OFFER OF REP! (and why, this time, I said yes)


The Phortune Cookie

The Phortune Cookie’s Phortune

UPDATE 4/6/15 – The story below is an amazing one! For an update on my current agent status, this post will help clarify: https://lucashargis.com/2015/04/03/querying-in-a-surreal-sort-of-way/ And please feel free to contact me if further clarification is needed.

Do you have beliefs you don’t really commit to, yet can’t really rule out as false? As in: I don’t know…aliens & ghosts & magic & sasquatches & such might be real…I’m not totally convinced, but I’m fine to not pass judgment either way. Well, I feel that way about a lot of things. [Post-modern? Trait of Gen X? Whatever.]  One such ?belief? is the concept of phate. And separate from that ideaI definitely believe in synchronicity—a kind of interconnectedness that can’t be explained by empirical or scientific means. This story is filled with [eph it! I’ll say it!] hints of magic & phate synchronicity. Like, I Skype-interviewed one of my agent’s clients about fire-breathing for some scenes in Phreak Show. And, FTR, that was before @ChristinaFerko was her client. And there was this day where this agent rejected offering me rep, only to have a phortune cookie reignite her love for the phreaks, ping her with regret, and cause this cool phoenix-from-the-ashes thing to happen. Then there was a bottle of nail polish. One of the agent’s assistants ordered a blind grab-bag of nail polishes from her favorite website. When it arrived, she eagerly unwrapped the polishes to check out her goodies. One of the polishes is pictured below. She emailed her agent-boss immediately and said: “I don’t know if you made your decision already, but if you didn’t, I think the universe is trying to tell us something… ”

Nail polish

“Freak Show” nail polish
[Obviously, they spelled it wrong]

FLASHBACK: I drafted PHREAK SHOW,  my third novel, during last year’s NaNoWriMo. Before the manuscript was fully edited & ready for querying, I created a page for it on this blog. Well, on January 9th of this year, an agent stopped by and left this comment:

This sounds great. One of my interns sent me this link. Please keep me in mind when your manuscript is polished and you are ready to submit to agents. ~Louise Fury

You can imagine the ridiculousness that popped and sparked inside me. (Yes?) AN AGENT COMMENTED ON MY BLOG! SHE approached ME about my premise! AND SHE’S ON MY SHORTLIST, BUT CLOSED TO SUBMISSIONS. HOLY $^*$%@<%^%?%$@#&&^*#+=?^&&!!! CRAP. NOW I NEED TO FINISH THESE EDITS. I’m an organized dude with color-coded spreadsheets, timelines of queries and all agent contact, feedback, and whatnot. I could lay out a twisting roadmap of every single email, phone conversation, DM, revision step, length of waiting between interactions, etc. But I’ll spare you, and condense it all down to a few, key elements. And what I hope you’ll take away from this is the diligence, persistence, and patience involved. – 1/9/13 – Blog comment expressing interest – 3/17/13 – Query – 3/18/13 – 5 chapter request – 3/22/13 – Full request – 4/6/13 – Phone call [But not THE call. Damn it.] – 4/11/13 – Submitted R&R #1 – 4/12/13 through 9/9/13 – Sporadic conversation, chat via email. ~~~w.a.i.t.i.n.g.~~~ – 9/19/13 – Sent email alerting to an Offer of Rep [Note: 6 months after Full sent] – 9/28/13 – MORNING: Declined to offer [And I wish I could post this whole email for you. Because awesome.] – 9/28/13 – EVENING: The Great Twitter Phortune Cookie Phreak Out Phenomenon of 2013. Followed by a series of DMs. – 10/12/13 – DM “The cookie has spoken. Let’s talk.” – 10/13/13 – Phone call. [REALLY! AGAIN!? NO OFFER!? ANOTHER MINOR R&R!? Fine, but this is my last one. I’m done after  this if there’s no offer. PUT A RING ON IT!] – 10/13/13 – 10/16/13 – Worked my ass off on rewrites of Chapter 1: CP’s, betas, the whole deal. [Thank you, people!] – 10/16/13 – Submitted R&R #2. This one was all or nothing. Phingers crossed. – 11/2/13 – A nudge… – 12/3/13 – Another nudge… And a response! “I am glad you emailed. Let’s talk today and wrap this up?” Now, I had no idea which way this “wrap up” would twist around me. But, honestly, I was straight chuffed to finally have some sort of closure either way. This process turned into a long, emotional one, and there were moments where the pendulum swung from  I HATE FURY! to OMG, I LOVE HER! with a lot of WHY THE HELL IS IT TAKING SO LONG? in between. There were multiple times when friends and loved ones talked me down from the cliff, kept me sane, prevented me from: nudging too soon (or too often), venting online, or sending some sort of ultimatum email I’d regret. Patience (damn the blasted thing) was key. Hard, but essential. Obviously, you know how it wrapped up. This past Monday, 12/3/13, Louise Fury, Phreak Show’s agent, phinally put a ring on it. But I still need to answer the why part of why I chose to accept. Because Louise loves the phreaks, their story, my words. She gets it. (And, I believe, she gets me.) She also has a vision for the phreaks—one that’s gonna suck like mad to bring about, but is going to end with Phreak Show being the best it can possibly be. I love her today. I might hate her in a month. And she might hate me back. But then we’ll circle back around, and look at our rings, and be all like: Awww! We made it! Look at our Phreaky baby on a shelf, in the hearts and hands of readers, which is the whole point. I said “yes”, because I believe Phury, her amazing team, and I share a common love for the phreaks and can work together to share their story with the world. And, come on! Synchronicity involving phire-breathing clients, a phortune cookie, and nail polish!?!? I’m pretty sure that’s, like, magic or some shit.

How Hot Is Too Hot?


Man on fire 1

I like hot stuff. On a scale of vanilla to battery acid, I prefer food heat levels somewhere in the radiator vicinity.

A fear years ago while travelling down in Louisiana, my companion and I selected a loverly little spot to grub on some ribs. The waiter took our order, including what kind of sauce we wanted the ribs soaked in.

I sat up straighter, pushed my shoulders back, and looked him dead in the eyes. “Hot. Like, super hot.”

“As hot as you’ve got,” my companion added.

“The Inferno’s the hottest we suggest.” His top lip quirked up. “But we do have a sauce that’s not on the menu: Petey’s Insane in the Membrane Melt Your Face Off Sauce.

Challenge.accepted.

Mr. Waiter warned us. He tried to talk us out of slathering it on the ribs, and offered to bring a cup of Petey’s on the side. Helz naw! We were living the life. If we were gonna go hot, we were gonna go hot.

My companion & I tucked in our napkins. Kerosene fumes assaulted our noses as we closed in on the flammable meat. Eyes locked, we took our first experimental bites. The sting was immediate. We chewed, eyes watering, sweat erupting on our cheeks, not even pretending like the agony was worth it. Then the liquid lava kicked in. Holy hell was it insane. In our membranes, our tongues, teeth, tonsils, our very souls. We cried, coughed and chewed, somehow choked down the first napalm chunks.

And then our faces melted off.

Bread didn’t help. Drinking tea was like tossing water on a grease fire. We scraped our lips and tongue with our napkins—to no avail. Once the feeling returned to our limbs, we squeegeed the ribs with knives and napkins in an effort to strip off the incendiary barbecue paint. Damn that sadistic Petey and his murderous sauce!

Last week, I posted about a personal experience with an offer of rep and the reasons I declined. Going into the drafting of that post, I definitely weighed the risk of sharing it with the world. Sure, I could have kept it all tucked in, buried in the shadows, vaguely hinted at, or completely cloaked from interweb eyes. But I had a burning in my gut; sharing the experience would help others. This wasn’t just about me. And, perhaps, by openly sharing my experience, reasoning, and process, other querying writers might pause, and breathe, and assess an offer of rep not just with emotion, but also with tempered wisdom.

I know too many amazing writers who jumped at their first offer, only to regret that quick decision later.

So, tiptoeing onto the tightrope, I sought a way to share my story, while giving enough specifics to be genuine, but not too many that I’d tip over into unprofessional. I sought to be truthful, to speak with candor, while only naming one party—myself. Personally, I believe I stayed on the tightrope.

The positive response was overwhelming. Something in my words obviously struck a chord. My personal favorite DM: You’ve got balls of steel, man. Kudos. An agent took the time to send me an encouraging email regarding the post. Folks engaged in active conversation about the topic. Which is to say: this hush-hush thing was laid out on the table where everyone could see, poke, and discuss it.

As in all public things, which are open for judgment, my post received a few tsk tsk tsks.

My thoughts?
Opacity helps no one.
Transparency can actually hurt the sharer.
– But a Translucency exists between those two extremes.

And you know how random synergy seems to pulse through the writing community? [Eerie that…] Parallel conversations on complimentary topics cropped up. Things like a Twitter convo about how much is too much to share regarding rejections. And, in another synergistic moment, Oversharing was the focus of the loverly Fizzy’s post from earlier this week. And scroll back to @millercallihan’s Twitter feed from Wednesday to see her thoughts & advice.

If this isn’t apparent yet, in every facet of my life, I burn white-hot: creative ventures, work, relationships, emotions, humor, opinions, writing. Passion sears through me and ignites everything and everyone within warming distance. Rarely does any of that go up in flames. Instead, my life glows with heat, and adventure, and love, and surprise, and beautifully insane randomocity.

I have no doubt that some believe I burn too hot at times.

But some things remain opaque. There are things I absolutely know NOT to share. Specifics and stats you will never, ever know. These are the sacred things, the things which are nobody’s business but my own, things which—by sharing—would be of no help to anyone else. These things, while they may still blaze and spit flames, remain safely caged behind the fireplace screen and out of the public eye.

I’m curious what you all think. Some things are an enigma to me. Like how querying writers, as a rule, shouldn’t publicly share stats on rejections, but as soon as that writer is repped, those stats are almost a requirement in the announcement post. I suppose it’s okay to share that once-taboo detail once you’ve crossed into the promised land?

So, how hot is too hot?
What are the things best left opaque?
What are some translucent areas you feel are left up to circumstance & personality?
Are there times when you’re actually scared to Tweet or post something, out of fear that it might sour an industry pro’s view of you or your work?
At what point does a writer/author’s transparency cross from Inferno into Melt Your face Off with Cringe?

FTR, I don’t have a problem with sharing rejection info—to a point. I’ve posted a few pie charts detailing the different yeses and nos in my querying process. But I chose to share percentages, not numbers. Another off-limits for me is naming specific agents or agencies. Super blasphemous. As is submissions & rejections to publishers once over on the other side of the river in the promised land. For what my opinion’s worth. 😉

OFFER OF REP! (and why I said no)


guy kneeling crying

Please, put down the torches and pitchforks.

I know how that title sounds. I never, ever imagined I’d turn down an offer of rep from an agent. But I did. I had to. It was a difficult thing to do, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

It all started with the most recent #PitMad event. The day job was busy sucking the life out of me, so, the night before, I scheduled a few Tweets to jump in and scrap with the thousands of others vying for attention in the stream. By the end of the day, I had two requests: one from a small pub & one from an agent. Right away I knew I wouldn’t submit to the publisher. Because, you see, I’ve made the personal decision that I want an agent fighting by my side, adding value, experience, and wisdom to this passionate dream of mine.

So that left me with an agent who wanted to see more than the (exactly) 140 characters: Tera joins the crazy-twisted Phreak Show where she must embrace the truth: being a freak isn’t about looks, it’s a frame of mind #PitMad YAF

I’d previously researched the agency *a little*. My mind couldn’t instantly dredge up any black-listed reasons not to submit. Plus: AN AGENT WANTS TO SEE MORE OF MY STORY! Once I got home, I hunted the sub guidelines and shipped off the query, synopsis & first 25 pages. I grabbed some dinner and nonchalantly strolled into my weekend.

5 days later, this arrived in my inbox:

I’m absolutely obsessed with this. Your concept looks really tight and the message is just awesome. I think there is something so real about this, but you are entertaining instead of didactic. I could go on and on, but suffice to say I’m fangirling : ) I would be delighted to give your full manuscript a read.

Of course I did a celebratory jig (a cross between Riverdance & walking on hot coals) & sent it right over. An agent. Fangirling over my words! And only then did I do the in-depth research I should have.

Uh-oh.

As this process progressed, a half dozen of my fellow writers, CPs, and an Assistant Agent friend all suited up & went into research-war with me. There were a lot of questions marks, which twisted into perplexities, which then flared into big, flaming red flags.

– Predators & Editors only noted: slow response time to queries. [Well, hell. That’s 75% of all queries I’ve ever sent…]
– No agents with the agency are members off AAR. [Okay, well I know of some top-notch agents who aren’t…]
– No clients listed on the agency website. [Okay. Wait. What? You’ve been in business for years…Your website is a basic (and easy) venue to champion your authors’ work. If you’re not showcasing your clients & their books on your own website, then what kind of marketing value are you really adding?]
– Twitter digging, following the rabbit down its hole, unearthed a few “clients”. [Hmmm…few and far between. The quality of the book covers look little better than something created in MS Paint. Are these self-pubbers? I smell fish.]
– Even though the agency (and its parent Talent agency) has been around for years: no sales listed. None. Anywhere. [Slow the eff down. Even if the agent (for whatever reason) chose not to post sales, then the Editor, or the even the author most likely would. Right? HOW CAN YOU BE IN BUSINESS FOR YEARS AND NOT HAVE ANY PUBLIC RECORD OF SALES?]

And as a few more red flags were firmly planted: that dead fish smell clung to me, my manuscript, my misconception that landing a full request is always a good thing.

THE NEXT DAY: My phone rings during my commute home. I don’t recognize the number. It’s the agent. I pull over. I whip out my notebook, access the mental database of all those questions & red flags in my head.

I absolutely LOVE this. Love.it. The aesthetic you created is perfect for this concept, perfect for YA. The quirkiness is really good; weird in a good way. Your characters are a BIG strength; they feel so real. The whole story felt really emotional without sacrificing plot. It’s so hard to balance characterization, worldbuilding and plot, and you did it beautifully. That’s evidence of a great writer.”

Lucas’ brain: She’s genuine. She reallymeans every word. Damn, those words feel good. Why, oh why, does this have to smell like a Red Lobster’s dumpster?

I’d like to offer you and your phenomenal book representation.

Lucas’s brain: Oh fuck does this suck. Hard.

I dig into my questions: carefully. I ask about the things giving me major pause (or, actually, damn-near a full-on stop). She answers. She’s super nice. Her personality is vibrant, cheery, and wonderful. We’d get along great outside of the whole agent-author relationship thingy. Oh yeah. That’s the whole point. A knowledgeable agent guiding me through the process, selling-the-hell-out-of-my-book, connecting with contacts I don’t have, championing my story, fighting alongside me to make this passionate dream of mine a reality.

I have other fulls out, so I need to nudge those agents and give them the opportunity to offer. A week ought to do. I ask for a copy of the agency’s contract to look over. I can text or email or call anytime with questions or concerns.

I’m torn. There’s no way I can accept this offer. But, at the same time, in an ooey gooey part of me, this is the call I’ve been working SO HARD to receive for years now. THIS EFFIN SUCKS.

If the red flags smelled fish-like, the contract is the bloody meat of every fish who ever died, piled on a shit-covered beach, rotting in the boiling hot sun while zombie skunks spray musk on the stinkbugs chewing on the eyeless corpses. You think I’m exaggerating. I’ve seen a few agency contracts, so I have comparison points. I work with contracts & legal docs in both my day job and in my own business. This contract isn’t for just this project, but basically for your creative soul. The Author’s Work is defined as:

“…all ideas, story materials, characters, situations, formats, and works of authorship which Author has created or creates during the term of this Agreement…”

That feels pretty all-encompassing. “Ideas” are included? And what’s with the “has created” phrase? The word “irrevocably” is used too many times throughout the contract. The clauses involving how the contract can be terminated revolve around a very specific period in time; not just with 30 days written notice, which seems to be the standard. With each new work, the contract auto-renews & resets the clock & the termination clause. The continuation of residual commissions is scary when combined with the agreement’s definition of the Author’s Work. If things weren’t fishy before, this contract alone would have been enough to lead me to a no.

My deadline for getting back to this agent arrives. My gut wrenches as I dial the number. And I’ve heard agents say this before: rejections suck no matter which side of the conversation you are on. This isn’t true with queries or partials, I’m sure. Probably not even with a lot of fulls. But here, with an offer of rep before me, knowing and believing that (despite all the salmon) this agent truly & genuinely loves my work, I feel so awful saying no. And not for my sake. Not because I feel like I’m losing something, but because this agent feels so strongly for my manuscript. My heart hurts because she has expectation and hope. And I’m the one dashing it against the stones.

It bites when agents give you a generic rejection, which leaves you wondering But, really, WHY? It’s harder this way (on me), but I’m super-honest and straightforward with her on the reasons why I am declining her offer. She is gracious, but sadness tinges her voice.

I received an offer of rep. And yet, I had to reject it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Since I rejected that offer, I expanded the deadline: for reasons. Baited hooks still dangle in the sparkling water, with the possibility of reeling in an agent with the passion, experience, and wisdom worthy of a yes. It may or may not happen this round. I’ll keep you posted. Thankfully, there are fish in that wide, open sea who don’t smell fishy at all.

The Ugliest Mona Lisa I’ve Ever Seen


mona lisa - ral

You know this lady.

Her name’s Mona. You can call her Mo for short. She’s kind of iconic.

She’s here today to help me illustrate this *thing* I’m going through which relates to the world of writing. No, it’s not about visualizing characters, painting a story landscape, or any such helpful advice from a novice. Sorry about that. There are plenty of other blogs with unpublished writers giving profound & sage wisdom…

The topic this blogger is tackling today is: [Well, shit, I can’t really sum it up in a single word. This isn’t Twitter; it’s a post. So eff it, I can ramble if I like.]

Let’s go with this freeform string of thoughts: I have multiple fulls out with agents, which have been out for a while. I recently nudged on one & the agent confessed that she hadn’t gotten to it yet. Cool. No big deal. Another one is past the 10 week mark, at which point I would normally nudge, but I have not because of [keep reading]. The third is in this nerve-wracking, string-a-long sort of web which doesn’t seem to have an end. I am hopeful that it will turn into an offer, but the more pages of the calendar I rip off, the less that feels like reality. So, I have just kind of turned off my wishfulness on this matter until such time as it needs to be either revived, or incinerated.

After all that, I guess what I’m trying to say is: I don’t like to feel like I’m begging.

To be candid, I totally get that agents are busy, clients come first, I’m swamped, it’s conference season–all that. And writers are always labeled “impatient”. “This is a slow process,” we tell each other. Agents say it, too. Yet, still, are we really impatient? 2 months? 4 months? 6 months? 12 months? How long is too long to wait to hear back on a full request? An R&R? At what point has the timing passed beyond simple impatience on the part of the writer?

What it boils down to is that I want an agent to *LOVE* my work. Like, SHAZAAAAM! BAM! YES I WANT IT GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT EFFIN NOW I CAN’T WAIT TO START WORKING WITH YOU AND GET THIS THING SUB-READY BECAUSE AWESOME IN MY FACE AND OMG HAVE YOU SIGNED THE AGENCY CONTRACT YET OR WHAT BECAUSE AHHHHHHH????!!!!!

Instead, thus far, I have felt less like Phreak Show is the real Mona Lisa, and that perhaps it is more like this:

mona lisa - bad

 

And, yes, my loverly invisible ink finders. I KNOW that Phreak Show looks/reads nothing like that horrid ol’ fake. I’m just sayin’ I want that acceptance, that go-get-it agent who believes in me & my story so much that s/he can’t get hold of it fast enough. A dream? Perhaps. But my life has been built on dreams such as this. And damn it, I’m not done believing in magick.

Phreak Show Sub Status


Because the numbers have changed since the last time I posted a Sub Pie.
Also, the other shoe could drop at any moment.
Also, also, there will be times when I will not be able to openly share ooey, gooey, behind-the-scenes goodness.

SubmissionsStatus-20130603

 

So 1/3 of the queries have come back as Form Rejections. Is that the sign of a bad query? Bad matching (on my part) of the agent with the book/genre/concept? Is that above, below, or spot-on with the average? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Wow…1/4 of the queries have been coded as “Non-Response”. That seems awfully high, but, based on the agent’s estimated response times, it is accurate. For a previous novel, I had a query response arrive 4 months later than the estimated 8 weeks. That one made me giggle.

0% Full Request Rejections. (At this snapshot-moment, at least.) A few of those are closing in on the 2-month mark. I suspect that % will jump soon. [No! The glass is half-full. The damn glass is half-full!!!] Querying writers, I’m curious about your experience; have full rejections come soon after the submission, or after many weeks? Months? Part of me fears that delay in response to a full = negative news.

Holding at 25% for Outstanding Queries. As long as my hot-list of agents holds out, I like to keep this rough percentage. Each new rejection = sending a new query (or two).

Q: When do I get to add my “Offers of Rep” slice? Soon, you say? I totally ❤ you from here to the moon.

I Like My Sleeves


PhreakShowSubmissionsChart

Because I love charts and data and spreadsheets.

Also because, why the hell not? Transparency is a trait of mine.

Sometimes that characteristic gets me in trouble, but it is an undeniable part of me. Often, I’m told, it is refreshing. Either way, it’s who I am. And I am a proud phreak who has learned to be comfortable in his own skin.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’ve thought of maybe changing to metaphorical tank tops—-or even going shirtless. Alas, I like my sleeves, and I like to leave my vulnerability dangling out there for everyone to see and prod. So, yeah. I feel better now. Huzzah for catharsis via confessional graphics.

If you’re feeling like, perhaps, there is more to the story, you are correct. Sometimes, even transparency has is limits, and a little opacity is required. If you’re reading this Invisible Ink, I ❤ your face. Wear your hearts on your sleeves, you bunch of phreaks. 

Bad News Is Better Than No News


I declare today my personal  ‘Submissions Follow-Up Day’.

Part 1: Send follow-up emails to agents who requested partials & fulls 2+ months ago. I certainly don’t mind doing this at all. While the pragmatic side of me tells me it’s useless–they would have jumped on it if they were interested–the hopeful side of me keeps the fire alive. Maybe lovely agent just hasn’t gotten to it yet…

Part 2: Decide whether to follow-up with agents who have not responded at all.

I record details for each query I send:
– Submission date
– Anticipated response date (based on agency websites, interviews & Query Tracker reports)
– Outcome
– Agent & Agency name
– Type of materials sent: query, synopsis, number of pages
– Notes: Any contact with agent, likes/dislikes, chances of a good fit, screw-ups/typos I caught in the submission after-the-fact, etc

The Query Tracker reports and User Comments have been great in discerning whether or not I should follow-up.

For instance, I currently have 3 outstanding queries which I should have heard back on prior to 7/25. Thanks to QT, I am chalking them up as ‘Closed/No Response’. The reason? Check out the reply % for each of these three agents.

Really? 78% – 83% non-response rate?

Maybe I’m daft. Perhaps I expect too much. But even a form rejection is better than no response at all. I picture the process as a simple one.

1. Agent reads sucky query & knows immediately it is not right for him/her.
2. Agent moves email into “Send Form Rejection” folder.
3. Once a week, Agent [or intern] replies to all the waiting writers who didn’t make the cut.

I get the whole hundreds-of-submissions-per-week argument. But I also know the meaning of the term “professional courtesy”. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass to research and tailor a query to a specific agent using the posted guidelines. Each submission is different. Each requires its own set of materials. Surely that time and effort is worth [at least] the professional courtesy of some sort of reply–even if that response is a dry, form rejection.

So, on Submissions Follow-Up Day, I will mark these three queries as “No Response” on both my personal spreadsheet and on Query Tracker. I have 8 more responses due in the next week. Hopefully, these agents are professional and courteous. Hopefully, they understand that:

Bad news is better than no news.