Astronomical Risk & Reward ~or~ My Stellar New Agent


Astropop fan art by Crystal Smalls Ord - @SmallsOrd)

So let’s say you write a book. Well, manuscript. And, since it’s your 6th, you rank them all in order, right? Maybe on a scale of omgsuckage to yes-zomg-THE-best-so-far. And this newest one, you know (no, KNOW) it’s your strongest, deepest, brightest. Your CP’s & beta readers, some of whom have read 2 or 3 of your previous manuscripts, absolutely love (no, LOVE) it & also feel it’s—by far—your shiniest.

Then, let’s say, your agent, who signed you with a completely different manuscript… doesn’t feel quite the same way about this newest one…

Your gut believes so strongly in this book (which you title If Found Return To Astropop). What it is, what it represents, its structure, the characters (no, the CHARACTERS), the ~things~ it explores. Honestly, you have no choice but to trust your gut. You need an agent who believes in this book as much as you do, who gets it through and through.

You’re scared as shit.

You worry.

You delay.

Finally, you find your tongue.

A conversation happens.

Your agent is way gracious. Your agent wants the best for you and your career. You believe you know what that is—how this latest manuscript fits into that grand plan. Thus and so, you find yourself plunging (again) into the query trenches. You’re excited and hopeful! (But also, part of you is freaked the hell out. Because what if you’re wrong? What if your gut lied like a capricious, little scoundrel? What if you just made a huge (no, HUGE) mistake?)

No turning back, there you are.

Well, there I was.

And the magic I believed in, the comets and rainbows I hoped for with Astro, rushed in and glowed deep down in that trench with me.

  • 2 days into querying: 3 full requests (WT-actual-F?!?!)
  • Overall comparison:
    • Previously queried manuscript: 35+ long weeks of querying, 5 requests
    • This manuscript: 5 short weeks of querying, 14 requests
  • This time around, at 35 days in: 1st offer of representation.
    • Then a 2nd.
    • And a 3rd.
    • AND WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING IS THIS REAL???

The agent who wooed me, whose gut feeling matches my gut feeling? Well, I sent the query, and she requested the full the next day. A few weeks passed. Then an offer (A SACRED OFFER!) came in from a different (also amazing) agent. I nudged everyone: fulls, partials, outstanding queries.

This agent—MY NEW AGENT—I didn’t hear back from right away as I did with others. But, then, the very next day, an email to slay all emails. She was hella excited about the story. She wanted in!

DANCING. FLAILING. Composure. A phone call. Chat, discussion, vision-sharing. Questions, planning, gushing. So much Astro love. An understanding of my career goals, needs, and desires.

This book I believed in, this story & these characters which thrust me into this risky move? They found a champion. They found someone who understands them. They found someone so exuberant about them that a follow-up email illuminated my inbox approximately 60 seconds after our call ended. That was the best.

And that agent is none other than the phenomenal Sara Crowe.

Sara (can I say this?) Effin (There. I said it. Kind of.) Crowe

Listen, when I took that soul-shaking step to follow my gut, I had no idea how it would turn out. Was I reaching for a star I’d never reach? Would I languish in the purgatory of Queryland for eternity? Would any agent, any agent at all, connect with this story?

And, yes, PLEASE CELEBRATE WITH ME! (ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG) But I also want you to take something more sacred and magical away from this post. Something more than stats and timing (and Lucas doing weird things with parentheses & POV switches).

Ready?

Others can guide you, and that’s an awesome, welcome, necessary thing at times.

But, ultimately, ain’t nobody got you like you got you.

At the risk of sounding like a damn greeting card and whatnot: be that unshakable mix of brave and savvy. Maybe it’ll result in a spectacular failure. Or maybe not. (More greeting cardiness coming. Brace yourself.) The only risk you’ll ever regret is the one you were too scared to take.

Or something.

Btw, did I mention? I have a new agent. Her name is Sara Crowe. And she kinda loves this risky book I wrote titled: If Found Return To Astropop. She digs it muchly, actually. And, wow. Just wow.

*commence astronomically uninhibited Squee Fest*

BONUS MATERIAL: Astro Ink Reveal

My tattoo artist is booked forever far out. Over 6 months ago, I scheduled a session for this past Saturday. Last Wednesday I received the first offer. Saturday, Crystal Ord’s fan art of Astropop was indelibly tattooed on my arm. As hard as it was, I waited until now, until this Offer of Rep post, to share that final image.

Here it is! Stage 2 of a gifted artist’s (and Astro fangirl for life’s) interpretation of non-binary Robin “Astropop” Chicory with a few beautiful symbols from the manuscript. I adore (no, ADORE) it. Muchly.

Astrotat1 Astrotat2 Astrotat3

Also, possibly my next tattoo???

sctopcrop

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Querying – Savvy Little Tip?


I sure do like some spreadsheets and charts

I’ve queried four manuscripts. As my craft developed, my stories moved closer towards marketable, and my aptitude for the actual querying process grew, the request rates slowly climbed.
1st queried manuscript = 2%
2nd queried manuscript = 3%
3rd queried manuscript = 7%
4th queried manuscript = 32% (so far)

That’s an unbelievable increase on the 4th one, like, BOOM. Even now, I’m floored by it.

The core of what writers must do is (we know, we know, we know) craft an amazing story. Solid hook. Identifiable conflict. Unique voice. Unforgettable characters. Consistent worldbuilding. Tight dialogue. Emotional resonance. [Insert a seemingly million other requirements here]. The writing has to be not just strong, but irresistible. And, let’s be honest, the story needs to possess the promise of $cha-ching$ flowing silently beneath the words.

The writing is the most important part, but it’s far from the only element we have to master. And every separate skillset only comes with practice. You know: effort, rejection, frustration, painfully starting over with a fresh manuscript, bringing the scars and callouses and wisdom into the process the next time. Trying again.

This time around, when preparing to query, I became conscious of something I’d been aware of, but never purposefully honed in on—the most common sample lengths agents ask for.
– 5 pages
– 10 pages
– 1 chapter
– 3 chapters
– 50 pages

This little lightbulb went off. Towards the end of my revisions, I focused on making sure those breaking points were loaded with as much tension as the narrative allowed at that point in the story. My goal: to (hopefully) leave the agent thirsty at the end of the sample, to spark that desire to request more pages. Which is the point.

We know to do this at chapter endings. But check this:

When querying, we need to treat the end of each of those sample lengths the same way we would a chapter ending.

For what they’re worth without context, examples of my breaking points:

5 pages

I sighed, and she pulled me closer to stain my cheek with what was left of her cherry-red lipstick.

“Katers demands I hang out with her tonight,” I said, pulling away. “She’ll tell me if I need to quasi-freak-out over this unholy union or totally Astro-freak-out.”

Olivia nudged me from behind, jangling my keys.

Gma pointed at me. “Check in with your daddy first.”

10 pages

I pretend-counted on my fingers. “If we’re including wicked stepsisters, crazy stalkers, and secret boyfriends, then that’s, oh, I’d say, four-point-five. Ish.”

Katers rushed towards me and grabbed my sleeves. “Boyfriend? Why is this the first your supposed best friend in all of creation is hearing about this love connection?”

Love. Ha.

1 chapter

The shadow in the greenhouse shrank to normal size, then the light went out. I grabbed my suitcase and rushed to the house, inside, up the stairs, and into the dark bedroom designated as mine. I peeked through the curtains. Axel Chicory, formerly known as Daddy, looked so inconsequential, a lone silhouette crossing the big lawn.

The New Moon floated directly above him, but its magic had already run its course.

I let the curtains fall closed between us, then locked my bedroom door.

3 chapters

Setting my journal in the grass, I focused on the other book. Plain, black cover. Not the unnamable blue-black of the night sky. Truly boring black. I hooked my finger under the cover’s edge, half-expecting the wind to pick up or a meteorite to land in the orchard when I opened it.

But nothing happened.

So I turned the first blank page.

And then another.

Until I found words.

This journal belongs to:
PIPPOPOTAMUS

I jettisoned the book and jumped up, smacking at my bare legs where the blasted thing touched them.

50 pages

The Heart of Joven.

Gpa had the young whiz-kid architect design the house around it. Ten sycamores planted by my Great-Gma decades earlier. Her hands began the grafting, and Gpa’s continued shaping it when she joined the stars. Axel and I had even touched and whispered to it. Four generations of the Chicory family recorded in the growth rings of a single being who had outlived two generations already.

The third was too busy to love on the tree. The fourth was too scared of screwing it up. Also, too wounded by the mere sight of it to look at it a nanosecond longer.

Among the million things we need to nail as writers-seeking-to-become-traditionally-pubbed-authors, this little piece is a secret weapon. I mean, it’s not a magic bullet. Nothing is. But it’s the savvy thing to do, a special tool to add to the toolbox we’re slowly filling. I believe it played a part—even if a small one—in that ridiculously unbelievable request rate. (Still reeling!)

We all need every hint, trick, key, and password we can get our hands on. Yes? I hope this one maybe helps you.

Invisible Ink! Yesss this manuscript garnered A LOT of requests in its 5 weeks in the trenches. And, maybe, perhaps, it has even gone beyond simple requests. 😉 Pretttty sure there will be another EXCITING post late next week…

Feedback Leads To Lovers


IF FOUND, RETURN TO ASTROPOP - Fan art by Crystal Smalls Ord

IF FOUND, RETURN TO ASTROPOP – Fan art by Crystal Smalls Ord

Feedback comes in many forms.

From a “ZOMG! Take my money! I want to buy that right NOW!” spurred by a one-sentence pitch, to a meh or shrug or turned-up nose of disinterest, to a gushing Tweet, to comments from a CP saying, “Yeah, something’s totally broken in this section… What if you…” or “WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME CRY RIGHT NOW, LUCAS?!”. And a million shades in between.

Even silence is feedback.

Obviously, praise feels good. (Thanks, Cpt Obvious.) ((You’re welcome!)) Some readers heap it on. It’s who they are, in their nature. And thank the gods these readers swoop in to rub a little balm on the inevitable burns. Other readers are boss at finding tiny inconsistencies between something mentioned briefly on page 7 and then again in chapter 28. Some focus on big picture stuff, or characterization, or plot threads, or every.single.missing.comma, or dialogue, or a name that changes spelling partway through, or the lovey-dovey parts.

All of these amazingly varied types of feedback are helpful, needed, and appreciated.

Individually, they’re golden. Together, they help transform a manuscript into a book.

This feedback leads to lovers.

And, yes, sometimes, a feedback-giver doesn’t “get it”. Your voice, style, rhythm, a character. Your words are simply not their thang. Or they have a tough time divorcing their own style from yours and try to insert their personal quirks, voice, and preferences. And (Okay! Fine, I’ll take one for the team and say it out loud! Because a lot of times it’s something we feel like we shouldn’t say. Out of fear of sounding wounded, or thinking too highly of our own words, or because we’re big, fat, fearful chickens.) every now and then, there is the unmistakable taint of jealousy and/or bitterness.

That’s okay, too.

Because, in the end, the writer must weigh every bit of feedback. We make decisions. We place value on each suggestion. We pop them on the scale of our vision for our story and see which way it tips. “Shit, that hurts, like mad, but I need it” or “Okay, yeah, that’s not useful” or “Hmmm…interesting…good point” and the coveted “YES OMG PERFECT SUGGESTION THIS PERSON IS BASICALLY A GENIUS”.

As long as we’re not stubborn jerks, as long as we’re open to learn and bend and stretch, each suggestion (and our resulting decision) helps our story grow stronger.

That’s the ultimate point of feedback, right? Not to have people gush for gushing’s sake, but because the story resonates. Not to stroke our egos, but to kick us in the nearsighted ass and make us see things we’re myopic about.

If our end goal is for our words to make it into the great big world, that goal begins with an idea. That idea becomes a manuscript, which becomes a book. That can be an amazing book or a sorry-excuse for one. The difference, I believe, happens through the process of seeking, receiving, weighing, and incorporating feedback.

Think about how magical this is: We can actually transform the raw material of feedback into gold.

We’re like a team of alchemists and shit.
Feedback into gold.
Books into feelings.
Strangers into lovers.

Improvement. Solidity. Marketability. Beauty. Resonance.

Those are the things which will help our stories make it beyond behind-the-scenes-readers to the great big world. And that great big world contains the same mix of disinterest, haters, and passionate lovers.

Feedback is, I truly believe, the path that leads us to those future, passionate lovers.

 

Sometimes, in addition to feedback-in-words, there’s even feedback-in-images. (Ahhhh!)

The AMAZING illustration opening this post is fan art that If Found, Return To Astropop inspired in a reader. That reader, who is also a writer and illustrator, is the phenomenal Crystal Smalls Ord. I can’t really share much of Astro with you lovelies quite yet, but I’m thrilled to be able to share Smalls’s interpretation.

(She made sure I pointed out that the image only exists because Astro & Pip’s story inspired her that much. :: blushes profusely ::)

If you dig it, let Smalls know, check out her other work, and show her some love.
Twitter: @SmallsOrd
Tumblr: http://smallsord.tumblr.com/
Deviant Art: http://csmalls.daportfolio.com/

Astrotalisman


Astro Bracelet 1 (2) (800x600)

Weird writer ritual confession time…
While drafting each novel, I have a talisman or totem of sorts specific to that novel.

While drafting Phreak Show, I wore this one particular sterling ring every day because it’s oval like the eye rings Phineas slips onto each phreak.

While drafting Epistle of Doff: The Most Blasphemous Monker, I changed all my shoelaces to red, because red thread is kind of important to the story.

Now, while drafting If Found, Return to Astropop, I’m wearing a ribbon around my wrist.

In the novel, a two-star ribbon binds a pair of journals together when Astro finds them.
The red star represents Astro’s red journal.
The black star represents Pip’s black journal.

Do these things actually DO anything when it comes to my drafting?
Who knows? But they mean something to me—keep the world and characters ever present in my mind—which certainly can’t hurt.

Astroplotting


A portion of the Astroplotting ridiculousness. My copper-clad desk totally helps things go smoother. Somehow?

A portion of the Astroplotting ridiculousness. My copper-clad desk totally helps things go smoother. Somehow?

With Pitch Slam behind me and CP duties complete, it’s almost time to draft my next novel:
If Found, Return to Astropop.

Let me give you the [rough] pitch before I prattle on about the plotting for this many-tentacled monster.

 

SHORT PITCH

Unaware of one another’s gender or appearance, two teens find themselves mutually smitten by reading each other’s journals.

 

FULL (Rough) PITCH

When sixteen-year-old Astropop finds his/her previously lost journal, Astro discovers the mystery person who returned it (known only as Pippopotamus)  read his/her innermost thoughts and traced Astro’s movements like a teenage P.I. This stranger believes s/he is smitten with Astropop—sight unseen. Astro knows this, because teenage Pip wrote a journal in response.

As Astro re-reads his/her own forgotten words, and those of Pip, Astro is amazed at how simple letters on paper can bond complete strangers. In fact, Astro is completely smitten with Pip, too. Using unintentional clues in Pip’s journal, Astro engages in a little P.I. work of his/her own to search for the anonymous Pippopotamus.

With the confessions and intimate stories in the pair of books tangling with Astro’s real life in uncanny ways, Astro reaches the end of both journals. On the last precious page, Pip left one final clue. Perhaps accidental, perhaps intentional. Astropop can finally meet this intriguing stranger face-to-face, but fears, if s/he does, their inexplicable connection will be broken.

 

If Found, Return to Astropop has been percolating for a while. I’m in the final stages of [ridiculous!] outlining. Not because the process is ridiculous. I love it; it’s essential for me. But because this story requires…more than any story I’ve attempted before it.

With 3 separate timelines overlapping: the present, Astro’s journal written 6 months earlier, and Pip’s response journal written 3 months earlier, it’s a beast to manage. Along with those interwoven timelines, I’m also juggling a calendar (noting meteor showers & moon phases important to Astro), a grid of the 3 interwoven arcs, and a complete outline packet for each of the 2 MCs. Plus a OneNote file with random scenes, dialogue lines, imagery. Oh, and extensive research on both arborsculpture and architecture (specifically Art Nouveau).

Confused? Yeah. I would be, too.

Thankfully all these tools help give order to the chaos I’m attempting to wrangle.

This story is rich, layered, insanely interwoven. The timelines wrap back on themselves (in a sense). Events in the present mirror the completely different stories in the 2 sets of journal entries. Yet, the happenings have a completely separate arc all their own. But align. But stand alone. (SEE WHAT I MEAN!?)

To add to the challenge (because this is apparently not enough…) I’m keeping Pip’s gender ambiguous. For reasons.

And, for just a little more personal push, this will be my first Contemporary YA. At least, it’s 97% Contemporary, with about 3% Magical Realism thrown in? I mean, I’m guessing here. It may be considered MR all around. I just don’t know which bucket it fits in. The setting is our world, 100%. Everything works as we know it. But the way the three layers align in uncanny ways, there is a hint that something more than mere chance is at work.

So is that actually 100% Magical Realism?

Hell if I know. But it’s a story I must absolutely tell.

Even if my brain Astropops in the process.