missesdash.”

Featured! Agent-Author Chat

Hey guys! I’m really honored to be featured on Krista Van Dolzer’s latest Agent-Author Chat. Scoot over there and check out my query for DOOR NUMBER FOUR, the manuscript that caught my agent, Mandy Hubbard’s eye, as well as some great advice from Mandy herself.

While you’re there, follow Krista, because she’s pretty awesome.

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been- My Agent Journey

As I’m sure you guessed from the title, I’ve got some pretty big news. Okay, that’s putting it mildly. I’m freakin’ ecstatic! I have an agent! After several manuscripts, lots of queries, tons of tears, and a boatload of perseverance. Here’s how it all went down:

Back in May, I had this crazy dream one night. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the day. It was the day my orthopedic surgeon removed Carl (my leg brace) for good and cleared me to drive again. My brother, and chauffeur for the day, went to lunch with me (lunch buffet at Pizza Hut–just in case you were curious), and I told him about my weird dream. Now crazy dreams are nothing new, but this one…it felt special.

Soon as I got free time, I transcribed my dream idea into words. First, a synopsis, then a first chapter. Then the words just kept coming. I kept writing and next thing I knew, I had 30k or so written and started sending it off to my amazing critique partner. I wrote and edited and finally got it done, then edited some more and got it ready to send to betas. They liked it okay but had some concerns. So I edited some more, went through another round of betas, drafted my query, compiled a list of agents to submit to, researched those agents (i.e. stalked), whittled it down, then, finally, I was ready.

Four months after my dream, on October 12, I decided to submit a round of queries, not really expecting anything to happen, but hoping I would at least see the kind of responses I got to my query. I submitted to twelve wonderful agents, any of which I would have felt extremely lucky to have in my corner–although I must say, I did have a couple favorites.

Because I’m my own special sort of weird, and OCD, I put the agents and their submission info in a color coded spreadsheet, alphabetized by name, grouped by submission requirements, then alphabetized within the groups. See? Kind of crazy. Okay, and maybe I was really nervous about submitting and the more I played with the pretty colors, the longer I put off actually hitting “send.” But send I did, finally. Then I did that thing where I tell myself not to get my hopes up, no that blinking light on my phone is not an email from an agent, agents don’t respond that quickly, they’re busy people and–

Holy crap it’s from an agent! Just two hours later, I got a response, from one of my top choice agents. Not just a request for a full, but a literal “YES, PLEASE!” written just like that, in all caps. I couldn’t believe it! I did a happy dance in my chair, completely forgetting my office door and window blinds were open, and that I’m in a high traffic area of the building. When I collected myself, I started to read over my manuscript again, stopped myself, and submitted the full. I marked it down on my spreadsheet, colored the cell green, then I tried to put it out of my head.

I got another couple requests, but none made me quite as excited. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled with each request, but there was something special about that first email, about the level of excitement for my work. My work! Then I got some rejections. My attempts not to think about it failed. I still jumped every time that green light on my phone blinked, even though I kept telling myself it could take months for the agent to respond. Sometimes they have fulls for–

Nope. Four days after I submitted the full, the agent responded. I took a deep breath, opened my spreadsheet, and clicked the email, ready to mark “Rejection 10/16/12” down and color it in red (of course). But it wasn’t a rejection. It wasn’t an acceptance either. The agent said she found a lot to love, but had some concerns. She asked if I would be up for exclusive revisions. Uh…yeah, of course I would! I did another happy dance and tried to call Hubby, but he was in California for work and didn’t have his phone. The most exciting news of my writing career and the one person I wanted to tell was in Cali-freaking-fornia. I had to sit on the news for hours, then practically squealed in the phone when he finally called. It’s like all that excitement just built, and built, like Mentos in Coke, then came spewing out all at once.

The agent and I exchanged a couple emails, then the next night I received her notes. All six pages of them. Six! Yeah, it was a bit overwhelming, and I didn’t know quite what to think. Then I read a blog post she referred me to by Imogen Howson. Her experience was similar to mine: five or six pages of revision notes, and a lot of trepidation. It worked out well for Imogen, so I decided to give it a shot.

The agent wanted the first seventy-five pages revised. Full of excitement and nervous energy, I opened my manuscript, laid my fingers on the keyboard, and sat there. All of a sudden, I was completely petrified. “I can’t do this. How did I ever think I could do this?” I opened a new document, and found the blank page too intimidating. I went back to the original manuscript and tried writing a new first chapter. Then I deleted it and went back to the blank screen. Nothing.

So I closed everything and tried to breathe. The revisions weren’t just big, they were world-altering. Literally. I had to move the story to an entirely new planet. Problem was, I didn’t know the planet yet, and I was still too close to the original story. I needed space, in all sorts of ways. (The great folks at Absolute Write helped me realize this too).

I turned off the computer, and turned on the television. Finally, I had an excuse to make Hubby watch all the nerdy science shows! “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” “Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole,” all the space shows I could find! Coincidentally, the Sunday before I received the revision request, Hubby and I had watched “How the Universe Works,” perfect timing, eh?

Instead of going back to the computer, I pulled out my trusty legal pad, and began drawing: a planet, continents, oceans. I named the planet, the continents, and the countries, wrote back stories for how the people found the planet and how they terraformed it. I figured out how far it was from the sun and how many hours there were in a day. I named other planets in the solar system.

Then, I finally turned my computer on again, and started to write. Those first couple chapters were the hardest. I tried jumping ahead in the story, but had to go back to the beginning. When I finally had something (that I thought was crap) I sent it off to my CP. Shockingly, she loved it! She suggested places I could expand the world-building, and I was off again. Writing like crazy.

I wrote and tweaked and edited and fretted for a month. Exactly a month, although I didn’t plan it that way. Then, November 16, when I thought I couldn’t possibly edit any more, I bit the bullet and submitted, jumping every time that stupid phone light flashed. After a couple other emails, twenty minutes later, she responded. She’d read a little and liked it so far and would get back to me when she’d read the rest.

If you follow this blog, you know I’m the self-deprecating sort, so I prepared myself for her to hate the rest. Readied myself for rejection. Two hours later, I was at lunch with Hubby and the green light blinked. I saw it was from the agent and held my breath.

She loved it. She’d read the whole thing and enjoyed it so much she offered rep right then! Yes, I jumped up and down in my seat in the restaurant. Yes, strangers gave me weird looks. No, I didn’t care. Nor did I care when I jumped more in the parking lot. I still can’t believe it. I have an agent. I don’t think those words will ever get old.

We talked on the phone Monday night and although I was nervous and I’m sure I sounded like some kind of country bumpkin (nerves tend to deepen my already thick Southern drawl), I soon felt totally at ease talking to her. She’s everything I wanted in an agent, but didn’t dare to hope for. She gave me the chance to go back to the other agents who had my manuscript and give them a chance to offer. Instead, I withdrew my submission from them. Let’s face it, I knew as soon as I got that first email I would accept if she offered rep. The excitement she showed from the outset, and continues to show, well, it sold me. I have someone as stoked about this story as I am, how could I say no to that?

Who is that someone? Well, I’m thrilled to say I’m now represented by Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency!!

So, dear reader, I want to thank you for going on this journey with me so far. I still have a long way to go to my dream of publication, and a lot of revising left. But dreams can come true. Just ask my main character in this story. One night she was a wacky dream, the next, a character coming to life on the page. I can’t wait to finish telling her story, and I can’t wait to see how it weaves in with mine. Thank you, Mandy, for having faith in the story and in me, and thank you readers for being interested in what a quiet girl from Alabama has to say.

The Writer’s Voice, Cheese, and The Wild Blue Yonder

You may be aware that I’ve been competing in a multi-blog contest called The Writer’s Voice. (If not, you can catch up here).  200 of us put our work on our blogs for the world to see. 44 of us were chosen by the amazing coaches, Monica B.W., Krista Van Dolzer, Brenda Drake, and Cupid. They polished up our queries and story beginnings. We edited like crazy and submitted, and resubmitted, then they posted the shiny new entries to their blogs.

Anyone could come by and comment over the weekend. Every time I saw a new comment under my entry, I jumped in my chair and rushed to click on it. You have absolutely no idea how happy it made me to see others who enjoyed my work. I write because I love it and can’t imagine not doing it, but I also write because I’m a reader and I want my words to affect others the way my favorite works have affected me. So thank you, each and every one of you who commented either here, or over on Krista’s blog.

Yesterday was D-Day. The agents came through. Eight total.Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency was the first out of the gate and Twitter was all a flitter! Agents were coming, agents were coming! We all rushed to put on our prettiest ballgowns and nicest suits and stood waiting, trying to look appealing. She swept through the four blogs and voted for seven entries, but not mine. Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc. appeared next and voted for a whopping sixteen entries, hooray!! But still not me.

While Andrea was still out and about, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency showed up. I raced around the blogs, refreshing and hoping. She tagged six entries, pushing the first entry into full request territory. The crowd cheered! No Sarah, but I wasn’t too worried, that was only three agents, still five to go. Then Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency swooped in and voted for ten! More full requests! I refreshed, refreshed, refreshed, but no dice for my entry. Later in the afternoon, the word on Twitter was that Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary was out and about. I scoured the blogs and found seven entries with her name on them, pushing two more into full territory.

I kept my eyes glued on my Twitter feed. Never had I been so glad I decided to join! As afternoon turned to evening, and evening gave way to night, I started to worry. In the previous Cupid contest, one agent didn’t vote for anything. Could these last three not be interested? Then, Roseanne Wells of Marianne Strong Literary Agency popped up. I opened all four blogs at once, running through each entry. By now, I knew the comment counts for each one so I knew when an entry got a vote. She voted for seven. My team, Team Krista, was lagging behind now, and more than wanting myself to get a vote, I wanted my team to win, and more than that, there were several entries I absolutely loved still sitting alone on prom night with no date.

As I was refreshing, I noticed Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency out and about. There was hope! She picked a member of my team, joy! Then my heart sank. She only chose one entry from each team. I was about to call it a night when I clicked on one more new tweet. Louise Fury of L. Perkins Agency made a triumphant entry! Better yet, she tweeted as she voted! It was glorious! It took stalking to a whole new level!

She started on Brenda’s blog and I refreshed as she tweeted each vote, rejoicing for those who were picked. “Go to Krista’s blog next,” I begged. “Please go to Krista’s blog next.” She went to Monica’s. Hubby yawned and I stifled one myself. I had to stay awake. I kept refreshing. Still on Monica’s blog. Hubby and I did our nightly Bible reading, then I immediately scooped up the computer. Still on Monica’s. It was late, and I was so sleepy. So, I decided to go to bed.

Of course I promptly loaded Twitter on my phone and kept an eye on Ms. Fury’s flurry of activity. Right before I put the phone down, she was spotted on Cupid’s blog. Of course Krista’s would be last. And she was taking her time combing through the entries, which is amazing and wonderful that she took such care, but I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I turned the phone off, my hope dwindling with every yawn. No sense stressing over it, I didn’t feel like it was going to happen. My poor little entry was the cheese in a giant game of The Farmer in the Dell. I went to sleep.

This morning, I stretched and picked up my phone, as I do every morning, to check the weather and email. I had a tweet. To me. My coach, Krista, asking if I was awake. Because “Playing with Fire” had a vote. I sat straight up in bed and read it again. Then I squealed, and started hopping up and down. Hubby ran in. “You got a vote?” “I got a vote!” We fist bumped, we hugged, we fist bumped again. I had a vote. I’m not the cheese!

Louise Fury, much like the comic book character of the same surname, swept down in the eleventh hour and voted for NINE of my team’s entries. Twenty-five total. I don’t know how she’s going to have the time to read all that. I guess maybe she does have super powers.

I had a vote.

While getting ready this morning, I danced and bee-bopped around the house. Then I realized what my celebratory song was and burst out laughing. It was “Wild Blue Yonder,” the Air Force anthem. (Edit to add, I realized I crossed it with “The Stars and Stripes Forever. Just think what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to sleep when I did. Ha!). Except I was singing my dad’s made up lyrics: “Be kind to your web-footed friends, ’cause a duck could be somebody’s mother,” and “Off we go, wearing our striped pajamas.” No idea where it came from, but I hummed it in all it’s silly, ridiculous glory.

My triumph waned as I went through the blogs this morning, adding the new votes to my spreadsheet (oh yeah) and tallying. Some of my favorites still didn’t get picked. Some entries were still the cheese. There are some amazing stories out there though, and while they might not be what these eight agents were looking for, the writers are all phenomenal, and I have no doubt they’re going to go places.

So that was The Writer’s Voice. Exhilarating, nerve-racking, exciting, frightening, silly, crazy. I met a wonderful group of writers, who I hope stay connected, I got some incredible help with my work, and I got a partial request. We also, all forty-four of us, got personalized feedback from author Tara Dairman, whose debut novel, The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby, come out in 2014. How awesome is she? Thanks for your comments Tara!! Oh, and my team won. Go Team Krista! What an incredible experience.