Holidays, a Sketch

Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Holidays week. The floating lanterns are stolen from Thailand's Loi Kratong festival, but the scene is actually from Air Pirates (the lanterns are also in Tangled, apparently, but I swear I stole the idea first!).

I don't expect many of you to stick around next week, what with our Earthly holidays and all. And anyway, I thought you'd appreciate a break from the only thing I seem capable of talking about anymore. Have fun. Eat much. Sleep well.

Me? I'll be revising this manuscript (Apparently you still have to work once you get an agent. Did you know this?). See you in 2012!

The Offer I Turned Down

If all the posts about getting an agent didn't drive you off, then you know I got another offer before Tricia called. I turned it down because it felt sketchy, for a number of reasons I'll go into here. Though I won't name anybody; for all I know, the agency and the offer was totally legit and it was just the way it was handled that scared me off.

When the Agent still had my full, I did some research on them (I do that sometimes; part of the Crazy) and discovered two things. (1) The agency was listed as Not Recommended on Preditors & Editors. I don't know if I just didn't check P&E when I queried, or if I didn't care. After some Googling, it seemed the rating was based on something that happened years ago. Also, I'd heard of instances where the Not Recommended label was possibly applied unfairly, so it wasn't an immediate "no" for me.

(2) I discovered the Agent was not at the agency anymore. I looked at the full request e-mail again and noticed that it was from someone else "on behalf of the agency." Again, not a definite "no," but since they didn't say anything about it, I was concerned.

So they were red flags, but I didn't think much of it -- most of my manuscripts got rejected, right? When I got an offer though, I had to face them, and the offer itself came with a couple more red flags: (3) The offer came from yet another person (not the Agent, nor the person who requested the full), who I discovered was an intern who'd been with the agency no more than 3 months. (4) It was just a straight out offer, with no mentions of revisions or wanting to talk first or anything.

Again, these were just flags. They didn't necessarily mean the offer was a scam. It's possible the agency was just taking care of the original agent's queries after she had left. It's possible they liked my story so much they didn't need to talk. It's possible the intern was a new agent (like, I don't know, my agent).

But the biggest problem was that, even before I'd talked to them, I didn't trust them. The agent-author relationship is, well, a relationship, and those require trust in order to work. These people weren't telling me much, so I didn't trust them.

But I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I e-mailed them direct questions: Who are your clients? Can I talk to them? Who are you thinking of submitting to? Will we do revisions first? etc. Instead of hearing back from the Intern, I heard back from a fourth person: the Head of the Agency. Unfortunately, the Head answered very few of my questions. The only definite answer I got was that we would submit right away. To who? I have no idea.

I wasn't even clear on who would be representing me.

I talked to a friend about it, and she said, "You can do better." It confirmed what I already felt -- not that I could do better (at the time, I thought that was the only offer I'd get), but that it wasn't the kind of offer I wanted. I walked away.

I'm glad I did, and not just because I got a better offer. Really, the two offers are very similar: they both came from someone I didn't query, who had been an agent only a very short time.

But the differences are telling:

Good OfferSketchy Offer
Joan told me she'd passed the manuscript on and that Tricia would be e-mailing me about it herself.A different person e-mailed me each time, with no acknowledgement of that fact. No one even mentioned the Agent until I said something.
Tricia didn't offer representation until we'd had a chance to talk.The Intern offered without talking at all.
Tricia answered all my questions (most before I even had a chance to ask them).I only got vague answers, where I got answers at all.
Tricia's other client and fellow agents went into detail about how awesome she was.The Head told me his client list "speaks for itself," but never told me who they were, let alone how to contact them. Nobody said anything about The Intern.
Tricia had specific revision ideas and told me the name of at least one editor she was thinking of submitting to. Talking to her, I got the strong impression she really gets my book.Nobody mentioned my book at all except the title and that we'd be "submitting right away."

The lesson here? Think about what you're being offered. It's easy for the Quest for an Agent to slip into desperation, when we just want someone, ANYONE to represent us.

Trust me. You don't want just anyone.

Does anyone else have stories like this? Got any warnings for the rest of us?

3.5 Years + 231 Rejections = 1 Crazy Author

(I've been using my temporary insanity tag a lot lately. That's what querying will do to you, I guess.)

So here are statistics on three rounds of querying, including some highlights and A Chart. Let's jump right in!

("Queried From" counts from the months in which I sent out queries; it doesn't count when I got responses. "Rejections" are of the query itself. Consequently, "No Response" are also rejections.)

Queried From: May 2008 - Jan 2009 (8 months)
Queries Sent: 52
Requests: 0
Rejections: 41
No Response: 11
Request Rate: 0%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (Adult SF/F Version)
Queried From: Feb 2010 - Jun 2010 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 41
Requests: 5 = 4 partial + 1 full
Rejections: 16
No Response: 20
Request Rate: 12%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Queried From: May 2011 - Oct 2011 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 140
Requests: 16 = 5 partial + 11 full
Rejections: 72
No Response: 52
Request Rate: 11%
Representation Offers: 2

Obviously, I sent out a LOT more queries for this latest version. Part of that is there are just a lot more agents repping YA than adult SF/F. Part of it is I got excited/desperate sometime around my 10th request, and, thinking I had gold on my hands, started sending queries to EVERYBODY.

It didn't work though:

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Request Rate in the 1st Half of Queries Sent: 17% (12 out of 70)
Request Rate in the 2nd Half of Queries Sent: 6% (4 out of 70)

Across all three rounds of querying:

Slowest Request: 78 days (one of two requests I got after following up on a lost query)

Fastest Request: 3 hours 45 minutes

Slowest Rejection: 1 year 24 days (the query had gotten sent to the agent's spam, but she fished it out along with a number of others)

Fastest Rejection: 55 minutes. That was Michelle Wolfson, who also gave me my...

Best Rejection: In which Michelle said she recognized my name from the comments on Kiersten White's blog. The rest of the letter was a pretty standard form, but because of the personalization, I felt like she meant it. (I also started following her on Twitter. She's fun.)

So, a couple of months in, I wanted to see a graphic of the responses to my query. I'm not sure what I hoped to glean from it -- probably I just wanted to make a chart. Here it is.

(RED = query rejection/no response deadline passed; BLUE = partial request; GREEN = full request; BROWN = partial rejected; BLACK = full rejected; GOLD = offer made).

I did learn a couple of things. (1) Most agents responded on Monday (being Tuesday here and on the chart), with Tuesday and Wednesday coming in second. (2) My emotional state in any given week had a very strong correlation to the placement of green and black circles.

(The chart also makes it look like summer responses are few, but keep in mind, too, that I doubled my query rate in the middle of August)

The fact that I got an agent exactly where the chart ends was completely unintentional, or coincidental, or God telling me something. Take your pick.

Was there anything else you wanted to know? I got all this data here; might as well do something with it.

How I Got My Agent, Part II

You've all read everything leading up to this post, right? Cuz if you think querying is all excitement and roses, you should go back and read the last post.

So Tricia Lawrence is my agent, but it may surprise you that I never queried her. I couldn't have if I wanted to: she wasn't an agent until after I'd stopped sending new queries out.

Ammi-Joan Paquette was one of the first five agents I queried, being one who asked to see the YA version when it was ready. She had my manuscript throughout the entire process and sometimes felt like my only hope. (And oh my gosh, if I had known the third query I sent out would be The One, and I could have saved myself the time and pain of sending out another 137 -- Oy! Just . . . kill me now (but don't because then I wouldn't have an agent anymore)).

When Joan upgraded from partial to full, she said she had reservations but wanted to see how it ended. I tried to tell myself (with only a little success) that she would say no. And, in fact, she did. She said the same as all the other agents: very promising, but she wasn't quite passionate enough to offer representation.

But the e-mail didn't end there. Apparently, Joan had passed it onto her agency's newest agent, Tricia, who had read it with enthusiasm. Joan said I should be hearing from Tricia quickly.

Listen, if you thought sending out queries is crazy-making, you should try getting an e-mail like that. I stared at my inbox for hours at a time, tenaciously ignoring the fact that nobody in America was even awake. I was checking my inbox in my sleep. I once checked my wife's e-mail to see if Tricia had somehow E-MAILED HER BY MISTAKE.

So yeah. Crazy.

Finally Tricia e-mailed me. She told me how much she loved Air Pirates, gave me a list (yay, lists!) with specific and awesome revisions ideas, and asked when we could talk on the phone. I looked and looked for the "I'm just not passionate enough" line, but I couldn't find it. It sounded like she actually wanted to work with me on it.

From the phone call, my story sort of devolves into everyone else's agent stories: I was nervous, she loved my story, she asked where I got certain ideas, she wanted to represent me, had editors in mind, etc, etc (but imagine me dancing a little the whole time). It was like every agent story I've ever read, with one exception.

See, when I first got the e-mail from Joan, I heard a tiny, evil voice. It said, "You're not good enough for the 'real' agent so they're giving you to the new one." Totally unfair, I know, and I feel bad even admitting it. But I don't know how anyone could get over 200 rejections and not doubt themselves like that.

Tricia couldn't know that lie had crossed my mind, but she totally murdered it. She told me when Joan had passed Air Pirates to her, she was actually wavering. She almost took it back to represent me. And Joan not only passed the manuscript to Tricia, but also to Erin Murphy, head of the agency and agent for 12+ years.

Honestly, I didn't need to know all that to make my decision; I knew that evil voice was lying to me, and Tricia's professionalism and enthusiasm had already won me over. But when I heard that, it made me feel all good inside and gave me a faith in Air Pirates I didn't realize I had lost.

So next week I will get some querying statistics up, along with some other related posts. I'll try not to bore you with All New Agent Posts All The Time, but, well . . . you know.

How I Got My Agent, Part I

I don't know about you, but when I read these stories, I'm always more interested in how long and difficult the journey was (it encourages me when I'm dealing with The Long and Difficult myself). So this first part is everything leading up to the call. The part where Tricia chose me comes on Friday.

2003-2008: I wrote a novel (Travelers). I learned what a query letter is. I got rejected a lot.

2008-2010: I wrote another novel (Air Pirates). I got lots of feedback on it, learned how to delete whole chapters, and queried again. I got rejected less, but still . . . rejected.

(Side note: I also spent some time writing three short stories, getting one of them published, and drafting another novel (Cunning Folk)).

2010-2011: I revised Air Pirates from adult SF/F to Young Adult and, in May, queried it again.

Querying the YA version of Air Pirates started off fantastic. Three agents from the adult round said they'd be interested if I did revisions or had another novel, but more than that, I had the Holy Grail of the Unpublished Author: a referral.

As part of my, ahem, "networking" I lucked into a couple of beta readers who have agents and/or book deals. One of them LOVED Air Pirates (still does, I believe) and thought her agent would too. Her agent requested the full within hours.

Three weeks later, she passed.

She was really nice, and said her client was right to refer it to her, but she just wasn't passionate enough to represent it. And I learned something I thought I had already known: a referral can only get your work seen, not sold.

That rejection hurt the most, I think, because I'd put so much hope in it. Over the next month I got a couple more requests and a couple more passes (always with the same thing: "There's a lot I liked, but I just don't love it enough to offer representation."). I also wrote this post and found myself in Stage 6 of this one.

Then in August I got 8 more requests(!). I thought I was level-headed about it, but I also doubled the rate I sent out queries so . . . maybe not.

In September, my manuscript was with 10 agents. A month later, half of them had passed -- some that I'd been really excited about -- all with the same comments as the others. I was still querying, but emotionally I was in the final stages.

This is another post, because it comes with warnings I think every Professional Aspiring Writer should hear. For now, know that I got an offer that may or may not have been a real offer and probably wasn't a good idea even if it was. I turned it down.

And I realized I was sending my 140th query letter to agents I probably wasn't going to be very excited about even if they offered -- agents I might even have said no to. I stopped sending out new queries.

I was done. Yes, there were still a few manuscripts out there, but I'd lost hope in most of them. I didn't even know some of the agents who had requested them. Would they turn out to be the same as the offer I turned down? I let it go and focused my efforts on drafting another novel.

It was less than 24 hours after finishing that draft when I got an e-mail with some hope in it. (Continued here)


Three and a half years ago, I started this blog just so I could type this sentence:


I am now represented by Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She's a new agent with a great agency, and she is very excited about Air Pirates. I can't wait to start working on this thing again.

I'm aware, of course, that this doesn't change the game. I've beaten a boss, but there are more levels to come, and the princess is in another castle. But a new level comes with new abilities. I've added a new member to my party, with strengths to match my weaknesses, and . . . some other gaming analogy that I'll think of later.

I'll give you the story and the statistics later (of course, the statistics). If there's something specific you want to know, please ask in the comments so I can be sure to address it.

Until then: DANCE OF JOY!

Sadistic Choices: The Third Option

So you've got your Sadistic Choice (and hey look, I decided). The fate of the world -- which obviously rests in Erasmo's hands -- is to either become slaves forever to the evil Biebots, or else rip a hole in the space-time continuum, thus destroying the Biebots but also humanity as we know it. How do you, the author, decide what he does?

First, there is no right or wrong answer, but there are potential pitfalls which we'll get to in a second. Like everything in writing, what matters is not so much what you do, but how.

Erasmo might actually choose one or the other. He might opt to become slaves, hoping for a future where they can throw off their oppressors (and leaving room for more books). He might opt for self-annihilation, leaving the reader to ponder big questions about life and existence.

But what if you want a happy ending? Then you do what thousands and billions of storytellers have done before you: you have Erasmo take a Third Option. This Third Option can be almost anything, but there are some pitfalls you should avoid.

PITFALL #1: Deus-Ex Machina. In which the author pulls a Third Option out of their butt. Like if a second alien race -- that has been at war with the Biebots for millenia, but we've only heard about them just at the climax -- swoops in and saves the day. Happy Ending, Sad Reader.

PITFALL #2: Why Didn't He Do That in the First Place? In which the reader wonders why Erasmo didn't just do that the whole time, and why the conflict was a conflict at all, and why they wasted their time with the story. Like if Erasmo had a massive EMP bomb in his garage that would shut down the Biebots permanently. He had it the whole time, but arbitrarily noticed it only at the climax.

PITFALL #3: Underestimating the Reader. The moment you present a Sadistic Choice, the reader will be looking for a Third Option. If there's an obvious one that Erasmo doesn't try or at least address ("I have an EMP bomb, but it doesn't work on them. We tried that back in The War."), they'll decide Erasmo is dumb and not worth their sympathy.

Again, this is all subjective. A Deus-Ex Machina can be managed by foreshadowing ahead of time (maybe Erasmo tries to find the second alien race earlier in the novel, but fails), but even then some readers might complain.

I can't think of a better ending to this post, so as a cop-out, here's Joey Tribiani's take on the Third Option.

The Enemy of Self-Publishing

The self-publishers I know personally are really great people. They're kind, open, and smart about why they went with self-publishing. Most of all, they don't think someone like me is an idiot for aiming at traditional publishing. I have no proof, but I like to believe this attitude is the majority.

But, like everything else on the internet, there is a loud, vocal minority of meanie heads.

It feels like most of the self-pubbing rhetoric out there is antagonistic. Like self-pubbing is a side-bunned Princess Leia staring down traditional's Governor Tarkin. A smiling V taking out sleazy Norsefire officials. It treats traditional publishing as the enemy and paints self-publishers as underdog rebels.

Part of this comes from people who see themselves as snubbed or wronged by the big houses. Part of it is a kind of angry backlash to the stigma self-publishing has always had. "Pay attention to us! We're a thing!"

But what the angry rhetoric does is create a new kind of stigma.

The more I hear prominent self-pubbers shout things like, "Traditional publishers are slave owners," and "Writers are suckers. Fire your agents. They do NOTHING!" the more I don't want to be associated with that crowd.

Self-publishing isn't my goal, but it's a totally valid road, and I have nothing but support for those who take it. But if you start bad-mouthing people, then we're done talking. (And if you tell me I can make more money self-pubbing, I'll say, "O rly? Lets do teh mathz.")

I would love to see a world where self-publishing is every bit as respectable* as the traditional kind. But as long as the louder self-pubbers maintain this Us vs. Them mentality, I fear the stigma will continue.

Am I totally off-base here? What do you think?

* Respectable in the writing/publishing world, that is. I doubt Joe Public has ever cared where his novels came from.

On Overcoming Phobias

(In which my loving wife tries to reassure me as I leave for the hospital)
Cindy: "How about this? Would you rather get your blood drawn or go to the dentist?"
Me: "That's a mean question."
Cindy: "Well?"
Me: "All right. If it was just a tooth cleaning, then I guess . . . No, the dentist lasts longer."
Cindy: "See?"
Me: "Fine. I'd rather get my blood drawn than go to the dentist. There, I said it."
Cindy: "How about 'Yay! I'm getting my blood drawn!'"
Me: "Don't push it."