It’s been a month of Sundays since I last posted an update on my ongoing quest to get a book published, and for the first time in a while, I’ve got some tangible news to share: I’ve got an agent!
Great! So when’s the book coming out?
Slow down there, tiger. There is no book coming out just yet, but getting an agent is a major step toward making that happen.
I thought this was going to be more exciting.
It is exciting! Getting an agent is one of the toughest parts of the publication process because agents are the gatekeepers between the tens of thousands of manuscripts that exist in the world and the editors who would love to bring the best of those books into the world so they can find their way to bookstores, onto Amazon, and ultimately into people’s homes.
The process of getting an agent can be tiresome, and it moves soooooo slowly. It basically works the same way as a job application, except instead of finding out whether or not you’ve been hired a few days later, you find out several months later.
That doesn’t sound anxiety-inducing at all!
Nope! Not even remotely! See, you have to finish your book completely before sending it out, so that meant writing a draft in October and November of last year, then spending about seven months going through multiple rounds of edits in which I deleted and rewrote somewhere around 25,000 words. By late June, I was ready to query the thing, which meant sending agents a letter describing my book along with some sample pages so they could get a sense of my writing.
If any potential agents like the story idea and/or the writing, they can request more or all of the book to decide if they’d like to represent the author. Sometimes, it takes people years and hundreds of rejections before finding a match. I was much luckier. My agent was the first industry professional to ever read one of my books.
Wait, you got an agent on the FIRST TRY?
No. No, no, no. My agent is a woman named Tina P. Schwartz, and she’s the founder of the Purcell Agency here in Illinois. I met her in the summer of 2018 at a writer’s conference where aspiring authors could pitch their ideas to agents and get feedback on the query, the pages, or both. My first book, which was about a couple of teenage rappers mourning the loss of a friend, wasn’t quite ready when I pitched the idea to Tina that summer, but since there’s only one of these conferences in Chicago per year, I thought I’d go, get a little feedback, and use that constructive criticism to fuel my revision process for whenever it came time to query for real.
Tina loved the idea and requested the full manuscript on the spot, which I did not expect. My wife and I scrambled for like the entire month of July to get the manuscript perfect (Amy is VERY good at cleaning up a sloppy book). Then I shipped it off to Tina (and only Tina), and awaited her response.
It was a no.
Agents have to really fall in love with a book to offer representation, and the rap book just wasn’t 100% her cup of tea. But she gave me some great feedback and was very encouraging, and I pressed on. I didn’t query the rap book to anyone else. I wasn’t sure it was ready to see the world, so I put it away and wrote my second novel about a teenager and an elderly woman who escape a nursing home to go treasure hunting in the Colorado mountains.
When it was done, I decided to query it more widely than I did the first book. I was ready to hunker down and send hundreds of these query emails, five or ten at a time. I was prepared to face endless rejection and question whether or not I should even be a writer. I’d bathe in rejection, use it as fuel for future manuscripts, and then maybe get an agent with the fourth or fifth book.
But that’s not what happened.
What did happen?
I got an insane response right out of the gate. Mid-summer, I queried six agents by email and met with three in person at the 2019 Chicago Writer’s Conference, including Tina. Of those nine, five requested the full manuscript. That’s… a very good hit rate.
Eventually, though, all but two of those fulls came back as rejections. Tina’s and another agent’s full requests lingered for a few months, so I kinda gave up and decided I’d take a break from querying to apply for a mentorship program. There are only so many literary agents out there, after all, and I was afraid to death my idea was killer but the writing wasn’t quite there yet. I wanted to slow down and give the book another gander before sending out another batch of queries, but less than a week before the mentors announced who they’d be taking on, I got an email from Tina asking me to give her a call. So I did. Totally calm and not abnormally thrilled at all.
That phone call (and the entire day leading up to it) was euphoric. She loved the book, and she offered me representation. I asked for a week to make my decision, which meant scrambling to get all my ducks in a row. I had to let the other agent know about Tina’s offer, so she could decide if she’d also like to consider offering representation, and I spent my time waiting for a response by calling Tina’s references and doing my due diligence there. It was a stressful, uncertain few days, but after considering everything and letting all the pieces fall into place, it became clear that accepting Tina’s offer of rep was the right way to go. I called her after trick-or-treating on Halloween night because I couldn’t stand to put it off any longer, and already she was giving me ideas for revisions so she could get to work selling the book.
So what happens next?
I’ve got a round of revisions to do on the book to make sure it’s 100% ready to be shopped, and then Tina will start reaching out to editors to see if anyone’s interested in taking it on. Selling a book can take a long time, and there’s no guarantee that it ever actually will sell. So I’m doing my best to temper my expectations.
What I want more than anything is for this book to be a tangible thing that I can hold someday and see into the world. Like, this could really be something that people pay money to own and read. That would be amazing, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it gets done!
Money, you say?
Not yet. Not for me or Tina. She gets a cut of anything I earn, but neither one of us gets a dime if she can’t sell the book. Obviously, she’s every bit as motivated to ensure I’m successful as I am.
Anyway, money was never the reason I got into this, anyway. I wanted to write meaningful books for teens. I wanted to entertain. I wanted to be part of the community of authors who make art for people to enjoy and appreciate. I wanted my book to mean something to somebody, and the only way that was ever going to happen was if it found its way into the world. That’s what matters more than anything—making this happen. And we’re not there quite yet.
Does this mean I can buy your book?
You’re going to be waiting a long, long time for that opportunity. Even if Tina sold my book right now, today, it would be well over a year (and perhaps even closer to two years) before it ever found its way into your hands. As I said, publishing is a slow-moving process, but that’s okay. If Tina does sell the book, I’ll be working closely with an editor to polish up the manuscript even further, so I’ll stay plenty busy while you all ask me over and over again, “When’s the book coming out?”
When’s the book coming out?
Just kidding. This all sounds awesome.
It really is. When the book was done, and I gave it a final read-through, I felt really strongly that it read like “a real YA book.” I honestly believe this could have a place amid all the great YA stuff that’s being published right now. I’m not going to lie, I’ve got some serious Imposter Syndrome brewing, so I’m trying to talk myself into the idea that I’m not an aspiring author anymore; I’m an author. Real and bona fide.
I thought maybe I’d be good enough to do this, and it turns out, I really am good enough to do this. I hope book publishers think so, too, and I hope people enjoy the novel if and when it ultimately comes out.
We’ll all buy one, dude. Don’t worry about that.
I look forward to holding you all to that. And you know what? There’s an autographed copy waiting for all of you.
Wish me luck. All goes onward and upward!