(Read previous installment HERE.)
JOSH: Let me explain very quickly: I’m wickedly picky because by the time Authoress queried, I was already representing two very different dystopian novels—a YA zombie/vampire story with a remarkably light touch, and an adult masterpiece that was basically Faulkner with zombies (The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell—read it!). So I needed any additional dystopias to be different. And this was. But still needed work…
AUTHORESS: Shortly after I sent Josh my full, Beth Revis sent me her much-anticipated critique of the novel. I don’t call her Diva for nothing! Beth’s editorial letter and in-line notes provided me—for the first time ever—with a vision for just what might be wrong with my manuscript! It was too much to swallow all at once, but it gave me hope. I figured I’d wait to hear from Josh and then decide my next course of action—rip once more into the manuscript, or shelve it.
JOSH: So this is the way I go through queries, and the relative efficiencies, and lacks thereof, in the process.
First of all, I get between 10 and 20 email queries a day. If I'm interested in the topic and think the writing is reasonably strong, I'll ask to see 50 pages or, occasionally, the whole thing.
Most of the time I'm reasonably quick responding to initial emails. (Note: not in the last two months or so. My very delicate balance between "just a bit behind" and "totally screwed" tipped over to the latter. Part of the problem is that I do indeed read them all, even if it's only to realize two sentences in that it's totally wrong for me.)*
So let’s say I’ve asked for a partial. Somewhat unfairly, that's where the REAL bottleneck happens. A query only takes a few minutes, but a partial is often a significant time commitment, and it's time that is very hard indeed to carve out. The most unfair aspect of that is that these are manuscripts I already think COULD have potential, and they often linger in my "partials received" email folder for months. I say that I try to respond in eight weeks, but that is an estimate, and is entirely slave to my other time commitments.
Incidentally, so you know, the most significant time commitment is reading and editing manuscripts submitted by my current clients. The reason my delicate balance went to "totally screwed" is that in one week at the end of October NINE of my authors submitted manuscripts. I then needed to read those first, give edits--occasionally line edit--and prepare them for submission to publishers, and then submit them. I was working fourteen hour days through November and December, so I couldn't even take more work home than I already was.
Which again gets back to our Authoress. There have been a couple of times in this process where she clearly HAD to have been giving up on me. But fortunately, she didn't, and we were able to connect. Here's that part of the story.
When I read her manuscript for the first time, I thought, "Geez, there is really something there." For the first part (and not surprisingly), the writing was strong and clear. This is the single most important thing for me. You don't need to be Proust. But you DO need to be readable from beginning to end. Not overwritten, not flowery, not too spare, either. As a novelist, you are telling a story, and you need to skip the histrionics and just tell it. Authoress did that.
Second, her idea was interesting and creative; complex, sure, but understandable. It's dystopian, which I like; but fundamentally about interesting, sympathetic characters.
And that's the other thing. You don't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel plot wise in order to be successful. But I must be engaged with the characters. And I felt that way with Authoress's "scooby gang," as I called them, of teenage rebels.
But with that, I didn't offer representation right away. I thought there were some serious holes in the plot and the dystopia, and felt that they were significant enough to make me need to wait and see whether Authoress was able to make it work. So I did something I do rather rarely--I had a full-on editorial conversation with her and suggested the significant changes, and said I'd re-evaluate after she sent them in.
AUTHORESS: Wow. I didn’t know I had a “scooby gang”!
So Josh and I talked on the phone for the first time on August 4th. He’d only had my full for a month and half, so I didn’t feel liked it had taken that long to hear from him. (Once, an agent had one of my partials for a year and half. Seriously.) True confession: I hate phones. So I was incredibly grateful that the call was scheduled ahead of time, and that Josh emailed me right before he called to let me know he was calling.
And something amazing happened. I listened to someone talking passionately about my story. And my characters. Passionately! And I knew—I knew!!—that Josh was the first and only person who had truly captured the vision of my novel.
Despite the novel’s brokenness, he “got” it!
I scribbled half-legible notes as Josh detailed the areas of the manuscript that he felt needed work. If I decided to take this on, it would mean sweeping revisions. As in, sweeping. Not the basic plot; not the characters. But sweeping nonetheless.
In the course of the conversation, Josh asked me what my plans were for the novel. I told him I was nearing the end of a long string of rejections and that I was considering shelving it.
“Don’t shelve it,” he said.
Words to live by!
Also? Josh’s suggestions lined up SO CLOSELY to Beth Revis’s notes that it was almost uncanny. The proverbial lights came on.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t completely ready to dig in. Wasn’t sure how to start. Meanwhile, a couple of my emails to Josh went astray, and when he didn’t answer them, I assumed he’d changed his mind about me. Like, maybe I came off as a blathering moron on the phone and he’d thought twice about working through the revisions with me.
Which, yanno, was entirely possible.
About a month went by, and my thoughts on the novel started to crystallize. Then, just when I’d written Josh off for good, he emailed me. He asked me how the revisions were going and—wait for it—said, “I keep thinking about the [story] and all the potential there is for the book, and can't wait to see what you've done with it.”
I responded as soon as I regained consciousness, and then dove into the revisions with gusto. It was admittedly a difficult leap, because I was in the midst of a WIP about which I was equally passionate (it’s a YA urban fantasy), and it was hard to set it aside and switch gears. For a while, I worked on both simultaneously. But ultimately I honed in on the dystopian, determined to get the revised version to Josh before Thanksgiving.
Type A personality for the win! I sent him the revision on November 10. And the nail-biting began.
JOSH: So I waited a few months for the revisions, figuring that they were taking a while, but really looking forward to it. I didn’t know that Ms. A was emailing me (which, BTW, is why it’s fine to—occasionally—nudge an agent when you haven’t heard from them, in case they actually aren’t getting your emails!). But then I emailed her to see what was up, and she said she’d been trying me, and (all things happy) I received the revision--just when I was hitting "totally screwed." so I took forever once again to read it.
Only this time, it was really killing me to take so long. I had anticipated that Ms. A was going to be able to hit the mark (and I felt guilty about the last one), and was totally frustrated that I wasn't able to get to it.
But I did, and the next conversation would be a fun one. At that point, we’d been back in touch as I participated in the Baker’s Dozen agent auction—which, incidentally, was a hoot from the agents’ perspective. There was all manner of trash talking going on, and real intensity as we bid on the manuscripts. But at the same time, I was getting some comments ready for ANOTHER revision on the dystopian. It’s really close, but there were a couple of not unsubstantial elements I wanted to see tweaked.
At that point, though—right before Christmas—I realized that I was really acting like Ms. A’s agent. I had asked her to do a bunch of work on spec, which she did despite the lack of commitment on my part; and she was clearly going to be able to finish the job. And anyway, I liked it! And her! And knew that we’d be able to work together. So when we decided to talk about the revisions, I told her I would be very, very happy to represent her.
AUTHORESS: And now you know what was going on "behind the scenes" during the Baker's Dozen Auction. I was having twitch-fits every time Josh bid on something!
Josh’s much-anticipated email arrived on December 17. He said he was almost finished reading and wanted to have another phone conversation. He also said that he already FELT like my agent, but wanted to make it official.
That’s when I started dancing around the kitchen.
I was delighted to know that he already felt like my agent, because at that point I kinda felt like his client. And told him as much. So when we finally had our phone conversation three days later, it was with the knowledge that everything was good. Which made waiting for the phone to ring far less painful.
I mean, heck. I already had his name in my cell phone.
So there you have it. We had a virtual handshake and made our plans. As of this writing, I’ve just (as in JUST) sent him my latest revisions. We’ll see what happens next.
And, yes. We’re definitely going to continue the he said/she said through this process. So stay tuned! Because…you’re all a part of this journey.
The rest of this story hasn't been written yet!
*Josh offers his apologies to those of you who are waiting to hear from him. He's working hard to catch up!