Finally! Continuing from Part Two.
The rules of #pitmad were simple. If a literary agent or editor liked your pitch, it meant they wanted to see more and it was an invitation to query. There were still no guarantees, but it certainly gave you a leg up in the slush pile.
I still remember how anxious I felt after pressing ‘Tweet’. It was as if I’d said an enthusiastic “Hi!” to a group of strangers, and was waiting to see if they’d smile and wave back or give the ‘who TF are you’ look.
Two minutes passed and nothing happened. Here’s a screenshot of my thoughts in those two minutes. NB Names have been redacted to protect the guilty.
Forgive my typo but I was so excited! I could not believe that a literary agent found my pitch interesting enough to like it! By the end of the day, 13 literary agents had liked my pitch, along with two editors (one from a big publishing house that I adoreeee), my throat was hoarse and my heart was no longer in my chest.
Yea, I was not prepared for such a great response. One of my friends in that chat had joined Twitter just so she could like my pitch since we didn’t really expect to get any attention lol (gotta love her). I did some research and sent out queries and sample chapters to 10 of the agents, and over the next week I got 3 rejections, but also 3 more full requests!
My thirst for full requests was finally quenched. At this point, 7 agents were reading my full manuscript and I wanted to get some feedback from them before approaching anyone else. According to my research, agents took about 2-3 months to read a full manuscript so I just had to be patient and somehow distract myself from checking my inbox every five minutes. After all, I didn’t expect any news for a few weeks. Everything was out of my hands.
A week later I got an email from the CODE Burt Awards.
My Fishy Stepmom had been selected as a Finalist!
I was shocked, confused, thrilled, shocked, puzzled, shocked, worried, excited and did I mention shocked?!
I had completely dismissed any hope of being a finalist after realising that I had accidentally written a book that was more MG (8-12 years) than YA (12-18 years). Fortunately for me, my book travelled along that flexible boundary of upper MG and lower YA, ie books suitable for 12 year-olds.
Being a CODE Burt finalist meant that I would receive a cash award, and best of all, a publishing deal with a publisher of my choice selected from eligible Caribbean publishers who bid on the rights to my manuscript, and a guaranteed purchase of at least 2000 books to be distributed to libraries and schools across the Caribbean. It’s an amazing, one of a kind opportunity, especially for a Caribbean-based writer with limited publishing and distribution options. This award was the reason I ventured into children’s literature in the first place. I was crushed the year before when Getting Back at Jack Taylor wasn’t selected to be a finalist, and now my dream had come true!
But I had so many conflicting emotions. To be shortlisted was a dream come true, yes, but in five months my dream had become much bigger. In that short time, my eyes had been opened to so many more possibilities for the book, and how far the story could travel. I had so immersed myself in the US publishing world that it seemed disheartening to all of a sudden be yanked away from other potential opportunities. What would happen with all the agents reading my book?!
This was one of those rare times when Google had no answers at all. I sought guidance from an experienced Caribbean author, who gave me a quick lesson on territorial rights in publishing. He explained that it was possible to have both things – a US agent selling US rights, and a Caribbean publishing house with Caribbean rights and I just needed to give full disclosure to both parties.
I immediately emailed the CODE Burt awards and told them I was excited to be a finalist, but since I submitted there were US agents interested in the manuscript. CODE Burt was fine with the situation, once the mandate of the competition – ie published by a Caribbean publishing house and books distributed in the Caribbean – could be fulfilled. I then emailed all the agents who were reading my full manuscript, informing them about the ‘offer of prize and publication’ and asked if they were still willing to consider representation. Three agents immediately responded that they were still interested and needed a few more weeks to finish reading. My book had moved up their reading cue!
I was relieved. I’m a big believer in having my cake and eating it too.
Two weeks later, I got my first email from Marietta Zacker. I had always been corresponding with her then assistant Erin, so when her name appeared in my inbox, I leapt away from the computer like it was on fire. She had some questions about the characters in the manuscript, and I tackled those questions like I was doing a final English exam. Four days later, she asked if we could schedule a call to chat about the book.
Was it THE CALL?
It definitely wasn’t a no, but according to research, it may not be a yes either. Sometimes agents call just to give feedback about the book, or to ask for a revision. They don’t always offer representation. It was like an author-agent interview to see if we were a good fit. Oh the angst!
I read everything I could on how to prepare for an agent call. I had a list of questions to ask, and I also read and watched every interview about Marietta I found online. She seemed so knowledgeable, and cool, and she’s from the Caribbean, and she liked the ocean, and I really wanted her to represent me, so by the day of the call I was a complete nervous wreck. I was sweating, hands shaking, pacing up and down with the phone waiting for it to ring. A full mess!
I don’t remember much about the call at the beginning. I remember thinking “I’m so hot I’m going to melt”. I know we discussed the book, and I know Marietta and Erin talked about potential revisions (they wanted me to add at least another 10,000 words). I was too nervous to even ask any of the questions printed out on the soggy piece of paper in my trembling hands. I had to remind myself to breathe.
Think I’m exaggerating? Behold! A real life exhibit of my fears and insecurities:
After about 30 mins in, I was certain it was a call to discuss potential revisions. There was no mention of an offer of representation, and strangely enough, I got a bit more relaxed. I love doing revisions so I was eager to take in any suggestions and prepared to do the work.
But then we started talking about my writing process for My Fishy Stepmom, and I was hesitant to reveal that I had written that draft in less than a month. I didn’t want Marietta to think I wasn’t serious about writing, or make her believe that I could write so quickly all of the time. In the end, I decided to go with the truth.
It’s a good thing I did.
Both Marietta and Erin freaked out, and Marietta immediately offered representation because if that was a first draft, she ‘couldn’t wait to see what a 3rd or 4th draft would look like’.
Cue shock and happiness and I remember nothing else except wanting to get off of the phone and scream, and jump around and celebrate with my family and friends.
I had an actual offer from an awesome, experienced, respected literary agent!
I knew I couldn’t say yes immediately, and that it was protocol to email all the other agents to let them know about the offer of representation. I gave everyone seven days to get back to me if they were interested but I was so sure about my decision. I received a rejection, a revision request but mostly polite step asides from agents who didn’t have time to read before my deadline.
Nine days after the call, I officially signed with Marietta and the Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency, and so began the most wild, fulfilling, anxious and tortuous ride of my literary career. I’ll talk about more in my next series of blog posts which will explore what happens after you sign with an agent.
In the meantime I hope that this series has given you some insight and inspiration into the dos and donts of finding a literary agent. I made tons of mistakes but learned so much, and in the end I accomplished my goal because I believed in the story, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and though I wasn’t always confident during the process, I didn’t give up or put limitations on my dreams.
Yes, my journey had a lot of twists and turns with #pitmad and the CODE Burt Award, but my eventual agent found me via the slush pile. Remember, her assistant asked to read my manuscript before any of those events.
I started querying in November 2017, and signed with my agent in April 2018. This isn’t a very long time, but the CODE Burt Award expedited the process.
34 queries sent
16 non responders
7 full requests
1 offer – It only takes one!!!
If you’re querying, don’t give up.
Every rejection brings you closer to the right agent.