"I'm too sick to be excited about this. Could you read this email and tell me if this is worth getting excited about?" I had horrific morning (all day) sickness, and had barely been out of bed in weeks. I was a pregnant zombie on anti-nausea medicine. And I hadn't thought about my manuscript in months.
"Looks real to me..." Wes said. "But don't get too excited yet." (Wes is a filmmaker, and his motto is pretty much "it's not happening until it's happening.") So I went back to bed.
This is not the way I envisioned that day going. I had these grandiose day dreams about getting a call from an agent, where I would run through my list of questions for them with great natural poise, maybe tossing in a casual joke here and there. "So what did you enjoy about the manuscript? Oh really? That was my favorite part to write." Blah, blah, blah... (sickening, really).
I had some close calls—to getting that call, I mean. Once my manuscript had seen the eyes of a few beta readers, two more rounds of edits, more query tweaking, and a bit more self confidence in my emails, I did have a regular stream of requests for fulls and partials. I knew I was on the right track when enthusiastic agents would request the full manuscript immediately. That gets your heart pumping, let me tell you!
But the replies were still the same. I'd get great feedback, even some praise, but they all inevitably passed. The two big reasons were personal preference either on my POV or my "voice." But they all encouraged me to submit to more agents.
This was a typical response:
Thank you for sending in your manuscript for my review. You're a very talented writer--your descriptions in particular are very well formed and vivid--but I'm afraid that I just didn't resonate with your voice. Preference in narrative voice is very much a matter of opinion, as I'm sure you know, and while there is nothing wrong with your voice, it just isn't what I'm looking for right now. For this reason, I am going to pass on the project.
Please don't be discouraged by this. As I said, you are a very talented writer. Just because I felt one way about your voice doesn't mean that other agents or editors will share my opinions. Keep writing, revising, and querying. Good luck!
Thank you so much for your query. I'm grateful for the opportunity to consider your work, but after careful consideration, I'm afraid I don't feel I'm the right agent for this project. Your writing is masterful and evocative, and I feel that you are truly putting a fresh twist on the mermaid legend, but I'm afraid I'm really not taking on much in this category right now. I am truly sorry not to be able to offer you representation at this time, Lyndsay, and I wish you the very best of publishing luck as you move forward. I have no doubt you'll find a terrific home for your work.
On days when I felt like a total sham—like I should just go back to graphic design where I was safely trained and talented, and not force this writing thing—I would subsist on those comments alone. I was encouraged in knowing that agents weren't just passing, but apologetic, specific, and encouraging.
Still, I thought I might be nearing the end of the road with my manuscript. Then I realized I hadn't looked into the untapped resource that is independent publishing. (I should mention that "independent publishing" is NOT self-publishing. An indie publishing house means you publish through the company, with a contract, and you get a percentage of sales. They are a publishing house that is not affiliated with any of the larger conglomerates.)
A quick search pulled up dozens of independent publishers. After a VERY careful detailed scouring of their sites, I decided on two. They both looked established and successful, no cost to author (fees are a huge red flag, of course), well-designed websites, decent cover art, happy authors who had lots of digital and online success (Kindle and Amazon, for example), and a solid track record. They both published in e-book format first, followed by print. I could do that. That could be a good start for me... So I sent my query to the two different acquisition editors. Both publishing companies requested partials rather quickly. Off went the first three chapters to their respective corners, while I played the usual waiting game for months.
Now back to the email I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It came about two months after that initial submission, and just one week after they had eventually requested the full manuscript! The email was from 48fourteen publishing. And it went like this:
After reviewing your complete manuscript, I believe that Fire of the Sea
would be a great addition to 48fourteen. We would like to extend an offer
for this novel.
Fire of the Sea was captivating; an unexpected surprise. Aeva's character
was admirable - she knew her path and stayed the course. With strength and
determination she overcame her obstacles. Mythological creatures seamlessly
merged with the real world - as we know it. Every character was
well-developed, unique, and had their own voice. The love between Aeva and
Gunner felt pure and real. Settings were described impeccably, lending to
the realistic feel of the novel. Readers will be on the edge of their seat
as they attempt to decipher the prophecy, uncover the secrets, and search
for the truth alongside Aeva and Gunner.
I would like to prepare a contract and send it to you for your review.
Please let me know if you are interested. If you have any questions, please
let me know so that we may discuss before sending you the initial offer.
Thanks again for submitting your manuscript!
I think I was partially in shock. Well, and trying not to throw up, remember? My brain felt fuzzy and a little high. When I had given it time to sink in, I emailed them back and allowed my self to get excited. Just a little bit. ;)
The only problem was that I still had that other publisher reading the manuscript. Oh, and one big-time, well-known, NYC-based, fantasy agent who'd had a partial for well over six months. Oh that. I nervously asked if I could please have two weeks to let the other agent and publisher know about the offer, out of professional courtesy, but that I was very interested in working with 48fourteen. They were very kind about it, and gave me the two weeks.
I actually didn't hear back from the other indie publisher (who had gone on a LONG vacation), until after I had accepted the offer with 48fourteen. And I just had a feeling that wasn't going to pan out, anyway. But the NYC agent? As soon as I told him I was considering an offer, he jumped. "Give me 2 days and I'll have the whole manuscript finished. I'll have an answer for you then. I'm very excited about this. I'm kicking myself for not reading this sooner...strong chapters...yadda yadda." I had a funny inkling about him, though. He was flaky with my query, partial, and full. He would take ages to get back to me. He has a lot of authors on his docket... Something in me felt nervous when I thought about being another author on his client list. And something felt really good about 48fourteen.
While I waited for the NYC agent to get back to me, I emailed 48fourteen authors to find out a little more. Every one of them raved about their experience with the company. "They put everything they have into their authors." I didn't think I'd be able to boast the same kind of personal attention with Mr. NYC. I had my answer.
I finally had to email the big wig agent. Two days had passed, with no email or call. Then nearly two weeks. If I emailed him, he'd want one more day. I would warn him that I had pretty much made up my mind. He'd tell me to wait because he wanted to call in the morning. No call. After more days of this nonsense, I emailed 48fourteen and HAPPILY accepted their offer. Then I emailed Mr. NYC to inform him that I had happily accepted that other offer. He immediately wrote back, wanting to know who I had signed with, what their offer was, etc. DELETE.
After a few awesome emails back and forth with 48fourteen answering questions and getting the contract ready, I did this:
That's me. Signing a contract. And allowing myself to be really excited.
I am now so pleased to be one of the newest 48fourteen authors! I know my book is in great hands. Sure, I could have still pressed for a literary agent. And it could have taken literally years before that agent acquired a publisher and got the book on shelves. Or I could have let it all die out in the trying. But fortunately a little voice told me to look towards independent publishers. And even more fortunately, that lead me to find 48fourteen.
It's very nerve wracking to send something like this out into the world. I have no idea what the response will be like. I have no idea what it will all lead to. But I can't wait to find out!
Funny side note: As I was typing this I received a form rejection email from a random agent I must have queried over a year ago, telling me they were no longer accepting clients. It's funny to see what surfaces when you are putting things out into the ether...