If you’ve been wondering, I haven’t sustained a month-long food poisoning or been abducted by a swarm of insatiable book clubbers looking for book recommendations, nor I have I run away to Ireland (yet). I have been MIA, though, but for a very, very good reason. As a matter of fact, as a burgeoning writer, it is the best reason I could have hoped for. I got a literary agent.
As a reader, I find myself perpetually curious about other authors. What do their writing processes look like, how did they get into writing, do they make themselves cry when they write? Laugh? I want a glimpse into the lives of those people who teach me, make me feel, and take me to different worlds. To this end, the first thing I read in every book is never the first page. Oh no. I start with the acknowledgments section and the author’s bio. And after signing with a literary agent – an important milestone in my own writing career – I felt like it was time for me to share.
I started writing my first book when I was twenty-five. It was about Jennifer and Adam, a guy and gal who meet in a pumpkin patch and then embark on a forbidden workplace affair. (I should maybe mention this was during the days of working at a romance publishing company). This was not the book that got me an agent, but I think it’s important not to gloss over failures. I knew it wasn’t great when I was writing it, so when it turned out I was right – It really wasn’t great – I honestly wasn’t worried. I wrote it to see if I could and to see if I wanted to write another, which it turned out I did. As a matter of fact, I loved writing it. Creating a story from scratch seemed like the closest to magic I’d ever get. And as a Harry Potter fan, this is important.
My next book was better. It was a mystery instead of a romance, which is much closer to what I read and have always wanted to write. Unlike my sultry pumpkin patch story, I edited this one meticulously and even let a few people read it. It placed as a finalist in a contest and got the attention of a few agents, but in the end, none agreed to represent me. At the time, I was disheartened and felt like a failure.
But, in the midst of that book failing, I started to write another. From the beginning, this one was different than the others. For one thing, I’d finally found the genre I wanted to write: a blend of women’s fiction and mystery (think Big Little Lies or Gone Girl). And this book was personal. It’s about an actress (which I was) and an writer (which I am). The other books had come out of my head, but this one came out of the pit of my stomach, my blood and guts all over it.
Looking for some sort of affirmation or guidance, I submitted it to the 2016 Writer’s League of Texas manuscript contest and it won first place in its genre. I jumped up and down A LOT. This gave me not only affirmation, but motivation. With the help of my best editor (my mom), my best copyeditor (my aunt), and all my amazing beta readers, I edited those pages until the lines of my book seemed more like lyrics of a song you used to love but now hate because you’ve heard it too many times. And finally, I was ready to put it out in the world, to seek literary representation. I was proud and terrified.
For those of you who don’t know about the query process, this is the point where a writer distills her manuscript to three paragraphs, her writing experience into one, and her whole soul into a line in some stranger’s inbox. If the agent likes the sound of the book, they request a partial (the first fifty or one hundred pages) or the full manuscript for consideration. I look back on it fondly now, but when I was in the thick of it, I was emotional and frustrated.
When I received an email from literary agent, Sarah Phair, saying she’d read my book over the weekend (in three days!) and wanted to talk on the phone about it, I’m not kidding when I say I fell to my knees and wept. When I called my mom, she thought something terrible had happened. My most overwhelming emotion at the time was relief: I wasn’t delusional. Someone else in the world thought I could write too.
I think I knew during that first call I wanted to work with Sarah. We’re both twenty-nine-year-old women with a passion for female-driven stories and engaging story telling. We read a lot of the same thing, and after I stopped stuttering from nerves, we had a great conversation. I took two weeks to talk to other agents who still had my manuscript and deliberate, but in the end, I left a voicemail to Sarah saying I’d be thrilled to accept her offer. When she called me back, I was taking a walk around Austin’s hike-an-bike trail, which was a good thing because I had more room to jump up and down. Then, because the universe can be really great sometimes, I ran into my mom on the trail and we jumped up and down some more, this time squealing for good measure. There’s a video and it’s very high-pitched.
Since then, my life has been a whirlwind. For the last month, I’ve been working harder and faster on Sarah’s editorial suggestions than I think I have for any other project. My husband said he woke up one night to me talking in my sleep, obviously in an important editorial meeting with my new agent. Apparently, my voice was all business. I was on a rampage. More than anything, it was her suggestions that solidified my decision to sign with Sarah. While you can know you like someone after an hour-long conversation, it’s still hard to determine whether or not you will actually work well together. But when I received my manuscript from her marked up with notes, I was thrilled. My new agent didn’t let me off the hook, she caught weaknesses in my book I’d overlooked for a year, and she helped me understand my own work on a new level.
Now, the next step is to submit the book to publishers. For this, Sarah takes over and I get to kick back and start working on my next book. And by kick back I mean work my ass off but there’s no work in the world I’d rather do.