Monday, June 20, 2011

Agent Story: How I Allied Myself with Agent Awesome

My path to publication might seem deceptively quick. BORN WICKED was only on sub for a week; it sold just a a year after I started writing it in earnest. But it wasn't my first book--or the one that got me an agent.

I started writing INHERITING GAROLASS in September 2007. I finished a rough draft, had it critiqued by friends, and began rewriting. La la la, I wrote a book! It was awesome! I thought I'd be ready to query the next fall. Except. I realized halfway through my rewrite what was actually wrong with it: it was written in third-past, and it needed to be written in first-present. It would require a lot of work--months and months--but once I knew that was the key to fixing my story, I couldn't very well shrug it off. Could I?

It's so easy to want to query it already, send it out on sub, get it back to your editor, hurry-hurry-hurry. God knows I am guilty of this myself. Patience sucks. But I think it's important to resist the siren lure of maybe it's good enough now? I think, beneath the doubt monsters and the writerly neuroticism, you'll know when it's good enough. When you can't make it any better without help. You want to give it the best possible chance, right? So you have to do the work, no matter how long it takes.

I learned how to revise with this book. I cut characters, melded others, cut the scene that had originally inspired the whole thing. The draft I queried with was the fifth major one. In September 2009, I was finally ready. And, being a pathologically organized creature (or possibly a fear-filled procrastinator), I did my homework. I researched agents on, I read the acknowledgments sections of books I loved, I made a spreadsheet. I sent out five queries in my first round. Three weeks later, I had four form rejections and one offer of representation from Jim McCarthy at Dystel and Goderich.

Here's the query that intrigued him:

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

You represent authors like Richelle Mead and Carrie Ryan whose work made me fall in love all over again with YA fiction. I’d like you to consider my YA fantasy, Inheriting Garolass, about a seventeen year old portraitist who discovers her link to a world where artists are considered dangerous enemies of the state.

Molly Randall expects to spend her summer working on her art school applications and squirming under her stepmom’s critical gaze, but those expectations are shattered when she stumbles into a parallel world. Gemma West takes Molly under her wing, but why is the Guardian’s daughter so interested in a quiet otherworlder? Soon Molly is caught between Gemma’s glamorous friends and a group of talented outcasts called Giovanti; between the sexy-but-taken boy of her dreams and a charming musician; between her hunger for the truth about her parents’ divorce and a fierce loyalty to her absent mother. When Molly becomes the pawn in a deadly political fight, she’s forced to take sides. Her choice reveals the shocking truth about her mother’s long-held secrets and her own unique inheritance.

I am a member of SCBWI. Inheriting Garolass is my first novel, complete at 84,000 words, and I am currently at work on the sequel. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I had an agent! I was so excited. And he's been amazing. Funny, patient with my writerly neuroticism, lightning-fast to respond to questions, brilliantly editorial in his revision suggestions.

Except this book? The book for which I wrote this agent-nabbing query? It still wasn't good enough.

It didn't sell.

In retrospect, I'm glad. It turns out I could do better.

But, yeah, publishing takes a lot of patience. And submissions should be considered one of Dante's circles of hell. More on that next time!


  1. I cannot imagine writing a book, getting an agent with it, and having it not sell - that must have been really hard.

  2. Great post! You only sent out five queries? lol. So happy you can look back and say you're glad that first book didn't sell -- it's so hard to see from the trenches that not selling isn't the end of the world, and that it can push us to get even better if we just keep learning, keep writing, and keep trying :)

  3. Well, I want to read that first book!

  4. Jess, loved this! I cannot wait to own a copy of BORN WICKED. Obviously the first book didn't sell so you could write WICKED. Everything happens for a reason and all that. :D

  5. I'm with Lenore! That query for your first book sure hooked me.

    Still, I can't wait to devour BORN WICKED!

    Thanks for sharing your story, Jessica!

  6. Thanks for the comments!

    Garolass not selling was the hardest thing I've dealt with in my career so far. But I do think it was for the best--BW is going to make a much stronger debut! Like Jenn said, everything happens for a reason, right?

    And Lenore & Tamara, thanks! I do hope to go back & rewrite Garolass someday!

  7. Great post, Jessica! Love that you included a query letter. :)