I spent far too much time thinking about how to write this post–and I don’t mean in a daydreaming kind of way, as I’m sure all writers do. Of course I daydreamed, but in the last couple of months, as the daydream became reality, I was at a loss. So I’m just going to be brutally honest and describe the whole process, if only to show how long, weird, and (especially) random it can be. I’m more used to writing long screeds from the point of view of fictional characters than from my own, so bear with me.
Let’s go back a couple years. Actually, let’s go back four and a half. To early 2012, when I first decided to take another crack at getting traditionally published, wrote a YA novel with lots of psychic powers and unrequited love, and sent out a first round of dubious queries.
Naturally, over that summer the psychic YA novel tanked, but by fall, I didn’t care anymore. I had a new obsession: a YA sci-fi horror that I fell head over heels in love with. Unfortunately, it seemed like I was the only one as rejections piled up. Finally, an agent did bite, but under one condition: in her mind, it needed massive revisions. I was just happy that someone from New York was finally paying attention to me, so I agreed.
That manuscript never even made it to acquisitions once, and she didn’t particularly like my next two books, so they never made it to the submissions merry-go-round.
Project #4 was my first-ever adult book, a dark romantic suspense in dual POV. I told her about it and she was enthusiastic enough to ask to read it.
One month later I got the most bizarre email I’ve ever seen. She started off saying how much she liked it and how the dark themes suited my style, then went into a list of things she’d like me to tweak. Normal so far, right? Well, each new item on the list was bigger (and meaner) than the last. The characters were cliches, she didn’t care about the plot, she didn’t find anything believable at all. And she signed off by saying I might be better off to seek representation elsewhere. When I emailed back an (understandable) question as to what this meant, she replied with a one-sentence email and that was the last I ever heard from her. Later I realized she even unfollowed me on Twitter. I guess she hated it that much.
I spent the next few months going from denial to depression and back. My grades dropped. I’d go from compulsive Ebay bidding to hiding in my room/office to suicidal ideation within the same day. I started manuscripts but never finished anything, because why bother? Then, on an impulse, in a rare “up” moment of my spiral, I took that old adult manuscript out of the drawer.
You know how you reread your work much later, when it no longer feels like your work, and you finally see it with new eyes? Well, instead of being mortified, like I thought I’d be, I was actually kind of blown away. I deconstructed the manuscript into scenes and rebuilt it, scrapping half and rewriting it from scratch. This time it was straight-up suspense, it was still dark as ever (even darker), and it was first person single POV.
And when I wrote the new scenes for it (overall, close to 40 000 words), something strange happened. I felt the lifeblood come back into my writing. It no longer felt like pulling teeth. The scenes flowed. This, I realized, is the genre I was put on this earth to write.
This time I meant business. I bought a professional query critique (best money I ever spent) and polished the manuscript until it was as perfect as I could make it. And then I sent out the first batch of queries.
No, it wasn’t an overnight thing, and I was not immediately flooded with requests. A few came in, though, and they were impressive. Senior agents, the rock stars, were requesting fulls. And some of the answers made me alternately dance with joy and howl with frustration: there was much to love, but for various minor and arbitrary reasons, it wasn’t quite right. I even did an R&R, for which I had high hopes. I cried for a week when it didn’t work out.
That’s when #MSWL happened. (For those of you not in the know, it’s an event when agents tweet things they’d life to see in the query inbox.) Twitter contests hadn’t exactly worked out great for me in the past: they’d just get my hopes up only for it to come to nothing, as usual. But this time, an agent’s tweet caught my eye. She was looking for dark psychological suspense. So I sent my query and pages, with #MSWL in the subject line, and made myself forget about it.
The next day was Saturday and I was out enjoying the summer, having coffee with my boyfriend on the terrace of our favorite cafe (where I burst into tears a month earlier, when the agent who asked for the R&R finally rejected it). Suddenly my email went ping. Ignoring my boyfriend’s disapproving look (he was probably remembering the scene from a month ago…) I looked at it. It was a full request! So later that evening, I sent the full. And promptly put it out of my mind.
The next day–Sunday–in the evening, my email goes ping. This time I was watching a movie and managed to refrain from checking it right then and there (for which I deserve a medal, IMHO). A half hour later, I looked. It was the agent! She loved the book and wanted to talk on the phone. As soon as possible. Preferably tomorrow morning.
What do you say under these circumstances? Hell yes. So I did. We talked on the phone and she was warm, friendly, and best of all, as enthusiastic about my book as anyone could be. A week later, after two more offers from very lovely agents, I made my choice. I signed with Rachel Ekstrom of Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
As opposed to last time, I had a good feeling about this from the start. I wasn’t a wreck when we went on sub less than a week later. And sure enough, a little over a month from the day I accepted Rachel’s offer of rep, she phoned me with the good news.
Several months of contract back-and-forth followed, and now I can finally share that good news with the rest of you.
It’s all a little unreal and I STILL can’t believe I actually get to say these words, but….
My psychological suspense novel has sold to Alex Logan at Grand Central Publishing!
Thanks are due. First, to my amazing rock star superagent, Rachel Ekstrom, and the IGLA team. Thank you for pulling me out of the slush pile and setting me on a career path–and oh yeah, the small matter of realizing my lifelong dreams. Also, to the Barors for their stellar work and patience. Thanks to my new editor Alex Logan for seeing the potential in my book. And thank YOU. All of you who cheered me on (or at least didn’t mind too much when I complained for hours on end during the more difficult parts of the journey…)
I don’t really have any parting wisdom to share. I don’t know if it’s hard work or luck or blind faith or maybe a little bit of all these things, but dreams do come true!