From A to Z: The Next Time Around, Finding the silver lining in returning to the query trenches

From A to Z is an occasional series on that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

My partner and I were recently watching Hidden Figures. We got to the scene near the end when Katherine is getting ready for her wedding to Jim Johnson—her second marriage, after her first husband passed away several years before. “I don’t think I felt a thing the first time I did this,” Katherine says, adjusting her veil. “I was so nervous.”

“Huh,” said my partner. “I guess that’s the silver lining of getting married twice.”

Finding an agent is often compared to finding a spouse, and it’s an apt analogy: you must both be there for the right reasons, must have matching communication styles, must put in the same level of effort even if the chores you each take on are slightly different.

The thing people don’t really like to talk about—both in the dating circuit and in the query trenches—is that sometimes you’ll get married twice. Me personally? I’m brushing off my shoulders for my third literary “I do.”

My second agent and I parted ways about a month ago when she decided to pursue a career in education—even though she loved agenting and will always love books. I knew her personally before she represented me, and I’ve always known about her passion for education, so when she told me about her decision to leave the publishing industry, my first thought was, “Oh God, I’m so happy for her.”

My next thought, as you might expect, was, “Well, shoot.”

This post isn’t meant to send currently agented writers into an existential tailspin. Many, many authors and agents maintain a happy relationship for their entire careers.

It is meant, though, to assure those newly no-longer-agented writers that they are not pariahs and that this moment is not a reset.

Finding an agent is hard. You must write the book, revise and revise and revise it and then let others examine the thing, poking and prodding and making notes about its merits and faults so that you can revise it again. You must polish your query, make your agent list, send out your little beating heart and get rejections out of hand and “revise and resubmits” and, most crushing of all, the notes that start, “I loved X and Y, but…”

And then you get a request for a phone call and your stomach metamorphoses into butterflies and it all feels worth it: a victory that fades into a haze of good feelings as the months and years roll on.

The thing is, finding an agent is hard, but none of the truths from last time are invalidated by having to do it over again. You are really and truly not starting over.

This time around, you know that someone (other than your best friend or critique partner) has already fallen in love with your words and characters and stories. Someone has already said “yes.” You must remember that they were not an aberration, and when you dive back into the trenches you should do so with the knowledge that someone else will say “yes” again.

This time around, you’ll be able to take it a little slower: you’ll get to revisit the You who queried that original agent and compare it to the You who’s on the market now. You’ll get to see where careers have gone since you signed and get to see what new faces and wish lists exist. You’ll get to put all the skills you learned the first time—and all the practice you’ve had in your writing since then—into this new manuscript and fresh round of queries. You’ll know both yourself and your writing better, and that will come through in your outreach. You’ll get to write a new list of questions to ask during The Call, and you’ll underline the ones you forgot to bring up the first time around because your heart was doing backflips.

It’s true that you’ll have to do the hard parts all over again too. Write the book. Polish the query. Do the research. Make the list. It will suck. You might feel alone. You will likely collect new rejections and wonder whether your book and writing career are both garbage.

But here’s the silver lining: In the end, you’ll get asked to hop on the phone. You’ll get to hear all the nice things someone thinks about your work and you’ll get to feel all those butterflies again. In the end, it will be worth it. And this time, you won’t be so nervous you forget.



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From A to Z: Out of the Trenches, Now What?

From A to Z is an occasional series on that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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It’s been just over six months since I signed with the magnificent Caitie Flum. So I wanted to talk a little bit about my journey so far with her, hopefully to demystify what happens after the contract is signed. I’d like to disclaim this by saying this experience may not be yours, your mileage may vary, and all that good stuff.

After we had The Call on February 17, 2017, I noted a few things:

  1. Caitie was prompt. We’d set up the call for 10:30am Central time and my phone rang at exactly 10:30am Central time. That showed me that she valued my time and hers, and respected our schedules.
  2. She was upfront. She wasn’t ready to offer, and she started off the call by saying so. I really liked her professionalism and frankness.
  3. She told me what she loved, and then she told me what held her back. I appreciated her honesty and her gentle delivery. Her concerns were fixes I was completely on board with and excited to incorporate.

By the time the call ended, Caitie had offered to represent my book, making me happier and more hopeful than I’d felt in a long time.

One thing I wanted in an agent was more than a business partnership. I wanted a friendship as well. I wanted someone I felt comfortable going with about things that made me anxious as far as writing, publicity, this whole journey. I wanted someone reliable, trustworthy, and a fighter. After talking with Caitie, I felt like I could have that with her.

I signed the contract on February 28, 2017, and we made it “twitter official” on March 1, 2017. The day was a lot of fun! A whirlwind of notifications and good wishes and congratulations, I went out to eat at my favorite restaurant to celebrate, and I basked in the glow of taking this step in my writing career.

So, to get to the point, what happens after the contract is signed (besides all the partying)? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but this is what happened with me:


I gained a whole new set of writer friends—#TeamCaitie—my agency siblings. We have a Google Hangout and a Facebook group where we can chat any time we feel. Sometimes we chat about random things, sometimes we lament about publishing, and sometimes we write together and share our work.


I’d begun working on the revisions Caitie suggested almost right away. I also incorporated some of the feedback I’d gotten on some recent agent passes, along with my own tweaks and fixes. I did this, the whole time hoping I didn’t ruin what Caitie fell in love with. And hoping it was *enough*.


I started feeling ALL the feels. I began flip-flopping from anxious to excited. know the realities of publishing. But right now, there are so many possibilities. I have room to dream big. So I do.

No one warned me about the anxiety. I began worrying about letting Caitie down. About letting myself down. Because now I wasn’t writing completely for fun anymore. This is real. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great.

I’ve been through this agent/submission thing before. And I never got over feeling like I let the other agent down when my book didn’t sell. I don’t want to do that to another agent.


Manuscript anxiety. I read it over and over so much more critically now. I worry that it’s not special enough, that it won’t even make it past pitching stage. And then sometimes I get nervous about the possibility of it actually taking off. So, even having the validation from an agent (who reminds me that she loves my book and my writing) doesn’t quell the imposter syndrome feeling.

Career anxiety. Can I be that person on panels, doing book tours, signing books and posing for pictures with readers? And then I imagine myself there. It feels right. So yes, I can be that person, I want to be that person, and I’m so excited to someday be that person.


I turned in my revisions to Caitie on July 30, then proceeded to head to Disney World for a week of family, fun, and magic. During all of August, I kept busy with work, planning things, and spending time with friends, while also brainstorming and writing new books. Healthy right?

I also worried and worried and worried, hoping I finally fixed the pacing in the first act. (Pacing is so tricky to nail.) Hoping I did what she asked and then some, and didn’t mess up anything extra. And when I got the note from her on August 30 saying I did a good job, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

After this, she will go through one more time for copy edits. Then we’ll work on the pitch letter and submission lists.

It’s getting closer, which means….


More feels. A tremendous, almost overwhelming amount of feels. I really want it to be special enough not only for an editor to fall in love with it, but be willing to fight for its acquisition. I really want it to warrant excellent support and marketing. But mostly importantly? I want the people who may need this book to get it, read it, and love it. I want people to be able to see themselves in my work.

I want my work to make readers feel like how Moana and Jane the Virgin makes me feel when I watch them.

I’m excited to be where I am, but very much looking forward to where I’m going. Learning to respect the process, learning to enjoy this moment, this time. This is the hardest part about publishing. It is slow. It requires patience. It’s so easy to get hung up on wanting to be with the “cool kids” who have books coming out to much acclaim and buzz. It’s so easy to get swept up in what could be, rather than “what is.” So that is a constant struggle. I always want what’s next. This is teaching me to slow down and enjoy what’s now. Because to be honest, what’s now isn’t a bad place to be. However, it’s important that I’m ready for what comes next.

Folks, I am so ready.

Let’s do this!


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Chicago Reads: Upcoming YA Book Events (Sept/Oct 2017)

Chicago is lucky to be home to many independent bookstores, which host authors for a wide variety of readings, signings, and panels. Check out these upcoming Chicago-area YA events, and let us know about any author events we missed in the comments!


Stephanie Kate Strohm (in conversation with ChiYA’s own Gloria Chao!)
Friday, September 15 at 7:3o PM
The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square)

Patrick Ness
Friday, September 22 at 7:00 PM
Center Stage Theater (Naperville)

SCBWI Presents: How Children’s Books Will Save Us
James Klise
Patricia Hruby Powell
Michelle Falkoff
Natasha Tarpley
Suzanne Slade
Thursday, September 28 at 6:30 PM
57th Street Books (Hyde Park)

Lauren Oliver
Adam Silvera
Thursday, October 5 at 7:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

Fierce Reads Panel Authors and Books
Fierce Reads Tour
Caleb Roehrig
Jennifer Mathieu
Mitali Perkins
Anna-Marie McLemore
Sunday, October 8 at 2:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

John Green
Saturday, October 21 at 7:00 PM
Community Christian Church (Naperville)
Note: As of September 12, this event was sold out.

Carmela A. Martino
Saturday, October 28 at 2:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove hosts a monthly GenYA Book Group, which will be discussing John Corey Whaley’s HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR in September and Erin Jade Lange’s REBEL, BULLY, GEEK, PARIAH in October.

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