Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Girl Who Waited: My (Long) Road to Finding an Agent

Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El Ensueño (1931)
I usually don’t get too personal in this blog, but I thought this event was big enough to share with my fellow writers (drums, please): I HAVE AN AGENT!

Dying to know all the details? Not really? Well, I’m writing them anyway. :-)

In the beginning there was a man and a woman (ok, ok, I’ll spare you). Let’s start at around 2005. I had two babies (real human babies) and had been writing a variety of projects in both English and Spanish for contests, classes and myself: short stories, soap opera scripts (obviously NOT complete, but fully outlined) and half of a screenplay. There was one particular story that had taken root when I was still a graphic designer and illustrator (circa 1998-2000). It kept coming back to me in the form of a soap opera. Problem. I lived in the USA. There was not a big telenovela industry here (now there is), and I didn’t know how to reach Mexican or Colombian producers (two of the largest Spanish-speaking markets, which, I had heard, were more difficult to infiltrate than Russian mafia or the publishing industry in the US). I didn’t have any connections in those countries and I wasn’t planning a trip there any time soon. Besides, there were horror stories roaming the internet about plagiarism and writing apprentices who worked long hours for little pay in the hopes of getting their big chance one day with their own ideas. Not too appealing.

One day, my friend Malena (aka Sister Violante), shared with me some big news: she was writing a novel in English (gasp!) and she encouraged me to do the same. I hesitated. I had written short stories in English, and had lived in this country for several years, but I didn’t know if I had it in me to write a WHOLE novel in English.

I told her I didn’t think I could do it, but the writing bug stayed with me for a few days. The drive was stronger than my fear and so I evaluated my extensive telenovela outline/summary and decided right then and there that I would turn it into a novel! I rushed to the nearest bookstore and bought two books on the craft of writing a novel and devoured them in a week. I took a deep breath and, using my outline as a guide, I started writing a novel in English. Many moons passed until I finished the project but was terrified to share it with anybody. Somewhere between 2006 and 2007, I finally gathered the courage to share my writing with Malena, who was encouraging and patient with the sporadic pages that arrived in her inbox. Not sure of what direction to take (the thought of a critique group hadn’t occurred to me yet)  I attended my first writers conference and met a sweet editor who requested a partial of my novel. My first partial! I was so excited I sent the pages to her right away, certain that this would be “it.” In the meantime, a friend of mine introduced me to a couple of talented writers, Rosslyn and Barbara, and we formed a critique group.

Right away Rosslyn spotted POV problems and too many subplots (I talk about the problems of my first manuscript here.) Sure enough, the encouraging editor I had met at the conference wrote me back expressing the same concerns. With my critique partners’ help, I started rewriting the novel. I had to go through a killing-character spree for the novel to take form. I took an advanced novel course at my local community college, where I met two supportive and patient writers, Joycelyn and Don, who also helped me polish my novel. I finished my second rewrite and thought “now I’m ready.” I shared the novel with my husband, but he fell asleep over chapter four (literally!) Biting my hand to hold back my sobs, I wondered: Was my novel not as good as I thought, or was he simply tired?

In the meantime, Rosslyn read my entire second draft and found more problems. (Yes, I’m lucky to have her and no, you can’t have her!)  I redesigned my novel and rethought my main plot. Not a small task. Months later, the third draft was born. I continued taking courses, attending conferences and meeting new writers, among them my friends Suze and Sister Mary, who read the third draft and helped me polish it more. I won a blog contest and received a thoughtful critique from a respected editor who made me realize a crucial problem in my plot. (Thank you, Nick Harrison!) I met more editors and agents who read portions or my entire novel. They were encouraging (an editor even referred my novel to another editor in her publishing house), but none of them committed to my project. I kept hearing I was almost there. (Please bear with me, Dear Reader, I’m almost there with this story, too.) It felt like running a marathon with no trace of a finish line.

By now, a new idea was born in my mind: a historical novel set in the Galapagos Islands (my obsession). I researched. I outlined. I started writing. I stopped querying my first novel. Two big things happened next: my friends and I started the Sisterhood blog and  my second novel won an international writing contest.

The Sisters (including the brilliant Stephanie) kept reading and helping me polishing my second novel (no extensive rewrites on this one. I had learned something!) And in December 2011, I entered the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction sponsored by Authoress at Miss Snark’s First Victim blog. Two agents ‘fought’ for my novel. The feeling was exhilarating. And so I decided to start querying the project after both agents requested my full. After my earlier and failed querying experience, I realized two things:
  1. I was going to have to query more aggressively than the first time (meaning more agents in a shorter amount of time).
  2. I had to query in a smarter way (meaning targeting agents a little better by doing more research than the first time). And so I bought a Premium Membership at Query Tracker.
I developed a plan of action: I would query an agent a day (except during trips or family visits). And if I got a pass, I was obligated to query someone else the same day. Plus (and this was a big change from my first querying experience) unless an agency specified against it, I would query other agents at the same agency after a few months of being ignored or rejected.

I started getting requests (mostly fulls, but a few partials as well). I started getting rejections (several) but on my birthday, I received the gift of a partial request. I should have known this apparently casual event meant something. A couple of days later, said agent upgraded the request to a full.

I sent the material and kept querying, went to a writers conference and met a couple more agents who requested material. I sent them the novel and waited. And waited. And waited. Until this summer.

I went on a trip to Spain and then to Ecuador to visit my family. On July 23rd, I casually checked my Spam folder, ready to clear it, when the name of the agent who had requested on my birthday popped up.

The agent-in-question was brief. She said she had finished reading my novel and wanted to offer representation. I was confused. This was not the kind of letter I was expecting. (Could this be a mistake? Was this letter meant for someone else?) I entered a stage of numbness/confusion/anxiety. The agent and I corresponded a little bit and agreed to talk in a couple of days. That evening and the next morning, I notified the ten agents who had my novel and a few more whom I had queried. The next two days, my inbox filled up with correspondence from agents: nine requested a week to read while three passed on the project. (A few others were forever silent.) It was a writer’s dream come true! (Incredible the power those three little words “offer of representation” have.)

I spoke to the offering agent and was delighted with our conversation. She was so enthusiastic about my novel and my writing that I thought I was dreaming. Four days later, a second agent made an offer and scheduled a conference call with me.

I spoke to the second agent and her boss and they impressed me with their projection for my novel and their experience. I was in trouble. I liked them, too!  I thought a lot and talked to my close friends/family members about my offers when a third offer came. Another call and more doubts. How was I going to pick (Did I have to? Couldn’t I keep all of them?)

I sat down and thought hard. The first agent had an enthusiasm that was contagious (she even got me excited about my novel again!) and we shared the same vision (editorially speaking). Plus she expressed an interest in my first novel and her track record was good. Also, when I went through her list, I found that I was drawn to the books she had represented and sold. It was a perfect match! So without further ado, I’m thrilled to introduce my brand new agent: Rachael Dugas with Talcott Notch Literary Services!

For those writers who are feeling a little discouraged and depressed, check out my querying statistics so you can see that THERE IS HOPE for you, too!

Second novel:

Queries sent: 119
Requests (before offer): 17
Requests (after offer): 3
Total requests: 20
Rejections to queries: 74
Rejections to submissions: 15
No responses to queries: 25
No responses to submissions: 2
Offers: 3
Agent: 1

Time querying second novel: Almost 8 months

First novel:

Queries sent: 50
Requests (including conferences): 12
Rejections: 31
Rejections to submissions: 10
No responses to queries: 19
No responses to submissions: 2

Time querying first novel (not including conferences in 07 and 08): 1 year, 8 months


22 comments:

  1. Very cool story and congratulations! I too just posted a similar tale on my blog! It's a very exciting time, and now on to the next bit! Best of luck!

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    1. Wonderful! I'm heading over there. Congratulations to you, too!

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  2. What a fabulous story! I'm SO glad you found an amazing agent for your story!

    CONGRATULATIONS!

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    1. Thank you, Stephanie! When is your novel coming out?

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  3. Dearest Sister Lorena
    I congratulate Ms. Dugas for recognizing your talent and wish both of you the best of luck on this trip you are taking together. I think you are both very fortunate to have found each other.

    As I told you in private, you are now the heroine and Princess of your own tale. At last you have met your Fairy Godmother, but prior to that you ran into more than one Maleficent and experienced more than one dark night of the soul.

    As a witness and traveling companion, I can vouch not only for your talent, but for your perseverance, patience, optimism and courage, traits that many of us lack. You are an inspiration to your friends and fellow writers.

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  4. I've come to the end of reading this over my morning coffee and Lucky Charms with my head swirling with all of these memories. For some reason, I see us sitting in the Satellite Coffee with you showing me pictures of the architecture in Ecuador -- not from this summer, but two summers ago (I think) and you told me about the professor who looked down her nose at the student writing category romance.

    I see your smiling face and dark, curly hair bobbing up to introduce yourself to me at the conference in 2009 when we thought about the 'x meets y' pitch for your first novel. Remember we tossed about 'Dirty Dancing' meets 'Lace?' :)

    Last year, almost exactly a year ago, attending the banquet with you to receive your award in the contest and feeling the tears of elation squeeze out of my eyes when they named second place and it wasn't you -- you took first!

    I love what Malena has said. I, too, congratulate Ms. Dugas for recognizing your talent. That is so well put. What else can I add to this, for obvious reasons, my favorite of your posts, except that this is so well deserved! Now that you have the contract in hand, it's time to pop that cork.

    Adelanta, estimada amiga del alma. Te lo mereces y mas.

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    1. All those memories... Gracias, amiga, por tu apoyo.

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  5. Hooray, hooray, HOOOOOORAY!!! So excited to have you as my agent sister!
    Congratulations, friend! This is a wild ride--and you've earned your seat!

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    1. Thank you! I super excited to be part of the TN family!

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  6. OMG! This is the first I'd heard this news -- how very exciting! Congratulations! I am so happy for you! I can't wait to have a signed copy of your BOOK! :) (I know! I keep using exclamation points! I'm just so excited!!!)

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    1. Sister Steph, I was waiting to sign the contract to break the news. ;)

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    2. Steph, I wanted to tell you so much at lunch and had to sit on this until she announced it on the blog! :D

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  7. CONGRATULATIONS, Lore, you KNOW how happy I am for you!! WOOOT
    *happy dances*

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  8. Congratulations, Lorena! Now do what Prince instructs us all to do and go party like it's 1999!

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    1. That was a seriously cute comment, M&M.

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  9. Congratulations on getting an agent! :)

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  10. Thank you all for your comments and congratulations! I've had so much support in the writing community. You all are great!

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  11. Thank you for sharing your stats. It's so important to share these stories so writers don't lose hope. Congratulations!

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I'm querying my second ms right now, so your story was encouraging. And it's crazy what you said about getting a request on your birthday! My birthday was at the end of August and that night I received a very exciting email from an agent requesting my full. :) It's so great to read success stories of writers who persevered.

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  13. Excellent story, Lorena! I had a similar experience querying before I signed with my first agent. I'm now seeking new representation. Your agent seems special, and I've sent her a query. Best of luck on your literary journey!

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  14. @ Sandi, Rachel and Debra: Thank you guys and best of luck with your queries and submissions!

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