February 19, 2013

The Beginning: How I Found My Agent

Normally, I don't struggle with beginnings. They just kind of happen to me. But this is a blog post that I've read before, on many other blogs (and often with a catch in my throat and a tear in my eye), and, well, it's challenging to figure out where to start!

So, let's just get to the point, shall we?

I'm thrilled to announce that I've signed with the amazing Peter Knapp of The Park Literary Group!

*cartwheels*
*confetti*
*heart-attacks*

Phew! You guys keep right on celebrating while I dive into the back story--because believe me, I know that this is the one time we writers salivate for a long run-up, and I'm going to give it to you.

If you've ever stopped by my blog before, you've probably heard me blab about product design and the creative process at a nerd-fighter level, and that's because I spent ten years in product design cranking out all kinds of products for clients with deep pockets . . . until I quit. Well, to put it more accurately, we and our spawn outgrew our tiny Brooklyn apartment and escaped for more space in the far-away land of New Jersey.

And that's when I started writing.

Not because I aspired to have a row of books lining the shelf, but because I've loved books my entire life, and I needed a creative outlet, and guess what? WORDS ARE FREE. This idea was a revelation to me. I could write anything I wanted (as opposed to launching a product, which would require a house-sized chunk of cash).

And so I wrote my first book.

Guess what? The story started with a girl waking up, and then staring at herself in the mirror, and then discovering that she's not only perfect but also has amazing powers and, yeah, that's right . . . it was terrible. But I had so much fun writing it.

That's about the time that I decided to study publishing, just as I would study any other market prior to designing a great new product. I read every article I could find on writing and publishing. I joined twitter, and thanks to all of you spectacular people, I started learning the real scoop behind writing. I read Stephen King's On Writing, and Strunk & White's Elements of Style and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Cheryl Klein's Second Sight, and I learned what had worked and what hadn't worked in my first novel.

And I decided to write another book.

I began an epic historical YA novel (shh, my agent doesn't know about that one yet), but about half-way through, my sons begged me to write a MG book for them. So I did. And through a strange twitter coincidence, an agent requested the material, and I sent it, and  . . . nothing happened. Because that book was written for my kids, not for publishing, and it was chock-full of telling. But the concept was great--a story about two brothers who find a wishing book and create a heaping pile of mess.

By this point, I'd worked hard to find a group of trusted critique partners, and I shared the novel with one of them. And guess what? He tore it to shreds (thank you, Jeff). I already had a feeling that this was not THE novel, and that I would never overcome the limitations of basing characters on my own kids, but I decided to re-write the book just to see if I could.

And so I re-wrote my second book.

And in the end, the story was very well-written . . . although still not quite right. But I decided to query the book anyway, to gain a little practice at querying and to start building connections with agents--and that's exactly what happened. A lot of agents had a lot of lovely things to say about the novel, and while they didn't offer representation, several asked to see what I wrote next.

Then I wrote the next book, a contemporary MG.

And towards the end of that process, my crit partners badgered me into entering a twitter pitch contest. I did so, reluctantly, figuring one tweet couldn't do that much damage. And then the tweet was re-tweeted a couple dozen times. And three agents requested the MS. And a strange feeling began to build in my stomach--the feeling that this was IT, and that I'd better get my ducks in a row immediately.

I rushed to query my favorite agents, around eight in all, and by that afternoon, I had several additional requests. The next day, while studying my crazy, color-coded agent cheat sheet, I came across an agent I'd noticed during WriteOnCon: Peter Knapp, a newer agent whose helpful critiques I had agreed with at every turn. And guess what? He was running a query contest that very day. So I queried him. And he requested the full at once. And the next day, he sent me a crazy-excited email during the Superbowl, saying he'd read COUNTING THYME, and could we speak the following morning?

And then we had The Call.

And no matter how many stories I've read about The Call, I have to say, this call was not what I expected. Because when I wasn't busy blushing and sweating over Pete's lovely feedback on my book, I was agreeing with every single thing he said. And I knew. But still, I spent the next ten days torturing myself as other agents read, and offered, or didn't offer, all the while wishing I could just say ENOUGH ALREADY and get back to work.

And finally, that's what I did. Thanks to a call from a seasoned author who gave Pete the best reference EVER and my husband's extraordinary ability to listen to me rationalize my decisions for hours, I accepted representation with Park Literary this week. And I couldn't be happier. There's nothing like finding a creative match and knowing that you are going to do great things together.

If there's one bit of advice I have for querying writers, it's this: keep writing, and never settle for less than you deserve. Don't settle for words that aren't your best. Don't settle for a query that doesn't quite explain your book. Don't leap at the first agent who offers representation just because they offered--say yes because it's right, and the relationship will allow you to do your very best work.

And now, DO get back to work. We have so much writing to do!

PS: to my crit partners, I LOVE YOU.
PPS: to my husband, thank you for putting up with ALL the blathering.

Why is there a picture of a toaster here? Well, because I draw random things like toasters, but also because waiting to announce something BIG is like staring at a toaster, waiting and willing it to POP.


38 comments:

  1. That is such wonderful news! Congratulations!

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  2. YAY!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! :D
    *CARTWHEELS!*

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  3. GREAT story!! I am soooo happy for you!

    You've been added to my inspiring stories list. :)

    http://www.writeforapples.com/2012/06/inspiring-stories-getting-their-agents.html

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  4. You are a true pro and I cannot wait to see what happens from here!!!

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    1. A True Pro! Jen, you know the way to my heart.

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  5. I am SOOOOOO excited for you! Congratulations!

    And I really like Pete, too, and I'm so glad you found his personality meshes with yours!

    Many congratulations!

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  6. Yay! This is the greatest news! Congratulations to both of you!

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  7. I love this. And I'll never look at a toaster the same...and now, it'll just be WAY FUNNER to look and wait and watch!

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  8. WOW! Congratulations! Looking forward to seeing this book in PRINT! :D

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  9. Hopped on over from Twitter to congratulate you in person on this wonderful news. I have a feeling that even more wonderful news will be yours to share soon!

    (And every aspiring author should follow your path to STUDY publishing--you chose all the best books to help you, too.)

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    1. Thank you, Michael. When I'm in doubt, I read. Hasn't failed me yet. :)

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  10. WOOT!! So excited for you Mel. What a great story!

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  11. I already said congrats on Twitter, but after reading the run-up to the moment here on your blog, I thought I'd say it again here! This is very cool. And I agree with Carter -- I'll never look at a toaster the same way again. (Nice drawing, btw.)

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    1. Thanks, Jeff! My toaster has a special place in my heart, too. :)

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  12. Mel you already know you're my Skype talking twin (pretty sure if your computer wasn't dying at Writer Retreat 2013 we would have skyped the whole evening!!!!!!!!!) and I AM SO BEYOND HAPPY/THRILLED FOR YOU!!!!!!! *cartwheels*

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  13. AHHH YAY I'M SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!! Such a great story. *happy sigh*

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  14. GAH! The day I'm not on Twitter is, of course, the day you get your agent! I'm so so so SO happy for you and I am so lucky to be part of our CP group. I can't wait to see COUNTING THYME on the shelves!

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  15. Whee!!!! I'm so happy for you:)

    (And, okay, we can share the title of Longest How I Got My Agent Blog Post. Although I'm jealous of your toaster drawing... ;)

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  16. Congratulations! Just found you on absolutewrite and plan to follow you! =]

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  17. Congrats! I was about to write how I love reading about happy endings, but I know this is just the beginning...

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  18. Fantastic Story!!! It is-- It is just the beginning! SO crazy Thrilled for ya, Melanie!

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  19. Congratulations! This is so exciting. I'm glad it worked out for you, and it sounds like you and the agent are really on the same page. Oh that was a terrible pun. Anyway, that is so important, to have your agent really with you on where you want to take your writing. :)

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  20. Congratulations, Melanie! What a great story. You're living the dream :-)

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  21. Just saw this on AWWC. Congrats!

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  22. YEAH!!!!! So glad for you! I have to admit, I thought it'd happen even faster than this. You're a great writer :)

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    1. Thank you so much, T! You were one of the very first believers, and I won't forget it. :)

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  23. Holy moley I am SO BEHIND and more importantly, SO EXCITED for you, Melanie! Congratulations! That is fantastic news. Yeah!

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    1. LOL! I really appreciate your reaction--it's awesome. Thank you!

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  24. Thank you for sharing your story! What an amazing inspiritation!!

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