Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Don't Hate Me...

...but, my agent was the first one I queried.

Well, okay, she was the second.  But I don't count the first because I queried him fresh out of my first writers conference with a book that was only half-finished.  Needless to say, he passed.

A few years later, I was in a better place to query.  I had a finished book (well, almost - more on that), I had a few more conferences under my belt, and I had more fully committed to the writing life.

So in 2005, I registered for the Historical Novel Society's first North American conference in Salt Lake City.  At the time, I was writing a massive, epic historical novel that (as much future agent would pitch it) was like a female Huck Finn.

As part of the registration packet, I had the option to fill out a questionnaire about my novel for Irene Goodman of The Irene Goodman Literary Agency, who would be attending the conference.  Based on the questionnaire, she would decide whether or not I would get a pitch meeting with her at the conference.  I filled out the questionnaire and sent it off, thinking I wouldn't know if I'd gotten the meeting until I arrived in Salt Lake City.

A few weeks after sending in my registration, I got an email from Irene requesting the synopsis and partial.  I was thrilled!  I sent them off, along with a formal query.

I should interject here with a side note:  I had a kick-ass query.  I had taken an online class with Mary Buckham on synopsis and query-writing.  By the end of her class, I had a long and short synopsis and a great query.  If you have the chance to take this class with her (she only offers it maybe once a year through WriterUniv), TAKE IT!  Mary is a wonderful teacher.

So off my kick-ass query went.  I wasn't that nervous, because again I didn't think I would hear anything until I got to the conference (which was still about a month away).

Nine days later (I've saved all the emails!), I got a request for the full manuscript.

NOW I panicked.

See, the truth was, my epic historical female Huck Finn novel wasn't quite finished.  I was still editing it (swathing 750 pages down to 500) and while I had 250 pages of a submission-ready manuscript, I also had 250 pages of an utter mess.  And I mean a literal mess - half-written scenes, notes to myself in the text, and bracketed sentences that needed to be translated into the Sioux language.

I couldn't send that to Irene!

My only saving grace was that Irene mentioned in her email that she was going on vacation for a week, and wouldn't be able to look at the manuscript until after she got back.  "Great," I thought, "I'll send it to her at the end of the week, and have a whole week to finish the second half of the novel!"

Ever tried to write and edit 250 pages in a week?  If you have, and succeeded, I tip my hat to you.  I couldn't do it.

I thought I could slide under the radar.  I thought, "She's got so much on her plate, there's no way she'll remember MY book.  I'll just see her at the conference and tell her it's on its way."

The day Irene got back from her vacation, I got another email from her asking where the manuscript was and why hadn't she gotten it yet?

"Oh no!" I thought.  "I pissed off an agent!"

It was time to come clean.  I emailed her back, told her I could send her 250 pages, but that I was still "tweaking" the rest of the novel.  "Tweaking" being code for "massively overhauling."

She said fine.  I sent off my 250 pages.  Two days later, I got The Call.
I was at work, so I couldn't jump around screaming.  But I did it when I got home that day!  A week or so later, I finally met Irene in person at the conference in Salt Lake City - which was pretty funny considering we both lived in NYC at the time!  She talked my book up all over that conference.  I spent a few more months revising it, and in the fall of 2005 the book was out on submission.

Nine months later, it had been rejected by half the editors in New York City.

That was a hard lesson to swallow.  I had been convinced that once I had an agent, a book deal was guaranteed.  Not so.

Two years after that, I was working on another historical novel when Irene and I once again attended the Historical Novel Society conference.  It was at that conference that she and I had a long talk about my career, and she advised me to abandon my current WIP to write something more marketable.  It was after that conference that I started trolling Wikipedia for ideas, and stumbled upon a page for something called the Benandanti.

And three years later, I had a book deal.

Irene took me on as a historical writer, ushered me through a complete genre change, and steered me through the lengthy deal-making process.  Five years after that first email requesting a partial, she had an author with a contract.  She took me on not for just one book, but for a career, and I hope this is the first of our many contracts together!


Nicole Maggi lives in Los Angeles, CA with her amazingly supportive husband and is a new mom to beautiful baby Emilia.  She worked as an actress for many years in New York before the lure of sunshine and avocados enticed her to the West Coast.  Though she still acts, her focus now is on her writing.  In her very limited spare time, Nicole enjoys yoga, hiking, baking (and eating what she bakes), reading, reading, watching reruns of LOST, and more reading.  The first book in her Twin Willows Trilogy will be out in early 2013 from HarperTeen.


  1. Wow, great story! And great thing for people to remember: even if you get an agent with a great novel, that may not be THE novel. But it's all learning. It's all useful.

  2. It's great that you are getting published finally ^.^

  3. Nicole, you stuck with it; that's the important part. And I never would have thought of trolling Wikipedia for story ideas. Awesome.

  4. Nobody can hate you for signing with the first agent you queried ... you paid your writerly dues, worked your tail off and all that hard work paid off ... congratulations!!

  5. So many ups and downs in this biz! I'm glad you finally got published - and that says a lot for Irene too. She obviously knew you were a gem, even if you hadn't quite found the right 'setting' to shine in!

  6. Brava to you for your perseverance! This is a great story, Nicole!