The Long Journey to a Short Query Round

This will probably be a fairly long post, so for those who don't want to read through the whole thing, I'll start with my news: I'm now represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary!

I honestly couldn't be more thrilled. Molly has an amazing vision for BURNING SALEM, and I'm so thankful for her support of diverse authors and stories. I foresee a long and happy partnership, complete with plenty of discussions of our cats' various antics.

If you've got some extra time on your hands, read on for the probably-longer-than-it-needs-to-be story of how I came to sign with Molly:

On April 19th, agent Beth Phelan hosted a twitter pitch contest (#DVpit) to support marginalized writers and their stories. Since I had finished my revision of BURNING SALEM (which stars an out-and-proud lesbian witch) the day before, I figured it wouldn't hurt to tweet my pitch a couple times during the day.

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Over the course of the day, eight agents favorited my pitch (i.e. requested I query them) and one editor even retweeted (meaning he'd be happy to see it after I had an agent). Of those eight agents, I queried five who I thought might be a good fit for me and my career, one of whom was Molly.

The First Offer

On May 6th, a mere 2.5 weeks after #DVpit, I woke to my alarm and promptly hit snooze. As the alarm app faded from the screen, I noticed I had an email from an agent. Expecting another rejection, I read through the email looking for the usual "while I liked your story, I'm sorry to say I didn't love it as much as I hoped" line to pop up.

It didn't.

Instead, this incredibly successful agent said she loved my book and offered to represent me.

My heart thundering in my chest, I turned over and shook my girlfriend awake, spewing a string of shocked profanities. Once I convinced her there wasn't a murderer in the house, I explained that I had an offer and we both freaked out (and scared our cats in the process).

I rushed to my computer to thank the agent and set up a time later that day to chat. I also emailed the rest of the agents who had queries, fulls, and partials to let them know I had an offer and when I hoped to make a decision.

"Meeting" Molly

A few hours after sending my "I have an offer!" emails, I noticed this tweet from Molly:

Worried that my email was one of the ones lost, I sent her another copy of my "I have an offer" email with a short PS about seeing her tweet about her cat. Molly got back to me right away, thanked me for resending the email, and requested to read the full. I sent it along, expecting to get a nice pass in a week or so.

Instead, Molly got back to me on Monday saying how much she loved my book and requested a call for Tuesday. On the call, Molly was the perfect balance of friendly and professional. She both loved my book and had amazing suggestions for how to make it better. After the call, two of her clients got in touch with me, both of whom had amazing things to say about Molly as a person and as an agent.

Making My Decision

The next week and half was a whirlwind of full requests and offers. By the May 18th deadline, I had spoken with five amazing agents who loved my book and wanted to help me bring it to the world. This kind of situation is the thing of fairytales, and I still can hardly believe it happened.

Making my decision was both incredibly hard and surprisingly easy. Each of the offering agents is a powerhouse in the literary world, so saying "no" to any of them was mind-boggling. Plus, they all got me in touch with a few of their clients, all of whom had amazing things to say. On a purely "who can sell this book" level, they all had standout qualities.

At the end of the day though, signing with Molly was an easy and exciting choice. Out of everyone I spoke with (and again, they were all super fantastic and I'm so grateful they took the time to speak with me and consider my book), I felt Molly's editorial vision for BURNING SALEM (and my overall career trajectory) best fit with mine. When my deadline expired, I was thrilled to hop on the phone and accept her offer of representation.

And the rest, as they say, is history. I'm currently waiting for Molly's edit letter so I can dive in and get BURNING SALEM ready for the next big hurdle: submissions.

For those of you curious about how I got to this point and are not yet tired of reading this post, here's a super brief history of how I got here. Because while the time between #DVpit and signing with Molly was super fast, getting to this point was not.

How I Got Here: The Numbers

As I mentioned earlier in this post, BURNING SALEM is my fourth novel. Not only that, it's the fourth novel I've queried (yes, I was naive enough to query my first novel). Here's a (mostly numerical) look at my query journey.

Novel 1: The Novel That Shall Not Be Named...because the title was way too cheesy

  • Wrote the first draft during NaNo 2012, the first novel I ever completed
  • Learned how to revise through Holly Lisle's How to Revise a Novel course (worth every penny!)
  • Queried 39 agents
  • By some miracle, I actually got 2 full/partial requests
  • No offers of rep (and I'm soooo glad this book can hide in a drawer forever)

Novel 2: A STOLEN THRONE

  • Wrote first draft of this YA high fantasy during NaNo 2013
  • Took Mandy Hubbard's Writing and Selling the YA Novel LitReactor class in February and learned a lot
  • Queried 60 agents
  • Got 19 full/partial requests
  • No offers of rep (which is fine b/c I totally plan to revise this at some point!)

Novel 3: THE TRIAL

  • Started this novel while on a Scotland writing retreat (7/2014)
  • Revised with the help of my awesome CP and local writing group
  • Queried 68 agents
  • Got 28 full/partial requests
  • No offers of rep (lots of "I really like this but I don't love it enough to offer" responses)

Novel 4: BURNING SALEM

  • Finished the first draft while in Wales for a writing retreat (April 2015)
  • Came out as bisexual, unintentionally took 6 months off from writing to live my life/fall in love before revising
  • Queried 48 agents (5 of whom requested from #DVpit)
  • Got 14 full/partial requests
  • Received 5 offers of rep! Signed with Molly!

If you were counting, I've wracked up nearly 60 rejections to requested manuscripts and over 150 rejections (or non-responses) to queries over the course of four novels. So if you find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of rejections, I feel you. I've been there. I've had that "I'm so close! Why can't I get there already?!" feeling. But don't give up! One day, with the right manuscript, you'll get there. And who knows, maybe it's the one you're querying now. Or the one you're currently revising. Or that super awesome but scary idea swirling around in the back of your head. Just don't give up. Keep trying. Keep writing.

Fun Facts

Wow, you're still reading? Thanks for hanging around. I don't really have much to add though... I guess I'll leave you with some fun facts about my writing journey.

  • A STOLEN THRONE included my first lesbian main character (in a dual POV book opposite a straight character) -- at the time, I thought that was just me "being a good ally"
  • This post by Robin LaFevers sums up how I felt during THE TRIAL. That "nearly there" stage almost broke me, but I pushed through and grew so much from that experience
  • I wrote the first draft of BURNING SALEM thinking I was "super straight" despite being drawn to write queer lady MCs again and again and having my first crush on another woman during that time (oh how little I knew)
  • After coming out, I stalled out HARD on revisions. At the time, I thought that meant writing was nothing more than my subconscious trying to get me to come out and now that I had, I couldn't write anymore (so glad I was wrong!)
  • As a result of the above bullet point, I stopped writing for over six months in 2015 while I dated, fell in love with, and moved in with my girlfriend
  • In January 2016, I realized I needed to do two things to fix Salem: 1) change the book from contemporary to urban fantasy by adding a system of Witch Clans and 2) give my MC a lady love interest to contrast her ex-girlfriend. After that, the revisions (though extensive) came easily and relatively quickly

All right, seriously. That's all I've got. I have to get to work drafting my "queer high fantasy Charlie's-Angels-esque" YA project. Bye!

-Isabel