Today I'm continuing my writing tale, culminating with the signing of my literary agent, Sarah Negovetich. If you missed part one and wish to get caught up, that's located HERE. Today I'm resuming at the beginning of 2013, which I deemed as the Year of SUCK!
During the span of twelve months there were multiple surgeries, hair-pulling disappointments, exhausting chemo treatments, daily fistful of pills, stomach shots, mental fatigue, seemingly endless pain, long nights where worry kept sleep from taking hold, unfathomable ineptitude of the medical system and its sensual dance with insurance companies, and employees in a profession of caring who clearly didn’t care about people. All of that by itself would be enough to ruin anyone’s year, but piling on top was the fact my father was put in the hospital several times (on a respirator at one point), one of our family dogs had to be put to sleep, and a friend/mentor/boss at my job who I’ve worked with for 22 years announced his retirement.
As you might imagine, writing pretty much ground to a halt. So did querying, and the writers conferences came and went with at least one empty seat. Basically most of my forward momentum turned into suspended animation. I kept myself semi-distracted here on the blog, taking part in the A-Z Challenge…a couple blogfests…WRiTE CLUB, but even here I was just treading water. The one bright spot I was clinging to was the fact that I’d soon see a piece of my writing, a short story, in actual print.
That was until the proverbial rug was pulled out from under me when I learned that An Honest Lie, the magazine that was supposed to be publishing my story, had gone belly up! I never knew that ground zero could feel so cold. Maybe that’s because I didn’t just end up there, I felt like I was buried six feet under it.
But it was no time to boo-hoo. I used this blog for what it was originally created to do…chronicle my writing journey…good, bad, or indifferent. Everything I was going through was simply another chapter in my story. The sun had to peek out from behind these dark clouds sometime...right?
Sure enough...it finally did. A little more than a year after our initial diagnosis, my wife was officially declared a cancer survivor! All of the medical issues were mostly behind us and I was poised to take up my writing pursuit again. Though I couldn’t write during that awful year, I read...A LOT... and did what I could to prepare for the time when my mind was at ease and I’d be able to focus on the dream. It was now 2014 and I felt like I was finally getting in the starting blocks to pursue publication in earnest.
Then my father passed away suddenly, and I became an orphan.
Believe it or not, as heartbreaking as my dad's death was, there was a silver lining. While my dad was alive he constantly inquired about my quest for publication, and although he read my first two books ("you wrote this?"), he hadn't seen my latest. Though he was gone and I'd no longer have to think of ways to duck his questions...I was now more determined than ever to answer them. It was as if not hearing him ask anymore...made the questions more relevant than ever.
That year the Dallas DFW Writers Conference was in May and I was determined to go…intending to pitch my YA novel. The problem was, it really wasn’t ready yet. But there was an agent attending the conference that I sort of knew, and she was taking pitches. I was aware of Sarah Negovetich because she was a fellow blogger and a member of my BLOG BLITZ team, but we actually hadn’t met (virtually or otherwise). I researched Sarah and her agency, and was delighted to discover she focused primarily on YA. I figured I could overcome my extreme introversion/shyness because our blogs would serve as a common denominator, so I signed up for her as my 1st choice.
Sarah was nicer than I could have hoped for and I thought the pitch went well. She was interested, even though she hadn't represented YA Horror before, and she requested 100 pages. Boo Yah! What’s more, lunch was being served immediately following my pitch, so I got to sit next to (stalk) her as we ate and talk more about blogging and publishing in general.
When I returned home I worked furiously on my first 100 pages in order to get them in shape to email to Sarah – which I did in mid-May.
Even after that, the book was still a work in progress. I know…I know…shame on me for pitching an incomplete manuscript. Cardinal rule #1. But there was no way I could finish it before the conference and I REALLY wanted to pitch it to Sarah. I next sent the book to my most trusted CP’s and started revising it as the feedback started rolling in.
By August the book was pretty much finished, and I still hadn’t heard anything from Sarah, so I started querying other agents. Over the course of six months I sent out 35 letters, garnering six full requests and an offer of publication from a small publisher who specifically targeted series books. Though my novel was written as a standalone, it could easily expand into a series, but I wanted to hold off and see if I could interest an agent. My instinct proved correct.
On January 31st I received an email from Sarah…and frankly…I was shocked because I had written her off as a NO. She was totally hooked by my pages and requested the full manuscript. Of course I sent it to her immediately, but in the back of my mind I was wondering if it was going to be another six months before I heard anything. Two days later she responded. She thought the book was fantastic, though she had a few lingering concerns, and she sent along the manuscript with some of her notes. At the end of her email she asked if we might talk that night.
SHE ASKED IF WE MIGHT TALK THAT NIGHT!
I’m almost eight years into this fairy tale I call a writing career…and believe me when I say that I know what that phrase could lead to!
I quickly looked at the notes she sent with her email, desperately wishing she wasn’t asking for a major re-write, but there was nothing I had problems with. I blew out the breath I’d been holding and emailed her back, setting a time to talk later that night. As it happened I was traveling on business, so I spoke to her from my hotel room. After a bit of friendly banter, she told me how much she enjoyed the book and how it constantly surprised her with twists and turns – which was unusual for a YA Horror. When she suggested categorizing it instead as a Paranormal/Mystery, that’s when I knew she was going to be my agent. I had armed myself with questions collected from the blog posts of numerous authors who had undergone the same process, and we both fired them back and forth at each other, but I had already made up my mind. When she finally made the official offer…it was all I could do not to blurt out YES!
Sarah instructed me to take my time and make sure I contacted anyone who was currently reading my book – which I immediately did. There was one other agent who had a full at that time and after hearing about my offer they responded back within a week to say she was interested, but would I consider changing the sex of the main character? I wasn’t.
Sarah and I made it official on February 10th, ending one leg of a very long journey. Where before it was me (and a slew of uber-supportive folk and writer friends)…now it is us (and a slew of uber-supportive folk and writer friends).
There you have it. That’s my story so far. I’m just finishing with the requested changes Sarah asked for, and Sarah is working on my publisher pitch. Needless to say, I’m anxious to make this story a little bit longer and add a part three, but getting to this point feels pretty special.
Thank you for caring enough to read this. :)
A couple of you wanted to hear the official story of how I signed with Sarah Negovetich, my literary agent. But if I’m going to tell the story…I’m going to tell the WHOLE story. And so to not put you to sleep with a ridiculously long post – I’m going to break this into two parts. I’ll post the second part next week. So…here goes.
In 2007 I wrote a short story.
What’s so surprising about that is the fact I hadn’t written anything fictional (unless you count my previous year’s tax return) in…roughly 27 years. At my job I have an opportunity to compose a lot of procedure manuals and instruction guides, but writing this story was night compared to day. You see two of our three children were grown and out of the house, so I had lots of free time on my hands now and it was either find something to busy myself, or do more chores around the house. I wrote the story about a road trip to Panama City that my buddies and I had taken during our college days, but little did I know what I was awakening inside me.
The first thing I ever officially wrote was in tenth grade...and it was to impress a girl. Our class was given a group assignment to record a 15 minute audio tape in the style of old radio shows - all from original idea's. The prettiest girl in school…much less our class…or my group…took charge and asked if anybody had any ideas for a story. The active imagination I always possessed was about to be put to good use as I quickly blurted out I would write the script for us. After recovering from 3rd degree shock (is there such a thing?), I went home and wrote a scary tale about a young boy who becomes enamored with his reflection in an antique full-length mirror that his mom brings home one day. Our recording was well received by the class, but the teacher was sullen and pulled us aside afterwards. She couldn't believe that the material we used to make the tape was original, and wanted to know where we got it from. After we convinced her that I had written the story from scratch, her rebuke turned into praise and suggested I submit my work to a short story contest...but I never did. But what that experience did do is prompt me to join the school newspaper. I wrote mostly sports articles for The Ram, but occasionally they let me write general interest pieces and my most notable (and controversial) one was entitled “The Art of Skipping”.
When I went to college (LSU) I started off majoring in Journalism, but soon realized that life in that world could prove to be financially challenging. So I decided to pursue more lucrative majors (ending up graduating with a business degree) and writing slowly faded into the background as I confronted the realities of GPA’s, school loans, interviews, early morning alarms and late-night dinners, heart-stopping love, dirty diapers, mortgages, car pools, coaching duties, scholarship applications and everything else that tend to induce follicle disembarkation and enlarged prostrates.
Decades later, after I had written that short story, something changed in me. The experience of writing it was so exhilarating, I had to write more. I decided that I would turn my short story into a full blown, fictional, book. I could do that, right? I mean…how many pages were in your typical book (I didn’t know yet you’re supposed to speak in terms of words…not pages), how many words on a page, how many pages per chapter? The numbers of questions were staggering and the sheer magnitude of writing a book seemed overwhelming. But I REALLY wanted to write more, so I made up my mind to do it. How hard could it really be? (Yeah…I cringe now when I remember thinking that).
So the next decision was what to write…that is…what kind of book? (No…I didn’t even know about the term genre back then. – Please don’t judge me.) I’ve always been an avid mystery/thriller reader, so I decided why not start there? I laid out my outline (with my wife’s help), identified the characters I wanted/needed, and really made sure I wasn’t over-stretching. I went to work, writing mostly on the weekend, and three months later I had a book…and yes…I use the term loosely.
Now this is where the level of my embarrassment peaks and you get to see just how much of a novice I was back then. What do you do with a book you’ve written – you send it to publishers…naturally. That’s right, I emailed my 1st draft…unedited…135,000 word of festering excrement to a half-dozen publishing houses. I still groan when I think back on that. I had to be the Gomer Pyle of the publishing world.
Of course nothing happened, and that’s when I got serious. A little bit of research ultimately led me here to the blogosphere…and slowly I started figuring things out. I found out the difference between self-publishing and the main-stream where you needed an agent, and if you went the main-stream route…no agent was going to look at a book from a newbie author at 135K words. Either I had to cut out almost 50% of my book, or write a different one that met the requirements. I chose the latter.
That was in 2009.
So I wrote a second book – another mystery/thriller -- which was actually a sequel to the first one (but able to stand on its own), as well as a couple more short stories. I also started my own blog. Over the course of the next couple years my writing slowly improved and my blog built a fairly sizable following. I finally got up the nerve to query that second book -- then I kind of floundered around for a year.
In March of 2011 I bottomed out…and quit. Though I had become a successful blogger, my real writing was going nowhere and I didn’t feel I was able to put the time and energy into it to improve, so I shuttered by blog. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made – because I truly loved the interaction with the wonderful blogging buddies I maintained – but in the end it was the right choice. Six months later I bounced back – fully invigorated and ready to go.
In 2012 a small piece of legitimacy and respectability came my way in the form of a short story accepted for publication in an anthology series entitled An Honest Lie. I can’t tell you how much that little accomplishment rejuvenated me. It was like Popeye downing a can of Spinach! "I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam… a-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah!" I doubled my querying efforts for my mystery/thriller book, pitched it to an agent at a writer’s conference and landed a couple of full-requests. But since it wasn’t getting many nibbles, I decided to try a different direction. YA Horror. The first draft flowed from me like blood out of a head wound and I was more excited than ever (and so was my CP). My theme for that year was making it uncomfortable in my comfort zone…and it was starting to payoff.
Then the train de-railed on December 21, 2012 and everything changed. You could say it was pre-determined. Those of you with a good memory will remember that December 21 was the day the Mayan calendar predicted the world was going to end, but instead we received the diagnosis that my wife had breast cancer. I knew right then that most of the next year was going to be arduous. Life was going to force change upon us that I hoped would rally our family together, require maximum effort to overcome a deadly threat, and no small amount of personal sacrifice.
I was right.