Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wherein Writer Cat Gets Published!

Only Writer Cat could make rejection adorable!
Number of agent rejections: 175
Number of requests for partials and fulls: 17 and 10
Number of times I rewrote the book while querying: Twice
Number of agents who offered representation: 2
Months looking for an agent: 13 months

Months it took my agent to sell NIGHTSHADE CITY: 7 weeks

I think everyone has a different story about their road to publishing, but I think almost every author could agree the process was far from easy, sometimes even painful. Sure, there are those anomalies, but still, even those required lots of hard work.

Looking back, I started querying way to early. First, I didn't have my query perfect--big mistake! I was so impatient after finally finishing the book, that my query just didn't make the mark on my first round of subs, so I racked up some serious rejections. Then I perfected my query, getting several requests for partials and fulls, but shortly after that, I realized I needed to rewrite the book, which I did--twice! The first time around it was way too long and just had to many side stories and nice little vignettes that really didn't need to be in the book--massively slowing down the pace. On the second rewrite, I realized my timeline needed an overhaul. My rats had to get from one underground city to another by way of a humans house, which (if you’re a rat) is a long chunk of travel time. The timing didn't make sense in the book and it got confusing. If you're confusing an agent as they read, just imagine how a kid will feel! So, after I completed the second rewrite, things really heated up for NIGHTSHADE CITY.

Craig Virden (Nancy Gallt's husband and former president of Random House Children's Division) was the agent I'd been wanting. I knew he was the one I wanted to represent me. We'd exchanged some funny letters. He'd requested the full and made me laugh out loud, telling me my book had more characters than a Russian novel (far less now) and even though Nancy (who'd I originally queried) is not a rat fan, he wanted to read the rest--how does this book end, he asked? This progression took about 6 months. Finally, I got a letter back from him. As much as I'd wanted good news, I knew before I even opened it; it was a rejection. It was the kindest, most inspiring rejection anyone could ever get, but a rejection even so. He said due to the current market woes (2008 economic meltdown) and competition he just couldn't take it on. You'd think I'd be broken, but I wasn't--not at all. He offered to read anything else I had "moldering" in my desk--that was the word he used. So, instead of self-pitying (which I'd become an expert at), I got to work that day on another MS I'd been waiting to finish. Then, about a month later my phone rang. I didn't recognize the area code, so normally I wouldn't have answered it, but I just had this extraordinary feeling. Yes, it was Craig Virden. He said he just couldn't stop thinking about the book and no matter the market, etc, he wanted to take it on if I was still interested...YES! So, long story short, that's how I landed my agent.

Sadly, a month later, Craig passed on. It was a horrible blow to his family and the children's publishing community at large. He was one of those remarkable men that everyone in the industry knew and loved--a truly singular person. Marietta Zacker called me immediately. She was good friends with Craig and Nancy and had just started working at Nancy Gallt as an agent. She called me right away and let me know everything was all right and most of all do not worry. Shortly thereafter, I officially signed with her. She is one of those inspiring agents that everyone in the industry should be thankful for. She answers all my emails (and I bug her a lot!) and is wonderful at touching base, even if not much is going on at a given time. Oh, and she sold NIGHTSHADE CITY in less than two months and then Book II, THE WHITE ASSASSIN (releasing this October) about 6 months later--pretty darn cool!

My Thoughts on Querying:
No one takes rejection well, so don't let anyone ever say you shouldn't be in the industry if you take rejection too personally. Who doesn't take rejection personally? We all might say we don't, but we do! At least the people I know! ;)

Don't query too soon. If your query and/or manuscript is not ready, it will show. Agents can pick out problems right away.

Before you sign with an agent do your research. Read everything you can find on them, shoot emails to a couple of their clients and get their take. You'll be surprised how honest clients are and it's not always with hugs and kisses for their agents! Also, make sure the agent is in it for the long haul, not just one book. You never want to think that your representation is only based on one manuscript, but from time to time it does happen--so ask before you sign!

Last but not least, don't take yourself too seriously OR the agents you're querying. In other words, don't be someone you're not. If you get on the phone with an agent, just be yourself, no need to try and act clever, etc. Be professional of course, but agents are just people and from what I can tell, pretty good ones, so never be afraid to be you. When you do sign with an agent, never feel like you're bothering them if there are things you need, as in questions answered, updates, sub lists, etc. They signed you after all. You're the talent! Too many writers are scared of their agent, especially if they haven't sold anything yet. If you feel intimidated or neglected by your agent, then you need to clear the air and really figure out where you stand.

Other than that, take a nice deep breath, smile and have fun! You've earned it!  

xoxo -- Hilary 

Originally posted on the childrenspublishing blog, Jan 2011


  1. Love your story, Hilary! So cool!!!

  2. Great post. I'm getting close to the submission stage, and I'm quite excited! It's been a long haul, but well worth the effort. Lots of wonderful advice here!

  3. Great story - and a happy ending, thankfully! Having one's agent die before selling the book is one of those all-time top horror stories, so I'm very glad you found someone you like at the same agency.

    I went the opposite direction - got an agent on the strength of a book deal - but I second your recommendation about being ready. My opening chapters were nitpicked by a _lot_ of beta-readers before submission, which I think was a major factor in my rapid success!

  4. I love these sorts of stories. How heartbreaking to lose your agent so quickly after securing him!

    I spent years submitting directly to editors (eleven, to be exact). It was a slow, lonely, painful time, but I kept at it. I only seriously considered the agent route in 2009.

  5. It's nice to hear how different everyone's story is. We're all going for the same goal and love hearing how everyone got there! It still inspires me!

  6. I laughed at the part about Nancy not being a rat fan. Imagine that! Great post. You are one of the people I hold up as an example that persistence is important on the path to getting published.

  7. My story is much like your in terms of the rejection early on. I queried my first book 187 times, had only 3 full requests, and 4 partials, all rejections. I definitely wasn't ready as a writer.

    Second book, much different. Had over 50% request rate, and ended up with offers of representation from 8 agents. Chose Brenda Bowen, and now hoping I can get to that last part of your story. You know, the part where I get my books published. Thanks for sharing, Hilary.

  8. Wow. I've only queried like 20 times. I thought that was a lot. This gives me new perspective on what people are doing out there and maybe i should query more.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story!! Very inspiring!

  10. That is such a great story, Hilary. I never realized he was the former president of Random House's children division. I'm so happy you have found success. and great advice!

  11. Thanks for sharing all this. It was kind of you to share the stats to inspire us all on to not give up. It's taking me forever just to get to the querying phase. But I know that you're right it's best not to query too early.

  12. Thanks for sharing, Hilary!

  13. I've always heard such wonderful things about Craig. He was indeed much-loved! How fantastic to have him for an agent, even for a short while.

  14. I always love reading your story, Hilary! And I'm going to have to steal that pic of writer - cat. Too funny!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!