my frank sinatra moment...part 2
Updated: Jan 18
Hey peeps. A few weeks ago I started to tell you the tale of writing my first novel. I shared the story of Benji, the Patron Saint of English Departments, and how she inspired a series of revelations that would make me realize how futile and depressing it is to write what other people want you to write instead of what you actually want to write.
Today, I'll finish that story in today's post and give you a peek into what the early stages of potentially publishing a book look like.
After my first disheartening novel-writing process, I tossed my forced, people-pleasing book into a dark drawer and, thanks to Vivian, wrote one that I liked instead (you can learn more about my perfected writing process here, if you're interested in that part.) Once the writing was done (it took about nine months), I started sending queries to literary agents. A "query" is basically just a pitch that includes different elements depending on who you're sending it to and what they want. Usually. it looks like this:
Hello! My name is Carmen, and I think you might be interested in my inspirational romance novel. It's a modern, feminine twist on Rocky that vividly depicts the exciting world of women in mixed marital arts.
[Story description -- Sorry, I can't include my exact wording here because I can't give anything away yet! But feel free to reach out to me if you want help with crafting a story summary. It's harder than you think.]
Coronet is 85,000 words, and it will be my debut novel. The manuscript is complete. So far, my writing credentials include sports fiction in Witness Magazine (nominated for the PEN Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers), a sports nonfiction piece in Hobart Pulp, and freelance work for the women's magazine, Expressions (including a piece about female mixed martial artists.) I earned my Master’s in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2015.
Thank you for considering my work! Please let me know if you'd like to read more.
But, like most things, you should tailor your query to the individual you're sending it to. If you think that Agent X might like your book because she said on her blog that she likes "domestic thrillers with strong female voices," then you'll want to highlight those aspects in your query. Thankfully, most agents are pretty clear about what they want and how they want it sent to them. The hardest task is just finding the ones who will be the best fit. For that, I recommend signing up for emails from Authors Publish, or just search for "[genre] agent" on Google.
Note: You can also send your query to publishers. Some don't require that you have an agent.
So, anyway, I did that 27 times total. Which sounds like a lot, but I know people who have sent queries to many, many more. My strategy was to send it to five people a week for a month. Then, whenever I received a rejection, I sent it to someone new. Something you should definitely do is keep track of who you send it to and how the status changes. Your list could look like this:
Submitted to Awesome Books Agency, Mr. Agent, on 6.24.19 via Submittable (query and full manuscript)
Submitted to ABC Publishing on 5.1.19 via email (query and three chapters), declined on 8.4.19
When I started querying agents, I cast my net pretty wide, but the more I thought about myself as a writer and my overall content, the more I realized I wanted a Christian agent, so that helped to narrow my options. I know it seems daunting to find these strangers on the internet, but thankfully many writers have gone before you and compiled lots of lists of "Agent Type." Romance agents, Christian agents, Sci-Fi Agents...you name it, that list is out there. They might not be accepting submissions when you find them, but you can always add them to your list of potential people to query.
Anyway, about two months after I sent a query to a publisher, I FINALLY got a non-rejection! A publisher wrote back and said they needed more time to think about it. Not a yes, but not a no, either. So you know what I did? I emailed the twenty-plus other people who I was still waiting to hear from and let them know. And suddenly, things started to happen.
An agent wanted to talk on the phone.
Another wanted to follow up in a couple weeks.
And one more wanted to read the rest of the manuscript.
And, obviously, I was over the moon. I listened to "The Final Bell" and danced around my living room because FINALLY things were happening and it looked like someone might really want my book.
From there, a month passed with phone calls and lots of emails (and a few more nicely-worded rejections from other agents who bowed out), and I ultimately received two offers. I was fortunate enough to know a couple lawyers who were willing to give me free advice on what to negotiate for myself as I considered the two contracts, but I'll save that for another blog post. Most importantly, I took a weekend to pray about it, and the right choice became extremely clear.
I'd sent a query to Golden Wheat Literary back in May, and I signed with them in early October. I chose them because 1. the agent loved my book, 2. she loved me (even the controversial bits!), and 3. and I love her vision. As I was praying during my decision-making process, God made it clear to me how valuable it was to find an agent who would take me as I am and help me become the writer that I want to be, not who the world wants me to be.
Frank Sinatra's famous song, "My Way," came to mind. When I visited New York two years ago for that harrowing pitch slam, I'd listened to that song on the plane to get in a New York state of mind, but it wasn't until I chose Golden Wheat that I really had a "my way" moment.
I realized: I can be who God created me to be--my truest self--or I can form myself in the fickle, ever-changing images of the world (who, it turns out, is often far more demanding than God is). I'd spent a quite a few years as a writer trying to do the latter, thinking that would bring me the success and satisfaction that I wanted. But it didn't.
It's still hard to believe or understand sometimes, but Jesus was telling the truth when He said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it."
Despite all my doubts, God gave me the gift of writing, and He gave the gift of an agent who will fight my corner with me--and to Him I am grateful for my newfound freedom and this happy beginning.