Sunday, September 9, 2012

Journey to Agent

Disclaimer: The arms which support the fingers I use to type my tweets were twisted into joining Twitter by none other than Ms. Rachael Dugas, my agent. I was reluctant, but Rachael says ‘jump,’ and I jump. … Seeing as how I rarely tweet, it doesn’t appear that I’m hooked. #thinkagain. I get so immersed in reading everyone else’s tweets (and my life is so boring in comparison) that my tweets just get stuck in my menial beak. However, as a result of my little birdie stalking, hash tags have infested my life and my writing. I write a love note to my husband: See you this evening #hotstuff. I write my grocery list: don’t forget the milk #moron. I will apologize in advance for the invasion of hash tags in this post. I was just Twitter surfing before I sat down to write…


Today was a typical day in my typical life. I awoke at the crack of dawn to a tiny, blonde-haired boy giggling and sticking a batman figurine up my nose. It’s a magical way to wake up. #sneezingoutrobin. I spent the next hour trying to get my one-year-old to eat breakfast. This is a kid who began to feed himself at five months- bottle, solids, he was Mr. Independent. His favorite game however is called fetch; I’m the dog. If he throws toys, I don’t give them back, but if he throws food, he gets the satisfaction of watching me wipe the food from the floor, and sometimes, if I’m oh so lucky, he will even chuck something warm and mushy right into my hair. #edibleconditioner. So I have to spoon feed the baby or the dog will eat the flying food and later projectile vomit somewhere in the house. It’s a good thing my children’s laughter is contagious or I might have been committed a long time ago. One must have a fabulous sense of humor to be a parent. Or have a fabulous therapist on call.

Amidst entertaining two insanely rambunctious boys, I’m also an English tutor and a gymnastics instructor. Now that my secret identity, #mybatman, has been exposed, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how this whole writing thing happened. I didn’t begin to write Of Breakable Things until after my first son was born. He was (and still is) a horrible sleeper. As an infant, he would wake up the minute we put him down, and he would scream for hours. There were many times I would sit in the rocker in his room and just stare at the wall because I couldn’t turn on the light to read a book, and I certainly couldn’t turn on the TV. I had a lot of time to think… and to make up stories.

When my son was finally old enough to sleep for at least six hours straight, I took the opportunity to write down the characters who had kept me company for the past few months. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote until the story was complete. I didn’t outline or character map. I didn’t count the words. If I had, I would have realized the manuscript was entirely too long for any genre but especially for YA. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was nearly eight hundred pages. I burst out laughing the first time I actually did a tally. Ridiculous. And so began the reconstructive surgery. #drfrankenstein. When I had the final product, (and I use the word ‘final’ very loosely,) I thought it might be good enough to land me an agent. #notsofast

Well, a lot of agents didn’t agree. Many liked the premise, but I was already hearing the word trend. It was term that would haunt my nightmares for the next two years. YA Paranormal was all the rage, and thus agents were apprehensive about taking on more projects of that particular genre. But many were still interested. The problem was the dastardly query. Query, another term to haunt the nightmares of writers. Writers were not meant to constrict their stories into measly two paragraph increments. The only thing worse than a query is a synopsis, but that’s a rant for another day. I saved my rejections in a spreadsheet entitled, FML. I still have it. It stings my fingers each time I open it. Finally, I decided to get some help. I registered for an online workshop conducted by the fabulous Kristin Nelson of Nelson Lit Agency. The topic? Queries. After the tutorial, she accepted a look at each writer’s current query, and she offered advice. It was the greatest thing I ever decided to do. She liked the pitch, but she was able to give me a few useful tips to spruce it up, to keep the queried agent wanting more.

And then I got some nibbles, maybe about a dozen partial requests and even a few full requests. Ms. Nelson had certainly done her job because the query was a hit. Now it was up to me and my story. I came very, very close with one agent, but in the end, it just didn’t fit right with her. I’m thankful for her advice, however. She provided some invaluable feedback in regards to my opening for what was then called Ashes. But I was crushed when she decided to pass. And thus I did the unthinkable.

I gave up.

Hope is a beautiful thing. And each time an agent would request the MS, the elation was such a high. But the tricky thing about hope is that it acts similarly to helium. It doesn’t last forever, and when I was inflated to cloud nine, that only meant I had further to fall. And fall I did. I was done with it.

I was nine months pregnant with my second child when I decided to shelve my manuscript. My skin was not thick enough to withstand the knives of rejection. Oddly enough, the same week, I received an email from Rachael Dugas at Talcott Notch Literary Agency. I checked my FML spreadsheet. Funny, I’d never queried her…  I had, however, queried another associate in the same agency a year prior. A year! It was one of my first submissions! Rachael explained that she’d taken over for a former associate, and my submission had been sitting in the virtual slush pile waiting for review. She requested the first fifty pages. A few days later, here is what I received:

Hi, Amy--

Thanks for this. Your writing is really lovely--I'd love to read the rest. Kindly send the full manuscript at your earliest convenience.

Rachael Dugas

Lovely? My book was about death… This time I didn’t get my hopes up. I didn’t have time for it because I went into labor shortly after I submitted the full manuscript. I remember sitting on the couch, rocking my newborn to sleep while my older son was at camp. I used one hand to hold the baby and the other to surf the web. It was then that I checked my email:

Hi, Amy--

Thank you for your manuscript and your patience. I simply loved Ashes to Ashes and would be interested in representing you. Can we set up a time to chat sometime early next week, perhaps sometime Monday afternoon?

Rachael Dugas




Jaw drop.

Explosion #waterworks

I fell to the floor in tears. Still holding my (somehow still) sleeping infant, I dialed my husband with shaky fingers. He thought someone had died because I was crying so violently. #dramaqueen

I lined up a babysitter and the following Monday, I spoke with Rachael and absolutely loved her. I signed a contract a few days later, and it is now framed in my writing cave. It sits next to the copyright document I received after submitting an early version of the manuscript in 2009. And now, it is accompanied by a framed copy of my signed contract with Month9Books. #trophies

It’s been a long and rugged road. My shoes are dirty and torn, and during the journey there has been a vile piece of paper tucked in my pocket with the title FML. I can now toss it to the ground and demolish it with the sole of my shoe. I made it. What if Rachael had not found me? Would I have given up? Probably not. It’s not in my nature, but it might have taken some time, enough time for me to grow thicker skin.

I suppose one of these days I’ll thank my (sleep-hating) son for forcing me to use my imagination… or I’ll just wake him up early every single morning when he’s a teenager. Maybe I’ll even shove batman up his nose.


But I’ll have a book to show him. Maybe even more than one…