On Writing: How Are Teen Authors Perceived?

“Some people break all the rules and get published. You could cross a road blind-folded and not get run over. That doesn’t mean that crossing the road blind-folded is a good way to live a long life.”

–  Nicola Morgan

 

This post hits home, because I’m a teen author myself. I have been since I turned thirteen, though I’m not exactly one of those types who scores a major book deal by the time they hit puberty. I fit into the much larger category of teens who write books but haven’t broken into the industry yet. I have, however, gotten four full requests from literary agents, including the woman who represented The Hunger Games…so, hopefully that bumps me slightly towards the “publication” clan.

It seems like teen authors are everywhere these days, doesn’t it? When I started high school, NO ONE knew that I was a writer, not even my close friends and family. Why? Because I felt like zero other teenagers were interested in that sort of thing, and of course when you’re fourteen, the last thing you feel like being is different.

Now? 180 flip. Not only do I enjoy being weird and breaking social norms, but teens who like to write are becoming more and more common. Okay, maybe teens who like to write full length novels are still a bit rare, but even that movement is blossoming thanks to NaNoWriMo (which, incidentally, I’ve never done. Hmm…)

But how are these teen authors perceived by adults?

We teens would love to believe that everyone sees us and immediately starts rooting for us. “Oh, you’re only FIFTEEN and you’re trying to get a book published? Bless your precociousness! May you lead the charge against a society that believes kids can’t change the world.”

Let me be clear, I’m all for the “kids change the world” movement and even hope to be a part of it. But unfortunately, I think most adults take the pessimistic approach: they see a teen writer and think “good hobby, but you’re probably way too young to succeed at something like this.”

Want to hear the best part?

I agree with them.

Hypocrite! you guffaw at your screen. Caleb, you’re saying teens shouldn’t be authors, yet here you are doing the THING.

Not quite. First and foremost, I absolutely do think teens should write. I think all teens should test to see if they like expressing themselves that way, and if they find they do, then write and write and never stop. Whether it’s for yourself or the blog world or whomever, if writing (or ANYTHING!) is your passion, I believe it’s not only healthy, but important, to embrace and pursue it.

No, no, when I say most teenagers probably aren’t a good match for the publishing business, I mean just that: the publishing business. The get-a-literary-agent-and-sell-to-a-publisher business. I don’t think the majority of teens are cut out for it.

Do I still sound bitter? Alright, nitpickers, check this: most PEOPLE aren’t cut out for the publishing business, whether they’re fifteen or ninety-seven or forty-three or twenty-eight. But beyond that, I’ll build my case.

Hey, teenagers. Yes, you people. I want you to picture yourself, who you were, one year ago. And I’m willing to bet that you would literally throw that person down a flight of stairs if you met them today.

There are worlds of psychological findings—not to mention common sense—that show how prone teenagers are to dramatic development as they approach adulthood. What high school senior dresses or acts how they did coming into high school? We grow up, yo.

It's Reality!

But here’s the thing! Let’s say an ambitious teen author slapped together a novel by the age of fifteen and started querying agents. Now, what do you think the twelfth grade version of that author would think of their book, if they glanced over it three years later?

Sounds like a horrifying situation, doesn’t it? It is, my dear readers.

I would know. I lived it.

I tried to be one of those hotshot teen authors. No, correction…I wanted to be the first hotshot teen author. (Yes, teens have gotten books published occasionally, but how many of those books have done that well? And don’t you dare cite Eragon; I’ll fry that fish later.)

I wanted to be the breakout kid, the one who actually becomes a bestselling teen author and actually turns a profit and actually makes it before finishing high school.

Then I grew up and realized that maybe, that was a tad unrealistic.

Is it good to have goals? Of course. Is it good to pursue them? Yes! But the thing is, when I first started trying for publication, I hadn’t grown up yet. I followed all the querying rules and I knew what I was up against, but sadly and quite simply, I just wasn’t good enough yet.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone with a similar dream. Maybe you HAVE grown up by age fifteen and are ready to go! But I’m just saying, I wasn’t, and while I wasn’t necessarily a terrible author, I was no where near ready to be published.

Which of course begs the question I know some people are thinking.

How do you know you’re ready NOW, you nincompoop?

Well, I don’t. Maybe I’ll never be published. But that’s exactly why I have only ever tried for publication through the traditional querying method. No self-publishing, no teen writing contests, nothing. I play the big game, same as every other prospective adult author out there. This novel of mine is going to sink or swim completely on its own, damn it, and it’s very slowly starting to swim amongst interested agents.

That’s why I think I might be ready.

I used to think that when/if I ever became published, it would have something to do with my age. I even hoped it would. Now, I don’t even consider it as a factor. For one thing, I’m now in college, and I legally am an adult, even if I have a little bit of teenage time left. But more importantly, this thing is working, highly respected agents are interested, and it has zero to do with any marketability related to being a teenager who writes books for teenagers. For all they know, I could be some English professor trying their hand at the YA genre.

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Would that angle help me, maybe, if I put my age in my query letter? May…be. Would agents—subconsciously or otherwise—read my novel through a skeptical lens, knowing I’m barely out of high school?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure they would.

My point is, I don’t want my age to influence any success I may have (if any) as a writer. I don’t want to be some wunderkind who breaks convention.

I just want to be a plain old, regular, boring, published author.

On Writing: Is “Natural Talent” All You Need?

“Before you can win, you have to believe you are worthy.”

–  Mike Ditka

 

I’ve blogged about this subject before. In a post from last year, I outlined my thoughts on whether writing is a talent someone is born with, or if it’s a skill everyone has equal chance at mastering. I concluded that it was a little of both, going on to say:

“[Rick Riordan] took ten years to get his story good! J.K. Rowling only took three with hers. Stephen King took less than that. Many would argue those two have more natural writing ABILITY, and I would agree with them. Riordan probably had to spend more time building his talent; had to revise his story dozens of times, and had a tougher time getting published than JKR or King. But he did it, same as them.”

A year later, I still agree with all that. Back when I wrote that post, I was a kid with forty rejections and no progress in the publishing industry. Today, I’m a kid with four full requests from agents, including the woman who represented The Hunger Games. Perhaps in a year, I’ll be further. Who knows? My point is, I’m no Shakespeare or even a Riordan or Rowling, but with a few years of hard work, I’ve made progress. I believe everyone has equal chance of doing the same.

Get to the point, Caleb.

Right. Since we’ve closed out that debate, I want to move on to a related topic: in the industry of publishing, is “natural talent”—if such a thing even exists—all you need to make it?

My answer, in short: no.

Let’s back up. First of all, have you ever been in a position where someone has confused your hard work with natural talent?

It happens all the time to me. People will hear about this progress I’ve made towards publication, and they tell me something like, “Wow, you must be really gifted!” or, “You must be a great writer.”

I certainly don’t mind the compliment, but I’m still trying to figure out if it’s fair to say I’m a talented writer. On one hand, saying that talent is proportional to progress is certainly a reasonable assumption. But on the flipside, I think if someone were to sit in the chair beside me while I take hours to research agents and revise my query letter, then perhaps they would re-think the idea that natural talent is all you need. I don’t think it is.

I’m not trying to sound ungrateful; the support of people around me is what keeps me going, and like I said, maybe they aren’t entirely wrong to believe talent equals progress. But having seen the harsher side of the publishing industry, I can say almost for certain that talent is no guarantee of success.

I’m speaking mostly to my fellow writers here, the ones who have had to craft a query letter and send those proposal emails and cross every finger, toe and other bendable body part for good luck. If an author were suddenly endowed with all the writing talent in the world, do you think they’d make it in this business eventually?

That’s what literary agents like to believe. How many times have we heard agents say, “If your book is good, it will find a home eventually”? More times than I can count. And yet, how many times have we also heard, “Even the greatest writers get rejected”?

I’m no calculus expert, but I think somebody’s lying.

You’re just bitter, you whiny child, you growl. If someone had J.K. Rowling’s talent, they’d make it easily.

At which point I would remind you that Rowling herself was rejected by thirteen publishers, AFTER she got an agent. What’s more, when she wrote a crime novel last year under a pseudonym, barely anyone picked it up until the author’s true identity was revealed.

My long-winded conclusion: talent is NOT everything in this industry. It won’t carry you across the finish line. Harsh to say, but I think talent is more like your entry ticket to the race. You still have a lot of work to do before you win it.

I don’t mean to lecture, because I don’t even know if I’ll make it. I’d like to think I will someday, but I also don’t want people to chock that up to natural talent, because believe me, I’m not bursting with gooey bits of golden blood from the writing gods. I started a crappy writer, worked my way up to not-crappy, and perhaps someday or another I’ll set foot into ‘good writer’ territory.

But no matter what happens to me or anyone else, I think the bottom line is this: talent alone isn’t enough, hard work alone isn’t enough, and luck isn’t enough. It’s a tricky balance between the three, I think; but, it’s important I also say, I believe that with enough willpower, you can increase any of those three in the amounts you need.

So, all that being said, I think there’s only one grand force in the world that, if you have it, can guarantee you’ll make it eventually.

It’s called willpower.

On Writing: Facing Rejection

“You can’t give up. When a lot of people don’t get published, it’s not because they couldn’t have, it’s because they gave up. They didn’t keep at it, they didn’t finish that story they were thinking about finishing, they got one rejection note…and they thought it was the end of the world. You have to keep going.”

–  Rick Riordan

 

Roughly a month ago at about this time, I was sitting pretty in agent-ville. After sending out around ten queries, three literary agents asked to see my full manuscript, all within two weeks of each other.

I had a rush like you wouldn’t believe. Sure, it was the end of my first year of college and I was busy with finals. But agents were interested in MY book! I didn’t just get lucky with one query, there were multiple agents—including the agent who represented a little series called The Hunger Games—who said they would “love to read my novel.”

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And here we are a month later. And, as I’m sure you could’ve guessed, my walk on sunshine was recently put to an abrupt end with three big fat rejections.

Technically, it was two written rejections and one silent one, but the two written ones were incredibly nice. Agent 1 thought I had a fantastic premise and sympathetic protagonist, but the voice didn’t feel quite right. Agent 2 thought I showed wonderful flashes of humor and did a great job of “demonstrating the awkwardness of adolescence,” but thought the story relied too much on telling rather than showing.

In short: I’m back to square one.

Naturally, this means I’ve sunk into a pit of sadness which has forced me to cast off my family name, run away to a foreign land, and become a homeless street beggar like Bruce Wayne did in Batman Begins.

Just kidding.

Am I disappointed? Well, of course. But the thing is, with everyone constantly blabbing about how “subjective this industry is,” it’s pretty tough to expect anything besides a rejection. So, when it happens, I’m not too fazed by it.

Still, rejection in general is rough. Every writer faces it; hell, I’m willing to say every artist faces it, whether you’re a photographer or painter or author.

So, how’re we going to tackle this?

I’ve read about many authors who reached the point of lighting rejection letters on fire. While I’m always up for a nice pyro-themed escapade, such a thing would require me to dig up the email and print it out, which is far too tedious.

What else have we got?

Well, Stephen King secured his letters to his wall with the help of a trusty nail gun. Good approach, but knowing my luck I would hit an electrical wire or something and electrocute myself, then the form rejections would look pretty pleasant compared to my resultant death by cardiac arrest, now wouldn’t they.

No, the only symbolic thing I do when I get rejections is throw ‘em in a binder I keep on my dresser.

Why ever would I do that?

Glad you asked!

Several reasons. First, I believe deep down that someday, somehow, I’ll make it in this crazy industry known in publishing. I’m not sure how it’ll happen, or when, but I believe it will. I don’t want to come off as overconfident, but you have to have a little faith with this kind of thing, you know? And when (if) the day comes that I do make it, I want to have that binder by my side, so I never forget what it took to get there.

Second, much more importantly, I keep all my rejections because once all the gripes and curses are said and done, every “no” from an agent is a learning opportunity.

Most people see agents as terrible individuals whose sole purpose for existence is to choke the life out of young writers’ dearest dreams.

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But! Agents are human beings too. And even if you’re mad at them, they have a reason for turning down your work, and that’s worth considering.

“But you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, you driveling hooligan,” many of you growl darkly. “How can I learn anything if I’ve only ever received Dear Author forms?”

I sympathize with that, because I was there, too. Before this novel that received three full requests, I queried another project which, for a while, received nothing but generic rejections. And I was frustrated that agents couldn’t just give me a reason why they were passing.

I can’t fix that problem. All I can do is repeat the wise guideline included in every edition of Guide to Literary Agents: if you send out 10-15 query letters and don’t receive a single positive response, SOMETHING. IS. WRONG.

And of course, this advice is even more infuriating. “Oh, so if I’ve already sent out fifteen queries and have only gotten generic passes, then you’re telling me I should quit trying?”

Yes and no.

I believe that advice in GLA is sound, and having reached that dreaded 15-letter threshold before, I know how tough it is to accept. But if you reach that point, the way I see it, there are two options:

  1. Keep sending out queries, hoping that you’ll be that one person who beats the odds.
  2. Set your project aside for a month or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes, and don’t query again until you’ve revised.

Oh, I know how tough that second option is, guys. I know because it’s what I’m about to do with my own work.

I took option one with my last project, and it got nowhere. I’ve learned from my mistakes. And I know it sucks, but in the end, that’s what dealing with rejection is all about: improving yourself, and moving forward.

I’m not happy about having to set aside my novel, wait, go back and revise it, then start the whole query process over again. But I will, and that’s what I’d urge anyone in my position to do as well.

Here’s to moving forward.

On Writing: Writing and Pitching a Series

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

–  John Dewey

 

A few weeks ago, I received a question on one of my older writing posts. This was from someone who was writing a series, but having trouble making book one “long enough” to reach books two and three. This question intrigued me enough to write a post about it.

There are a lot of people out there whose advice goes something like this: “If you want any shot in being published at all, completely forget about ever doing a series and just write this one book, you naïve plebeian.”

I half agree with that philosophy. First of all, I know exactly what it’s like to pitch a series, because I’ve done it before. When I was sixteen, I began querying a YA Fantasy project I’d been working on for a few years. At this point, I’d written most of the books in my potential series of seven.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get very far with that. I was spreading out my creative energy so thinly across multiple projects, I wasn’t devoting all my attention just towards the first one.

Since then I’ve shelved the fantasy project and focused my efforts on my contemporary YA novel (which is up to three full requests, yay!) but, I do plan to come back to the fantasy project someday. And I do plan to pitch it as a series.

However, there’s a right way to do that.

Again, I truly sympathize with the ideology of plotting out an entire saga, and having tons of elements from book one affect things in books six or seven. But I also think that for a series to truly flourish, you have to let yourself “re-create” it along the way, know what I mean?

For my fantasy series, I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in all of the books; at least, for the most part. I certainly knew enough for that to influence the way I wrote book one. And when I come back to it, I’ll revise book one carefully, keeping certain parts intact so they can set up events in future books. But, I also can’t let these feel out of place during the story.

There are many people—and I used to be one of them—who get so excited about the events in book two or three that they rush book one. This is entirely understandable, but it doesn’t fit well in the publishing business. Book two won’t see print if book one sucks. It just won’t.

With you and I both agreeing that’s unfortunate, what can we do about it?

Glad you asked!

How I approached my “series problem” is I took a deep breath and told myself that I will always be a creative person. And I will always get new story ideas. And if I channel every drop of my creative energy into just (just!) book one, then when the time comes to write book two, there will be more creative energy there to write that one, too.

See what I’m getting at? It’s a balancing act. On one hand, you should keep the series potential in mind, and maybe let that influence certain plot points in book one. But on the other, much more important hand, you have to let yourself get creative and put all your effort into book one, so that it can do well enough on its own. That won’t happen if you “just make it long enough” to be a bridge towards sequels.

Another thing that sucks, but you have to keep it in mind anyway: each book should have its own story arc which builds up, reaches its peak, then gradually concludes by the end of the novel. Do you have to wrap everything up? Of course not! That would defeat the point of a series. But look at the Harry Potter novels. Sure, the whole threat of the Dark Lord taking over is there for the entire series, but each book has its own self-contained adventure (the Triwizard Tournament, the Chamber of Secrets being opened, etc.)

I know for a fact that most agents, while possibly willing to sign on multiple books, prefer to be pitched them one at a time. That makes it easier for the writer, too. Now you only have to write one query letter, and one synopsis! If a book does well enough, and there’s the right amount of suspense at the end, there will be demand for a sequel.

Like anything in writing, it’s a balancing act.

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Happy balancing.

On Writing: The Feedback Dilemma

“It is hard to believe that someone is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in their place. “

–  Henry Louis Mencken

 

Because I’ve been away from blogging a fair amount lately, I feel like I owe my readers an extra packed post. I’ll start by falling back on my old tradition in which I spout off a useless fact.

Did you know that a giraffe’s kick can decapitate a lion?

There! Now, even if the rest of this post is awful and/or you’ve closed out the browser, at least reading this far has offered some small benefit to your life. Plus, that was a nice throwback, wasn’t it? I haven’t attached a useless fact to one of my posts since November of last year.

I digress. Today I hope to outline a problem that I’d like to think the majority of writers face at some point, myself included. It’s the one super annoying thing about going to get feedback on a piece of writing you really want to improve.

Let me paint a picture: you’ve just finished a bit of writing, or even any type of artwork. (This problem can apply to all involved in the creative process; for our purposes, I’ll use the example of a novel).

So you’ve just finished writing a novel. In the back of your mind, you think it’s actually good, even if the front of your mind is screaming at you to delete it. The back of your mind is loud enough that you don’t destroy said novel; instead, you decide to look for some feedback on it. You want a handful of people to read it (or maybe just one person), then tell you what they liked about it. And, more importantly, what they didn’t like about it.

I hope everyone can relate so far, assuming you write or paint or do something with a creative medium. It should go without saying that we put faith in anything we create. If we thought it sucked to begin with, why would we bother creating it? That’s like someone making themselves French Toast for breakfast when they know that, no matter how much help they get, they’ll never be able to make edible French Toast. Somewhere in their mind, they have to believe they can be taught to make good French Toast, however long of a shot it is.

So yes, I’d like to think that when we create something, we already believe in it just a little bit.

Slowly inching towards my point: so, you create something, you think it could be good but it isn’t there yet, and you want to move it along. What do you do? Well, that’s open-ended, but I think the common answer is ‘get feedback.’

I’ll continue the question bombardment:

What is the most annoying thing about this? What irks you personally when you hand someone something you’ve made, they look it over, and they give you feedback?

Naturally there are a million different answers to that question, but I’ll tell you mine, which I think is pretty common:

Why. In the world. Can’t people. Just. Be. Honest.

Sorry that was a bit fragmented, but it’s late and I’m too tired to type in all caps. But seriously…why is it that when you write something bad and give it to someone, they refuse to tell you how awful it is, and—more importantly—how to fix it?

I call this the ‘criticism dilemma,’ and it’s the most irritating thing about letting people read things I’ve written. Because if I want you to read something of mine, it’s generally for two reasons: either I think it’s flawless and I’m showing off, or I think it has a huge problem and I need fresh eyes. 99% of the time, it’s the second option, and rest assured if it’s ever the first I’ll let you know.

One of my friends wants to be an editor, and I think she’ll be fantastic at it. Why? Because she’s helped me edit my manuscripts before, and she’s ruthless. She’ll tear up an entire page with comments, leaving scarcely any white space left. She points out concrete issues such as grammar/spelling as well as subjective ones like dialogue, phrasing and questions like, “would he/she really act this way?” She knows that I crave insults, as many as I can get, because they help me understand how to improve. I LOVE it when people criticize my writing. It lets me know they still hold me to some sort of standard.

Another one of my friends helped me get my manuscript out of its five-year gutter back in October 2012. I knew something was wrong with my book, I asked him to read the first five chapters, and bam! First, he fell prey to the criticism dilemma and told me it was “pretty decent.” Which of course is code for “egregiously putrid with a spark of potential.” I had to beg him to be honest with me before he pointed out a few things wrong with it. And then, just like that, he made one suggestion that clicked everything into place. Everything. All of my work on the manuscript for five years just fit together, finally.

Why can’t everyone be like this the first time around? Most people I know aren’t like this ANY time around. I’m very selective in who I ask to critique my writing, because I need people who aren’t afraid to tell me how awful it is.

To anyone who gets asked by an author to look over their book: please, PLEASE be honest with them. If they ask what’s wrong, tell them. If the entire thing has an icky smell, tell them that too. Most writers can work with brutal suggestions but they can’t work with useless B.S., which is all you’re giving us when you tell us our writing is “pretty good.” Believe me, it’s easy to tell.

I know, sometimes feedback is hard to formulate. But you don’t have to write a formal list of grievances out on fancy papyrus. Just be honest, no matter what. No work is ever perfect the first time around, and if you’re asked to help improve that work, you suddenly have an important job. Lying isn’t part of it. There’s a reason a writer asked YOU to look over their work, and if you answer truthfully about what’s wrong with it, maybe they’ll be able to finally figure out how to make it the best thing they’ve ever created.

Hey, it worked for me.

My First Positive Literary Agent Response

“It is not so much what we accomplish in life that proves what we are…it’s what we overcome.”

–  Unknown

 

Around ten minutes after putting up yesterday’s post, I checked my email, as I do probably fifteen times a day. When I had one new message, I assumed it was to let me know that someone had liked or commented on my post.

Well, it wasn’t. It wasn’t from WordPress at all, actually.

It was from a literary agent who I’d submitted a query letter, synopsis and sample pages to in the middle of May. Seeing as the email was only a few paragraphs, I assumed it was a rejection letter and was about to add it to the appropriate email folder when I read it over more carefully.

I’m not the kind of person who easily freaks out over news, whether it’s good or bad. I take it in, and my brain doesn’t let me react until I’ve had time to process it and make sure the news is worth freaking out over.

Well, this was.

The email started out like any other: thank you for your submission, etc. Then, the sentence my brain tripped over:

“I would be delighted to look at the full manuscript.”

Not first fifty pages. Not a partial request at all. FULL. MANUSCRIPT.

My eyes jumped down to the rest of the email, which gave me guidelines for submitting the entire novel and ended by saying they were “looking forward to the read!”

Whenever I fantasized about getting my first positive response from an agent, I pictured it in one of two settings: either in my house, where I could yell at the top of my lungs, or else in a room with all of my closest friends, so we could yell together.

As it happened, God gave me the second scenario. I was sitting in a beach house with eight of my closest friends in the world, and when I read the email, they were right there. As soon as I finished reading, I screamed, and I think my eyes got a little watery. My friends, who later told me they thought someone had died, all rushed over to the laptop to read what I’d just read.

My girlfriend got there first and immediately hugged me. Then she caught my laptop as everyone else hugged me, too. Last was my friend who first read my story concept back in 10th grade, edited it, and told me to turn it into a manuscript. She and I hugged the longest, and I’m pretty sure she was the most excited.

Then I stood up, took a bunch of deep breaths, and got out my phone to call my parents. They were just as excited and kept telling me how proud they were. Then I called my two Ideal Readers, who both congratulated me and wished me luck.

But then, because my brain sucks, I snapped back into task mode.

I was on the clock now. I opened my manuscript and started to read it over, right there. Not in the fast scanning kind of way, but in the way I would read any other book. I sat there checking for any last minute errors whatsoever, and to my relief, I didn’t find any.

After about an hour of this, I got up and paced around the living room, my brain whirring. I thought through the email from the agent, the exact wording they used, what they wanted and how I would write up a response. I made a list in my head: how I would need to research “responding to full requests” for etiquette tips, and how I needed to finish the read-through of my book, and how I needed to tell everyone on Facebook, and how crazy all this was.

I spent all of today finishing up the manuscript read-through and crafting an email response back. And, tomorrow morning, I hit the send.

Alright. Since I’m writing and have the chance to organize my thoughts, let’s look at this from an objective standpoint. The pros here: I don’t know how many kids (with no publishing creds, to boot) have gotten full requests from literary agents, but I don’t think it’s that many. So that’s something to be excited about. Other pro: this was one of the first responses to a revised version of my query, which means I might have finally found a version that works. So even if it doesn’t work out with this agent, there’s hope for me as a writer in general. This means that my letter worked, and can work again.

Cons: I have no experience in submitting fulls. Other con: even though a full request is awesome, 99% of them are still rejected. My odds have jumped up from a 0.5% to around a 1% success rate. Still a long way away from publication.

But, I can’t dwell on the odds now. Why should I? An agent wants to read my book! The whole thing! Not part of it, all of it! Like I said, I don’t know how many kids have gotten that far with an agent, but I couldn’t find any cases of it.

So for now, I’m just excited. And of course during the next few weeks I’ll be biting my nails so badly that I might have difficulty writing blog posts. But, I’ll do my best.

Thank you to everyone who supported me and wished me luck. Here’s to one step closer.

On Publishing: The Literary Agent Process, Told Through Memes and GIF’s

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

–  Robert Collier

 

First things first: the concept of using GIF’s to explain a process wasn’t originally my idea. By all means, before you read my take on this, I’d highly recommend checking out Nathan Bransford’s hilarious blog post, The Publishing Process in GIF Form. Mine is a bit different because it uses mostly different images, has a few paragraphs between each one, and focuses specifically on the process of getting a literary agent rather than the entire publishing cycle.

(In Star Trek villain voice): Shall we begin?

So I talked last time about the process of writing a query letter, which is one of those you-get-there-eventually tasks. Once I got there, and edited said query letter to death, it was time to look for a literary agent. I turned to the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. I was hoping that flipping through that would be something like this:

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But instead it took me a solid few days to read the advice in the first half (what? Yes, I’m a teenager and I actually read advice!) and then another week at least to carefully scan through the agent listings, highlighting those that seemed like good fits.

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(In case you’re wondering, I made all of the non-animated memes myself).

Once I had a highlighted book full of potential future agents, I typed up said agents’ names and agencies in a document on my computer. That may be a little too organized for most people, especially seventeen year olds, but I’m not most people.

So then it was time to start reading over the submission guidelines for each agency, and I started to feel a lot like:

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And then I learned that I’ll need to include a synopsis along with my query letter and sample pages, and my reaction was:

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and

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But I researched the best way to write a synopsis, hammered out a rough draft, then let it sit for a few days before revising it until it was in the best possible shape. And now everything was finally, really done, and I was just about ready to prepare everything for hitting ‘send’ to the first of the agents on my list.

That’s the stage I’m at now. Everything is all ready to be sent. And I wish I could tell you I’m all like:

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But in reality, I’m feeling closer to:

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Okay, I promise I’ll actually write a bit of a blog post now.

Being the way that I am, I feel the need to break down every process into smaller steps. So, for my own personal organization, I’ve broken down the process from query to representation into three ‘battle rounds,’ if you will.

 

Round 1: The agent reads over your query.

So you send off the letter, completely prepared for the worst:

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And you can only imagine what the agent is thinking as they read it:

querycon   grumpymanusc

I should clarify that these memes are meant to be a parody of how people perceive agents to be, not how agents actually are.

Admittedly, no one’s odds are good here. As Nicola Morgan wrote, “Be prepared to be rejected, often. It’s not a lottery but a very difficult game.” All I can say is that every author will get their tsunami of rejection slips. Myself included.

BUT. It should be well noted that agents aren’t heartless, bloodsucking leeches whose mission in life is to destroy prospective authors. Their mission is to find the truly good ones. And though this is a tough part of the fight for aspiring novelists, the reward of survival is valuable: an agent asks for a partial manuscript.

 

Round 2: The agent reads over your partial.

What’s unfortunate about this stage of the process is that your stress level will probably jump up. I can only imagine being at the point where an agent loved my query letter enough to ask for some of the book, then I’m left praying I don’t get rejected for a lack of writing in the manuscript itself. I wouldn’t call this the hardest part of the process, unless you’re someone who can write a decent letter for a terrible book. That’d be an interesting skill to have; I’m pretty sure I have the opposite problem.

This round is hard to survive, too, but the prize is grander still: an agent asks for your entire book. Eeep!

 

Round 3: The agent reads over the entire manuscript.

I don’t know from experience, but I would guess this is the most nerve-wracking point of the journey. On one hand, you’d think the author would feel good, because they know their work is enough to attract significant interest from an agent…but, on the other hand, now is when it gets down to a generous chunk of the luck involved with this. The agent hopefully likes your writing as well as your story, but now is the time for them to decide if they would be the best agent for it. And there is a scary plethora of reasons as to why it might not work for them.

But, if you survive this round, the prize is metaphorical wealth beyond the young writer’s imagining; the Holy Grail of storytelling, the Triwizard Cup of the typed word: an agent’s offer of representation.

Which, I can only imagine, goes something like this:

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But, for now, I’m just getting ready to send off my query letter. So, for now, I’ll say the same thing to every prospective novelist that I’m saying to myself, as I dive into this great (and terrifying) industry:

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I think that about sums it up. Best of luck, authors.