Welcome back to the blog Melissa! So happy that something you learned here helped you on your way to an agent! The bumpy road can make the journey so much sweeter. And wonderful that the call came after you had given up!
And for those interested in a critique such as what Melissa
suffered through learned from, good news! I'll be doing a series of first page critiques starting next week! Watch for a sign up sheet this weekend.
The hardest part of writing this story is knowing when to start, because I’ve been writing since I could pick up a crayon. This particular book’s odyssey began a couple years ago, when I decided to try writing a middle grade novel. I’d previously written mostly YA fantasy, but I was reading a lot of MG with my kids and loving it, so I wanted to give it a go.
After seven drafts and multiple rounds of CP and beta reader feedback, I was ready. My hopes were high as I fired off a bunch of queries to agents an author friend had recommended. While I waited to hear back, I thought hey, maybe I should also check out some of those online resources she also recommended.
If I’d done that first, this might have been a much shorter story. I fell down the rabbit hole into the online writing community and found myself exploring a Cave of Wonders full of amazing advice, cool resources, and incredibly helpful people. I cringed as I discovered newbie mistakes I’d made in the query I’d already sent to too many agents, and sighed over all sorts of opportunities I’d missed. But it wasn’t too late to start doing things right — so I got feedback on my query, shined it up, and entered some contests.
I didn’t get my agent from a contest. But I can tell you confidently that if it weren’t for contests, I wouldn’t have an agent. Contests helped me hone my query and first page, introduced me to fellow writers who gave me amazing feedback, and provided a look at how incredibly good the competition is out there (which I found heartening and instructive on so many levels). I did get requests from one contest as well, but the feedback and support were the real prizes.
My big turning point came when I took advantage of a query & first 250 workshop Michelle was kindly hosting on this very blog. Michelle and the others who gave me feedback all said the same thing: your voice is YA, not MG. This mirrored advice I got from the amazing Tatum Flynn when she kindly critiqued my novel. I found myself facing a dilemma: should I revise the book from MG to YA?
It would be a ton of work, and it might not go anywhere. But then I realized if I turned a low-key MG crush in the book into a full-blown YA romance, it would raise the stakes through the roof because of certain plot twists involving the love interest. I started to get really excited. I did the revision, reworked the query, and changed the name to JANUARY IN SHADOW.
When I started querying again, I got way more requests than I had for the MG version. My hard work had paid off! But at the same time, I worried my big revelation had come too late. I’d already queried a lot of my best fit agents with the MG version, and it was still basically the same book — I couldn’t query them again. To take my mind off the stress of of waiting, I focused on my new WIP.
And it swept me away. I became convinced this new book was the one. I stopped querying JANUARY and mentally wrote it off, even though I still had several fulls and partials in agent hands and was working on an R&R. This new book was better, I was in love, and this time I was going to do it right. No more newbie mistakes.
I submitted the new novel to PitchWars, and was thrilled to be selected as a mentee. Goal one in my new plan, check! I got a couple more requests for JANUARY IN SHADOW a few days after getting into PitchWars, but sent them off distractedly — they didn’t matter, because I could see the flaws in my old book too clearly now and was head over heels for the new one.
But then one of the requesting agents sent me an email, less than 3 hours after I sent her my full. She said she was a third of the way through and loved it so far, and asked about the revisions I’d mentioned I was working on.
I started to panic. I’d sent this query two months ago, and had given up on the agent before she sent the full request — I actually had her down as Closed/No Response on my spreadsheet. My brain was so wrapped up in the new book that I could hardly remember what the old one was about. And besides, how could she love JANUARY? What about all those flaws I was planning on dealing with in my R&R? What about my new book? This wasn’t part of my plan!
The next day — less than 24 hours after I sent her the full — the agent emailed me asking for a phone call. This was my cue to run around flailing my arms. I hadn’t even had time to do deep, next-level research on this agent, because I’d assumed she’d take months with my full like everyone else. What about the new book, and my perfect plans for it? What about PitchWars? I wasn’t mentally prepared for this at all.
And that’s actually what saved me. You see, I’m terrified of the phone, and I tend to babble incoherently. In the past, whenever I fantasized about The Call, it turned quickly from a dream to a nightmare in which I sounded like a crazy person and did nothing but make stupid jokes and apologize endlessly. I didn’t see how I could possibly get through a phone call with a real live agent without making a complete idiot of myself. But I hadn’t completed my mental whiplash enough to have the huge level of investment in The Call that would have paralyzed me — my brain was still off in New Book Land. I had a great Plan B (which had been Plan A until a few hours ago), so if I blew it, really, nothing terrible would happen. I went in feeling almost detached.
But that changed quickly. The agent had so much enthusiasm for my book. She wanted it to be published even more than I did (which was a bizarre and wonderful realization). She had great insight into ways to make it better, and clearly had a strong understanding of the target audience. She was easy to talk to, open, dedicated, and everything I wanted in an agent.
She was relatively new, and I used to think back when I started querying that I wanted a highly experienced agent. But everything I’d learned since then told me the enthusiasm and commitment this agent had for my book was worth its weight in gold, and better for me than an agent with tons of clients for whom I’d be a mere drop in their huge bucket of awesome. Soon after informing the other agents considering my book of the offer, I got restless for the grace period to be over so I could sign with her and make official what I already knew in my heart.
I’m thrilled to report that I am now represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary!
And now I’m just as excited about my revisions for JANUARY IN SHADOW as I was about that new book (though it’s definitely next in line). Letting go gave me the perspective I needed to pick it back up again and make it really shine.
Melissa Caruso was born on the summer solstice and went to school in an old mansion with a secret door, but despite this auspicious beginning has yet to develop any superpowers. She graduated with honors in Creative Writing from Brown University and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. Melissa writes YA fantasy and is represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary.
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