My road to publication: Part 2, Queries and Quandries

The first query I sent out had a grammatical error. Anyone could have done it. I changed a word to improve the flow, which then disrupted the sentence in a way I failed to catch. It was a last minute change, and I had read that darned thing so many times I could recite it back to you. So obviously I had five immediate rejections based on that query. 

The first request for a partial is like a lighting blot through your entire body. And the first request for a full? Immediate cloud nine. Followed by complete terror. My brother lives in New York City and has many friends, with many connections, from many walks of life. "You don't happen to know any agents who rep young adult lit, do you?" I asked in my parents kitchen, overflowing with people and food preparations. It was Christmas of 2011. I had just spent the last year writing and editing my heart out. "Actually, I do!" he said. My heart leapt into my throat. One of Greg's friends had recently published a book, and was repped by a literary manager, and Greg just happened to have her contact info. 

I remember turning to my Aunt Shannon in the kitchen and asking her to take a look at my query letter. That very first query letter—the one that probably still had an error. She helped me shape in into something decent. That initial query letter eventually lead to a better query letter, and one even better than that, that I continued to tweak. This is my current query (the one that finally landed me an offer). But the original query I sent to the manager (with my breath held tight) looked something like this:

Sharp, sleek, and golden. Like the dagger she has worn since childhood, eighteen-year-old Aeva is all three of these things. But there is something else that this mermaid and her prized weapon share. They are both hunted.

Hidden within the caves off Iceland’s jagged coast, Aeva waits to take her place as the next ruler of the Meriads. But new rumors of an old enemy begin to taint the merfolk’s guarded waters. Undine, the covetous shapeshifter from Aeva’s past, has emerged from hiding. She comes for the blade said to grant immortality, and is drawing Aeva closer to a forbidden shore.

When Aeva uses her potent and alluring song to save a drowning human, the balance begins to shift dangerously. Realizing she has unexpectedly bound herself to Gunnar—the raven-haired stranger with eyes to match an arctic sky—Aeva is torn between a promise to protect the Meriads, and leaving the sea for love on land. Surrendering to fate, she painfully severs one life to begin another.

On the unfamiliar banks of Iceland, Aeva soon finds herself not only rejected by the sea, but also stalked by dark forces. As the worlds of myth and man intertwine, Aeva looks to Gunnar’s family to help protect both her sacred relic, and the man she loves. But legends and lies cast an intricate net. With time and safety quickly unraveling for Aeva and Gunnar, there is only one clear course: Find and defeat Undine before she can shift again.

(on a side note, Undine's name is undergoing a change for various reasons, and I am currently scouring the interwebs and recesses of my imagination to come up with a new name for my antagonist...)

It was January when I heard back. She liked had liked what she'd read in that email, and wanted to read THE WHOLE MANUSCRIPT. Trying not to freak out, I sent it over immediately (in all its new and barely edited glory). For a month I bit my nails and played out scenes in my mind that included radio interviews and book signings (trust me, your mind does weird things when you've newly finished writing a book and someone shows interest). 

I remember where I was when she called me. We had taken a trip to the very snowy mountains of Utah in February to look at a little place called Heber City. "Just wait until we're on the other side of the mountain," Wes had said. "You're going to love it here." (Of course he was right, and we moved there a short 6 months later). We had gone inside a small restaurant to feed our pink-cheeked, snow-covered kids around lunchtime. When I came back out, I had a funny feeling to check my phone (which I had left in the car). Sure enough, this manager had called and left a chipper message saying that she had read my manuscript, loved it, and wanted to talk to me! I don't remember what else happened that whole trip because of my blissful stupor.

The next few days were spent playing phone tag, which made me really nervous. But when we had made it home to California, we finally connected. She also lived in L.A., and we chatted over the shared sound of a search helicopter circling the area. She really wanted to manage me as an author, but couldn't negotiate book rights because she was a manager, not an agent. First disappointment. But she did have lots of agent connections. "I'll send it over to [insert big name agent in NYC]." She'll read it over the weekend.

I didn't sleep all weekend. I rehearsed the Monday morning phone call in my mind a hundred times. She'll love it. She'll hate it. I'm going to be an author. I'm going to die. I was a little dramatic.

The phone call never came. I waited maybe three weeks and carefully emailed the L.A. manager. The big wig agent had "liked it, but didn't love it." Second disappointment. But the manager sent it out to the other agents she knew. We were hopeful. 

But one agent after another came back with the same replies. A lot of "likes" but no "loves." Mermaids are a hard sell in this market. They really enjoyed it, but had to pass because they just signed another mermaid book. My protagonist is too old (18). My protagonist isn't edgy enough. Ramp up the romance. The storyline isn't dark enough. The beginning is too slow. The themes are too much like The Little Mermaid. There's too much mythology. It's too long. It needs to be rewritten in third person. Month after month, these were the responses. Disappointment, disappointment, disappointment.

I was 19 all over again—hitting the dating pool only to be let down by that great-seeming guy I knew I was destined to spend my life with. I was feeling pretty rejected. My happy dreams of potential publication were being crushed in round after round of speed dating.

The magic was pretty much gone at this point. I had decided that I must be a really crappy writer who'd been fooling myself all along. So what if one manager liked it? No one else did! After one final and really nasty reply from one of Amazon's imprints, telling me "good luck placing this one," in a really rude tone, I decided to take a break. Maybe shelve this project altogether.

But this little voice kept saying "revise, edit, resubmit." I would restructure things, get some beta readers and start fresh. The manager, who had continued to champion my work totally understood. She said she'd be happy to read the updated manuscript, but she was afraid she'd done as much as she could for me, and wasn't getting the response she'd hoped for. Then she wished me well and signed off.

I was on my own.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I set out into the wilds of agents and publishers, find reassurance, have many near successes, and ultimately decide to go with an smaller, independent publishing house.

No Comments Yet, Leave Yours!

Lecia Phinney said...

SO excited for you, Lyndsay! xoxo

Raquel English said...

Have you looked up mermish? It's really fun to go through all those words. It's where pirates of the Caribbean get there lanuage for the the merpeople.