How I Got My Literary Agent – Part One

Before I got an agent I used to consume posts like these, so I think it’s only fair that I document my own experience for other persons, especially writers like myself who are based outside of the USA.

WARNING: This is going to be a long post. It’s been a while since I blogged and my rambling has gotten even worse since then. 🙂

Let’s go back to 2010 (what? told you it was going to be long lol). I was mainly a short story writer. My stories rarely went past 3,000 words. I never thought I would be able to write a whole novel. In fact, I didn’t want to! The idea of writing 60,000+ words seemed like a monumental, daunting task.

That same year I did a workshop with a well-known Caribbean author, who introduced me to the term “literary agent”. I was amazed at the idea of a whole person whose job was to sell our stories to publishers. The author taught us how to write a ‘query letter’ but to be honest I paid more attention to the short fiction exercise. Remember, back then, I had no interest in writing a full-length novel.

Then I heard about Nanowrimo. A challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I like challenges, so I gave it a go. I didn’t even get beyond 5,000 words before losing interest in the story.

I don’t like to lose.

The next year, 2011, I did it again. This year I actually won the challenge. I wrote 50,000 horrible words of a book that I’m afraid to look back at. The story wasn’t even finished. As soon as I saw that I had reached 50,000 words I paused mid-sentence, and then went boasting about my victory. I had no desire to finish that story either but this experience was so important because for the first time, I knew that I had the ability to write that many words in a short time.

In January 2013, I was recounting a traumatic childhood memory to a friend, and he commented, “this sounds like the opening chapter of a novel”. I thought about it, and decided to give it a go. This time, I decided to break down each of the ten chapters like short stories, just to make the task more manageable. I was serious about it. I even gave myself deadlines for completing each chapter. This was the beginning of my journey to writing Getting Back at Jack Taylor.

I started strong! I met my deadlines for the first four chapters in one month, but then in the middle of Chapter Five, the midpoint, I felt like I was losing the plot. NOTE I have to do a separate blog post about the challenges of writing a fictional story based on a real event. *Hold me accountable please*. I stopped writing and got feedback from some amazing beta readers (thank you Alake, Christine and Liesl!) that would change the complete structure of the novel.

Two months later, I traveled to BocasLitFest in Trinidad, and happened to attend a workshop hosted by a literary agent with Caribbean roots based in the UK. She was so informative and really gave us a complete understanding of her role. I couldn’t wait to complete my book to submit to her. I made sure I didn’t leave without her business card.

Then, movies happened. It wasn’t planned, but I had been introduced to some amazing people and we teamed up and made a few Caribbean movies, and before I knew it, 3 years would pass before I opened the Getting Back at Jack Taylor document again.

This time I was motivated by the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean YA Literature. This award consisted of a cash prize and a book deal, specifically for Caribbean writers. I had never considered writing for younger audiences, though several persons had suggested it over the years because of my penchant for writing short stories from a child’s perspective. But this was too good an opportunity to ignore.

I bought and read some of the BURT award-winning titles and decided that with some revision, Getting Back at Jack Taylor would be a good fit. Three months later, I completed a draft of my first novel, just in time to submit to the competition.

And it wasn’t shortlisted.

I wondered what I could do with the manuscript, then I remembered about that magical literary agent person. I dug up the workshop notes on how to write a query, and in May 2017, I submitted my first query and manuscript to a literary agent.

I stared at my inbox, waiting on her to reply in the next few minutes. Oh the sweet naiveté…

To date, I still haven’t gotten a reply.

At the time, it didn’t even occur to me to query other literary agents, especially those in the US. In my head, the only people who would be interested in this Barbadian story, especially one rich with dialect, would be people from the Caribbean and the diaspora. A quick google search would have revealed the truth, but alas. It wasn’t meant to be. I put the manuscript aside. Its journey didn’t end though…but that’s another blog post.

Five months later, on October 7th 2017, Antiguan author, Joanne Hillhouse shared the invitation to submit to the 2018 CODE Burt Award on Facebook. Initially I dismissed it. The deadline was October 31st, 24 days later. But Joanne is an amazing blogger and so I checked out her post ‘The BURT Blog – Memories to Keep and a Trophy’ and was amazed to read that she wrote her award-winning book Musical Youth in less than two weeks!

As per guidelines, the manuscript only needed to be at least 20,000 words – not even half of what I wrote for Nanowrimo. Joanne wrote a whole book in less than two weeks, and I had more than three weeks before the deadline! A writing project had just been cancelled, and I did have a chunk of unexpected free time. What was there to lose?

I brainstormed several story ideas with my friend, Roger Alexis, and he even came up with a title for one of my story suggestions – My Fishy Stepmom. Normally when writing fiction, I am more of a pantser, starting with a character or a scene and then figuring out the story as I went along, but I had no time for that. I spent two days plotting out the book like I would a feature screenplay, and that really turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Yes, once again, another blog post for another time.

I finished the first draft of My Fishy Stepmom on the 26th October, 19 days later. It was just under 30,000 words. I put it aside for a day and then spent 3 days doing a revision. I sent it off to my friend (Liesl!) to check for spelling errors, typos etc, did a final polish the next day, and submitted the manuscript on the day of the deadline.

Now I really, really liked this story. *Confession* I’m my toughest critic and it’s rare that I write something that I immediately love.

I had learnt my lesson from last year though. This time, I was not going to wait around for months to see if the manuscript would actually be chosen as a Burt finalist.

I googled “How to get a literary agent” and four days later, on November 3rd 2017, I sent out my first query for My Fishy Stepmom.

To be continued…

 

 

 

Working with Artists 101

When I was in secondary school, I decided to participate in its beauty pageant. As you may know, the formal wear is a key segment, and so in my gusto and excitement, I spent weeks looking through magazines and websites, and in my head, I put together what I thought to be the most perfect dress.

Imagine my excitement when I learned that one of Barbados’ top fashion designers at that time had agreed to sponsor me. I met up with him and gave him all of my specific requirements for the dress – down to amateur sketches.

He listened, nodded, and even took my sketches, and a week before the pageant, finally called me to try on the dress.

I could see that he followed my instructions to the T.

But I was disappointed.

Continue reading

You Win Some…You Lose Some

Last year, March 2nd 2013, I wrote a satirical post on how to handle a rejection email.  It was meant to be all fun and games, but recently I’ve seen some situations where fellow writers have been faced with some type of literary rejection, and have reacted strongly – some of them actually deciding that their writing is crap and they should give up.

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I berate them for their reaction, and say the statements that all writers hear when they’ve been rejected:

“It’s just one person’s opinion at one point of time.”

“It’s their loss.”

“Remember the manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected a dozen times.”

“Keep trying, and don’t give up.”

Statements, that in the moment, really don’t f**king matter and fall on deaf ears.

Because, rejection HURTS. Continue reading

Why I decided to Self-Publish my first book…

Earlier this month I announced that I was going to publish a collection of short stories called “In Time of Need” and I received a lot of private messages asking me if I had found a publisher for my stories.

I had decided not to even approach a traditional publisher for this collection, and I must admit it was a decision that caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me.

You see, although you read countless stories of successful self-published authors (and I know some personally), I still had that subconscious nagging idea that to be a “real author” you needed to be validated by an authentic publishing house. In fact, it was this nagging ideology that postponed the publishing date of this collection because I have had these stories wasting away on my computer for a very long time. Every now and again I would submit them to competitions and journals, and every now and again they may win a prize or be accepted for publication.

Everyday we fight mental battles of how society tells us something is supposed to be done versus what actually makes sense. Some members of society tell me that in order to publish a book, I am supposed to send multiple query letters to publishers or agents, hope that someone is attracted to my work and makes me an offer, and then wait a year (maybe even two) for my book to become available to the public. For this book of short stories, that simply didn’t make sense.  Continue reading

The Cropper Foundation’s 8th Residential Creative Writers’ Workshop is now open for applications – Deadline Dec 15th

THE CROPPER FOUNDATION’s 8th Residential Creative Writers Workshop is now open for applications.

The Workshop sponsored by The Cropper Foundation, and organised in partnership with the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, will take place from June 29th to July 13th 2014 in Trinidad and Tobago. Applications are open to published or unpublished prose fiction writers, as well as poets and playwrights.

Two experienced and published authors — Professor Funso Aiyejina and Dr Merle Hodge from the University of the West Indies will be the residential moderators for the two-week workshop. Since 2000 they have mentored writers from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Dominica, St. Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean Diaspora (Canada, USA, France), many of whom have gone on to publish their original creative writing and won a number of international Literary Awards.
The writers’ workshop is part of The Cropper Foundation’s effort to contribute to the development of the Caribbean on many levels and in different areas of interest.

Participants of the Residential Creative Writers Workshop will also benefit from visits and discussions with published authors and professionals from the publishing industry.
Interested writers are invited to submit five pages of a sample of their prose fiction, plays or their poetry no later than December 15th, 2013 to the following address: Writers Workshop, Department of Creative & Festival Arts, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. All applicants (above the age of twenty) are responsible for their travel to and from Trinidad, and will be asked to contribute US$500 or TT$3000 each for the two week workshop. For application forms and further information, call Dani Lyndersay or Sherry-Ann Carrington at the UWI Department of the Creative and Festival Arts, telephone:
(1 868) 662-2002 (ext. 83539/83539/83791 ); fax: (1 868) 663 2222; or email:
danielle.lyndersay@sta.uwi.edu; or sherry-ann.carrington @sta.uwi.edu — Subject: Writers’ workshop or visit The Cropper Foundation’s website at http://www.cropperfoundation.org or download the application form HERE.

http://cropperfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/the-cropper-foundations-8th-residential-creative-writers-workshop-is-now-open-for-applications/

Meet My Best Friend, Fear

On Sunday, September 15th, I was 4 pages away from completing my second feature-length screenplay; a psychological thriller called Two Smart. It was hard work, and many times I chastised myself for making things more difficult than they had to be.

You see, I wondered if I could write 90 pages of a screenplay, set in one location, with just three characters. I don’t want to give away anything just yet, but when I say one location, I mean ONE location. I challenged myself even further; for example, not simply a house – but one room in a house. So I set about my task to make a story interesting enough, balancing the right about of dialogue and action to maintain an audience’s attention for an hour and a half.

That Sunday I knew I was going to finish the script. I mean, I KNEW exactly how the movie was supposed to end. I had a scene by scene outline! I woke up at 6am as usual, smiling and messaging close friends that I was about to finish the script. I went on Facebook, read some funny statuses, went on gchat and before I knew it, it was 9am. I still had the whole day to write those final four pages, right? I spent the entire day running errands, responding to emails, watching videos online…until I realised that the sun had disappeared, and the CBC Evening News had just finished.

Ok Shakirah, time to write these four pages, and I opened the Final Draft Document.

But I became paralysed. I became cold all over, and my eyes looked wildly about the room to find any task to do but the one before me. What was happening? Continue reading