Will My Literary Agent Dreams Come True? The Importance of Patience in the Query Trenches!

So longtime followers of my blog will know I completed a revision request on my retelling of Stravinsky’s ballet, Firebirdset during the Cold War, with witches and a family of monsters, but most importantly, Baba Yaga.  This is the first novel I seriously queried, and I averaged about a 50% request rate out of the 50 total queries I sent out to top agents.  My query letter was killer, and I’ve had a lot of great agents fall in love with the prose but not the plot, or think the plot and concept are amazing or that the prose is lacking, or some say it was a wonderful novel but they simply didn’t fall in love with it.  Firebird is now with Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn and Charlaine Harris of True Blood’s agent, which makes me giddy.

This is probably it’s last shot, otherwise I am trunking the novel for another time.  I love Firebird to pieces and would love to see it published, and Joshua Bilmes is an absolutely stellar agent.  I think it is worthy of being published and is a very literary fantasy and is hard to pin down.  I would love to someday have it available to eager readers, but I know this is it’s last chance.

It’s a great novel, but I’ve evolved as a writer in the calendar year I finished revising it, by blogging and continuing to write prose and poetry, and my new middle grade novel is absolutely my favorite thing, hands down, I have ever written!  It’s about Marie Laveau’s heir saving New Orleans with her best friend, Raphael, and Papa Legba from Marinette and Mister Carrefour and their zombies and loup garou.  It incorporates a lot of my personal spirituality into it, seeing as I’m technically in a maryaj lwa with Carrefour – Samael’s second favorite form, rife with jazz, canes, saxophones, dreads, and cigars, and also because it has the angels I know and love as May Laveau’s family.  May first came to me when I was 18 a long beautiful summer ago, when I wanted to write a novel about my beloved Uriel and Raphael.  In it, Uriel’s avatar is a precocious thirteen year old, and Raphael is her guardian angel.

It got a lot of requests from #DVPit last October, and I spent some time revising according to several kind agent’s feedback, and now it’s back on submission again.  The first agent that ever gave me a revise and resubmit on Firebird enthusiastically requested the full, and despite being my one of my top choices for agents, Thao is absolutely a wonderful personality and has amazing books under her belt, my favorite being Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen and the Abyss Surrounds Us.  There’s no guarantee she or Joshua will like my books, but it feels amazing just to have gotten this far!  If not, I’ll get great feedback and go back to revising, perhaps shelving Firebird and moving on to my new projects!

So what’s in the works for Allie?

Birds Away is my YA contemporary project about a group of teenagers at a science and tech school that get a grant to do a Big Year, in birding terms, seeing as many bird species as you can in the continental US.  Jack Black did a lovely movie called The Big Year and my own experience going to America’s top science and tech school in the world inspired me.  We were a bunch of nerdy, passionate weirdos at my high school, and had everything from a satellite to a cloud-watching club.  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has dreamers above all else, and I was one of them.  How fun would it be to read about a group of friends with biological and technical backgrounds road-tripping for a year birding!  This is the novel I needed written yesterday!

Spider King is a YA Fantasy Beauty and the Beast retelling with… well, with a spider prince, and a fantasy civilization that has grown over the milennia after the collapse of a dystopian technological empire that created mutant animal-human hybrids that now live in different kingdoms where ancient tech is few and far between.  A rebel spider prince named Saroth and his blood enemy warrior Princess Melania team up to take down an empire.

Harold the Dragon is an illustrated children’s book about a girl named Maude that has a bashful, scared dragon with glasses named Harold that lives in her closet.  Dragons have to earn their wings by doing good deeds.  They have tea with the little girl ghost in the attic, help zombies cross the street as they are quite slow, and save kittens from trees, which is hard when Harold hasn’t yet earned his wings.

Space Oddity is 20,000 words in and is a David Bowie tribute about stoner Anunnaki aliens, bi girls in space bands, kissing pretty alien princesses, and punk rocking a galactic empire down.  It’s a hoot and a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixed with Octavia Butler Lilith’s Brood.  Enki and Ishtar are the main aliens, and it is steeped in Sumerian mythology as befitting a vast alien conspiracy about King Bowie.

So yeah, I’m taking a break from writing novels for a while, as I have a ton of books and comics I want to read.  But four are in the works, along with a devotional chapbook of my poetry about Samael and one for Michael!  Also working on a Norse devotional.  We shall see where 2018 brings me!


Churning Literary Butter

So my manuscript is with 11 amazing agents right now – 3 fulls and 7 partials ranging from 10-50 pages. I just got a lovely rejection from a great agent saying there was nothing wrong with my manuscript, just that he didn’t click and had to be very selective in taking on clients, which made me feel great, as instead of getting feedback to improve on as I was in 2016, that means my manuscript is at the point where I just need the right agent to come along and fall in love with it, like the Taylor Swift song, where some literary magic happens. One agent from #DVPit has already said they were immediately sucked in to the first twenty pages and had a mighty need to read the rest and extended me a full request this weekend, almost overnight, and she is oodles of awesome. I’m pretty excited about that one. 🙂

My top picks are Brandon Sanderson’s agent, Meg Cabot’s agent, a new agent at Aevitas that seems like my spirit animal, and a former St. Martin’s Press Editor that is amazing and fun. All the rest are amazing too – I only query agents I think would be good fits for me.

So I still have eleven shots at making this manuscript work, which is more than the two I had in February. Doing revisions for the first two agents opened the door to so much possibility. And I’m ready to play with Ivan Kupalo again, to make it even better. I think chances are pretty good that I have a shot at a literary agent – the rejections I’ve gotten (3 out of 15 so far) have all been complimentary and one Big Name Agent with lots of six figure deals even asked for me to resubmit if I ever revised the beginning. It was good to put away Ivan Kupalo and work on Chwal, and I’m hoping to finish Chwal for Pitch Wars in August. But I might go with Space Oddity because that is such a fun manuscript.

I am so grateful to all these amazing literary agents that have cheered me on and believed in me, even if they ultimately did not take me on. When I cried at my first full rejection from Neil Gaiman’s agent at the tender age of 21, at 24 I take rejections with gusto and save them in an email folder so I can carry around a bag of them like Meg Cabot does (she actually hides it under the bed), maybe frame them on my wall (especially the one from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s agent on the full he got back to me in six days, haha).

Something magic is afoot. My second short story may soon be getting published by Pantheon Magazine as it moved past the fiction team and is under consideration by the editors. Simon and Schuster just requested my romance novel. I finally feel like I’ve got novel-writing a little bit figured out, and I’m barely 24. If you had told the 21 year old who had never completed a novel in her life that in three years time she would have gotten full or partial requests from the top ten fantasy agents in the business she wouldn’t have believed you. My dreams are so close to fruition, and at Beltane’s balefire I pulled an envelope with my future Tarot card – 8 of Cups, the wish card – your dreams are close at hand.

My dreams are so close. Like stars I can pluck from the sky. And it all happened because I worked through writing horrible stories since the age of 11 onwards to ones I’m proud of now. I wrote horrible query letters for two years before I learned how to actually write something that didn’t give agents a gag reflex. I blame youth and stupidity. 😛

So basically I’m just really excited. I’m going to let Ivan Kupalo rest and I’m kind of actually hoping for a conditional R&R or editorial agent as I would love to rework some bits and bobs after having not touched it since January. In the interim I have two novels to work on, flash fiction, short stories, and reams of poetry.

Even if I never get an agent, I’ll still be happy, because writing is like breathing to me.

And that’s enough to churn butter.

Writerly Update

So one of my dream agents emailed me yesterday to say he is reading my manuscript now.  Trigger excitement!

This agent was the first to see to the heart of my manuscript, tell me what worked, what didn’t, what needed work, and advised me to revise it into an adult fantasy, beef up the word count, and add more exposition and characterization.  He even let me pester him with questions about my novel for revision purposes when most agents will give you form rejects on fulls.   To say I am eternally grateful is an understatement.

He was gracious enough to take another look at the revision I did half a year later and has some amazing projects he has worked on from New Adult Sci Fi about virtual reality combat to a really awesome LGBTQA+ story about two competing male love interests for a girl that end up falling in love – with each other!

Crossing my fingers and working on my next novel to distract myself.  If anything, I’ll get great feedback, so it’s a win-win situation. 🙂

Chuck Wendig’s Brilliant Post on Pre-Rejection

I just got another request today from an amazing literary agent – that’s over a dozen requests so far with this query alone, and loads more with pitches.

But the odds?  It will probably end in a rejection.  However, all it takes is one yes, and you have to be brave enough to put your stories out there.

I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer yet to be professionally published – that’s up for agents to decide – but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…

The difference between me and others who are afraid of failure?  I’m not afraid to get rejections.  I have loads of them.  I’ve been querying shitty novels, then less shitty novels, then maybe-okay novels, since 2015.  That’s two years with a steep learning curve.

Most agents will reject you, it’s just part of the process: loved the concept but the writing was off, writing was lush and evocative but they wanted something contemporary – more exposition, less exposition, more background, a faster pace – all this conflicting advice, but at least with those rejections comes invaluable ADVICE.

Personalized rejections are a godsend.  Feedback on fulls and partials even better.  You never know when an agent might fall in love with your manuscript.

After all, all you can do is persevere.

Repeat after me:

That’s all right. I can try againI can get better.

But you have to give yourself the chance to try again.

You don’t get better by just chucking manuscripts in a drawer.

You need the agitation.

You need that fear, that uncertainty, that courage.

You need input from other human beings. Which means:

Fuck your pre-rejection.

You want to get rejected? Do it the old-fashioned way.

Let someone else reject you. Take your shot. Worst you can do is fail. And failure fucking rocks.

Sure, maybe you’ll get rejected. But maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen.

How else do stories reach their audiences, you think?

Chuck Wendig puts it brilliantly – on why you should put your work out there, and cherish rejections.

On Why Literary Agents are So Important

So I got a full request rejection from a very well-known agent today that was sweet and to the point. He went out of his way to take a chance on a newcomer and though it was a disappointment, it was an honor for him to just look at my manuscript as he rarely requests them or takes on newcomers.  I’m still kind of over the moon he gave me the time of day!

I still have three fulls out and a few partials, and Twitter Pitch Parties are coming up.  I just did PitchMadness, and though I didn’t win, I have learned so much from all  the constructive feedback I’ve gotten from agents so far.  I’ve come to realize that I am always learning, and as a very young writer of 24, I still have a lot of the craft left to master, and it will take me my whole life to even get close to being good.  Even if all six agents reject me, that will be okay, because my Firebird retelling – the second novel I ever finished – has been a stellar learning experience.

I have anxiety so that makes putting myself out there in queries hard, and I used to be a shrinking violet in terms of putting myself out there, prone to wilt at the slightest moment, but now I appreciate all the detailed feedback, all the revisions upon suggestions and above all, the encouragement.  Agents have gone out of their way to make me a better writer, taking a chance on a query shy young twentysomething and saying yes, you are finding your voice, you are talented, you can do this.

This may not be the novel that gets me published.  My third or fourth novel might not.  But I don’t write to get published – I write because my best friends, the Twitter and WordPress community, and my family encourage me, I write because writing is like breathing to me!  And at the end of the day, each agent has wildly different opinions.  Some have hated my manuscript and some have loved the characters or setting, it all depends on taste.  It is true I am a green shoot, but I am growing, and for that, and their guidance, I remain forever thankful.


The Writer’s Waiting Game

I did it.  I finished the Stravinsky Firebird ballet retelling that I have been working on since age 21, on my first day of being 24.  In the past three years, since turning 21, I have completed two full novels, about five short stories, over a hundred poems, and started two other novels.  My romance novel is currently on submission with five publishers and Firebird has either partials or fulls with five agents, with a revision request just sent to my dream agent who represents some of my favorite authors, is a wonderful person, and really seems to get my Slavic retelling of a Cold War fairytale.  I can only pray that she likes the 30,000-odd words and scenes and hefty characterization I have added, and thanks to pitching contests I have requests for the manuscript at all major publishing houses (my dream is TOR or St. Martin’s Press) if it is submitted through an agent.

In the past two years, since I started querying at 22, I have learned how to market my novels, how to write horrible query letters and then learned how to write snappy ones that have gotten me dozens of partial and full requests from publishers and agents alike, and mostly how to be savvy with words.  Elevator pitches are my forte, as I view them as I do poetry – a cohesive sentence that captures the imagination of your story and draws the readers in.

I remember when I got my first full request – it was for my urban fantasy paranormal romance New Adult novel – how many boxes does that check off?  I had sent a written letter to Neil Gaiman and Melissa Marr’s agent and to my surprise, a week later I got an email in my inbox right before my birthday asking for the full manuscript!  The only thing?  My story was awful!  I had banged it out in a manic three months from August to November and instead of putting it away in a box and waiting three months to then open and revise it, I went trigger happy on querying, so excited to have actually finally FINISHED A NOVEL after a decade of writing from 11 to 21.  It was right around the holidays too, which meant I was really lucky, and though I got the kindest rejection imaginable, it broke my little writerly heart.  Many constructive rejections on fulls would follow, and each time, I got stronger.  I have those agents and publishers to thank for making my manuscripts stronger as well.

In the short span from my senior year of college to now, in graduate school, I have grown so much personally and professionally as a writer.  Where I used to cry and get anxiety at form rejections, I now appreciate that agents actually get back to me and sometimes even give me good feedback.  I have grown tougher, had my manuscript torn to shreds then reborn and rewritten like some kind of paper phoenix, gone to writing circles with my best friends and had many friends go on to work for Simon & Schuster, Vanity Fair, and get their own short stories published and interviews to be literary agents and revision requests from some of the top agents in the industry.  Our little William and Mary Writer’s Group has so much talent and I couldn’t be prouder of my friends – they even get trolled by Sean Hannity on Fox News for daring to write kickass articles critical of Trump.

I also owe a great debt to the teachers in my life – my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Villers, who was there when I wrote my first ever space opera, fell in love with it, and told me it was in my cards to be a writer if I worked very hard.  My college professors, Chelsey and Emily, who are very successful writers themselves with book deals and award-winning short stories who pushed me to flex my literary muscles and even once wrote “MORE WEED!” in the margins of my stoner alien story.

Above all, I owe it to Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix, Susannah Clarke, Orson Scott Card, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Cat Valente, Anne McCaffrey, Clare Dunkle, and a handful of my  other favorite authors who taught me how to tell stories.  I am still a bookworm, and there is nothing better than entering fantastical realms on the page between book covers to be immersed in what-ifs and magic.  They are still my greatest teachers.

So now I enter the manuscript waiting game of the New Year, and continue to write poetry and stories.

Thank you for following my journey, and here is to many more years on WordPress!

On Querying, Revision, and Writing

Ever since Beth Phelan’s #DVPit pitching event on Twitter in April, I’ve had a lot of interest for my Firebird retelling (remember that thing I started when I was 20 then took off my blog because I got writer’s block?), and have gotten so much great feedback from a few dozen agents on what worked and what didn’t with that novel.  I’ve gotten several full requests and a lot of partials, and based on collective responses am revising it to be an adult fantasy novel in hopes an agent will love it enough to take it on.

I faced a lot of rejection with my first novel (apparently romances where Samael is the character don’t fare very well) and the full request I got on it offered no feedback, which crushed me when I was but a baby novelist (Oh 21 year olds don’t open with a dream sequence and craptastic writing).  I just got another full request (after two years of heavy revising) for it from a publisher I love so we’ll see if that works out.  If not I’m happy to shelve it as something I wrote and was a good learning experience.  I’ll still finish the trilogy though for friends because I’ve been writing the same damn story since I was 12.

I feel the same way about Firebird.  I’m hoping beyond hope my revisions work out but if they don’t, that will be okay.  I still have my MG Darn Precious Messiah story and my Bowie space rock opera, which I think are my best works yet.  DPM is very dear to my heart – the oldest work I’ve continuously worked on, as I started it at 18 on a whim because I wanted to write a story about Raphael – and I’m 1/4th of the way done with a goal of 40,000 words.  Growing up, I loved Zora Neale Hurston’s stories about the South (her short stories, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Of Mules and Men) and resonated with Marie Laveau’s epic life and the way she balanced leading New Orlean’s Voodoo community and being a political leader.  Both were strong women that wouldn’t take no for an answer and I’m trying to capture that in May’s character.  I’m planning to go to New Orleans in January to research my novel some more and have been doing a lot of reading on the lwa.

As for Space Oddity, I’m planning on finishing that after DPM.  I’ll post more of it on my blog soon just because I think it is one of my strongest works and I think my readers would enjoy it.  Who doesn’t like Bowie cover bands in space?  I really love Laura and don’t really know where she came from, and I’m still not quite sure what a crust punk is.  Did I mention I use Wikipedia for all my novels?

Anyways, so if Firebird doesn’t take flight (sorry for the pun), all is not lost.  I have to keep telling myself that.  As someone with severe manic depression, severe anxiety, and intrusive thoughts caused by OCD, querying and rejections can be a nightmare.  I’m the kind of girl who cries at cat food commercials so when I got my first full rejection two years ago I was devastated!  But I wouldn’t want an agent who doesn’t love my characters and stories just as much as I do.

Publishing takes work.  I’ve been writing stories since the first grade.  I was a shit writer at 18.  I was a shit writer at 21.  I’m less of a shit writer at 23 (I hope!) and I’m sure by the time I’m thirty and ancient I’ll be less shitty.  At least I won’t open my manuscripts with dream sequences.  Throughout my life, the constant star on my horizon has been the dreams of being an author.  I would stay up past midnight scribbling in my notebooks, ink on my fingers and face, write my novels in Calculus and draw demons with six packs on my homework.  Somehow I still aced the AP exam even though I didn’t do my homework, was constantly revising, and sat at the back with my best bud the drug dealer?

If I’ve learned anything, writing takes persistence.  Writing takes perseverance.  Writing takes patience.  Everyone has the potential to be a great writer if that is their dream.  They just have to try.   I’m still finding my voice and finding my way, but I know someday, I’ll get there!