Thursday, January 21, 2010

YALITCHAT, The League of Awesomeness, & How I Got From There to Here


I co-hosted YALITCHAT for the second time last night and loved every minute of it. Some incredible agents, editors, and publishers stopped by, and we had a lively conversation about what makes great YA and what exactly agents are looking for in YA queries and submissions. We were also treated to the names of the winners of the New Adult contest by St. Martin's Press. The top five winners were invited to submit their full manuscripts. Kudos to Georgia McBride for being the High Priestess of YALITCHAT, to Agent Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency for taking on the rapid-fire questions regarding what agents look for in YA, and to JJ Jones from St. Martin's Press for sharing the winners of their contest with us.

Some of the other awesome folks who stopped by to share their awesomeness were:

Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Literary Agency
Bernadette Baker-Baughman (aka, Awesome Agent) from Baker's Mark Literary Agency*

Feel free to read the transcript from last night's YALITCHAT and learn more about the website and weekly chat here. If you write YA and are not already a member, I urge you to get involved. It's fun and informative, and the networking is incredible.

During the chat, I sensed many unagented writers wanting to know more about the process. How do you get an agent? What happens after you get an agent? What happens during the time before your book goes on submission? I'm in that very place right now, so I thought I'd share my experience with you.

Here's a recap of my journey thus far:
  • 1995: Started writing "seriously."
  • Wrote sporadically until 2008, sometimes with passion and focus, but more often, with indifference and lack of sustained attention, and always in between the obligations of my "real" life.
  • July 2008: After a conversation with my honey about getting really serious about my writing, I registered for the Algonkian Pitch & Shop Conference. Part of the registration involved submitting a writing sample. I was thrilled when I was accepted, though I was suspicious that all who registered were allowed in. I called and asked that very question. The organizer assured me only about 60% get in. I'll never know if this is true, but nonetheless, I felt a sense of accomplishment. For the first time, my writing had been accepted by people in the know (maybe).
  • Last weekend of Sept. '08: I attended the Algonkian Pitch & Shop Conference in NYC. There were approximately 60 writers in attendance, some who'd traveled from as far away as Australia. We were split into four groups of 15, mostly to work on our query letters. I met several amazing writers there, two of whom I'm still in communication with (shout out to Wendy and Sarah!). Over the 4-day conference, I met one-on-one with agents for the first time in my life. I was pitching my novel LITTLE PEARLS, and I was horribly unprepared. Before the conference, I was under the delusion I was good to go. I was fairly certain an agent would catch a glimpse of my literary genius, and I'd soon be on my way to sipping champagne with JK Rowling at fancy author dinners in our honor. Um, not quite. I struggled with condensing my story into three succinct paragraphs. Frustrated, I spent my time entertaining the group - making them laugh, encouraging them, generally lightening things up. I know this may come as a huge surprise, but I really can be the class clown. The last day of the conference, I didn't show up. I wasn't feeling well, or rather, I couldn't take it anymore. You see, over the first three days, most of the women in my group received business cards from at least one agent who we pitched to requesting sample pages. But me? Nada. Zero. Zip. The big, empty goose egg. I got nuttin'.
  • Sept. 30th, 2008: I started my blog. This was highly encouraged by some of the wonderful gals in my group, and one of the greatest gifts I've given myself as a writer.
  • October '08: I sent out a handful of queries, although I still had no business doing that.
  • Nov. '08: I received my first request for a partial. I was in Denver at the time, caring for my mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer (she's doing great, btw!), and I'm fairly certain my husband and kids heard me screaming with joy all the way in Philly. I was beyond excited.
  • Nov. '08: I started writing a new novel, SPARKS FLY SOMETIMES: CONFESSIONS OF A ROCK PRINCESS. This project was loosely based on my life, with a huge amount of humorous fiction thrown in for good measure. This was the book with my tag line, "Life as a rock princess in the Denver music scene, does nothing to prepare Jenny for life as a domestic goddess in the suburbs of Philly." (I would later receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 partial requests for SFS from queries. None of them turned into full requests. Not one.)
  • Jan. '09: I received my 1ST partial back from LITTLE PEARLS with a note basically telling me my writing sucked. Big time. She was very disappointed the pages I sent in no way matched the promise of the query. I was shaken and angry. I threw the note away, not wanting any negative ju-ju in my world. That same month, I finished the rough draft for SFS.
  • Feb - March '09: Revised, revised, revised.
  • March - April '09: Researched agents and queried, queried, queried.
  • May '09: Attended the BEA Pitch Slam and the Backspace Writer's Conference, both in NYC. At BEA, I pitched one-on-one to six agents. I was asked for five partials and one full. It was the greatest day of my writing career to that point. All of the agents I pitched to requested material, and I finally received my first full request.
  • May '09: I started writing a murder mystery called, MURDER ON TWILIGHT CIRCLE.
  • July '09: Finished MTC, polished it, and queried it to over 150 agents.
  • July - Oct. '09: Out of nearly 150 queries, I received 18 partial requests and 8 full requests for MTC (2 of those were from partials).
  • Sept. '09: I "met" Bernadette Baker-Baughman from Baker's Mark Literary Agency* on Twitter. She enjoyed our banter and checked out my blog. Feeling the love, she emailed me and apologized if her agency had passed on my query. In fact, they had. Twice. I'd received form rejections on both SFS and MTC. I described the projects, and she invited me to personally query her again with MTC. Here's the link to that whole wonderful, beautiful, magical story.
  • Nov. 13th: (Friday the 13TH!) I was offered representation by Baker's Mark for my newest project, a YA novel called, THE SECRET KEEPER, which I wrote in six weeks during Sept-October of '09.
  • Nov. 15th: I let the other awesome agents who had my work know I'd been offered representation, and told Bernadette I was good to go. I did a Happy Dance for at least one solid week. My feet hurt. I was tired. But I was happier than I'd been since my kids were born. We discussed the first draft of TSK and possible changes to be made.
  • Dec. - Jan. '09: I dug in and finished Draft #2.
  • Jan. '09: We discussed further ways to dig deeper into the story.
  • Jan. '09: I'm currently working on Draft #3. I have until the end of February to complete it, and I feel like the book is really taking shape. It's thrilling to see my work become better and better each time I edit. The advice and suggestions I've received from my agent are priceless.
  • Submission: Not sure when this will be, but it won't be before Bernadette and I feel the manuscript is sparkly enough for her to pitch. I'm hoping we'll be good to go by mid-spring.

I hope this blow by blow is helpful and encouraging to those of you seeking representation. I promise to continue to share my ongoing journey into the world of publishing - my path towards making my writing dreams come true - in hopes it will inspire you and keep you moving forward.

Where are you on your journey? Did this post help you? How? Do you have any questions for me?

*Baker's Mark website is currently under reconstruction. Please check back next week!

39 comments:

Paul Greci said...

Deb, just wanted to say that you did a great job last night hosting YAlitchat.

I love reading stories about how writers eventually find representation. You are inspiring me to write mine up. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I am starting my writing journey and enjoyed reading your post...Thanks

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yay! I'm so excited for you!

I'm on week eight of submission. I'm revising something old with my agent and doing research for something new. SO IMPORTANT to distract myself right now and stay productive.

Christina Lee said...

This post gives me hope! I finally realized I was beating a dead horse with my first WIP (it was hard to give it up) and am now working on two and three (writing and revising). Congrats to you again--it is very inspirational!

Kimberly Franklin said...

Why do I always forget about this ever. freakin'. week?

Must make note (scribbling on hand) to remind myself for next week.
..... Done.

Now, I can't wash my hand for a week. Gross! Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. : )


Have a great day!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Your journey and mine look pretty similar in spots!

Right now, I'm in the reorganizing my writing time place in the journey. I've had some mutinies from the family regarding Mom's writing time, so I'm trying to fit it in in a more seamless way.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Solvang Sherrie said...

What a great post, Debra. You've had such a fabulous year. You'll be sipping champagne with JK Rowling before you know it :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

What a great post! This just reaffirms the notion that writers have to be very patient people.

Steve Edwards said...

Thanks for taking the time to share your path with us. It's easy to get discouraged before even getting started as the early rejections start to add up. Your story is a reminder to not give up before the race is over.

YALITCHAT was incredible last night, my wife very nearly had to whack me with a pillow to get me to shut up about it.

Can't wait to hear the next chapter in your saga.

Karen Walker said...

Since I found your blog just prior to you finding an agent, I loved this backstory. It tells me I probably didn't hang in there long enough while I was sending out queries. I just got too discouraged. Your an inspiration, Debra.
Karen

Sybir St. John said...

Great recap! Thank you for reminding us that it is a process and work too. Need to start getting those queries out there.

AND, good job on the chat last night. I am in awe of being able to manage a twitter chat feed LOL

~S

PS - glad your mom is doing great too!

madisonwoods.wordpress.com said...

This was a very inspirational post and I will likely visit it again when I'm feeling sluggish in my progress.

My question is this. When you queried the 150 agents, you sent them all out at once?

It's not time for me to worry over this, but hearing the story of those ahead of me helps with motivation. It doesn't feel like the tunnel goes on forever if I know someone's seen the light on the other end and can shout it back!

nkrell said...

What a timely post! Thank you so much for sharing it! Your story is inspirational. (And I'm glad to hear about your mom.)

DebraLSchubert said...

Tx for all the great comments. I'm glad this post is "helping."

Madison, No, I didn't send them all out at once. I did a lot of research on every agent I queried. I sent them out over a two-month period. When you get closer to querying, feel free to email me w/questions. ;-)

AE Rought said...

Thank you, Debra. I'm in the midst of the journey and feeling kinda blue lately. It's does my heart good to see your success in progress.

Best of luck!

writerross said...

Debra: A fantastic, honest blog entry. The journey never ends no matter who we are. I can tell your path will lead you to much success along the way.

Thank g-d about your mom. I dropped everything when my mother had her own life-threatening battle with lung cancer. And yes. She's here and she's perfect and talk about happy endings. Oh yes. {}

I went to a Backspace conference a number of years ago. I think I was one of the very few children's writers in the room but I'm so glad I went. Eye-opening learning experience. It was also the first time I heard the phrase "platform" in the same sentence as "writing."

Good luck with all you do. Off to read your YA Chat Transcript.

-Pamela

Nate said...

Debra, thank you! The tunnel seems so dark right now, and I've read with envy so many stories about the light just suddenly appearing; it's a comfort to be reminded that it's a PROCESS I'm following and not just waiting for a wonderful, random, instantaneous ascension.

If you can spare any time to tell me about your experience with/at Algonkian, I'd love some 411 on it. I'm going to the San Fran Write and Pitch next month and have no idea if I'm expecting the right things or not.

Alan Orloff said...

That's a great story, Debra. Shows what persistence (and talent) can accomplish!

Jenn Johansson said...

Very cool! Thanks for sharing your story. Good luck with submission!

jdcoughlin said...

I used to forage blogs for writers talking about how they got picked up by an agent. I mean, that was my late-night drug of choice. And I was a serious abuser, I mean, right up there with Tiger. I think your post is great, laying it all out. It is a long journey, lots of bumps, but with a very happy ending. Okay going to check out the YAlitchat now.

Jemi Fraser said...

It was another great chat last night. What a GREAT bunch of people!!

Thanks for sharing the timeline of your story, Debra. It helps to "see" it as a process!

gayle said...

Wow..I never knew the process was so time consuming!1

T. Anne said...

I love this! It matches my own journey almost to the t minus the representation part, but it's coming. I'm too optomistic not to believe. =) Thank you for outlining your wonderful journey. BTW, I luv the way you say goodnight on twitter!!! LOL.

DebraLSchubert said...

T. Anne, I'm glad you like my goodnight tweets. Sometimes I think no one notices! And, best of luck - it sounds like you're well on your way.

Kristan said...

Awesome blow by blow! I always love seeing the paths that different writers take. At this point I've realized mine won't be anything like them -- all of ours are so unique! even though they're sort of cut from the same mold... -- but it's still fun, you know?

Best of luck with edits and submissions!

DebraLSchubert said...

I want to apologize for not replying to each comment like I usually do. Please forgive me and know I'm thoroughly enjoying reading them.

For those of you who don't have agents yet, hang in there! I look forward to reading your "How I Got My Agent" stories soon. ;-)

Voidwalker said...

As for the JAN 09 entry:

I'm amazed at how rude some so called professionals are. If they felt like your story wasn't as good as the query let on, give some constructive feedback or just leave it be. There's really no need for utter rudeness. Hopefully karma wasn't napping that day!

WendyCinNYC said...

Great post, my dear.

Shout out to Algonkian Alums!

DebraLSchubert said...

VW, The truth is, it put a fire in my belly, so to speak. I was determined to prove her wrong. I'm with you though, if you can't say something nice or give honest, constructive criticism, why say anything at all? ;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Yo, Wendy! So glad I suffered through the conference - meeting you made it all worthwhile. ;_)

Sharon Mayhew said...

Debbie--Thanks for sharing...blow by blow... You give us all faith that good things can happen as long as we don't give up.

giddymomof6 said...

Thanks for this post! Your story was awesome btw.. and I just signed up for YA litchat! I'm so excited!

Jenni

Anita said...

I always like reading these journeys...I've been watching you since you started this blog, so your journey has been especially fun for me. I can't wait until it reaches its destination: publication!!!

nsiyer said...

Great post, as always. I undersdtood what goes into acquiring an agent. A lot of hard work is what I understand. Thanks and very onformative.

CarlyB said...

Wow Debra, this is a great post. Thank you so much for the great advice, I'll definitely bear it in mind when I'm ready to start pitching :).
Carly x

Angela Corbett said...

Fantastic post once again Debbie! Your writing story is one of my favorites and I tell people about it all the time. I'm going to tweet this link and tell all my writer friends to read it.

Barbara said...

It's inspiring that you kept going despite discouragement. And Congrats to you again, even though I knew you'd gotten an agent. It really does require PBIC (Putting butt in chair) to get it done. And writing, writing, writing. Good luck on your project! I can't wait to hear that you've sold it!

Kerrie said...

Thanks for sharing your journey. I enjoyed reading it.

Carolin Seidenkranz said...

I'm a little late in commenting on this post, but I just started following your blog and went back to read some older comments. :D I love your insight, it's really refreshing and I wish you the best of luck when your book goes on submissions.

This post is really timely for me, because I am just revising the latest draft of my novel and want to start the querying process then. I've been worried, that if this book isn't the book that'll get me an agent, I basically lost, because agents will remember my name and the possible crappiness of my MS and not look twice when I submit another book, but you prove that getting an agent is possible even if it doesn't work on the first try. So thank you. This makes me hopeful for my own journey. :D

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