Tag Archives: agent

The Day Everything Changed

We all know selling a debut novel is not a life changing event from a financial standpoint, but I’ve found it changed my life in ways I wasn’t exactly expecting. My “day” was actually several days separated by about five months. The first was in December 2014 – the day the fabulous Erin Murphy said yes! A little back story – over the course of 2009 and 2010 everyone at EMLA had rejected my manuscript! It was rejected in the nicest way by Erin, then Ammi-Joan, then Tricia, all with encouraging words, but rejected none the less. I was sad, but not bitter. Over the next several years at conferences, I met all three of these wonderful people and remained a huge fan of the agency.

In the summer of 2013 I was lucky enough to win one of the SCBWI Work in Progress grants for my historic novel KEY TO HEAVEN and I felt it was the time to up my agent search. One hiccup was that at a conference the previous year I’d had a great conversation with Erin about a story percolating in my head and she gave me some great ideas. It felt a little odd to be taking this story to another agent without giving her a heads up. When I sent that heads up, Erin decided she’d better take one more look at the manuscript she’d passed on. My many revisions must have paid off, because after several conversations back and forth, Erin offered me representation – December 15th, 2014!

So this was the beginning of the sea change for me. I’d been working on this book for over 10 years and as much as your family can love it and your friends tell you it will get published, 10 years is a long time to wait. For Erin, who makes her business selling stories, to value my story enough to champion it was truly important. Even though I’d been writing pretty seriously for a decade, this made me feel legitimate in a way I had not the day before.

Even with the flurry of holidays, Erin was able to have conversations with a number of editors who expressed interest. With fingers and toes tightly crossed, my baby went out to ten editors in early February. By the end of April we had only two no’s and serious interest from Sally Doherty at Henry Holt – by the first week in May she had scheduled an acquisition meeting. Did I mention I’d been writing for a decade? I knew the statistics on acquisitions and had seen many a friend come away with disappointing news from acquisition meetings. Still, butterflies took up permanent residence in my solar plexus.

May 6th was busy at my day job (an environmental planner) and I was working full tilt, but obviously part of my brain was in New York. I’m on the west coast and when 3:00 came along and I’d not heard (6:00 in New York – surely even busy editors  have finished meetings for the day) I decided I’d wait until 3:30 and if I’d not heard I’d call Tara, Erin’s assistant. I tried to focus on the deadlines I had that day. At 3:16 my phone flashed Arizona. I think I swiped before the ring ended. All Erin had to say was “We have a deal.” Much squealing ensued.

Then came several heady days where two other editors requested more time to decide if they wanted to make offers (Yee-gads), but by the end of the week, we had a decision. KEY would be published in “early” 2017 by Henry Holt. Sally Doherty’s excitement about bringing my story to the world was clear and I was over the moon. Over these few days there were hugs and clinking glasses and much celebration (my friends and family are awesome in the true meaning of that overused word), but as the dust settled, I kept thinking of something one of my dear writing friends said in these days. I’d said, “It’s unbelievable.” And she said, “No, it’s not unbelievable, it’s unexpected and wonderful, but you worked so hard and stuck with it, it’s not unbelievable at all.” And I guess that’s what brought this change into focus for me – I realized somewhere in my gut I’d always believed this was a story that I needed to bring into the world and over the decade I’d come to believe (again deep and often hidden in my heart) that it would happen, even though there were times when the many “almosts” made it hard. To have that belief in myself and my story born out means the world to me and means nothing is quite as it was. Am I still squealing? Of course I am, but I’m also working on my next story!

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Darcey Rosenblatt is a farmer of stories – most live in that special place that dances between middle grade and YA. Her debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in early 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and almost grown daughter, some fish, a cat and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

Find her on Facebook or Twitter

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The Call

TheCallSmall

When I got the call, I sent it to voicemail.

This is not because I am made of stone.  It’s because I was in the middle of teaching.  I had left my phone on – which I almost never do, but that day I made an exception – so I heard the call. I knew what it was. The first book in my series had gone to acquisitions that morning. The answer was imminent.

I had been working on the series for a few months shy of a decade.

I went to my phone, saw my agent’s name glowing there, and made what was possibly the most difficult finger-swipe motion of my life.  I put my phone away and turned back to my class.

“Ms. Morrison, are you okay?” asked one of my 7th graders. “You’re all white. Are you sick?”

Later, once the deal was public, I would tell my students what the call had been, and what it had meant.  At that moment, however, I had no idea whether my agent was calling to tell me “Sorry, let’s try again with someone else,” or…

Or something I couldn’t even let myself fully articulate yet.

I was FREAKING OUT.

I finished teaching the class.  How, I don’t know.  I have no memory of it.  Kids might have been swordfighting; I can’t be clear on that.

When class ended, my half-hour lunch period started.  I picked up my phone.  I swallowed.  I called my agent, Joan. She answered.  There were some words – hello, morning, acquisitions, more information later, but –

“Scholastic is making an offer,” Joan said.

I haven’t written about this moment before.  I couldn’t post about it on my blog or share the news anywhere else at the time, because the deal wasn’t official yet.  Now, with several months’ distance, I realize that I barely remember any details. It was system overload.

I choked.  I seized sort of weirdly; I bent over like someone had jumped on my back.  I said, “Really?” in a very weird, high pitched voice.

Then I mostly remember crying, and laughing, and saying to Joan “This must be the best part of your job, breaking this kind of news.” And then the bell rang, and I went back to teaching as though nothing had changed, though everything had changed.  My book series was no longer maybe, one day, I hope.  It was real.  Cheryl Klein, my editor at Scholastic, really wanted it, and it really made it all the way through acquisitions.  A two-book deal.  A summer 2015 publication date.  Honestly, I still don’t believe it.

So that’s how it was when I got the call.  If there’s a lesson in this story, I guess it’s for my students.  Any phone call can wait half an hour, you guys.  Trust me.

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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The Secret Formula for Getting Published

secretformulaYears before I was even offered a contract, new writers started asking me if I would tell them how to get published. Some have asked if I would connect them to an agent or an editor. Others have wanted to know how to write a surefire query letter.

These are the same questions I asked established writers when I was new, and every question is a good one. Every one of them is important if a writer wants to eventually work with a respected, traditional publisher. But—trust me—if I knew a quick-and-easy secret formula, I would’ve used it a long time ago.

If there *were* a step-by-step process, however, it might look a lot like this:

1. Blood

2. Sweat

3. Tears

4. Repeat

But since we’re talking about the Children’s market, rather than the Stephen King method of getting published, perhaps I should use the ABCs to impart the best advice I have to offer:

A: Attend Conferences and Workshops

You don’t need to attend conferences and workshops, but I’m telling you, I would’ve never been published if I hadn’t made the investment in a good education. And I’m not talking about my college English classes.

Writing and selling a manuscript is tough stuff. The good news is that many brilliant authors have done it before you, and especially in the Children’s/Young Adult market, they are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience. At conferences, you get the opportunity to learn from their presentations, ask them questions, and even benefit from their critiques of your work.

Editors and agents are often in attendance as well. Not only does this give you an opportunity to get a feel for what type of manuscripts they’re looking for, but in most cases, you’re then given the okay to submit to them directly. And this is a big deal. Every major publishing house I know of is closed to open submissions, meaning that you need a reputable agent to submit the manuscript on your behalf. And more and more agencies are closing their doors to open submissions, too . . . which means you need to have an “in” with them as well.

So how do you get that “in?” By attending a conference where that agent or editor is presenting.

As far as conference costs are concerned, it’s important to do some serious research. There are workshops aplenty—many of them very beneficial—that are less than $100. And there are also several that are over $1000. Some are even $2500 and beyond. Personally, I’ve never seen a workshop in this later category that looks worth the price (in fact, I think the majority of these highly-priced workshops are predatory). So definitely look into the details, find some conferences or workshops that meet your needs, and decide if the price seems reasonable.

For the Children’s market, you’ll find an excellent array of upcoming events at www.SCBWI.org. And my personal favorite week-long conference—for cost, improving craft, networking, and its impressive track record for connecting writers with their future agents or editors—is called Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. You can find more info about it at www.wifyr.com  (I’m not paid for recruiting, I swear! I’ve just attended it several times and love it).

B: Be Active in the Writing Community

Form genuine relationships with people who can both formally and informally mentor you. Learn as much as you can about the business from them. BUT keep in mind that it generally makes an author uncomfortable when you ask them to hook you up with their agent/editor. If you are genuine friends with an author, then he or she has likely read some of your work, so if they feel it’s a good fit for their agent/editor, they will likely tell you. Otherwise, do your due diligence, just as they did, and query the editor or agent yourself.

Where do you start if you want to get more involved in the community? Thanks to the internet, the world has become a very small place. Technically, there’s no need to even travel away from your laptop when it comes to making new friends, so get out there and make some. Start following writing blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, especially those by successful authors. Then just . . . absorb. Listen in, and eventually jump into conversations.

Another critical step for a beginner is to find a critique group. And make sure you connect with writers who write for your same genre, or your experience will likely go sour. For example, if you write picture books, then join a group with PB writers only. Even the best novel writer in the world could steer you wrong with their advice for writing a picture book (which are totally different animals!) And vise versa. It takes some effort, but if you seek out like minds, you will eventually find them. And don’t be afraid to leave a critique group if it’s just bringing you down—killing your confidence. Critiques are usually beneficial, but what’s the point if you’re not being productive? Sometimes a writer just needs to step back and take some time to sort things out on his or her own. But keep in mind that if you continue to hear similar comments that particular issues aren’t quite working in your manuscript, then they aren’t quite working. Editors and agents will see these same problems as well, so figure out how to make the issues work, then revise the manuscript. (Like I said: Blood, Sweat, Tears, Repeat.)

Let’s go back to conferences and workshops because they’re the best way I know to do some critical networking. Some people claim that it’s who you know in this business that can get you a book deal, and guess what? They’re often right. But it might not be what you’re thinking. It’s more like who you know, and what they can teach you. Or . . . who they know, and what they tell others about your manuscript.

I landed my first major book deal last May, and it was the direct result of one Important Person in the industry—who had read my entire manuscript—telling another Important Person (during a typical morning commute in NYC) that she felt my manuscript might be a good fit for Bloomsbury. And it was. So very good things can come from simple networking, which often results in forming genuine friendships.

C: Create a Quality Manuscript

Attending conferences, networking with other writers, and joining a critique group will also teach you a lot about craft. And nothing you do will be as important as writing a quality manuscript.

For new writers, especially, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of selling a book (how to write a query letter, how to get connected with agents and editors, etc). But no matter how well you know the publishing business, it won’t mean a thing if you don’t know the craft of writing.

And . . . no pressure . . . but you have to know it well enough to stand out in a sea of millions of others who want a contract just as much as you do.

This will never happen if you’re only doing networking, or seeking opportunities to meet editors and agents, and certainly not if you spend the majority of your time dreaming about how you’ll spend the money from your first book deal. Writing a quality, deliciously-marketable manuscript—that an editor won’t be able to pass up—only happens when you:

1) HAVE YOUR BUTT IN A SEAT

2) YOUR FINGERS ON A KEYBOARD

3) YOUR MIND ON THE STORY

That’s the real Secret Formula, my friends. Now, stop reading this and get to work! You have a book to sell!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about my transformation from writer to published author—and I don’t mean signing on the dotted line or that new tiara I bought myself. I mean getting serious. Shifting perspective. Taking action. (Maybe I need my own action figure doll?)

SCBWI had become a social world for me. I’d made friends and enjoyed the conferences. For about four years, I met with editors who had enthusiasm for my work. Each time, I went home and started something new—much to the frustration of my writers’ group. “Why are you working on this new thing?” they would ask. “I thought Editor X requested the other full manuscript at Conference Q.” I would shrug, telling them I had a new “voice” in my head.

Enter Editor Z. When I sat down for a critique, she raved about my 25 pages. What direction did the story go in? Was it finished? She actually said, “I have to have this.” Was this “Candid Camera: SCBWI Edition?” I hoped Geraldo would not host.

I proclaimed that it wasn’t done, but it would be. I don’t know if it was this particular editor, or that I was finally brave enough to see if I had what it took. But, for whatever reason, I went home with my eye on the prize. In ten months, the novel was ready to go. I packed it up, my kids kissed the envelope, and off it went. This was it. That was that. I was going to be published! Time to start planning the book launch, right?  

Ten months later, approx 300 days, or 7,200 hours, the rejection came. Editor Z had taken the time to write a very kind, gracious, and detailed letter. She made suggestions, but they just weren’t things that my protagonist would do. So, I wrote her a heartfelt note, and let go of the idea of working with her. I was devastated, and I licked my wounds for longer than I’d like to admit.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was people telling me it was okay. That it was great to have just written a novel and, if it never got published, well…it was still a great accomplishment. I agree. It is. But it annoyed me just the same. I know people were well-meaning, but it felt like permission to give up. So, I took on researching agents like I was training for the Olympics. I had charts, ratings, and notes from writers’ blogs, Publishers Marketplace, and Verla Kay Blue Boards.

I would soon drive five and a half hours to the incomparable Flying Pig Bookstore to meet the agent that held the top spot on my chart. More than one person told me I was crazy for making such a trip. Aside from the distance, she was Erin Murphy. I was told, “She’s a rock star agent!” to which I shrugged. “Why start at the bottom?” Did I think I’d actually sign with her? Maybe not. But I was happy to take the chance to risk the, “No.”

So, you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Are you close to finishing a ms but can’t quite get to the words, “The End?” Do you talk about querying but never actually push the “send” button? Do you spend a lot of time reading books on craft and not enough time writing? Please read this excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s quote; let every syllable sink in.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…”    (Full quote here. Thanks, Mike!)

I think most writers, artists, musicians and other creative types feel this sometimes; it’s part of being imaginative. For some of us, the difficulty doesn’t lay in the craft of writing, though. Not directly. I think it’s, perhaps, rooted in vulnerability—three facets of it.

The first facet is the upset of having someone not love your work; it’s easy to take this personally. Gosh, most writers and artists can understand that! However, it’s important to stay open to yourself and others during these times. Also, even if we pour our heart and soul into our work, it is still a product to be sold (if your eye is on publication) and that requires some objectivity. If you’re feeling vulnerable? That can be tough.

Secondly, I think those of us who struggled as kids sometimes feel like they are “less than” in some respects. The idea that we could be talented and “powerful beyond measure” can feel odd because, to varying extents, it goes against our emotional grain. It feels unnatural, like driving on the left side of the road or having a cheeseburger for breakfast. Even so, dare to be remarkable!

The final way relates to the work itself, I think. The letting go of the slice of yourself that you may be holding back. The cracking yourself wide open part—that’s your voice. That’s where you mine your gold. The parts of yourself that can make the rejection so hard are the very parts that can take your work to the next level. Maddening, isn’t it?

I can’t tell you not to be afraid, but I can tell you I know how you feel. The reason I revisited this quote after Mike covered it in his post last week, is this: When I first read this quote a few years ago, it triggered my attitude shift. I carried it in my pocket for weeks. It stunned me. Mostly, it saddened me. The quote defies logic, yet I knew it pegged my writing life. I decided that I may not get published, but I didn’t want to look back on all this knowing I’d just given up. And I didn’t want my kids to see me do that either. How many times had I told a disappointed kid who’d almost made a soccer goal, “You’ll get it next time!” I decided there were far worse things than rejection letters or not getting published.

So, ante up. Slide those chips into the center of the table. It’s a small gamble compared to the winnings—pride in knowing you have some gumption. Some guts. All the while, remember, that there are people who want to cheer you on, support you, and celebrate with you—including me! And you know what? If you get rejections, you can handle them. You can. Yeah, I know it’s hard, but you’ll brush yourself off, hone your book, and you’ll ante up again. You will. Just like I did.

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