I began my pursuit of the elusive agent in high school. Only, it wasn’t much of a pursuit. It was more like a half-hearted gesture in their general direction.
It went like this:
I wrote something.
I called it a book.
So did my mother.
And so I printed it out and mailed it off to one or two agents (I honestly don’t remember how many) along with my Hopes and Dreams of becoming an Author. It didn’t take long to receive rejections (I only clearly remember one) and that was the end of that. I set novel-writing aside and instead went to college, which later became grad school, which then became a career.
Basically, my creative self was off sitting in a corner tapping her toe, occasionally calling me names and making frustrated gestures (possibly, some of them were obscene).
So! I decided she needed some exercise and with the support of my partner, I began to carve out time here and there for things like writing and playing my cello and hoarding nail polish. Each of these was satisfying to Creative Natalie P, but writing quickly rose to the surface taking precedence over all other endeavors.
By the early months of 2010, I’d written something that was vaguely book-shaped. It had all the right pieces in all the right places and I was resoundingly proud of it. I handed it over to a few readers (oblivious to the duct tape holding key pieces together, the persistent droop in the narrative arc – it was positively replete with mediocrity) and felt relatively sure it would blow their minds.
It did not.
They both returned the vaguely book-shaped manuscript to me with the same words: “This is really good, but you can do better. Put it down and write another.”
I never queried that project. Not even once.
In an instant, I went from Ready to Query to Starting from Scratch. And that very day, I started brainstorming a very different project. Creative Natalie P wasn’t feeling defeated, as I’d expected she would, but anxious and inspired. In fact, there was a certain amount of glee involved in shutting the drawer on that novel and opening a blank document. Much as I loved that first novel, I knew my next one would only be better, and I wanted to be better just as much as I wanted an agent.
The new project took a fair bit of time – nearly a year. I was still balancing full-time work with learning this craft and other daily adventure sorts of affairs. I drafted and redrafted and re-redrafted until once again I was certain I had something that would blow minds.
This time when I handed it over to readers, it looked much more solid. It had all the bookly pieces in all the right places and I could see they fit together really, really well. And my readers agreed. It blew their minds….but still we went through rounds and round of revision until finally (FINALLY!) they called it ready.
And it was.
I sent queries to my top seven agents. Six requested the full, and four offered representation.
Three weeks after sending those queries, I made an utterly terrifying, utterly exhilarating choice and signed with my agent (who, for what it’s worth, pulled me from the slush).
When I think back on it, I am so, so glad that I had readers who were willing to tell me I could do better. Listening to them was hard. I was anxious to move onto the next step. I wanted to believe that first manuscript was it. But I’m so glad that I waited.