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, it was (redacted) 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.


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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hey girl, I just met you and this is fifty shades of gangnam style, but here's ALL MY THINGS so Skype me maybe? (Why I don't write to trends)

Like zombies? There's a genre for that. Like snogging? There's a genre for that too. Whatever your pleasure, there are books for you out there. I bet you can come up with five vampire books, five dystopian books, and five faerie books off the top of your head. Angels, witches, demons, elves, shape-shifters, WHATEVER-- they're everywhere in YA. 

Here's the thing; I don't like going with the hive mind when I write. I don't want my book to be the next Harry Potter or the next Twilight. I don't want it to be compared to The Hunger Games or Beautiful Creatures. I want to write something completely different-- something that bucks the trend and stands out from everything else. 

It's not just about being fresh and unique. I don't want the interest in my book to wax and wane with the trend. I've heard so many agents say dystopian is done. What you see on the shelves is a year or two behind what's being written now. If you write a story about vampires to piggyback on the finale of the hugely successful Twilight saga, it won't be out until after Breaking Dawn 2's audience has moved on to something else. 

My advice is write what you want and write it now. That's what I'm doing. I don't know what the next big thing will be and I don't care. I mean, sure, I'll read it and probably love it but it's not like the stock market-- I'm not trying to get on board with an idea so I can be riding that wave when it crests. Write your own thing. Make your own wave. Write for yourself and no one else.

What's my book about, you ask? It's a different take on parallel lives. A teenage girl shares an extraordinary genetic bond with her grandma, who died forty years ago in a barn fire. Maggie looks, talks, and thinks just like her grandma, right down to the tiny details like her favorite foods and taste in clothes. One summer, a chain of events begins-- a chain frighteningly similar to the one that ended in her grandma's death. Maggie knows what's coming and she's scared to death.

Another WIP is the story of a girl's quest for boobs; The Saline Solution. E has five months to earn enough money for a new set of twins in time for prom but going public with her fundraiser puts her at odds with everyone she loves. E's stuck between her friends and a C-cup. 

And then there's REM. I've been playing with this one since I was fifteen-- no lie. Justin and his friends fool around with an OTC sleep aid, REM, that all the kids are using for fun at parties. That night, in his dreams, he meets Angie and suddenly they're running for their lives. While Justin wakes up from the dream, Angie doesn't remember the last time she woke up. The sleep aid's ripped from the market and The Agency starts showing up at Justin's school. Everyone thinks Justin's losing it. The only way Justin can be with Angie is by taking REM but the more he takes, the harder it is to stay awake. He's determined to find Angie and prove she really exists before he stops waking up altogether but, the closer he gets, the more he believes she's just a dream.

I hope no one can name five other books like mine. If they can, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. 

Now I'm going to totally ignore my own advice and follow a trend-- pumpkin mania. These cookies are soft and tender and remind me of pumpkin muffin tops. Mini chocolate chips are perfect for studding the cookies with tiny nuggets of cacao but you can leave them out or add chopped walnuts or something lame like that. I'll stick with chocolate, thank you.

Trendy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk
1 T vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg until blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture until just moistened. Dissolve baking soda in milk in a small container and add to cookie dough with vanilla and chocolate chips. Stir until just combined. 

Scoop cookie dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets (I use a 1/4c ice cream scoop) and bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes or until just set. The cookies won't spread much at all so you don't have to space them far apart. Overcooking these makes them tough and dry-- keep an eye on them.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Granola and The New Adult Conundrum

(DISCLAIMER: This is a raw and unpolished rant. If you read it again after I've cleaned it up, it might be very different.)

For those of you who don't know the details of my MS, BURN, the MC is a nineteen year old girl, in love with a twenty-four year old guy, with a twenty-one year old antagonist. Welcome to my personal hell.

I don't know if you believe in the myth that is the new adult genre and I'm not going to try to persuade you either way. I do, however, want you to take a little trip with me. Let's go back to high school, shall we? Actually, let's go back to the sixth grade. 

You got lucky and have homeroom with your best friends, Nicole and Sarah, and the boy you've been crushing on since way back in fifth grade. It's been like a whole year since you started writing his name with hearts dotting the i's but he still doesn't "like you" like you. It's totally stupid Haley's fault. She stuck a note in his locker that said you wanted to go out with him, now he eats lunch on the other side of the cafeteria. Nicole's on student council with you and her mom picks you both up after school on Thursdays-- yay, no stupid school bus! Nicole got Just Dance 4 so you bring your Wii remote in your backpack and kick her butt at "Moves With Jagger" after school on student council days. She's awesome! You read MG fiction and love anything with faeries or angels. 

Now fast forward a little to your junior year of high school. Nicole's going out with Nick-- yeah, your Nick --so you hang out with Sarah instead. Sarah's cool though so no worries. Oh, and you've moved on from Nick anyway. Jeremy's a senior with a black Jeep and he's on the varsity wrestling team. He could totally kick Nick's butt if he wanted to. You watch for him between first and second period every day, hoping he'll bump into you on the way to his locker so you can say hi. Your parents let you drive the Camry on the days you have to work after school. It's a piece of junk but it runs. The manager at Dairy Queen is super nice and only schedules you for two Saturdays a month. The Saturdays you don't work are your fave. You and Sarah Skype Jeremy and post derp face pictures on Facebook. You're way excited about Breaking Dawn 2. Sarah's coming with you to the marathon thing where they show all the movies right up 'til the new one starts at midnight. You've read the books a million times. 

Baby number three is on the way and your daughters are all hoping for another girl. Jake wants a boy and you hope he gets his wish. The ultrasound is scheduled for next week and Jake's planning on breaking away from the office for a bit so he can be there with you when you find out if it's a boy or a girl. Your sister-in-law, Laura, wants to throw you a baby shower but it's your third kiddo so you don't want her to go through all that trouble. The carpet in the living room needs to be cleaned after that nasty stomach bug hit the kids and Olivia puked on the floor. There's enough room in the budget for a professional cleaning, but you'd rent a Rug Doctor and do it yourself. If you're going to take the kids to the beach this summer, you have to save money wherever you can. It's an election year and you're concerned about healthcare. Jake's company plan doesn't make much of a dent in Emily's medical bills. She'll probably need surgery to correct her atrial septal defect and it's not going to be cheap. If necessary, the van can be refinanced and you might be able to get a home equity loan. You've overpaid on the mortgage every month so there's definitely equity there. You read whenever you can, even if it means staying up late for kid-free quiet time. You read in waiting rooms, in the pick-up line after school, and during Emily's afternoon naps. 

That's how all of us grew up, right? We were 'tweens with BFFs and crushes, teenagers with super-important social lives, and suddenly had responsibilities and a family. Going from MG to YA to adult cuts out a huge section of life-- the early adult time. Remember this? You're finally out from under the tyranny of your parents. You choose what to eat, what to watch, where to go. If you want to put off doing the dishes, no one's going to ride you about it. You can live on ramen and Frosted Flakes and spend your grocery money on drinks with friends or a butterfly tattoo (because NO ONE can tell you not to get one, dammit!). For the first time of your life, you're free. Want to have a guy over? Do it. Want to let your apartment get cluttered? Suck it, neatness! And the boobs, the boobs are fabulous. You wear push-up bras and skinny heels and get your belly button pierced. Your body's a new car; it's pretty and runs smooth as silk. You might not appreciate it yet, but your tummy's flat and your thighs are narrow. Bikinis (because NO ONE can tell you not to pick the skimpiest one, dammit!), and thongs or sweats and flip-flops. Everything looks great on you. It's a time between being a kid and being a "real" adult. A time when you make crucial decisions about school, work, and marriage. It's a walk along the edge of a cliff-- exciting and terrifying at the same time. It's short but it's wonderful.

Whether you subscribe to the new adult theology, new adults do exist. The projected market for new adult shouldn't be limited to people in that age range. Teenagers dream about turning eighteen and finally being an adult (suckers), and adults reminisce about the good old days. New adult is the place between child and adult and it's absolutely magical for YA and adult readers. A recent article in The Huffington Post gave statistics showing the majority of readers are in the new adult age range. Bonus points if you remember the article and post a link in the comments section. Does it need to be its own genre with its own shelf? Most adults looking for younger fiction go to the YA shelves. Teenagers looking for mature YA also go to the YA shelves. If nineteen-year old, recent graduate protags are shelved with adult books, they'll be lucky if they reach their target market.

So, I lied. I am going to try to persuade you. I don't think new adult should be a genre. I think books that would be considered new adult should be sold as YA-- even if the characters are 18-22. Yes, there are books with characters in that age group that are clearly adult fiction, but I'd be willing to wager most of them are YA.

If you've stayed with me this long, reward yourself with this week's recipe; Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola. Spicy, fragrant, and timely, this granola is divine with Greek yogurt or ice cream, made into granola bars, served with coconut or almond milk, or just eaten by the handful. Play around with the dry ingredients to find your own favorite combination and double it if you're really, REALLY hungry.


1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup pecans
1/8 cup golden flaxseed
1/8 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup shredded coconut
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 t vanilla
1 T cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/8 t allspice
1/8 t ginger
pinch of salt
1/3 cup Craisins
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, toss almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, flaxseed, wheat germ, coconut, and oats until evenly mixed.

Combine in another bowl; pumpkin puree, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and spices. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and toss until evenly coated.

Spread mixture on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about an hour at 325 degrees, stirring every fifteen minutes, until granola just starts to become crunchy. It will continue to get crunchier as it cools. Add Craisins during the last fifteen minutes of baking and add chocolate chips when granola is completely cool.