I’m SO excited to report the news that Emma Nelson, my Pitch Wars mentee, has signed with agent Amanda Ayers Barnett of the Donaghy Literary Group, for representation of her novel Solstice Sisters. Some of you were following along as I helped Emma get her manuscript ready to pitch, so I thought I would bring Emma in to tell the story of this part of her journey. (You can also hear more of Emma’s thoughts about Pitch Wars at her blog at http://blog.emma-nelson.com/.)
Landing an agent is rarely as straightforward as it sounds to those who have never gone through the process. Although it can FEEL like a magic moment, it’s actually not like Cinderella getting outfitted in princess garb with the swish of a wand and swept off to the ball. It’s work, because at the end of the day, it’s a business decision. It takes discernment and thought and often represents a compromise of that fairy-tale vision in your mind.
Amanda is a new agent at the Donaghy Literary Group, and I have invited her to give her side of this story, as well. I hope she agrees and that I can bring you her Q&A in a week or so.
- To read Emma’s revision process from the beginning, read this series of POSTS. (You have to page down to start at the beginning -- such is the nature of blogs…)
- And to read the submitted first chapter of Solstice Sisters, click HERE.
JENNIE: Many of my readers are well aware of the agonies of waiting to hear back from agents – the endless waiting to hear in the first place, the request for pages, more endless waiting. You had a particularly hard time at this stage of the process. What was the negative self-talk going on in your head? What did you do to counteract it and tolerate it?
EMMA: Yes, it was hard. I’ve queried several books over the years, so I feel like I have a pretty thick skin and a high tolerance for rejection, but Pitch Wars was a different ballgame. You have this whole group of people going through the same process, who all started in the same place, and then we get all of the updates—people signing with agents a day after the contest, all the requests I wasn’t getting, and even all of the rejections. It was hard knowing that a group of such high caliber writers were still getting the same types of rejections I’d always gotten. So it’s like querying, but on super potent steroids.
I’m not sure I coped as well as some. I felt defeated. But then someone from the Pitch Wars group posted an article about making goals you can actually control (having an agent love you is not one of those), so I wrote my New Year’s resolutions, and for the first time since 2012, I did NOT make it a goal to get an agent this year. I decided I was in this for the long haul. Even though there are tons of different avenues of publication, I wanted an agent. I had always wanted an agent, and I was going to stick with the path no matter how long it took.
Right after Christmas, I had this genius book idea, so I started mapping that out. I didn’t even think about querying over the holidays, just enjoyed the thought of my new project. And then Amanda emailed me on December 31st. It was the best end to 2016 and start to 2017.
JENNIE: Did your writing group/community help during this part of the process? Many of your writer friends are already agented and published.
EMMA: Yes, I have two friends in particular that are agented and one who is querying, and they were really helpful. Even just for throwing around ideas and venting. I feel like I’ve been around enough people getting agents, that it was easier to know what to expect and how to work through some of the decisions.
JENNIE: When you got an official offer of representation, how did it feel? Just that first moment? Was it what you expected?
EMMA: Haha. Honestly, it wasn’t. She didn’t exactly SAY she was offering representation. We had a long talk, which was great, and she said, “Well, I guess protocol is to give you two weeks to talk to anyone else who might have the manuscript.” And I said, “So you’re offering to represent me?” I’m sure she thought I was an idiot. But I really liked her. I liked her enthusiasm, and I have always heard great things about new agents and the amazing things they can accomplish.
JENNIE: Your agent asked you to make a number of changes to your manuscript. What were your thoughts upon hearing you had more work to do – especially given how much revision work you had just done?
EMMA: That’s a good question. On the one hand, I expected it. And at that point I’d had some space away from the MS, so it wasn’t as overwhelming as it would have been right after Pitch Wars. But on the other hand, of course you think that after that much work, someone should love everything about it! But I agree with all of her suggestions. They’re really smart and still keep the vision of the book.
JENNIE: Along those same lines, you had other agents requesting different and in some cases bigger changes. It is often a complicated process. How did you evaluate what everyone was asking against your original vision for the book?
EMMA: You helped me with this one, actually! I had an R&R from an agent that I really love. She’s been my dream agent for years, and we’ve had several interactions throughout several books. She didn’t like a pretty big plot element, and when I called to ask your advice, you said, “Oh, but I love the ______.” It made me realize that just because brilliant, insightful dream agent didn’t like certain things, there were others who did. Ultimately, it felt right to go with someone who liked the bones of the book the way they were.
JENNIE: You participated in Pitch Wars and became a Pitch Wars success story. (Pitch Wars is a fantastic free pitch contest put on by the incredibly generous Brenda Drake.) Can you talk about the pros and cons of being a part of a program like this? In some ways a contest distills the worst parts of the pitching and publishing process into a concentrated timeframe. Of course on the other hand, it gives writers huge opportunities they might not otherwise have.
EMMA: Yes. Exactly. I talked earlier about how that concentrated timeframe is really hard. We all know publishing is a slow business. It’s not uncommon for an agent to take months to read a MS. But in PW, I think there’s a false sense of failure when things don’t happen immediately, like they do for a lot of people. Really, I got an offer 6 weeks after PW. In querying time, that’s not bad at all, but in PW time, it felt agonizing watching so many people with more interest in their book and a dozen offers and whatever else. It’s hard not to compare.
The benefit of PW is, if you’re lucky, you get a phenomenal mentor, like I did. It was so fun to have someone smart and successful in the career I wanted, helping and advising me through the process. My mentor—Jennie—and I got along really well. I think we worked really well together [Jennie says: I totally agree! I loved working with Emma -- she was a dream mentee], and I even traveled to L.A. to have lunch with her, where we came up with this whole new awesome plot point that changed the entire book [best day ever!]. It was a huge blessing to have someone dedicated to me and my book for two months of hardcore revisions. I loved that part of it. I loved having someone to run ideas by, and it felt awesome to have someone who loved my book as much as I did.
JENNIE: At one point during Pitch Wars, you thought you would have to drop out for personal family reasons. Why did you keep going and how did you make that decision?
EMMA: So, my mom has had cancer a couple of times over the years, and I think it was about halfway into Pitch Wars, we found out she was terminal. It was a horrible time. We were at the hospital around the clock, she didn’t remember who we were for a couple of days, it was just an emotionally exhausting time. Pitch Wars seemed silly in the grand scheme of things, and I felt like I should drop out to focus on family.
I told my mom, and she said, “That’s just dumb. Finish your contest.” Which is totally her. Anyway, she started to improve some. The couple of weeks that we thought were the end were just her meds being off, and when that was fixed, she was much more lucid and didn’t need as much care. She’s still dying, but we’ve ended up having more time than we thought. I guess her telling me to finish was really what made the difference. She knew how much it meant to me, and she wasn’t about to let me give that up.
JENINE: Would you recommend pitch contests to writers? Any cautionary tales about who might best benefit or when in the writing process might be best?
EMMA: Yes, absolutely, I think Pitch Wars is an incredible opportunity. I guess I would just say to go in with an open mind. I know several people were really unhappy with the changes their mentor wanted, but I feel like the whole process was a good dry run for publishing in general. It was hard and fast and emotional, and you’ll want to stab your eyes out and never look at your stupid book again, but the learning that happened in that short amount of time was invaluable.
For me, my Pitch Wars book was the fourth book I’d written, so I think I wasn’t as emotionally attached to it. I knew if this one didn’t work, I’d write another one. I think Pitch Wars helps you find that balance between loving your baby and being able to look at it objectively, and that’s an essential lesson to learn at some point if you want to be in this terrible/wonderful business.
JENNIE: Next up for you is to revise your novel with your new agent, and then go out on submission with it. What will you be working on when that process is complete?
EMMA: Solstice Sisters is intended to be part of a series, so she already has me outlining book two, so she can present the plan to editors who might be interested.
One thing I loved about Amanda was that she asked what else I’d written. When I told her, she was excited about several of those, so I might dust off a YA suspense I’ve been trying to revise. I like the idea of having several books to work with instead of putting all my eggs in one basket. And then I’ll write the next one. And the next.
JENNIE: You are the mother of three kids and you still make time to write. What’s your secret?
EMMA: I think it’s the same secret a lot of moms have—nap time, bedtime, making it a priority. I’ve been working toward it for so many years, that at this point, it’s a habit. I write every day. I make the time, instead of waiting for it to happen on its own. I try to be a good, present mom, but I also think it’s important for my kids to see me working hard at something I dream of accomplishing.