When we last saw 2008 Anne, she was on the brink of completing her first novel and had just begun to think, “Hmm, I wonder what these ‘literary agents’ are all about?”
Little does Anne know she’s about to dive headfirst into a sea of rejection, confusion, and delighted shock.
* * *
Okay. So I had pretty much finished this book I’d written, and I was ready to start looking for an agent (*snort*…as if anyone can ever really be ready for that process) but there was one problem: I didn’t have a title for my book. And I was pretty sure I needed one at this point, since I doubted “Untitled Novel” would grab anybody’s attention.
“I dunno,” I said as I stared at my blank title page. “The story takes place in a clearing, so how about The Clearing? It’ll just be a working title. I can always change it later on. You know, after the huge bidding war is over and I’m spending hours on the phone with my publicist at HarperTeen.”
I googled “How to find a literary agent” and checked out a book from the library called Writer’s Market 2008. Between those two resources, I managed to somewhat figure out how the heck to climb the Agent Mountain and started an Excel spreadsheet. I made several columns so I could keep up with who I was contacting:
Agent’s Name. Agency. Email address. Accept email queries, Y or N? Date query sent. Estimated response time. Date response received. Nature of response.
I’m sure there were more categories than that, but I’d say that was my basic breakdown.
As I watched the “Nature of response” column fill up with the abbreviation REJ, you would think I would become discouraged – BUT I DID NOT LOSE HEART, fellow authors, oh no I did not. Because I had done my googling homework, and I knew this was part of it. I expected the rejection. So I took it in stride, although of course my feelings were a little hurt with every rejection I received.
Finally, in January 2009, one of the agents I’d queried – Alanna Ramirez with Trident Media Group – responded with something other than a rejection. Her email said something to the effect of, “Anne, I’m interested in your novel, THE CLEARING. Please send full manuscript ASAP.”
WHAT?! But I’d only been querying for like, a month! It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly! The end of my book wasn’t as neat and pretty as I wanted it to be, and I’d been toying with an idea about a really cool plot element I wanted to add! But Alanna wanted to read my book!
The next 24 hours passed in a blur of chaos and near insanity as I wrapped my novel up as quickly as possible. I laced my new plot element through the story like a madwoman, making brutal cuts and churning out 10,000 replacement words like my life depended on it. I hardly spoke to my husband, and the cat was left to fend for itself (because let’s face it, Rob wasn’t about to scoop that litter box).
The next afternoon, I slipped my entire manuscript into a manila envelope addressed to New York, New York.
And then I waited.
A few days later, Alanna sent another email. “Can we speak on the phone this afternoon?”
My heart leapt! Could this be it? I ran down the hall of the high school where I teach and jumped around in front of my friend’s classroom door window until she took the hint and came outside. And there was much shrieking and clapping of hands. And then I did the same in front of my other friend’s door, and again, there was shrieking and clapping. The teenagers were convinced someone was pregnant. They were wrong.
When I spoke to Alanna that afternoon, it was all I could do to keep my voice steady. She praised my writing and told me how much she’d enjoyed the story. When she suggested that it might be a bit short, I’m pretty sure I said something like, “Oh that’s totally right I know how could I do that because seriously it is too short and really I was already thinking that so change it I mean make it longer I can.”
She asked me how I’d come up with the story and how long I’d been writing. We talked about my job as a high school teacher and how helpful it was to be surrounded by my target audience all day, every day. We talked about lots of other stuff, but since my head was buzzing and I couldn’t stand up anymore, I don’t think I actually processed any of it.
I’d done my research on Alanna before querying her, so when it came to the end of the conversation and she offered to represent me, it was an easy “YESSSSS!” Next thing I knew, there was a contract in my mailbox and Alanna was sending me her edits.
I could not believe my luck. I was the next JK Rowling! It was happening! Move over, Stephenie Meyer – ANNE RILEY IS IN THE HOUSE!
I worked feverishly for the next several months. Alanna helped me take the story where it needed to go. She pointed out sections that didn’t flow, characters that remained two-dimensional, plot twists that weren’t clear. I devoured her advice like it was water in the desert.
And in the spring of 2009, she emailed me her first round of editors to pitch.
To be continued….
*EDITED TO ADD: Naturally, when my husband got home that day, he also jumped around and shrieked. It was a manly shriek, but a shriek nonetheless. Didn’t mean to leave him out of that part. Love you honey.