Typing the title of this post is incredibly surreal, because I’ve been dreaming about writing it since…well, since I knew what a literary agent was. It’s amazing and unbelievable and I still have this niggling feeling that someone is going to send me an email that says, “LOL! Just jokes! You do not have an agent after all!” (Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.) But seriously. It’s wonderful. And I do not believe it. Not quite, anyway.
Here’s my story:
In 2013, I decided to write a middle grade novel. I read SKELLIG by David Almond, and it completely blew my mind, and I thought: I want to do this. So I did. Or, at least, I tried.
Side note: I had written other things before attempting to write middle grade. I grew up reading literary fiction—KAFKA ON THE SHORE was my YA—so I always harboured this dream of writing a Great Novel. In other words, the kind of novel that would win the Man Booker Prize. Hah! So, pre-middle grade, I had written pretentious short stories, poems (some of which were published) and half-novels that I started and got tired of because they were SO. VERY. BORING. (Advice to past-Hayley: Write what you love, and you won’t get bored.)
So, anyway, I wrote a middle grade novel. And it was…a mess. It was riddled with clichés, the pacing was all wrong, the plot was generic…I could go on. But the good thing was, I finished it. I had never finished anything novel-length before. It was a big deal.
After too many drafts to count, I decided it still wasn’t good enough to query, or even to show to anyone. (It was really bad.) So I shelved it, and I wrote middle grade novel #2. Then I rewrote middle grade novel #2. I revised it. I revised it some more. (I didn’t even show it to anyone because I didn’t have critique partners or betareaders and I was too shy to meet any! Yeah, I know—silly!)
Finally middle grade novel #2 seemed decent enough to query. After reading a gazillion articles on how to write an effective query letter, and writing and rewriting mine a couple of hundred times, I took a deep breath, and I sent it off.
Then I waited.
I got form rejections. But I also got…full requests! I danced around a little bit when I got the first one. What a FEELING! All the full requests I received ended up as (nice) rejections. Some of them were REALLY nice rejections. But one of them was a revise and resubmit.
This just happened to occur a few weeks before I got married, so I read through the notes slowly and then took some time to think (and not think) about them. When we got back from honeymoon, I started revising. It took me about three months to get everything done. I sent the revised manuscript off and immediately felt nauseous. What if the agent HATED the revisions? What if he HATED me? What if EVERYONE hated me? (Anxiety: it sucks.)
Well, it turns out, the agent didn’t hate the revisions. In fact, there were some things he loved about the new manuscript. But he had also picked up on some problems. In the end, he passed. And you know what? Looking back, I can TOTALLY see why he rejected the book. But at the time I was devastated. DEVASTATED.
So I allowed myself to wallow for a bit. And it was during this wallowing stage that I had the idea for middle grade novel #3. I let it sit in the back of my mind for a while, and then I started writing.
Once I’d finished polishing it up, I entered this competition called Pitch Slam.
Side note: I HIGHLY recommend entering Pitch Slam. The superheroines who run it are kind, smart, and encouraging, and it’s a great opportunity to make writerly friends.
I got four requests from the competition, which I sent off immediately, squealing all the while. I also sent off some queries while I was at it.
Then I waited.
The first agent to get back to me was one of the competition agents. She had read my manuscript in a weekend. And she wanted me to…revise and resubmit! Let’s call her Lovely R&R Agent. Now, I can’t say I was that happy about the idea of doing another R&R. After all, I’d spent months doing changes on my first queried MG and it was rejected after all that work and that sucked. A lot. But Lovely R&R Agent’s suggestions were specific and so insightful. Plus, I really liked her. I’d been following her on Twitter for a while and she was just…my kind of person.
So I decided to do it.
But this time, I did things a little differently. I read Lovely R&R Agent’s (detailed) notes and asked (a panoply of) questions. I read the craft books she recommended. I tore my draft to shreds. I re-thought the entire story. And I started from scratch.
Looking back on it, this was a little crazy of me. I mean, I’d gone through this before—rewriting an entire manuscript—and it was so much work and in the end it was rejected and it gutted me. But here’s the thing: it felt different this time. Like I was writing the book I wanted to write. Like I was writing with structure in mind. Like I was doing the right thing. And the truth was, I knew that even if Lovely R&R Agent rejected the new manuscript, I would still have something I was proud of.
That was the clincher for me.
So…I worked. I worked and I worked. I cried a little. I worked some more.
And then, I was bumbling along with the revisions when something CRAZY happened. I got an OFFER. Lovely Offering Agent called. We chatted. She was friendly, and kind, and she adored my book. I couldn’t believe it. (I still don’t—not quite.)
After I got off the phone with her, I sent emails to all the agents who had my full to let them know I had an offer. And, of course, this included sending an email to Lovely R&R Agent, even though all I had to show for my revisions was a very long and very rough first draft. Lovely R&R Agent asked if I could polish up the first fifty pages and send her a synopsis. I said, SURE!
And then I got to work again.
Because there was a lot of work to be done. Here’s the thing: my first drafts are severely first drafty. Messy, discombobulated, long sentences that go on for half a page…You get the gist. But…I did it. Within a week, I had the first fifty pages ready for her. I sent them off, biting my nails. Meanwhile, I got some really nice rejections, and another OFFER! I squealed some more. And then I got an email from Lovely R&R Agent. She loved the changes I’d made. And she wanted to talk about REPRESENTATION!
Lovely R&R Agent called. We spoke about the changes I’d made to the MS, my writing dreams, and the vision she had for my book. I felt…giddy. This is someone who basically reads for a LIVING, who has two Master’s degrees and who is a REALLY COOL PERSON and she actually LIKES my BOOK? Unbelievable doesn’t begin to cover it. It was a WONDERFUL call.
And then I spoke to Lovely Offering Agent #2 a couple of days later. She was so awesome! And she loved my book! And she suggested editorial changes that were spot on! I kept saying to my husband: “Everyone in publishing is SO NICE.” (It’s true.)
I had a few days to make my decision, and I thought about it A LOT. I read through contracts and asked LOTS of questions. I went through the notes I’d made during each phone call. I made lists of pros and cons.
But, in the end, after all the lists had been made and the comparisons had been drawn, I knew in my gut who I wanted to choose: Lovely R&R Agent. Her notes on my manuscript made it SO MUCH BETTER. She loved the ideas I sent her for future books. We got along so well on the phone. We just kind of…clicked.
So, now that it’s all official and stuff, I am SO EXCITED to say that I've signed with Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary!
I’ll just be over here, doing cartwheels.