Saturday, 17 August 2013

Christmas in July: The First Success Story!

Yep, it's time for the first official success story from this year's Christmas in July pitch contest! Which means a guest post from the lovely N. K. Traver, whose entry DUPLICITY caught some serious agent eye last month. Over to you, Natalie!

"The Whole Agent Story"

Almost three years ago, I decided to write a book. Just like that. Just one afternoon, I thought to myself that the one thing I consistently loved to do was write, so I should get serious about it. I had an idea floating around in my head that had been there forever (really), and I'd seen the trash reality shows on TV. How hard could it be?

So I set about writing this book. First a few hours a week, then a few hours a day. Soon I had 40,000 words. Then 50k. Then 60! Around 75k I'd told the whole story, and voila, I had a book.
Once I learned a sliver about how the publishing world worked, I obviously had to send my ms off to agents as quickly as possible. Someone could steal my idea and then what would I do? But I'd read agents don't like first drafts, so I had my mother read it, my mother-in-law read it, and another close friend. After a few changes, I started querying.

Yes. It was a disaster.

Note that the following unconventional storytelling items are not popular amongst agents (or readers, for that matter): 1) Switching POV between paragraphs, for only 5 paragraphs every few random chapters; 2) Describing every single rule of your fantasy world in the second chapter like a textbook; 3) Not including the MC in the climax. I did much worse than that too. After all, I hadn't read a novel for four years.


To say the least, I had a lot of learning to do. After my query and sample pages failed to catch the eye of any of the sixty agents I queried - and it hit me that I wasn't a writing prodigy - I signed up for both local and online writing classes. I registered for a writer's conference. I found a wonderful community at AgentQueryConnect to help me with my query letter. I bought books on craft and plot and hired a freelance editor to help me. I also made silly vows to myself like, if I didn't get an agent in the next six months (because, c'mon, that is a REALLY LONG TIME), then I'd take the hint and stop.

Three months passed. Six. Eight. I went to the writer's conference and met some really cool local writers, reset my expectations of how fast the publishing world works, and read as many interesting YA books as I could get my hands on (The most consistent piece of advice published authors give aspiring ones? Read, read, read). I revised my novel a billion times. My editor taught me a LOT about characterization, point of view, and a million other things you never think about when you're reading, but must consider when you're writing. Ten months passed, then eleven.

At exactly twelve months from when I'd finished my first book, I had a brand-new, editor-polished version of the novel to re-query. It had been a year, and I had a fresh pitch letter and much stronger sample pages to wow agents with. I was sure my time had come. So sure that while querying, I drafted a sequel. And I did get a few requests ... but not an overwhelming amount. Maybe one or two partials from fifteen letters sent. Overall I was thrilled to get anything besides a "no thanks," but as the rejections piled up, I felt like I was still missing something. So I broke another of those silly vows I'd made to myself, and shelved the project.

I'd started another manuscript during this process, something totally off-the-wall and unrelated to my first series. Something I was just playing around with, not even intending to query, really. But I'd had so much fun writing it, I went back and finished it. Polished it up, made sure it made sense, and sent it off to my critique partners (sorry, Mom - by this time I'd accumulated some fellow writer friends, so they were my first sets of eyes).

Bless my CPs; they are godsends. One of them emailed me at 3 AM because she hadn't put it down since I'd sent it to her. Another told me I should definitely send it to her agent because it would be right up his alley. The third said I should start entering it in writing contests like NOW.

At this point I was a bit skeptical of contests, since I'd never had much success with them (though, to be fair, writing contests are how I met my fabulous CPs). Their confidence in my work led me to enter Xmas In July, and I bit my nails the whole week while Ruth and Michelle combed through entries, over-analyzing Tweets and bracing myself for the day they'd announce the winners. I was sure I would not be on that list. When Michelle tweeted that the winners were up, I clicked into her blog, heart a-pounding, saying oh please oh please oh please as I browsed the entries and ... did not see my name. "Okay," I thought. "There were a lot of entries. Chances were slim. It's okay, you can try again next time." But I still hadn't clicked the link to Ruth's blog, so I did, expecting more of the same.

Except OMG, it was NOT more of the same, because a few lines down on Ruth's list, right there, right THERE, was the name of my manuscript. My name and my manuscript. I couldn't believe it. I cheered in Forever 21 whilst buying shirts and gushed my life story to the poor cashier, who I'm hoping I paid for said shirts. When the entries went live, I braced myself again that I may not get requests, but it would be okay. I made it into the contest and that was a huge step, so it would be okay.

I got seven requests. In the 100+ queries I sent out for my first book, I never had that many. And I still received a few rejections off the bat, but the rejections were different this time. Personalized. One agent loved my writing but didn't click with my main character. Another said she liked the voice and concept, but wasn't sure about the pacing. And then one said she hadn't finished reading yet, but could she call me this weekend?

Yes. Yes please call me!

After an amazing week of phone calls and emails, I somehow wrangled in three offers. And on August 12th, three weeks after the contest (there are a lot of threes in this story...), I signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

If you're in the query trenches: Keep going. Every day you're a step closer. Find fellow writers to support you, do things you're afraid to do, shelve a project that's not working. Writing is not an easy journey, but oh my gosh it's worth it.