Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Starting a business is hard. Shocker, right? I knew it would be, but I didn't know just how hard it would be. Here's a post-meltdown rundown of the current state of affairs. (Yes, I had a meltdown. It was brutal.)

I have five kids and I'm married to a disabled Marine Corps veteran so my life was already insane. In fact, I started the business to pull us through a pay cut and a major health scare that turned into a financial nightmare. My little profitable hobby wouldn't stay quiet and demand grew out of control right from the start. Two years later, the demand had grown exponentially and I'm pulling my hair out. So people see The HofF and think I'm some ├╝ber professional cake boss winner with a full team of assistants and accountants. It's pretty funny actually. They don't see the frazzled mom, pulled in a dozen different directions, running on a few hours of sleep with no makeup and a ponytail, late for a kid's band performance, trying to get to the grocery store because we're out of milk (again), praying that last 1/8th tank of gas holds out long enough to get me there and back because I sure as hell don't have time to stop at the Marathon between errands. I'm picking up kids from school, dropping some off at home, picking up another after rehearsal, heading to another school to pick up kid #2 after practice and running her across town to a soccer game before racing home to make dinner. And somewhere in there, I'm expected to have the laundry done and dinner on the table. Where, I ask you, where in all of that am I supposed to fill the bakery cases with pastries, answer all my messages, and fill custom cake orders? I have no cloning machine. I have no minions. I have only this broken, tired housewife body and what little energy a quad shot latte will buy me for a few short hours. People don't see any of that. They think I'm a cake baking machine with voicemail and a built in cash register. When I built the HofF, I turned a nasty hearing aid office into a beautiful pastry shop, a kitchen, an espresso bar, a tasting room...with no office. Not even a desk or a computer. This is how much I know about business. I was grossly unprepared for this.

The first inklings of impending disaster came last summer. I was turning people away, but still agreeing to more than I could handle. It showed in my work and I wasn't happy. I was always running late. Hours late. I didn't sleep from Thursday to Monday and was like a Walking Dead extra for three to four days before diving back in again. My house got out of control because I'm a terrible mother and failed to teach my children responsibility. They are a force of destruction that has no equal. There are five of them and one coffee table; a coffee table I haven't seen the top of since 2015. It's really bad. I kid you not. During the frenetic caking days, I had potential customers blowing up my inboxes. They weren't nice about it either. "I've tried calling you several times now," (I was baking/shuttling kids/comatose) "but your voicemail is full," (it NEVER ENDS) "and you haven't answered the messages I sent you on your Facebook business page," (there are so many of them!) "so I'm messaging you on your personal page," (LET ME HAVE THIS ONE LAST PRIVATE PLACE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!) "to find out if you can do a three tier Lilly Pulitzer bridal shower cake to serve 100 for $50 this weekend," (48 hour notice? I'm booked for the next two months and you're asking for a $600 cake!) "Can you PLEASE let me know if you're available?" (I won't even see this until a week after the shower, when it'll be followed by this message;) "I came by the shop to pick up my Lilly Pulitzer cake and no one was there. I had to get cupcakes at Walmart. I'm very disappointed by your lack of professionalism." (My response to this is simply the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.) 

A particularly nasty bride filed a complaint with the BBB because I didn't send her a price quote on wedding favors while I was still putting in tile at the shop and didn't have a price list yet. This was the catalyst for the first wave of the urge to quit. This was when I stopped caring about reviews and stars. It was the moment I understood how two dimensional I appeared to these people. I was no one to this little rich girl. She expected me to be one of the many wedding vendors kissing up to her for a taste of daddy's checkbook. I wasn't a mother chasing a dream--I was nothing. It broke me.

There were others like her. There were wealthy housewives who expected ridiculous discounts, nitpicky moms who want exactly THIS cake but with these precise details from five other cakes they found on Pinterest, customers who've never had a cake that didn't come from a box and want yellow cake with white icing instead of vanilla bean cake with buttercream. These are the people who suck the joy out of what I do. They are the cause of my daily wish for the ability to go back in time and opt out of this mess. 

I've developed social anxiety so severe, I have a panic attack when I log into Facebook and see how many messages are waiting. They never stop. It's not just the private messages, it's the constant ranting and the hurtful comments about others. Someone's always trashing someone else for everyone to see. I don't think I can handle another one of those posts about me. I leave my phone on do not disturb so no one outside my bubble can get to me. I avoid people at all costs. No eye contact, no conversations. I don't want to talk to anyone ever again. I just can't do it.

The units next to mine are now occupied. These businesses swooped in with contractors and commercial equipment and accomplished in mere weeks what I haven't been able to finish after a year of blood, sweat, and tears. Doing everything myself was a huge mistake. Huge.

I completely lost it recently. I'm talking full on, hysterical, hiccuping/sobbing. I was ready to sell off everything at the HofF, break my lease, and disappear into obscurity where I belong. I was ready to curl up in a little ball and die. If it wasn't for my family, I wouldn't be here right now. 

And why isn't the shop open regularly so you can get cupcakes whenever you feel like it? Because my cases aren't getting cool enough and my espresso machine won't pressurize. Because the oven I could afford doesn't bake evenly and the bottoms of my cakes are underdone when the tops are overdone. Because I screwed up with about $10k of my capital by buying cheap equipment and I need a do-over. Because three of my kids had strep throat and gave it to me. Because I have two weddings on Saturday. Because I'm drowning in debt and would rather drive off a bridge than fight my way through another day of this. Nevertheless, I'm persisting.

I will make this work because it's what I love. My husband and my kids will be proud of me. And, by God, there will be cake.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Always no (but maybe sometimes yes)

Apparently, I'm a pushover. All it takes is the right person on the right day with the right project, and I'll take on something from the no-bake list. Examples: "I don't do cakes. Only cupcakes." "I don't do fondant." "I don't do character cakes." "I don't do sculpted cakes." And most recently; "I don't do cake pops." I retracted all of those declarations.

I've been going through that no-bake list with this in mind and, sure enough, there are (very few) exceptions to most of them. Oh, and this isn't meant to be offensive or directed at anyone. There are tons of cake decorators out there who make cakes like these but they're just not my style. The whole HofF idea of snobbery is built on the artistic freedom I maintain, allowing me to pick and choose which projects I take on. If I don't feel good about it, I turn it away. It's just me being picky. To each his own--there's a cake for everyone and a baker for every cake.

"I don't do rhinestones or quilting." Why? Quilting has been done to death. It's up there with polka dots and stripes. Rhinestones are metal and glass or acrylic. Inedible and hazardous if swallowed. Every time I ask a bride what type of cake she has in mind, I have my fingers and toes crossed that she doesn't send me a picture of one of these;



They're everywhere. They're easy. They're boring. I may have caved on a few ultra-common buttercream rosette wedding cakes, but I can't bring myself to make one of these. HOWEVER, when done right, there are quilted and bedazzled cakes I actually like; 

One of them even has both quilting and rhinestones! Shocked? So am I! And this one; 
So simple, right? Soft edges, monochromatic, same height on all the tiers. The jewels are all it needs to be breathtaking. 

"I don't do sheet cakes." Sheet cakes are cheap and easy. They're at every grocery store. Your grandma makes them. Yes, they're a breeze to serve, but there is absolutely no wow factor. 

And, while I'm at it, let's talk about that football cake in the bottom right corner. Those piped stars are like lesson 1 of the Wilton course. Tedious and unattractive. That's a double don't right there.

Thanks to Pinterest, I've found exceptions to this one too;


There just aren't words for this kind of beauty. 

"I don't do cupcake cakes." I've said no to so many of these. No no no. I just can't do it.


There are very few exceptions to this rule. You're only allowed to ask me for one of these;


"I don't do dark icing." I know it's a 40th birthday and you'd like black frosting. Those galaxy cupcakes on Pinterest are just so perfect for your tween's sleepover party. First off, most icing color tastes terrible. A drop isn't bad but a tablespoon can change the flavor entirely. Secondly, have you ever watched the kids flood out of school at the end of the day with blue faces? You automatically know there was a birthday and there were blue cupcakes. Grown ups shouldn't have blue smiles. Just saying.


Now, I have made black icing recently that was amazingly good with very little icing color. It uses an ultra-dark black cocoa buttercream base and tastes incredible. Still no dark blue though. If you want a dark blue cake, go with fondant. You can just peel it off  and keep your face clean.


"I don't do people cakes." This is the one rule I'll probably never break. Baby shower cakes, yes. Baby sized cakes, yes. Baby shaped cakes, no way. The creepy factor is off the charts here. Even if the cake looks good, it still ends up like this;



The same goes for butt cakes. I have not, do not, and will not make a butt cake. If you have to ask the question "butt, leg, or toes," you're a cannibal.


But despite all of this, and against everything I stand for, I like this cake. The baby doesn't have to be eaten and it actually looks pretty darn cute. It's the only one I've ever found that doesn't raise my blood pressure.


And belly cakes. Belly cakes, in addition to the cannibal factor, are terrifying. 


"I don't do topsy turvy cakes." I put an enormous amount of effort into keeping my cakes level so this just rubs me the wrong way. Why? Why do you want your cake to look like it froze in midair as it was falling? Or like your baker just threw it together and didn't care about precision or symmetry? I just don't get it. And look--polka dots and stripes on one, quilting and rhinestones on the other! So many violations.


The cakes on the right are both in a grey area. The naked cake is by one of my favorite designers and features fresh flowers. It's all wonky but it's still somehow elegant. The spherical cake is so incredibly unique and different, I can't help but like it despite its wonkiness. If it was perfectly aligned, it would look like a fancy snowman and that would be weird. I kind of like it.

Despite all my dislikes, I have a wishlist a mile long. Topping my list right now;

Geek wedding cakes. Not bright, cartoony things, but soft, classy cakes with a nerdy theme.


Baroque cakes and cakes with a Parisian theme. 


And black wedding cakes. Strikingly different and dramatic, they just ooze luxury.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cold Truths & Warm Fuzzies






It's okay. It's all going to be okay. I promise.



I'm littering this post with pictures of fuzzy things to make it happier. You're welcome.

I've learned a lot in the last year. I learned how to drill a stripped screw out of an iPhone. I learned how to do the flick with liquid eyeliner. I learned that breast implants explode in crematorium ovens. And I learned that the WRONG literary agent is a real thing. So this one night, I'm checking my email with one hand and stirring spaghetti sauce with the other when I was caught off guard by a very serious question. Is it time for me to find a new agent? There's a lot more to this question but trust me, you're not missing anything by skipping ahead.

Why I make phone calls from my car.
Suddenly, I was sitting in my car in the dark (playing Candy Crush Saga at the back of a parking lot outside a coffee shop because it's the only place far enough away from the kids to have a quiet phone conversation) talking to the RIGHT agent about the right things and realizing I should've thought about those things a year ago. I was also realizing I probably looked like a meth dealer or a psycho to any police who drove by, but it was the night of the homecoming bonfire and the cops had more important things to do than harass minivan moms who are just looking for some alone time.

A BAD dog.
There's a very important distinction here: the WRONG agent isn't necessarily a BAD agent. It's easy to get crazy excited, query every agent on the planet, and sign with the first one who offers representation. I know. I've been there. I get that. But you wouldn't walk into a dealership and buy the first car you see in your price range. You'd want to take the time to make sure you're making a wise investment. Do you want a manual transmission or an automatic? Something that gets you there super fast or something that you'll still be driving twenty years from now? What's right for one person isn't always right for someone else.

Clunker.
Okay, there's a really sucky part I need to mention before I get too far into this. Remember when I said "the first car you see in your price range?" Sometimes there are no cars in your price range and you need to work harder so you can get something better. When you find yourself hunting for obscure agents because you've been rejected by everyone else, you might want to consider going back to work on your manuscript so you can get someone reliable instead of a clunker. Don't settle. Seriously.

Let's say you're on the lot, cash in hand, and you're trying to decide which car to buy. Have you figured out what features matter most to you? This is where I went wrong. I had offers from several agents but I didn't know how to make my decision. It just happened all at once and I wasn't prepared. I made an emotional decision without doing any research. I ended up with an amazing agent who just happened to be the wrong agent for me. I was like a mother of four who buys a two-seater convertible, or a guy with a long commute who buys a gas-guzzling SUV.

Because I care, and because I love making lists, here are some suggestions to help you start your own list of questions for that all-important phone call. As usual, these are in no particular order--just like my thought process.

Likes to be left alone.
1.    Ask about your manuscript. Find out if it's going to need an overhaul or if there are just minor changes to make before it can go out to editors. This usually isn't a deal breaker question, but it's nice to know what you'd be up against if you sign with that agent.

2.    Discuss communication. This is a really important one for me. You should know up front how often you two will be checking in with each other and how to get in touch when needed. Some people like to be left alone, others want lots of hand holding. Some agents prefer email, others would rather talk on the phone. Is it better to send a quick text or is she quick to respond to letters? Loners don't want to be smothered and hand-holders don't want to feel like they've been left in the dark.

Likes hand holding.
3.    Research recent book deals. Check to make sure the agent is actually selling manuscripts before you hand yours over. Find out who they're selling them to. If all their sales are to tiny publishers who only do eBooks, it's likely that'll be your future as well. You might also want to look at the genre of those sales. Has that agent been selling books in your genre? If they are, they might have a better idea of where to pitch your manuscript.

4.    Look at their client list. Compare the number of published clients (with sales brokered by that particular agent) versus clients who are still working on it. If their client list is mostly newly signed, unpublished authors, your manuscript could be sharing office time with all the others. If their client list is full of unpublished authors who have been with that agent for a while, it's not a good sign. Either the agent's dropping the ball or they're choosing clients with unpublishable manuscripts.

Totally loves your other stuff.
5.    Talk about your other projects. If the agent isn't excited about the other stuff you're working on, you might be agent-hunting again before long.




Bad news? Good.
6.    Find out how involved you'll be in the pitching process. Some agents will come up with a pitch and a submission list without running it past you, while others might want your input. You might want to see all the feedback from editors. You might want to hear only the good news. Whatever your preferences are, make sure the agent is cool with it.




7.    Be open-minded. Maybe there are a bunch of unpublished authors on their client list. They could be working their butts off and have a bunch of stuff in the works that you don't know about. A huge list of recent sales isn't a guarantee that you'll be on that list anytime soon. They may have been on a roll, but rolls end eventually.

8.    Take your time. When you've asked all your questions and done all your research, give things a little time to settle before you make your choice. No, you don't want to leave them hanging forever, but you don't want to rush into a decision and make the wrong one. If they really want you, they'll still be there if you need a few days to think about it.
Little things
can get out of hand.

9.    Trust your instincts. If something just doesn't feel right, don't ignore it. Little things that make you uncomfortable in the beginning might not get better with time. Does it but you that your boyfriend thinks farting's funny? Picture him seventeen years later, ripping 'em in the kitchen and teaching your kids to blame their own on you. Trust me. It happens.

10. Be objective. Just because an agent has big name clients and works at a well known agency, it doesn't mean you're going to get a seven figure deal for your debut novel. Likewise, signing with a twenty-something agent with a super short resume doesn't mean you're not going to end up with a killer publisher and win a Newberry. Respect the young. Listen to them. Don't be scared of their youth. They've got more energy and their spirits haven't been broken yet.

Stalk them. (But be invisible.)
Don't just stop with my list. Ask, ask, ask. Talk to references, snoop around online, stalk them on Twitter. Be informed. I'd love to hear other ideas from you guys in the comments. Post away!

One final thought; I use the words RIGHT and WRONG very loosely. It's really not that black and white. You could sign with the RIGHT agent and still not get published. There are tons of factors that come into play in this industry. I signed with the RIGHT agent last year and I'm signing with the RIGHT agent this year. Comparing them side by side, I think this new one is the RIGHTER agent for my manuscript--just like the old one is the RIGHTER agent for someone else's manuscript. Both my agents are AWESOME.


Good luck!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Zombie Marshmallows and Charmin Bath Tissue


I've been hibernating. Believe me, that's the best word for it. I landed an agent (WOOHOO!) and everything was all rainbows and butterflies. For about a week. Then schlitz got real. There's a big fat What's-Next that follows the glorious contract signing.

I waited for a revisions letter from the editor. I caught a cold. My youngest kid came down with the flu. The revisions letter came and it was an emotional roller coaster. He loves my writing! He fell in love with my main character! He didn't believe in her motivation! He didn't get the chemistry with another character! He thought the ending was predictable and lacking something! I danced, I cried, I felt like throwing up.

When I got it together and started revising, I realized he was dead on about everything. EV-REE-THANG. My cold got worse. Much worse. I hacked and coughed my way through Thanksgiving and Christmas while pushing myself to finish revisions. I had a birthday. I was sick. It was lame. Turns out my cold ripened into a rollicking case of pneumonia with a side of pleurisy (look it up-- it's evil) and I was doped up on a heady cocktail of antibiotics and pain meds. But I persevered. I finished it up and sent it back to my agent.

And now I'm in the middle of another big fat What's-Next. For the longest time, I was a single parent to my manuscript. I created it. I raised it from infancy to adolescence. I nurtured and loved it unconditionally. Everything was my responsibility-- revising, editing, revising, editing, rewriting, revising, editing, querying, revising, editing, rewriting, editing, querying...this part goes on for several pages but I'll stop here in the interest of time. It was all in my semi-capable hands until now. Now I share my baby with another parent. A dominant parent. A parent who handles submissions for me. And I wait.

"I'm confused. It sounds like you've been busy. How is that hibernation?" Not only did I binge on carbs and spend the winter in bed (pneumonia's a beast), I shut down almost completely. Blog hiatus, very few tweets, no sudden movements. If I moved a muscle, something would blow up and the whole thing would be over. Hold your breath, cross your fingers, try not to pass out. Have you ever felt like that? Like your world is a closet full of crystal champagne flutes and you're wearing an inflatable sumo suit? I thought, if I held really still, nothing could go wrong.

So it's not exactly hibernation but that's how I looked at it. Maybe cryogenics is more accurate. I don't know. All I know is I'm at least five pounds heavier and I can almost braid the hair on my legs.

It was an existential crisis over toilet paper that snapped me out of it. Yesterday, I stood in front of the Charmin at Sam's Club for a good twenty minutes, trying to remember whether I buy the red Charmin or the Blue Charmin. Ultra strong or ultra soft. I've bought the same stupid toilet paper for years. YEARS. I was absolutely lost. I tried picturing the color in my bathroom closet. Red? Blue? Did I need ultra strong toilet paper? Have I been using ultra soft all this time? Why can't I have both strength and comfort? Why can't there be a purple package that just says "ultra" and is both strong and soft? I wouldn't be pressured into making a choice like that. I would not. I would show those bastards at Proctor & Gamble. I'd buy Charmin basic, grit my teeth and endure flimsy, abrasive toilet paper just to stick it to The Man. They call it bath tissue for heaven's sake. BATH tissue. No one in their right mind uses toilet paper in the bathtub. Give me a break. Idiots. Stupid idiots.

It wasn't the first meltdown during the hibernation period either. I made an emergency run to Walmart for Christmas lights when I decided I was most definitely not okay with a strand that only lit up every fourth bulb. I couldn't do it. I drove through the dark and the rain to battle the holiday crowd at a Tennessee Walmart, then I went back out in the dark and the rain to drive home. I caught myself slumping down in my seat with both hands on the wheel, listening to Nights in White Satin, and wondering who exactly I was and what I was doing with my life. Pathetic, I know.

I will wait for news from my agent. I will be good. I will not let myself feel helpless and out of control. I will not go back into my cave and wait it out. It's not the end of the world, letting my agent take the reins. I don't need to be in the driver's seat all the time. I can do this.

Hopefully, I haven't just destroyed my glass closet and popped my suit. Wish me luck.

Zombie marshmallows are easy. Go to a craft store and buy food grade markers. Snip mini fruit marshmallows in half and stick them to regular marshmallows and doodle little dead faces on them. Voila!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shirtless Guys and Young Adult Fiction

The trinado is on the right (9yo, 5yo, and 7yo) in this photo of a completely unrelated shirtless-on-the-trampoline moment.

So it's the day before Thanksgiving and the kids are out of school. I dropped the girl off at a sleepover last night so it's just the boys and me. Oh, and for those of you who don't know about finding an address in the dark in the south, let me help you out here. It's pitch black except for my high beams and the occasional high beams of some idiot in the other lane who doesn't know to turn his/hers off when there's oncoming traffic. My daughter's giving me instructions from the passenger seat with the map on my iPhone and I can't see the street signs to verify she's got us on the right track. It's something like this;

"Go right on the next road. Not the little road extension thingie but the actual road road."
"What's it called?"
"Hang on."
"I can't hang on. Wait-- what was that? Did we just pass it?"
"It says 0.2 miles."
"That's impossible. We've been on the 70 for like a mile already."
"Okay, go back."
(There's no shoulder on the road, no gas stations, no houses, just farmland. Thank God we're in the Bible Belt and I found one of the zillion Baptist churches to use for a turnaround.)
"IT'S THIS ONE RIGHT HERE!"
(Screeching brakes)
"Now what?"
"Now you're going to keep driving for a while."
"What's a while?"
"Until you get to Fancher's Mill Road."
"How far is that?"
"Up a little."
"How little?"
"Like two inches."
"That doesn't help."
"Wait."
"STOP SAYING WAIT! Is this it? IS THIS IT?"
"Does the sign say Fancher's Mill Ro-"
"There is no sign!"
"Is it just a little road extension thingie or is it an actual road road?"
"I don't know. It's too dark. I'm turning anyway."
"Wait."
"I told you to stop saying-- what the hell is that?"
"What?"
"It's a little owl! There's a little owl in the road!"
"I didn't see it! Turn around!"
"I can't turn around."
(Pouting)
"Okay, now the road ends and her house is up about half an inch."
(This is when I either started crying or banging my head against the steering wheel. I can't remember which one I did at this point and which one I did when I got stuck at the gated dead end when the map said I was supposed to be back on the highway.)
"The road can't just end. Look at the map again."
"She must have a really long driveway."
"Like half an inch?"
"What?"
"Nothing."

By some Thanksgiving miracle, I made it to the highway. I was almost home and close to tears when I smelled something familiar. I realized it was a skunk about the same time I drove over a hairy black lump on the asphalt. The smell was everywhere; in my nose, in my mouth, in my eyes. I whipped off the freeway and opened the windows but I still felt like yakking. The smell followed me into the house and the kids freaked out. "Smells like something's burning." "No, it smells like something died." "It's mom! Mom, you stink!"

Let's get back to today, shall we? The the teenager with the mustache was up crazy late talking with two girls on Skype and slept until noon. The three younger boys-- the three-headed tornado, or "trinado" --were tearing around the house like rabid hyenas. Since it's sunny and almost seventy degrees outside (way to get in the holiday spirit, Mother Nature), I banished them to the backyard. There was much fighting. Fighting over the Green Machines. Fighting on the trampoline. Fighting about who did what and whether or not it was an accident. They drew faces on playground balls with Sharpies and carried them around in grocery bags, calling them Puffles and giving them imaginary personalities.

And then something hit the window.

Repeatedly.

The boys had gone around to the garage, entered the code to open the door, and helped themselves to Sprite and Cream Soda from the extra fridge. After pouring it all over the trampoline and soaking themselves, they stripped off their clothes and threw them onto a lower section of the roof. The sound I heard was the tapping of their cans hitting the window as the boys tried to launch them onto the roof and get them stuck in the rain gutter. Two of the three had already succeeded when I came outside breathing fire and thirsty for blood.

I dragged them inside and threw them in the bathtub. It was their brilliant idea to put on swimsuits and take one big bath in my jetted tub. I knew I should've said no but what I heard was "We want to condense three baths into one and cut down on the hot water usage" so I allowed it.

What happened next was mostly my fault. The oldest kid had stumbled out of bed and was catching up on this season of The Walking Dead. I took advantage of the quiet and sat down to watch it with him. The boys were whooping it up in the bathtub but I let it go. They got louder and I still let it go. Water greeted me at the bathroom door when I finally went to check on them. Half an economy-size bottle of Mr. Bubble in a jetted tub can produce enough foam to completely swallow up three little boys and half the bathroom floor. In case you were wondering.

This is why I write young adult fiction. I want to escape to a time of first kisses and best friends. When we beg for freedom but don't realize we already have it. No bills, no kids, no housework. I wouldn't change a thing about my life but it's a demanding one and it helps to escape just for a few moments of quiet time before I jump back into the fray.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bathroom to clean and a Thanksgiving dinner to start. I'm sure the boys will have a new adventure waiting for me when I'm finished.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How I Got My Agent-- now with 100% more Nutella!

(Graphic interpretation of me passing through the query gates to Agentland)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am now represented by the fantabulous Ms. Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency.

First, some numbers. I sent out a grand total of 37 queries, never heard back on 14 of them, was rejected 12 times, and had 15 submission requests. I know the numbers don't add up. Some of my submission requests were from contests so there wasn't an official query involved.

Bree was one of my non-query submissions.

I started querying at the end of July and the very first one I sent was answered with a request for my full manuscript. Over the next few weeks, I sent out two and three queries at a time and entered contests to distract myself from obsessing over my submissions.

The first contest I entered was Dorothy Dreyer's 3-2-1 Pitch Contest; three sentences, two days to enter, one agent judging the entries. The agent judging the August 3-2-1 Pitch Contest was Bree Ogden, who is ridiculously awesome on so many levels. I was pretty darn sure I wouldn't win but I loved the idea of whittling my pitch down to three little sentences so I went for it. I labeled it New Adult because the option was there. It's a tricky issue for me because my MC is a little older but the MS feels very YA. I've had mixed messages from agents on this one so I thought it was safer calling it NA than risking the old "Maggie's too old for YA" response. I spent maybe fifteen minutes condensing my query down to this;

"Maggie inherited a lot from her grandma-- her brown eyes, her sense of humor, and her cause of death. Unaware she's starting the countdown to a reenactment of her grandma's death by fire, Maggie spends the summer with her hot-as-hell boyfriend and accidentally sets off an unstable stalker.

It's only a matter of time before Maggie Parrish is going to burn."

And then I waited. Six days later, I wasn't the winner. I assumed Bree wasn't interested. (WRONG)

A bizarre email showed up in my inbox early the week after. Someone claiming to be Bree's executive assistant requested my first fifty pages and synopsis, saying Bree had instructed her to do so following the 3-2-1 Pitch Contest. Instead of her email address ending in @D4EO.com, it was (redacted).D4EO@gmail.com. Her first name was EXACTLY THE SAME as mine. Think hard-- how many Caitlins do you know? Not Katelyns or Caitlynns, but Caitlins. No one knew how to pronounce my name when I was little. Every substitute teacher called me Cat Lynn. I hated it. But I digress.

Because I'm such a confident, secure person, I assumed the almighty Bree-Freaking-Ogden was way out of my league and the email was a scam. This psycho "Caitlin" chick swiped my email address off the contest entry and wanted to steal my baby. Bree, with her red lipstick fetish and love of things dark and wonderful, would never be interested in some loser stay-at-home mom with a minivan and a Diet Cherry Coke addiction.

I did what any sane person would do. I called Bree's executive assistant a manuscript-napping fraud and said she needed to get smacked around. Then I got this email;

"Ha ha! Yes, she is my assistant. And yes, I told her to request fifty pages. Thanks for checking!"

So I apologized to Caitlin for calling her a scam artist and accusing her of trying to hijack my story. I made such a splendid first impression, I figured I'd slaughtered any chance I had of landing Bree.

A bunch of other stuff happened. (I just saved you half an hour. You're welcome.)

All of a sudden, I had offers. It was an overnight thing and I'm still in shock. I wrote a bunch of "thank you for considering my MS, blah blah blah" emails and sent them to the agents who hadn't answered my query yet. To the agents who'd made submission requests, I gave them a heads up about my offers and got emails back, asking for a week to finish reviewing my MS. Bree was one of them.

Bree's offer was preceded by a middle of the night email, confessing she was (and I quote) "falling madly in love" with my manuscript. She sent an email the next day, asking if we could chat on the phone because she had an offer for me. I locked myself in my room and The Gunny hung out with the kids so I could have a semblance of privacy. We talked on the phone and she was every bit as jaw-droppingly cool as she seemed online. (Her hair changes color! Pink! Blue! Green!)

I have to add here how awesome my other offers were. This wasn't an easy decision. I didn't query every agent known to man-- just agents I really wanted to work with. Getting an agent is more than signing a contract. It's agreeing to a sort of partnership. It's finding someone who genuinely loves you and your work and will rave about you to publishers and fight for your manuscript's life. It's not something I took lightly when I sent queries. I think having this attitude made rejections easier for me. When I got a rejection that praised my writing but said they just didn't love it the way they needed to in order to represent me, I was cool with that. I was looking for love and I found it.

But it's not over yet. Not by a long shot. I have more edits and revisions and submissions (rinse and repeat ad nauseum) before I'll be signing my books at Barnes & Noble. Getting an agent feels very much like this;


Yay, I'm finally done with submissions! Wait...

Now that that's over, let's move on to something easy, shall we? This is really easy. Like really, really easy. No queries or synopses or long waiting periods! Are you ready? Here we go!

Nutella Cookies

1 cup Nutella
1 cup flour
1 egg

Mix. Scoop. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

BOOM.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Submissions Survival Guide

See this guy? He's Ben Stiller's agent in TROPIC THUNDER. This guy goes to Vietnam to win back the client he never really lost by finally coming through with TiVo, which was promised in their contract. This is my dream agent. Rick "Pecker" Peck. I want a Pecker.

After several VERY LONG months of waiting, I got my first offer of representation. It happened just like every other "How I Got My Agent" story. First there was one offer, then there were two, then there were emails and requests and offers and phone calls and total chaos. Everything just exploded.

Somehow, I have to pick which one of these amazing agents is the best fit for both me and my manuscript-- and not just this manuscript but my next one and all the others that follow. It's bizarre switching places like this. Instead of the beggar, I'm the chooser. They're waiting for ME to get back to them with a decision. I'M the one who does the rejecting. I didn't expect it to suck this much. Me no likey. I queried agents I really wanted, never dreaming I'd have to pick between them. But I guess I knew this was a possibility. I watched a couple of Twitter friends gush about multiple offers and (because I'm such a great person) greed chewed on me like I was rawhide. Yeah, I was happy for them, but I was deeply envious. On the flip side, I read tweets from agents who were waiting on potential clients to make a decision and hoping like heck they'd be the one. No matter how bad I wanted to be that writer-- the one with all the suitors --I guess I thought it'd never happen to me.

This isn't my "How I Got My Agent" post. As long as the stress doesn't kill me and I'm able to (somehow) figure out which awesome agent is awesomer than the others, I'll write that post next week. This is my "How I Survived Submissions" post. Enjoy.

25 things I did while waiting on submissions;

1. Critiqued a friend's manuscript and doubted my own abilities. Oops.

2. Started another writing project. This is probably the smartest thing I did while in submission limbo. You should do this one too. I mean it.

3. Kept a detailed record of my querying activity. Names, dates, responses, follow-up contact, etc.

4. Stalked my favorite agents. NOTE: I did this entirely online and in a relatively non-invasive fashion. I didn't pull police records or hire private investigators because that's psychotic and I'm not (entirely) psychotic yet. I read blogs and followed tweets. I read the blogs of their clients to see what kinds of authors they worked with and whether those authors mentioned them. I looked for agent interviews and profiles. I checked out book deals and forum posts. I did more homework in the last few weeks than I did in four years of high school.

5. Bought a purple shamrock.

6. Killed the purple shamrock.

7. Played FLATLINERS and brought the purple shamrock back from the dead.

8. Divided the purple shamrock and made a purple shamrock clone.

9. Accidentally knocked over the purple shamrock and nursed it back to health.

10. Named the purple shamrock Betty.

11. Saved Betty from my cats.

12. Started to knit a scarf.

13. Started to knit another scarf.

14. Played over 1,000 games of spider solitaire.

15. Sent more queries and got more submission requests. I know it's stupid but I couldn't handle sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

16. Entered pitch contests.

17. Stressed about pitch contests instead of submissions.

18. Kept detailed records of which contest judges voted for which entries and who went on to the final rounds.

19. Drank a buttload of espresso.

20. Created my own political party-- Demopublicans. Instead of red or blue, we're purple and there are no aisles to cross. One world, people!

21. Fought a mighty battle with my Twitter friends over Thor and his *ahem* mighty hammer. I still say he's mine. MINE MINE MINE!

22. Lost the battle despite the use of my napalm thong. Trisha had a nuke bra and Jen had a velociraptor. I was screwed.

23. Had a dream I saw my very first book cover and it said HarperTeen on the spine.

24. Discovered I like honeybees.

25. Survived.