Monday, March 28, 2016

my milestones to a book deal

I have posted some stats on my querying process about a year ago when I first signed with my agent Amy Tipton, but now I'll blog about my writing journey from the very start, focusing specifically on the key milestones which were important for me. 

(oh, and please forgive me for saying 'journey' - it's so cheesy.)  

So here goes... my first query to an agent dates back to the end of 2011. That's right, 5 years ago! Back then, I knew very little (read: nothing; I knew nothing) about what makes a good/decent book and an excellent query. 
Bottom line: that first book I've completed should've never been sent to anyone. 

The good part of this story is that I've only sent that book query to one agent. Yup, just the one. Well, I also entered that book into a local Young Adult book contest run by a small Australian publisher. Fortunately, that was the end of my first (very short) foray into querying/contest-participating. 

After a quickie rejection came from that one agent and then some time later I was notified that I didn't make the contest short-list, I came to an important realization: I better make sure my work is as close to perfect as I can make it. This was an important moment for me as I understood two things: 

1. It's an anxious experience to show my writing to others, so I need to ensure I'm at the very least proud of the book/query before I send it to anyone; and 

2. If I'm going to persist with this book writing thing, I better cultivate a thicker skin and get ready for a lot of rejection (my experience with one agent and one contest was just a preview of things to come.)

As a side note, I'm very sorry to whoever had to read that manuscript I've sent in for that contest. Very sorry indeed *grins guiltily*

Reynisdrangar, Iceland. Photo by Annie Spratt. Free license: https://unsplash.com/ 

Another side note at this point would be to say that I've been writing poetry since the age of whatever (very young!) and I had my first poem published (at least, first in English) as a result of an official blind-submission process in 2010 in a journal called dotdotdash (which unfortunately no longer exists). As I was writing more and more slipstream poetry, eventually branching out into short fiction, it is then that I started writing my first book. 

When dotdotdash accepted that poem of mine - it was a significant milestone for me as it gave me a gigantic confidence boost. Another boost happened when my short story The Fetch was published in another now-defunct journal Dark Edifice. That story came to me in one go - it was a friggin' amazing thing, that feeling! I got the idea for The Fetch and then couldn't stop writing till the story was done. I've sent The Fetch to Dark Edifice and got an acceptance letter the next morning. The endorphin boost I got from this acceptance was enormous: the editor had some very nice things to say! In fact, my happy delirium lasted so long, the ending of The Fetch got stuck in my brain and I wouldn't stop thinking what happened next? So, what eventually became WHAT THE WOODS KEEP, first started off as a continuation of The Fetch

After I first wrote the first version of WHAT THE WOODS KEEP, I asked three friends to be my test-readers. While they were reading the book, I embarked on the querying process once more. This time I meant business. I crafted a query for the book. I've read the Evil Editor blog obsessively. I've signed up for the Agent Query and Query Tracker websites; I've researched agents; I've used advice posted on the Query Shark blog to tweak my query... 

I've queried the first agent on my list with WHAT THE WOODS KEEP on 18 March 2014 and the last one on 22 March 2014; all in all 19 agents. I was being careful. Here comes my second important milestone: my first ever partial request. I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I opened that email on a Saturday morning (99% of the time, I receive important emails on a Saturday morning) but here it was: a nice and very enthusiastic request for a partial. All in all, from this agent query round, I got 5 no-responses and 13 form rejections. That one partial request didn't lead to anything more, but still it gave me a great boost to continue on. I knew that I was doing something right. I also knew the agent eventually rejected the manuscript (there was no feedback as to why) - which could mean two things: there was something wrong with the first 50 pages or it was simply and subjectively not that particular agent's 'cuppa'. 

I decided to embark on another book project and set aside WHAT THE WOODS KEEP for a while. I was going to wait for my test-readers to get back to me, then I would re-work the book and the query and start with the querying all over again. I have written another book and briefly queried it to 11 agents throughout late May to early July 2014. Most of those were either no-responses or form rejects, but one - the very first agent I queried - requested a partial and then a full! I was so excited but yet cautious. In the end this was also a 'No' but... there was also some feedback along with the rejection. It wasn't much but still: the agent wasn't convinced with the supernatural element. I immediately stopped querying this book and decided to re-work its second half where the said 'supernatural element' was introduced and built on. 

While I was re-writing that book, my test-readers got back to me with feedback on WHAT THE WOODS KEEP which was fantastic: it meant I could now work once more on WHAT THE WOODS KEEP while querying the second version of that other book that got feedback from the agent.  

Photo by Rosan Harmens. Free license: https://unsplash.com/ 
As I embarked on the next round of submission for the book that received feedback, I also worked to completely re-write WHAT THE WOODS KEEP. I felt there was another way I could take the story-line. I felt braver now that I had some experience writing and querying books and that I had some feedback from read readers. I've read a lot more books too - both in my preferred genre and outside of it - and I wanted to try out different techniques of story-telling. So, as a result, a completely new version of WHAT THE WOODS KEEP emerged from the ashes of the old. 

In the meantime, that other book was getting some reads. It was on submission to agents from late October 2014 to end of March 2015: this time it was sent to 25 agents. From that round I got 2 requests to read a full manuscript. The rest of submissions were either a no-response or a form rejection. Neither of the reading requests resulted in an offer, but by then something amazing happened: I've finished re-working WHAT THE WOODS KEEP and was ready to go querying this one once more. I was confident about this book. I knew my query was as good as I could make it. I knew I was going to persist with the querying process this time. I had a plan to go up to 100 agents and then take a pause and re-group if there were no takers. 

I started querying WHAT THE WOODS KEEP 2.0 to agents on 1st March 2015. Between then and March 31 I've queried 33 agents. Amy Tipton was fifth agent I've queried. She requested a full the same day, within an hour after I emailed her. I've sent the manuscript off, my fingers crossed and my heart fluttering. I had two more reading requests from this round, but I heard from Amy in the early April and it was an offer of rep. The rest is history!

I'm almost done, I promise. If you've gotten to this point, stick around a little longer... Here's a pretty picture for you to rest your weary eyes on: 

Photo by Wilson Lau. Free license: https://unsplash.com/
During NaNoWriMo 2014 I commenced on yet another book project. That's when I've written about half of what became OASIS. *Technically*, I failed NaNoWriMo as I didn't accomplish the goal of 50,000 words in one month, but... I developed OASIS, did A LOT of background research, wrote up character sketches and knew how OASIS was going to end. All this meant, by the time Amy, now my agent, was beginning to submit WHAT THE WOODS KEEP to editors, I've finished and revised OASIS and when we were mid-way through the submission process I let Amy know I have another Young Adult book in case she had time to have a look. Amy got around to reading OASIS after a few months and she loved it! I was euphoric once more! While WHAT THE WOODS KEEP was on submission, I was revising OASIS based on Amy's comments. 

And now to the great part: Erin Stein of Imprint (Macmillan) requested some revisions to WHAT THE WOODS KEEP. I was blown away: her feedback and questions were spot-on. I couldn't wait to get started on the revisions! Most importantly, THIS WAS NOT A REJECTION. 

While I was busy to turn in the revised manuscript to Erin before the end-of-the-year break, Amy approached her in regards to OASIS and Erin was keen to read it as well. 

Fast forward a few months of anxious waiting and... Erin wants to have a chat with me! As in: on the phone. I'm so thrilled! We set a time! She's in NYC, I'm in Melbourne (Australia), 16 hours ahead. It's an early morning for me, her late afternoon of the day before. I can't believe it's actually happening until we are talking! (My biggest fears during the days leading up to this is that a) I lose my phone; b) the connection quality is terrible and we can't hear each other, and c) somehow I embarrass myself. Thankfully, none of this happened!

And then... About a 1.5 weeks later... It is Saturday morning (but, of course, it is) and Erin made an offer! For both books! The deal is announced on Publisher Monthly, March 23. It took me about 5 years of writing, revising and querying to get to this point! 

And this concludes my journey to publication saga. The next step? Revising and publishing - can't wait!  

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