Monday, September 5, 2011

So Who Did You Know in the Industry?

My story isn't that funny, and I suppose it isn't even that original. It's not creative or magical. It's pretty run of the mill, really, but I hope that will actually be inspiring to some of the people who don't feel all that magical or funny when it comes to the agenting process.

I always knew I wanted an agent before a publishing contract. Not that I would have spat in the face of a book deal, but I know the industry well enough to realize there is a mindfield of contracts negotiations that frankly, I don't even want to know about.

So I graduated from my MLitt program (Scottish equivalent of an American MFA) and polished up my first manuscript, and started submitting. First to a few British agents I'd met along the way; they said I had promise, but no thank you.

Then to a few American ones. Again, no thank you. Around the same time I was constantly hearing it from jobs, as well. No thank you--if any response at all.

But I've known from kindergarten that I wanted to be a writer, so I kept going. I went to an NESCBWI conference and took an insane amount of notes, realized how painful my first few queries were (oh, god, I do admit, I'm one of those people who was like "They want twenty pages? Twenty? Okay...better go find the best twenty! Here they are, in chapter 11!"--for newbie writers reading this blog and looking for advice, DONT DO THAT) and set to getting better. Bought myself a few how-to books. Found AgentQuery.com. RESEARCHED! (shocking, I know).

And I kept writing. So once I had a new draft, I put Gabryela down (I name all my books after my main character in my head because I hate titles--for Scarlet, that just happened to turn out to be both apt and slightly clever) and started shopping around Tarian, a very saucy novel I submitted with the title "Diary of a Teenage Murderess".

That actually got a painful amount of interest. I say painful because I went through three agents that asked to work with me exclusively (for MONTHS) before ultimately rejecting it, doing edits on it and rejecting it, or reading full manuscripts and ultimately rejecting it.

And through all of this, I kept writing. I was writing another story--Arianna--that I stopped in the middle of because I got a sudden rush of inspiration. Three months later, Scarlet was on paper, and I barely revised before I started sending it out.

Almost every agent I queried in the next three weeks requested some piece of it, but Minju came back very quickly for the partial, the full, and ultimately an offer of representation. I had a chat with her on the phone, asked a lot of questions (and sniffled a little bit when she officially offered) and hung up--without accepting on the spot.

HARDEST THING I'VE EVER DONE.

But I sent her the other stuff I'd written because it's all so vastly different, and asked her to give me her thoughts on that to see if we'd be a good fit. I told her other agents had the manuscript and I needed to let them know she offered, which I did. They all bowed out (aww, who doesn't want to be fought over?) and I told her I would be thrilled to sign with her.

Which was so, so true. She was so excited about SCARLET and it was amazing to see someone else have that kind of passion for my work. And passion begot passion: within a few months, Harper Teen made one offer and Bloomsbury/Walker made a better one, so we went with Bloomsbury/Walker and I bawled all the way home from a staff meeting when I found out.

So my moral? Keep going, keep writing, keep learning, keep improving. None of us know it all, but none among us is patient enough to wait until we do. Eventually, if you keep working, it will happen--which is why they say that it all WORKS out.

And I STILL get asked "So, who did you know in the industry?"

Riiiight.

xAC

AC Gaughen is the author of Scarlet, a retelling of the Robin Hood legend that reimagines Will Scarlet as a butt-kicking girl. Check it out February 14th, 2012 from Bloomsbury|Walker. Or just come visit her website. Or come stalk her on Twitter.

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