Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Getting the Call with Rena Olsen

I'm so glad contests helped Rena on her way. Always wonderful to have writers from my contests come back to share their success stories! Rena really show us it's all about learning the profession and doing things right. Word counts can be changed and queries made stronger. Congrats, Rena and thanks for sharing with us! Much success in the future!

I’m super excited to be able to share my call story on Michelle’s blog. I’ve been reading these stories for…well, a long time, and they always gave me hope. I hope that mine will do the same for others.

When I wrote my agent post for my personal blog, I sort of glossed over the rocky start to my querying journey. I want to share more of that this time, especially the part that so many other people played in my journey.

As most writers, I always enjoyed writing, but while I won some contests and took some classes when I was younger, I didn’t get serious about writing until a few years ago. Even then, I had no idea what it took to actually get a book from the seedling of an idea to a published book on a shelf. Ahhh, young Rena was so innocent… ;)

It took three years for me to write my first novel, though most of that was spent…well…not writing. When I finished, I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. My good friend, Jenny Moyer, bullied me into convinced me to enter my very first Twitter pitch contest, #PitMad. I had no idea what I was doing. None. I had barely even been on Twitter. Not surprisingly, I got zero stars that day. Next, she gave me some advice on how to write a query letter.

This time, I decided to do my research first. I looked up query letter examples, read agent blogs, and carefully crafted the most perfect of letters. It was sure to attract attention, and I knew I would be juggling more agent offers than I could count very soon.

Friends, my first query letter contained the phrase *deep breath* “fiction novel.”

I know. I don’t like to talk about it.

I didn’t query many agents with that first novel. I loved it. I still do, but it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

My second novel was a much better experiment. This was when I discovered contests, and I entered like a madwoman. Though I got picked for few, I always made a ton of great connections. Pitch Madness is how I found my incredible critique partners, Margie and Tana. And I never left a contest without learning a lot about myself and the writing world. Almost a year ago, I made it into Michelle’s Sun vs Snow contest, and it was one of the best experiences I had.

Even as I was querying my second novel, I was working on another novel. My first foray into adult fiction, and a novel that was both extremely difficult and extremely rewarding to write. At the time it was titled REMEMBERING DIANA.  I had a feeling about this one. When I shelved novel #2, I knew I was ready to send Diana out into the world. The response was immediate and positive. I sent several fulls out in the first couple weeks.

While waiting for responses, I decided to give Michelle’s “In With the New” contest a shot. I was sort of a contest junkie at this point, but had not yet entered Diana in anything. This contest ended up being a turning point of sorts.

I was attending the fantastic Midwest Writers’ Workshop when I got an email that made my heart flip. I was nearing the end of a workshop with William Kent Kruger, and sneaked a peek at my email. An agent from the contest, who had requested the full less than two days before, had already finished it. Couldn’t put it down. She didn’t really rep adult fiction but loved it that much. I showed it to my friend, Jamie, and we managed to make it through the final ten minutes of the workshop before squealing, though I think I got a bruise from where she hit me repeatedly on the arm in her excitement.

My first call wasn’t THE CALL, but a request for revisions, and rightly so. My adult novel clocked in at around 72,000 words. Not nearly long enough, and there was plenty to expand on. I was excited about the possibilities, and it only took a few weeks for me to add more than 20,000 more words.

There really is a lot of waiting in this business, so while I waited for a response to my revision from Agent A, as well as the updates I sent those who already had the full, I decided to enter another #PitMad, because why not? I had held off on Pitch Wars because of the revisions, and I was itching to throw Diana out there again. I got several stars that day, one from an agent who requested the full right off the bat.

A week or so later, Agent A emailed to request another call. Unfortunately, due to scheduling, we had to wait almost a WEEK to have it. I can’t even tell you what that week was like. Torture. Was it another revision? An offer? Was she turning me down, but nicely? My imagination became my worst enemy in those days.

Thankfully, it was an offer. My first offer of representation, and I was over the moon. I diligently emailed all the others with my work. Some passed, others requested the full, and the agent who had requested the full from PitMad wanted to talk. Two days later, I received my second offer of representation.

I spent the next week researching and talking to those in my inner circle who knew what was going on. It was an extremely difficult decision, but at the same time, a really easy one. When I look back, the answer was obvious the entire time. Though I am eternally grateful for the first agent who believed in my manuscript, and the help she gave me on making it even better, the right choice for me was the second agent, whose vision for my story matched mine, who was extremely easy to talk to, and whose Twitter timeline made me laugh out loud more than once.
On October 22, 2014, I accepted an offer of representation from Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, and I haven’t regretted it for an instant. It took two full years, three manuscripts, and more rejections than I care to discuss, but in the end it has been the exact right match, and I don’t regret a minute of the journey that got me here.


Daughter of a wandering pastor, Rena Olsen never knew the answer to the question, “Where are you from?” While attending her third school by fourth grade, she found familiarity and comfort in reading, and when she figured out she could create her own stories, that was it. She hasn’t stopped writing since her first story, about an anthropomorphic tooth going on an adventure through a school, won the state of Iowa writing contest.

Now Rena is a writer of YA, NA, and adult fiction who believes in healthy amounts of pizza and sarcasm. When she’s not saving the lives of children as a school therapist, she’s exploring alternate realities on the page, filling the cheering section for friends, and pretending to be an adult. You can find her waxing poetic on Twitter at @originallyrena, musing (sometimes coherently) on her website and blog at http://renaolsen.com, or posting random memes and quotes on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RenaOlsenWriter. ;Rena is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. 


  1. Great story, Rena, and congratulations!

  2. It's great to meet Rena! Good luck to her.

    Yeah,it's a waiting game and the waiting is the hardest part. But you just have to go with it, and if it's not working hold out for something better.

    And thanks for stopping by during the Blitz and saying hello.