After wrapping up the petite Train I RIde in April, having written it over just a few months, writing every day and workshopping it on average three nights each week, I made a proof copy for my older daughter to read. I also dutifully began sending query emails to literary agents.
My first novel, Breakfast At Tuli’s, is something I’m very proud of. It affected some people, including myself, very profoundly, but I collected approximately 125 rejection letters from agents that I sent query letters to. For those of you unfamiliar with what a query is, publishers will only look at novels submitted by literary agents, and literary agents must first be approached via a query letter in which the writer introduces him or herself and the book in question. Three and a half years after beginning my first novel, I had collected 200 rejections from agents for my first three completed works. Wrapping up my fourth novel, Train I RIde, I didn’t have the same hope that I did when I first queried Breakfast At Tuli’s. I had accepted the idea that writing novels that some people thought were really good wasn’t necessarily enough to reach a wider audience, but that I couldn’t be stopped from producing a physical book that I was proud of, and that could reach the hands and hearts of a limited audience.
In spite of my lack of enthusiasm for querying agents, and mountains of disappointment dating back to my days sending out crazy-ass short stores to literary journals in the 90’s, I began crafting queries for Train I RIde and emailing them to agents on April 26, 2015. I tried to be smarter at querying than in the past: For my previous three novels I had often sent my manuscript, or portions of it, to agents who represented books that I’d feel embarrassed to be seen holding.
I started with an agent who had asked for exclusivity in considering Breakfast At Tuli’s three years earlier, and who said she loved my voice in rejecting it. After all, if she liked my voice then, she might like it now, and her encouraging rejection has more than a little to do with my continued writing. I never did hear back on my query for Train I RIde.
My first rejection came for my fourth query, on the same day I sent it. Quick responses are always appreciated.
The first agent to say yes to the query, meaning “sure, send me the manuscript,” was the tenth agent I sent it to, the day after I queried her, the sixteenth day after I began sending queries. This was Wendy Schmalz of the Wendy Schmalz agency. She said she should be able to read it within four weeks. I sent it off, fingers crossed, and turned my attention to who else I could send it to. Meanwhile, to my surprise I had begun work on a follow-up to Train I RIde. I am suspicious of sequels as being done for the wrong reasons, but I was waking up with scenes of my protagonist’s next adventures playing in my head.
I continued sending queries to a total of 20 agents, and meanwhile developed a greater desire to be represented by the agent who held my manuscript. Reading interviews with her, looking at what writers who worked with her said about her, her nearly 30 years experience, the great books and authors she represented– Wendy became my most hoped-for, dream agent.
On day 29, having not heard from her, I sent Wendy an email telling her that I had developed a major author-agent crush on her, and how anxious I was to hear from her. She apologized for not yet getting to it, and said that she would have it read by the following Friday.
The next Wednesday I received an email that began I like TRAIN I RIDE very much. She said that if I was willing to make minor revisions– which took only minutes for me to make– she would like to discuss representation. On Friday the 19th of June I woke up early to speak to her on the phone in New York, and she offered to represent me and my work.
In the next week and a half, we discussed what else I was working on, and she suggested I put aside the follow-up to Train I RIde, as she said she could not sell a sequel until the first is sold. She asked me how to pronounce my last name, and it occurred to me that she would be calling the editors she submitted the manuscript to. It also occurred to me that I knew very little about the process of making a book beyond writing it.
On June 30 Wendy submitted the manuscript to four of the five major publishers, and told me the names of the editors she sent it to. It was exhilarating to think of these four women reading and considering my work, and I learned as much as I could about them online. Wendy said that since the publishing industry slows considerably in Summer, we might not hear anything for 8-10 weeks. SHe said that good news would always come by phone, but that emails were not necessarily bad news. She also said that my novel was not an easy sell, that character driven stories never are, but I hoped that her belief in it was a good indication that others would feel the same.
We exchanged a couple of emails in the next 10 days, and in one she signed off with hopefully I’ll have news for you soon. I wondered whether that was just a standard salutation, or whether she actually had reason to believe that she would have news for me. On Wednesday the 15th of July I tumbled out of bed to answer a call from Wendy in New York. She led with the bad news, that (Little, Brown) and Penguin had passed. Then she said that both (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) and HarperCollins wanted it. She talked about what that meant, gave me options, and I said what I truly felt, that I was entirely confident in her making the best choice for me and Train I Ride. She went back to both publishers, and called me later in the day while I was stuck on an unusually long phone call with a client for my day job. When I listened to her voice mail 90 minutes later, it said that she had really good news. I called her back and was informed that HarperCollins had made a pre-empt bid– which is when a publisher tries to keep a book from going to auction by making a generous offer that they hope cannot be refused– for a two-book deal, with an option for a third, with a generous advance. It was easy to tell how much enjoyment Wendy got out of informing me that she had sold my first book– or rather, books– to a major publisher. She told me that it demonstrated a lot of confidence in me that they were willing to buy a second book that they didn’t even know I was necessarily capable of producing.
The next day I awoke to emails in my queue from the editorial director of HC Children’s, and the editor working with me, telling me how excited they are to be working with me, that they cried while reading the novel. It’s hard to describe the feeling I’ve had ever since. I’ve looked forward to every part of the process– the contract arriving, being asked my thoughts about the cover, for a book that will not be out until 2017. The fact that there are art directors and artists and editors and marketing people concerning themselves with this character, this protagonist that I love, and her story, and that they will help bring her to an audience all around the world, is the stuff dreams are made of. I am meeting Wendy, my editor and the editorial director for lunch in Manhattan in October, which will be more surreal than the advance money arriving two weeks ago. During all of this, what I am most grateful for is to have been able to share my happiness with others, including the writers whom I have labored alongside at writer’s groups, and to see in them the happiness I feel reflected back at me. Thank you, everyone, for being happy for me. May we all feel it at once some day.