Agent Goodness

I Have Exciting News!

That I’ve put off posting for a month. Why is this so hard to put into words? I’m a writer, right? Words are supposed to be my thing. But maybe it’s that sometimes some things are too big for words. This would be one of those things.

My middle-grade novel, THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY sold to Egmont USA!


All the feelings. All the words. All the screams.
But most of all, I’m so excited that the world will get the chance to know Nessa and Alexis, these characters who I’ve fallen in love with this past year.

Almost exactly five years ago I picked up a pen (or maybe it was a mechanical pencil?) and told my husband that I was going to write a book. He was ready to commit me, and I’m not just saying that to make this blog post all dramatic and interesting. He really thought I was crazy.

I had to learn a LOT that first year with that first book. When it was finished and I’d had lots of people read through it and give input I spent the next year sending it out to 100 agents. Ten of them read it, but eventually they all passed. I’m all about even numbers and 100 seemed like a good stopping point for me. It had been a year. I was ready to move on.

The next year I wrote another book and when it was done and polished I sent it out to some agents. There was a lot more interest, and it got me my wonderful agent, but it had the ‘dystopian curse’ attached to it.  As much as editors seemed to like it, it was a hard sell. I had major surgery and had to put my writing on hold for a year. At that point I was wondering if I’d ever be able to write again. Not that I didn’t try, I did. I hobbled out to the dining room a few times, propped my cast up on some pillows and wrote the first chapter of what would eventually become THE INHABITANT OF ALEXIS O’RILEY. But I hated what I wrote. The concept was good, I just had no interest in writing it. I wasn’t excited about it. So I left it alone.

Thankfully, about a year later I opened up the laptop again and got to work on INHABITANT. I wrote it in a month. Over the summer I went back and forth with my agent and his wonderful assistant, Sam. We worked out kinks, filled plot holes, and got it into shape.

Meanwhile, there is a children’s writing conference my friend, Renee and I go to every year – the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. I signed up for a critique of my first ten pages with an editor at Egmont USA named Alison Weiss. I would get to meet her face-to-face and let her rip apart what I’d written. (Sounds like fun, right?)

I try not to be nervous for these things, I’ve done them before and everyone is usually very polite when they point out all of the things you’ve done wrong. I had seen Alison in the big conference room during the general session and knew who she was because my friend had just been in one of her classes. When the session let out about a half-hour early, I was thrilled. It would give me time to run up to my room and brush my teeth before I met with her.

Renee and I quickly made our way to the elevators and stepped onto the same elevator as Alison. She mentioned to us that she was going up to start another round of critique meetings and I think I squeaked a “with me” or something silly like that. We were silent until the door opened and Alison must have seen my name on my name tag. She turned around and said, “Holly! I’m so excited to talk to you about your book!”

In my shocked stupor I think I said something like, “Uh, oh.” She backed out of the elevator, laughing, and said “Oh, no. It’s a good thing!”

And then I had to go up to my room, shaking, and wait a half-hour. I may or may not have brushed my teeth ten times. I may or may not have called my husband to freak out. I did tease a guy for belching loudly in the hallway.

With a little more hope that INHABITANT wouldn’t be ripped to pieces, I went back downstairs to meet with Alison. She was a complete sweetheart, and we had a good laugh about how she scared me in the elevator. And she LOVED my book. All of the words, all of the gushing, did my heart so good. She got it like I was hoping an editor would get it and I got to hear how much she loved it face-to-face. She couldn’t wait to read the rest and asked for me to have my agent send it to her as soon as possible. It was fifteen minutes that I won’t forget anytime soon. Maybe never. I think I floated out of the room.

But I was worried, too. She only read ten pages. What if she hates the other 178? I went back to my room and emailed Josh with her request, who in his infinite awesomeness replied to my email during his anniversary dinner with his wife. I’m so glad she’s just as infinitely awesome as her husband. 😉 I hope I didn’t get him in trouble.

Then the waiting began. It’s a killer. In that time I did a LOT of internet searches to see how long these things take and got everything from hours to days to months. So I’ll tell you that with mine it took a few days over a month from submission to offer.

I’m SO excited to work with Alison Weiss, who is just as lovely in person as she seems online. And I’m also so thrilled to now be an Egmont author. Everyone is so friendly and they publish such AMAZING books! And most of all, I’m excited for you (or your middle-grader) to read the book.

If you want to add it to your to-read Goodreads list, just click on the button below!


Editing Your Punctuation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

While talking about what needed done to THE CHAOS SHELTER for it to go on submission, my agent mentioned that there may be too many exclamation points.


Before I sent out my first query I did a search for all of those silly, do nothing, unnecessary filler words I use in abundance when I’m writing and edited them out. Like walk (69 times), stand (47 times), sit (81 times), just (163 times – YIKES!), or run (76 times). I got them all down to under 30 instances. I was sure that’s all I needed. Well, until the word “exclamation point” escaped my agent’s mouth.

At first I thought, “It’s a middle grade action book. Aren’t exclamation points kind of a given?” But I did a search tonight because I’m in the business of making my agent happy. 🙂

(spits water out on keyboard)
Microsoft Word wouldn’t even list them because there were too many.
Tonight I combed through each and every one of those pesky little exclamation points to weed the unnecessary ones out. What did I find?
I found one word (can’t remember which one…) with one of these after it — word!!!!!!!!! Got rid of 8 of those little bad boys with just one word. And in another instance I found one of these funny little suckers — What?!
So not only was it a question, it was a very strong question?

Don’t make my mistake — edit your punctuation as well as your filler words. Your (future) agent or editor will thank you for it.

For the Love of Boots

From the moment I could walk, I’ve loved boots. I think my first pair were white go-go boots in the 70’s. The 80’s had me doing my best Wonder Woman imitation (—> see photo on right).

But that’s when I could walk without my braces. Believe me when I tell you I’ve tried my hardest to find a pair that I can wrangle those braces into, but it’s pretty much impossible. To put on a pair of boots you have to flex your foot and my braces were not built to flex. Major bummer.

This week I suddenly needed a good, somewhat professional looking photo of myself to put on the Adams Literary website. My good friend, photographer and critique partner, Renee, was going to take me out Sunday to take some pictures for me. While seeing Oz with the fam on Saturday the thought occurred to me – I need to wear boots! Then I wouldn’t have to try to hide my leg braces, my silly tennis shoes, and I would look like a half-way normal person!

Even before the credits rolled I leaned over and whispered to Chad, “Can we stop at the shoe store on the way home?”At least in the dark theater I couldn’t see the weird look he probably gave me. But that’s why I love him so much. He knows I’m crazy and just goes with it.

Now, here’s the reality. I can’t walk without my braces anymore. My balance and my ankles are shot. But I was sure I needed a pair of boots anyway, even if I had to carry them with me to the shoot and put them on while I was sitting there. They would look cute, and isn’t that all that matters? No one would need to know I can’t really walk in them.

So Chad took the girls in the pet store next door to give me time and sanity to try some on. I tried so many on and I think I fell in love with each pair. But then I sat there, among the half-opened boxes of boots and realized something. I don’t need cute boots to be happy with who I am. I thought I’d moved past trying to pretend I’m someone that I’m not. But I guess everyone has their moments of weakness, including me. I wrapped them all back up and had them all back on the shelves before Chad and the girls came in. I walked out, not with new super-cute boots, and without a missing chunk of change from my bank account.

I am who I am, and no amount of fake boot wearing will ever be able to change that.
For now I’ll just dream of the day when someone will design some cute boots that fit over clunky leg braces. I haven’t see the pictures yet, but I know I’ll like them a lot more knowing that it’s the true me in them.

How I Found My Agent

Yes, you read the post title right. I have an agent! Not sure I’ll ever get tired of saying that. 🙂
I love reading “How I found my agent” stories, reading others stories kept me going when I felt like giving up. So I thought I’d share mine since I finally have one to share.

Back in the fall of 2010, I finished writing my first book – a young adult paranormal. Now that I look back on it, it needed SO much work, but I didn’t see that then. As a middle grade librarian, I’m a big fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix so I looked up who represented her — Adams Literary. That was it. That’s who I wanted as my agent. (hee)

Not more than 2 weeks later, I got a post card in the mail about an SCBWI Conference in Pittsburgh where one of the speakers would be Quinlan Lee from Adams Literary. Well, I took this as a sign. I was meant to take my book to Pittsburgh! So my mother-in-law joined me and we drove the 4 hours to the conference where I would have a 15 minute critique on my first five pages from Quinlan (it was kind of a crap shoot on who would critique your first pages, but somehow I ended up with Quinlan.) Ummm… I believed that was sign #2!

She was so sweet and personable. After the 15 minutes I was convinced that she was my dream agent and I was meant to be repped by Adams Literary. She told me to take my time and send her the ms when it was ready. But that’s not what my ears heard. You know when you were a kid and you used to play the telephone game where you say one thing, then it gets whispered to like 20 kids and when it gets to the end it’s a totally different thing? Well, that’s kind of what it was like because I heard “I love it, send it to me quickly.”

Poor Quinlan got my first query letter ever. And I’m such an email packrat that I saved it. It’s hideous. It starts with a rhetorical question. Then I tell her it’s 50,918 words. Everything they say NOT to do in your query letter, I did it in that one. A month later I got a very sweet personalized rejection. I was crushed. But I moved on and ended up getting 10 requests out of the 100 queries I sent out for it. They all ultimately ended in rejection and I convinced myself that 100 was the magic number to move on.

I spent the next year writing another novel that I half finished. An old friend (Renee!) contacted me about forming a critique group around the same time I got the idea for THE CHAOS SHELTER. I spent 2012 writing that and put the finishing touches on it during this past Nanowrimo. But right before I finished it I went to another SCBWI conference in Cleveland. I signed up for another agent critique, but not with Quinlan, even though she was going to be there. I didn’t want Quinlan to think I was an Adams Literary groupie or something, following her from city to city. LOL Not to mention it’s been two years and I knew she wouldn’t remember me.

I was wrong. I was leaving the conference after it was over and she stopped me in the hallway when we passed each other. She said “Hi! How are you doing?”. She asked how my kids were doing. We talked for a bit, and then I left. I was kind of floored and majorly impressed.

January 1st came and I sent out my first 15 queries. From almost everything I’ve read, they say your second book almost always gets more requests than the first. Well, in a week I’d gotten back 12 rejections and NO requests. Now, I’m usually one of the happiest people you will ever meet but that depressed me.

I gave up after those 15 queries.
I stopped checking my query email box and I didn’t send out any more. I started to think of ideas for something else I could write instead. It was obvious that this book just wasn’t going to appeal to anyone.

The month of January went by.
Then for some reason I thought to check my query inbox the second week of February. There was an email. It was a full request. WHAT? SERIOUSLY?
And that gave me hope.
That weekend I sent out around 25 queries and the full ms to the requesting agent.
After a few days I had 2 more full requests. Then after a week I heard back from the agent who had sent the first request. She loved it, but had some ideas and wanted to know what I thought about them. I spent all weekend and wrote up my thoughts. She emailed the following Wednesday and asked if we could chat on the phone and ultimately offered representation. I loved her, but with so many queries and some other fulls out there I knew I’d have to at least let others know and give them a chance. I told her I’d let her know in 9 days.

I ended up with 3 offers of representation, more rejections and even more nice notes letting me know they loved the pitch but didn’t have enough time to read or consider it. Remember when they say “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” That was my week. Having to decide tore me up inside. I liked all 3 agents for very different reasons. What it all came down to was my gut. I would’ve been in good hands with whomever I chose but I realized that from the beginning of my journey, my dream has always been to work with Adams Literary. Today Josh Adams became my agent and I couldn’t be happier!

I have two pieces of advice if you’re still agent hunting.
1. Don’t give up!
2. SCBWI Conferences (or any other event where you can network with industry people) are invaluable. Go to every one that you can and don’t be afraid to chat with people! You never know where it may lead.

Here are the final stats for those of you (like me!) who like them:

Total queries sent: 44
Rejections: 26
No response: 8
Full requests: 7
Offers of rep: 3

OK, now for the GOOD STUFF!

Over a month ago I was one of the fastest tweeters to Brenda Drake and won a free pass through the submission window round of her upcoming Pitch Madness contest. Now that I can’t use it, Brenda was sweet enough to let me give it away as a prize on my blog. So if you want to enter Pitch Madness and don’t want to mess with the submission window, etc. just post a comment on this post saying “I won’t give up!” and I’ll draw a random winner for it from everyone who posts their comment before noon on Sunday, March 10.

Thanks for reading my story and good luck! 🙂