Come to My New Blog!

If you followed a link here from a comment I made on somebody's google blog, I would love to have you visit my blog, but this is no longer it. While I may occasionally post things here again once in a long while, virtually all my content will be at from here on out. If you were curious enough to come this far, why not give me one more click?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some Happy News

I can't bury this deep within the post like I'm typically inclined to, because I'm just too excited: I have an agent!!


I actually got two offers of representation, the first of which came on June 10th, so I've been keeping this under my hat until I'm fit to burst.

The first agent tried to call me on the last teacher work day before summer vacation. I had left my desk to run some errands--drop off paperwork and get signatures, and I very consciously left my phone on my desk, because what could I possibly need it for, right? When I came back, I saw I had missed a call . . . hm, New York/New Jersey area code . . . as I played the voice mail, it gradually dawned on me that I was receiving The Call. I'm surprised I didn't kick my desk over in my excitement. I let out a whoop that neighboring teachers could hear in their classrooms--and let me assure you, I am not generally given to whooping.

That call came from an agent I had met in person at Backspace--so you see? Go to Backspace!--who works at a fantastic house that is closed to queries unless they meet you at a conference--you see? Go to Backspace! This house was high on my list because they rep not only what I've written, but everything I could see myself possibly wanting to write some day, and because they had a fantastic reputation everywhere I looked.

For the rest of the day, I was not fit to work at all--but I still had a deadline! I had to call Lisa to come over when she was done and help me, and while I got my grades turned in on time, I was about five minutes late turning in my keys and had to wait until Monday to turn them in and get that last paycheck of the year.

So I went home and informed the other agents looking at my work that I had an offer now, and stood back and watched the flurry of activity. I did have one vaguely snarky reply, slapping my wrists for my presumption in nudging, but otherwise everybody was nice and enthusiastic. Even the agents who stepped aside did so with very kind words for my writing and my story, and a few said they simply didn't have time to get back to me within the time frame that I intended to get back to the offering agent. Within a week I had a second offer! Yay! Proof the first agent wasn't high on crack when she called me!

I always thought having any offer at all was a dream come true, but that having more than one--having a choice of agents--must just be sitting on cloud nine. I confess I wasn't terribly sympathetic when my wife went through this several months before. Now I know. You may not, though, and if not then you probably won't get how much anxiety this caused in me. For one thing, with choice comes the possibility of regret. Would I make the right choice? Almost more importantly, in this case, is I really have little stomach for letting people down. Here are two professionals who both loved my novel enough to offer to invest their time and resources into helping it see the light of day! Before last week I could count on one hand the number of people who'd read the full manuscript of Vanishing Act. To have somebody read it and love it and tell me what they loved about it . . . I just can't tell you what it meant to me. I wanted to hug them both; I wanted to give them both whatever they wanted.

Instead, I had to tell one of them that she wasn't my choice.

It was probably harder on me than it was on her. Agents know this is a business, and they know some other book'll come along that they'll love and want to sell. I can't help but feel like a bit of a jerk, though, even though rationally I know this is just how it goes.

Choose I did, though. I can't imagine anybody reading this doesn't already know from facebook or twitter or just from hearing me whooping all the way cross country, but I am now represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency! :) I chose Cameron for a variety of reasons. Cameron had some ideas on how I could make my novel stronger that really resonated with me. As I read her e-mail, I found myself nodding my head and saying, Yes! That would totally make my book better! Also, I like the idea of being agent-cousins with my wife, who is also represented by DMLA. I don't know if most husbands and wives who write are at the same agency or at different ones--the only pair I know offhand is Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, who are both represented by the Jill Grinberg agency--but it just seems cool to me to keep it in-house, so to speak. And heck, DMLA is also an amazing agency with a fantastic reputation--an agency that represents a boatload of my favorite speculative fiction writers. I'm thrilled to be agent cousins with so many amazing writers!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Backspace

As I mentioned a couple posts back, I had the opportunity to attend the Backspace Writers Conference at the end of May. Let me come right out and say that this experience was everything I hoped it would be. I met a lot of awesome aspiring writers, pitched my book to some great agents, and, as much as anything else, walked away with a satisfying feeling of validation.

It really is energizing to spend a few days with writers--aspiring and/or published. In my daily life, so many people really just don't get what this is all about. They ask if I'm "still writing that book" or they don't get why my book hasn't come out yet. Or they suggest I get advice from the person who paid to print up her students' stories and thus calls herself, alternately, an "editor" and an "author." Or they smile and nod but clearly look at this as some foolish pipe dream that any sane person would have given up on by now. "Save me an autographed copy! Get me front row tickets to the movie premiere!" When I talk about looking for an agent, most people don't get what that's about. They think you just go out and hire an agent, or that an agent is some vaguely suspicious thing--"This person gets a percentage? For doing what?" If you do sign with an agent--like my wife did, with Amy Boggs of the Donald Maass agency--many people outside the field don't recognize that as a huge step toward reaching your goal.

The folks you meet at Backspace all get it, though. We all want the same things, and we're all comparing notes and sharing what we've learned. It's so nice to talk about these things and not have to first explain and second have it all sail right over someone's head anyway. (And not feel like people are rolling their eyes, either.) And the mix of people there--besides the aspiring writers there are the agents, the editors, and the published writers. I virtually never felt like I wasn't taken seriously by the pros. I got to hang out by the bar with professionals who understood my dream because it was their dream too, and not so long ago.

It's always hard to come down from that high--from feeling like a writer, dammit for several days in a row. It's a challenge whenever I attend a writers' conference (I can't help but feel like there should be an apostrophe after that S) or, heck, after my crit group meetings. It's not about not liking my day job--I do. But this is a passion too, and it's one that usually has to be fed in stolen moments. Stolen from grading and lesson planning, stolen from cleaning the house, stolen from having a hobby or watching television. Going to Backspace was like mainlining that feeling that I normally only get in small doses.

And I hope it doesn't sound too arrogant to say this, but this trip was also a positive for me because it made me feel like I had the goods for real. Obviously winning a scholarship helped in that department, but just getting the chance to exchange ideas, and to have people look at my work and tell me what was good and what could stand to be improved, all made me feel like it wasn't some pipe dream after all. That's not a competitive thing--writing isn't a zero-sum game, and my success doesn't come at the expense of someone else's.

There was a time when I kept writing once in a while because I couldn't seem to stop for long, but when I had pretty much concluded that I would never be published. That time couldn't be further away now.

I'll end with a pitch of my own, for any novelist who's serious about taking the next step. Go to Backspace. Get as ready as you can first, learn as much as you can, get as polished as you can. It's a good experience and a good education either way, but you'd be wise to prepare yourself to get the most from it. And save up, obviously. But even if you have to pay for it yourself, this conference is worth every penny. My only caveat is, do your damnedest to have a product worth selling. A good manuscript, a polished log line, and if you're shy, whatever source of personal courage you have to find to enable you to walk right up to people and start a conversation about your novel. I've seen this experience up close twice now, once when Lisa attended and now for myself, and no other conference I've been to compares.