This story starts, as so many YA stories do, with an angsty teenage girl.
An angsty teenage girl who had just lost her best friend to the claws of a predatory fellow teenage girl who’d been committed to ruining first teenage girl’s life since 8th grade.
You guessed it. It was 2006, and I was the teenage girl (16, of course) who lost my best friend, a smart senior guy who composed amazing music, to the clutches of my arch-nemesis. What can I say? She liked to smile and bat her eyes. I was still in my Anakin Skywalker phase.
So I did what any heartbroken teenage girl would do. I listened to Evanescence. I sobbed and played “I’m Not That Girl” on the piano. And then I began writing a book wherein I could destroy my nemesis in fiction and win back the love of my young life.
(If you’d like to skip the origin story and pretend the 10 years of angst and 2.5 years of querying/hard work is a training montage and simply find out who the agent is, just scroll to the bottom. I promise I won’t judge. Honest.)
I poured my little sixteen- and seventeen-year-old heart into that book — or half a book since I never got past about 45K. And, like the 12 “half-books” before it, I abandoned it as just another childhood fantasy.
Flash forward to Spring 2013.
I’d been married a year. I was a junior in college, just shy of twenty-three years old. And I was absolutely miserable.
I’d had six life-altering medical diagnoses. I was in a major I hated. I was working a job I was barely well enough to attend. I was poor as a churchmouse. And I hadn’t written seriously in four years.
Like so many “would-be” authors, I’d been telling myself I simply didn’t have the time, that I’d start writing again next week, next month, next year.
“I’m too busy. I’m too sick. I’m out of practice.” The usual excuses.
I might have stayed this way forever except for my wonderful and supremely wise husband, Justin. He took me by the shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, and said the most romantic words I’ve ever heard.
“Either start pursuing your dream, or quit whining about it.”
I’m very happy to say I took his advice.
I finished the book. I devoured everything I could find on querying. I met the amazing Brenda Drake, who introduced me to the world of publishing. I wrote one of the worst queries ever known to man, and I sent it out.
150 rejections — and two pretty crazy rounds of edits (triggered by two amazingly concise, but insightful rejections from the legendary Suzie Townsend) — later, I was a dejected little mess of a girl with a little mess of a book. I hadn’t learned what “editing” really meant, you see. The book was still a 16-year-old’s work that just happened to be edited by a 23-year-old.
Eventually, I got over myself and wrote another book. Agents liked it, but felt there was no market for it.
With some distance from teenage-book, I realized that if I wanted to truly make something of it, I had to rewrite the entire book from scratch.
So I did. Leaner. Meaner. And so much more badass.
I started pitching the newly-rewritten book at a conference in late May 2015. Agents were excited. I was excited. Heck yes, right?
I was conservative this time. Unlike in my very first round of querying — when I sent out twenty queries at a time like a newb — I kept it to small batches, making revisions between each round. By November, rewritten book had been hit with a few R&R’s, two months’ worth of rewrites — including one where I rewrote the first ten chapters of the book — and a whole lot of “this is awesome, but just not for me.”
That’s when I remembered an agent I’d queried twice before — both times with really terrible query. An agent I was terrified of embarrassing myself in front of again, especially since I’d just found out she’d helped get one of my FAVORITE authors her agent. Especially since I was pretty sure she didn’t particularly care for SFF. Besides, I was already more than one-third of the way through a new book. I’d just about written my poor, battered little book off.
Luckily, I ignored those little nagging doubts and sent a query off anyway. The LAST query.
A week later, the day before Thanksgiving, said agent requested the full.
December 31st came and went. I read gloriously happy posts about what an amazing year it had been for some. Others had been as battered by 2015 as I felt. My dream of getting an agent in 2015 died a sad, quiet little death.
Little did I know, I’d only missed the goal by five days.
On January 3rd at 12:41 AM, I got the notification that THE LAST QUERY agent was opening up my full again. I tried to shrug it off and not get excited. Everyone in the query trenches knows that feeling where they try so very hard not to get their hopes up.
The next morning, I noticed that it’d been opened a LOT.
Then I got the notification that I had a new follower.
The assistant to the lit agent who kept opening it. And then there was this tweet, timestamped at the same time my full was open.
I won’t lie. I freaked out. I grabbed my CPs and freaked out to them. I freaked out to my parents. I told myself I was being silly, but that didn’t stop me from freaking out.
The next day, my blood pressure skyrocketed.
This time it was the agent posting. Which was nuts. I told my CPs there was no way it could be mine because the assistant would have had to flail at the agent and tell her to drop everything and read it.
It was only a day apart. No way it could be mine.
The next day, January 5th, made my heart absolutely sing.
The same agent wrote this fabulous status that made me absolutely glow. In my query, I’d mentioned that I’d queried her previously with a much different version of the story. (99% new prose, 85% new plot)
Little did I know, she’d gone back — all the way back to 2013 — and found my old material. (More on that later.)
By this time, I was having feelings. LOTS of feelings. And, of course, feelings require good food. I made up my mind to get Afghan food. Since my car was in the shop, I decided to leash up my dog and walk the two miles to my husband’s work to borrow his car, then drive downtown to grab said food.
When I arrived at the restaurant, they had no record of my order. I pulled out my phone to show them the confirmation . . . and noticed I had an email from the agent I’d been freaking out over.
The restaurant staff had me stand aside while they tried to figure out an order for a table of FORTY.
1/5/2016 8:29 PM – I opened the email and skimmed it for what I was sure was a very polite rejection–
–and saw the words “offer of representation.”
I closed the email and put the phone in my pocket.
I stumbled up to the counter and finished ordering my fesenjoon.
For a good five minutes, I stood there like an idiot, still not quite sure what had happened.
The restaurant staff finally took pity on me and let me sit down. After a few more minutes of nervous, semi-crazy laughter and staring, I called my husband.
“Love . . . I think I have an offer.”
He could only talk for a few seconds. (His job’s kind of crazy.)
I called my mom. She didn’t pick up.
I called my dad. I told him it was VERY important. He went to my mom’s office and waited for her to get off the phone with a client. I have no idea how long it took, but I’m pretty sure it was something like a year.
Finally, they were both there and on speakerphone.
“I have an offer.”
Stunned silence, then shrieking. My mom demanded to know every last detail of what the email said. I told her, still very much shell-shocked, that I hadn’t read it.
They shrieked again, begging me to read it to them. Unfortunately, the restaurant was filled to the brim, and I told them they’d have to wait until I got home with my lukewarm food.
A seven-minute drive was made into twenty minutes because of construction. Also I got lost. I even had my poor little black lab crying in the back of the car.
When I finally got home, I read the letter to my parents between huge shovelfuls of fesenjoon — the first food I’d eaten all day.
My favorite paragraph had me swooning.
“As you can see here I have cc’ed my assistant, Lindsay Mealing. A couple of days ago she started IM’ing and then emailing me her thoughts on MAD QUEEN’S CHESS. She’s read many manuscripts for me, but I could see immediately your book was THE ONE. She was over-the-moon in love and urging me to read it ASAP. I dove in yesterday, and could immediately see what had Lindsay gushing.”
A few minutes later, I received this email from Lindsay.
“As (agent) said, I am MADLY in love with your manuscript. My tweet about staying up all night reading the other day? Yeah that was MAD QUEEN’S CHESS. I had jotted down my own MSWL on a scrap of paper a couple weeks back and on it I wrote “TUDORS but fantasy”. And then I found MAD QUEEN.”
Everything went so ridiculously quickly after that.
I scheduled a time to speak with Lindsay and the agent-yet-to-be-revealed (three whole days after — an eternity!). I emailed everyone who still had material. I gushed to my siblings and CP’s and shoveled more cold Afghan food into my mouth.
I was still very, very numb.
Friday, January 8th. THE CALL.
I always thought I’d be nervous, but everything just . . . worked. Every answer was exactly what I’d hoped to hear. Every minute put me more at ease. And Lindsay and MysteryAgent quickly became my new favorite people on the planet.
(I reserve the right to call Garrus and people with the last names of Kira and Skywalker my favorite people NOT on the planet.)
Anyway, MysteryAgent later said she was blown away by how much Lindsay and I clicked. When we talked about edits, we had nearly identical visions for scenes. We’re both gamers. We both love The Tudors and intrigue and fantasy and danger. The fact that we all live in the same state certainly didn’t hurt.
Oh yeah, and there was this little gem, too.
“As it so happens, we’re in search of that perfect first project for [Lindsay] to begin building her own list, as I’m in the process of promoting her. She’s been my assistant for a year, and impressed me since day one.
I really enjoyed the read, but I think my enthusiasm and passion pales in comparison to how Lindsay feels about it.
We would like to offer you representation jointly.”
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Yeah. Just let it sink in. I know I still am.
If you ask me what it’s like to get your dreams, I’ll tell you it’s not at all what I expected.
It’s WAY better.
The real work begins.
Stay fiery, peeps.
P.S. Just to give this a dash of poeticness — it’s also the 5-year anniversary of the day I met my husband.❤ Ain’t life grand?