how i got my agent: part two

As promised, here is the second part of the long road to finding my agent – featuring much more Tina and happy times! (Read Part One here.)

2011: I begin sending out queries for this new project. Manuscript 3. Receive a fair amount of requests from agents. Realize this time is different. The requests are more enthusiastic and even the rejections are, for the most part, positive. Finally understand that I have found MY VOICE. Hallelujah! This elusive “voice” thing I’ve been trying to nail down for years? I have it, and other people like it (!), even if they think the story I’ve written is too quiet.

Here’s where things get real: An agent I very much respect read Manuscript 3 and thought the story was too quiet for a contemporary YA debut. However, this agent wanted to know if I was working on anything else! And as it turns out, I was. For some unknown reason, I had picked up the abduction story (again) at the end of 2010, while I was waiting for feedback from readers on Manuscript 3. I added a few elements that took the story in a new direction and suddenly it was mine again. I was so proud of it, even if I only had about 40 pages. So I revised the hell out of those pages and sent it off to the agent. We scheduled a phone call. The agent was intrigued, we talked through my plans for the rest of the novel, and I agreed to send the manuscript when it was complete and revised. However, it turns out we didn’t have the same vision for the book, so the agent passed.

I was crushed. I had finally written THE BOOK, the one that I was so damn proud of. I knew for a fact that it was the best thing I’d ever written and although the agent had very, very kind things to say about the writing, they did not see how they’d be able to sell it. Once again, I considered giving up. This was my fourth manuscript and if such a reputable agent didn’t think it was special enough, surely no one else would. With my pity party in full effect, I fired off a handful of queries to other agents on my Dream List and removed myself from the internet for a while.

The Happy Conclusion I Promised: Only a few hours after I sent the query, Tina Wexler requested the full manuscript. I was floored, but I sent it and did NOT tell her I was trying to figure out a way to hug her (a complete stranger who pulled my submission from the slush) through the screen of my Macbook. So I got excited again, but I was more cautious. Because this could end badly. And then it didn’t.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Tina. She’d read my book! And she had a lot of nice things to say in the first paragraph, so I held my breath while I skimmed those wonderful words, as I was so afraid the second paragraph would lead to an eventual rejection. I’d been there before, more times than I could count. Instead, she asked if I’d be interested in revising, so I stopped myself from typing “Hell yes, lady!” and sent what I hope was a professional response saying I’d love to hear her thoughts.

She sent a very thorough email detailing her plot concerns, interspersed with several comments that made it clear she knew she was asking a lot and I may not agree with all of the changes. But the thing is, I did agree with her suggestions. I’m pretty sure I read that email no less than 50 times and I just couldn’t stop staring at it because it was the first time someone in publishing truly understood me. Tina got it – this story I was trying so hard to tell – and I was not daunted in the least by her revision suggestions. Just ecstatic and ready to get to work.

I revised and tried not to constantly dwell on whether my little abduction book might actually find representation. I also obsessively read all interviews and profiles of Tina I could find online. I’d queried her with my first manuscript, so I knew that she had a great sales record, not to mention an impressive list and excellent reputation. But honestly, she was so far up on the Dream Agent list for me that I’d been scared to query her (again) until my fourth novel. Six weeks after the initial revise + resubmit request, I sent the new (and very improved) manuscript to Tina and tried very hard to keep calm and work on another project.

On August 1, two and a half weeks later, she called to offer representation. I kind of stared at the phone for a while when I saw the 212 number, thought there was no way this could actually be happening. Not after four years of waiting for this very call. And then I made a bad joke about her calling to reject me and she offered to rep me anyway! We talked for a while and I knew by the end of the conversation that my book and my career would be in good hands with her. I accepted her offer at the end of the call. I don’t recommend this, but a) I’d been querying and researching for years and hadn’t found a bad word about her online, and b) I knew by the way she treated me when I was just a slush pile submission that it would be an honor to be her client. Best decision ever? I think so. We polished up the manuscript in August, went out on submission at the end of September, and received an offer on my book the first week in October.

So to sum up (if you are still reading and jeez, if you are, thank you): Don’t give up. Seriously. Just keep writing. Get better. Do your research. Read (a ton), in and outside your genre. Be professional. It will pay off. If I had to go through the last four years all over again to sign with Tina, I’d do it in a heartbeat. There’s a reason most authors speak so highly of their agents – when you find that perfect fit it’s hard to imagine working with anyone else.

Do you have a favorite How I Got My Agent story? Have a link to yours? I’d love to hear them!

how i got my agent: part one

Three months ago today, I signed with the ever-fabulous Tina Wexler. It seems like we’ve been working together much longer than that, and yet every day I still get the feeling that I won The Agent Lottery. I’ve never publicly documented my publication journey, but it is long. I essentially queried for four very long years before I signed with Tina in August, so I’m splitting this post into two parts.

2006: I decide to buckle down with this I Want to Be Published thing. I enroll in a 6-week writing course for motivation (the only other writing class I’d taken besides the last semester of my senior year in college, so I was NERVOUS to say the least) and decide to participate in NaNoWriMo. Also for motivation, but mostly to prove to myself that I could finish a book. (I’m a fast writer – naturally the next step is to attempt a novel in 30 days.) Oh, and this book? It’s an adult book because I hadn’t read YA since I was a teen myself and had no idea it was a THING.

2007: Revise NaNoWriMo book. Spend crazy amounts of time researching agent blogs, author blogs, writing forums, and query tips – basically everything I could find since I knew nothing about what happens in the publishing process after you write the book. I didn’t even know any other writers or published authors at the time. I find there is a whole undiscovered world of YA fiction out there and decide to change my manuscript to YA. This turns out to be much easier than I anticipated, as it would explain the countless hours I’d spent fawning over My So-Called Life, Felicity, Dawson’s Creek, Daria, [insert name of virtually any teen show with high levels of angst and an emo soundtrack to boot] etc. Send revised manuscript to friends to critique. Revise again and send out way too early*. Move to Chicago from LA shortly after starting the query process. Receive lots of requests but realize too late that manuscript isn’t ready.

*I queried Tina with this novel! Rejection upon query and am I ever glad for it. You’re never seeing that book, Tina. For reals.

2008: Receive an offer from last agent queried. Joy ensues, as do irrational dreams of being published by my 30th birthday, which was just a year away. Start working on other YA projects, as I am HOOKED at this point.

2009: Six months after signing with first agent, we decide to part ways due to incompatibility. I am sad but overall relieved. Gut feelings? Listen to ’em. I sent out around 10 queries for the second novel I’d completed at that point, but I knew it wasn’t high-concept enough and although I had a request or two, none resulted in an offer. I keep writing and begin a book about abduction I’d been wanting to write for years but wasn’t sure how to start.

2010: After multiple false starts, I am almost finished with the first draft of abduction book and feeling good about it. And then I see a blog feature about a debut book that shares almost THE EXACT SAME PLOT as mine. I know this happens all the time, that no idea is new, but I am devastated. I love this book so much and feel like it could be The One for me. I threaten to quit writing (not true). Then I threaten to quit working on this book forever (also not true). I send out pathetic, defeated emails, absorb kind words from multiple friends, and decide to work on something new, which I start on Memorial Day weekend. I finish the first draft of Manuscript 3 on Labor Day weekend. Revisions, critiques, and more revisions occur. This book feels different – I can’t put my finger on it, but I know something significant in my writing has changed.

I will post part two tomorrow so stay tuned for more angst – er, details. And a [SPOILER ALERT] happy conclusion to the saga!

THAT post

So, my book sold. And I’m kind of (totally) freaking out about it, still. Here is the deal announcement from Publishers Marketplace on October 18:

Children’s: Young AdultĀ 
Brandy Colbert’s debut A POINT SO DELICATE, about a ballet prodigy whose life begins to unravel when she’s forced to admit to the role she played in her childhood friend’s abduction, to Arianne Lewin at Putnam Children’s, by Tina Wexler at ICM (World English).

I am so THRILLED to work with Ari Lewin. To have been matched with an editor who truly understands the story you are trying to tell and strives to help make it the best book it can possibly be? It’s pretty much what you wish for the moment you start dreaming of publication.

Tina Wexler? The BEST agent I could ask for, and the person responsible for matching me with said editor. She called to offer representation on August 1 and called to tell me we had an offer barely two months later, on October 5th. Both calls were life-changing and ones I will never forget (if only because I babbled like an idiot for the better part of them – sorry, Tina). She has been tops on my short list of Dream Agents the four years I’ve been working toward publication, and let me tell you, she has MORE than lived up to that title. I am extremely lucky to have her in my corner.

The book? I wrote three others prior to this one, but it has been in the works since 2009. Multiple drafts have been written and tossed aside, and it took a lot of sweat and tears (no blood, thankfully) to get to a point where I had something I was really proud of. But it is a story that has been in me far longer than even I realized, much sooner than I even attempted to put it down on paper. I am just beyond excited that everything came together the way it did, that I had fantastic first readers and critique partners who told me what was working and what was not, and that I was fortunate enough to find people who believed in it enough to help me achieve my dream of publication.

More on how the story came to me and how I got my agent in future posts. Promise. This is already getting a bit long. But I do want to say that I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was seven years old; this is essentially my life’s dream come true and I am so, so happy I get to share it with you.