|Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El Ensueño (1931)|
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:
- I was going to have to query more aggressively than the first time (meaning more agents in a shorter amount of time).
- 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 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!
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
Time querying second novel: Almost 8 months
Queries sent: 50
Requests (including conferences): 12
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