How I got my agent and book deal!!
I’ve long dreamed of the day I could write this post. The day I could write the words:
My book is going to be published!!!
No, I'm not crying, there's something in my eye...
But it's been difficult to put fingers to the keyboard and actually write this. Perhaps it's because this moment, this declaration, means so much to me. It means my dreams have and are continuing to come true. How do I encapsulate that feeling? But I’m a writer, right? I should be able to do this.
Warning: this is going to be a long post.
To explain the gravity of this moment, I have to go back to the beginning. Cue flashback music...
At fourteen years old I decided I wanted to be published before I turned the ripe old age of eighteen. I'd wanted to be an author since I was five, so that seemed like a legitimate time-frame. I loved fantasy and science fiction and had read everything I could get my hands on from my school’s library, which wasn't much at the time - oh to be a teenager now! To the surprise of no one (expect me), eighteen came and went and I was not published. In fact, I never finished my amazing (note: terrible) portal sci fi, giving up after only three chapters.
Lesson one: writing a book is hard.
My first "novel" written at five years old
At university, I threw myself into achieving my other childhood dream: to work in animation and visual effects. I still wrote, I couldn't imagine not writing, but I didn't push myself to develop a story and complete it. I wasn’t dedicated, I waited for the moments to want to write rather than creating them.
But I achieved one of my goals. Two weeks after graduation, I started working as a 3D modeler and rigger on a children’s TV show called Erky Perky. It was cute and fun and I loved being a part of a creative team. Still, I couldn't deny that writing itch. In 2007, I tried my hand at creating a YA paranormal after reading Twilight (yes, I declare that without embarrassment.) I surpassed three chapters this time, writing around 11K words before giving up.
Lesson two: writing a book is really really hard.
2009 brought a sea change, and along with it, a wealth of creative ideas when I moved to Wellington, New Zealand to manage a department of artists at Weta Digital. I worked on James Cameron’s Avatar, Stephen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and District 9, among others. I’d never had less free time, working 6-7 day weeks. Yet, I was inspired. It was during this stint in New Zealand that I came up with the idea which would become my first complete manuscript, Dream of Me.
Running with Tintin at Weta Digital, NZ.
When I returned to Sydney to work on Happy Feet Two, I was determined to finish this novel. I signed up for courses at the Australia Writers’ Centre and wrote. All. The. Time. I wrote on the train to and from work, I scribbled ideas in my notebook at lunch and dinner, I sacrificed watching TV and wrote late into the evening, every evening. I lived and breathed my story. I had to find out what happened next. I didn’t know where the endless ideas were coming from, but I wasn’t about to let them pass by and planned to finish my manuscript as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, fate intervened. My health declined suddenly (most likely from working too hard) and my vision was severely impacted. I worried I’d never write again. During this time, I felt like half a person—perhaps less. It was terrible. I couldn't even read—the one thing which could bring joy even in the darkest moments.
A year and a half later, my health began to improve. It wasn’t a full recovery, but it was enough for me to start reading again, and then, writing. That lost part of me was returned and I was more determined than ever to be published.
Over the next year, I attended every conference, festival, book launch, writing course, anything to feel closer to my dream. And while a few local Australian publishers showed interest in Dream of Me, I never received an offer. I was told numerous times by publishers that genre YA was a difficult sell in Australia, but not so much in the USA. I’d always wanted to be published in the States but knew how competitive it was. So I had to do the one thing I feared most.
Write a query letter. The process in the USA is different from Australia, where most authors approach publishers directly. In the USA, you must first sign with an agent and they approach publishers for you, which is fantastic, if you can manage to snag an agent. To grab an agents attention, you need to write a 250 word pitch. The query letter is an art in itself. An art I’d yet to master.
I wrote and rewrote about ten different versions of a query letter. Shortly after sending off my first round of queries, I received a request to read the full manuscript. The request was from an amazing agent at a dream agency so I was thrilled. Even though it ended up in a rejection, I was convinced another agent would snap it up.
Lesson three: just because one agent requests a manuscript, doesn’t mean another agent will. Like every form of art, taste is subjective and there are no certainties when playing the querying game, except rejection.