By Christopher Mannino
I have been writing for a long time. Heck, I’ve wanted to be a writer since middle school. I’ve been writing ever since.
The very first book I wrote took ten years. It’s a mess. You’ve never heard of it. It’s shelved on a floppy disk (remember those?) among other places but was never revisited.
Then, during my time in Oxford, I was inspired to write School of Deaths. It took me a year to write, and then I began trying for agents. In publishing, if you want your book published with the big publishers, distributed widely, and making money, you need an agent. The “Big Five” publishers (all subdivisions of just five companies) only take manuscripts from agents, and even then it’s not always a guarantee of publication, much less success. Yet agents are the first gatekeepers in the business.
Getting an agent involves writing a query letter. This is a single page long- a blurb about your book, a paragraph about similar books in the marketplace, and a paragraph about you. It’s an email you send out and know you’ll probably never hear back from. Some agents ask for just this, some for your first five pages. Most agents receive hundreds of email queries a DAY. Of those they receive, they might request pages from 5%, and of those pages, maybe request a full manuscript from an even smaller number. And it’s not just based on the quality of your writing. It’s based on a lot of subjective factors, like the agent’s preferences, if they think they can sell it, does it conflict with other clients they have, and so on. In short, getting an agent is very, very difficult. It feels a bit like falling through mid-air and trying to catch (and hold onto) a single raindrop.
After a year of querying, and 130 rejections, I gave up trying to find an agent for School of Deaths. Instead I began querying small presses. 30 queries of publishers later, MuseItUp said yes.
Small press is a form of traditional publishing in between the big guys and self publishing. In a way, it’s sort of like the minor league baseball league. Minor leaguers are pros, and paid to play ball, and some are amazing, but you’ve never heard of them. They’re all hoping to make it into the majors, but to do so they need that scout. With writing, you need an agent.
After Scythe Wielder’s Secret I wrote a sci fi thriller and re-entered the querying phase. Months passed. Nada. I’ve since decided to rework the project.
Then, I had an idea for a book. A series. The ideas kept coming and coming. A world that’d been in night for a thousand years, and now faced a sunrise. A man with a powerful form of magic, and a terrible price. An exciting new fantasy series called Everdawn Rising. I wrote the book, and right away knew something was different. It was without a doubt the best thing I’d written. I decided, yet again, to plunge back into querying. Querying is a SLOW process, I’ll add. Some agents have an AVERAGE response time of 115 days. That’s just to hear back, even if it’s a no. And if they request pages or your full manuscript, you have to wait months upon months.
I began querying Everdawn in January. I queried and queried. I became active in the Manuscript Academy, which gave me a lot of opportunities to work with pros. I had skype sessions with agents and not only pitched my book, but got help rewriting my query. I was in a workshop to help revamp my first page and ended up a part of a writing community that’s still wonderfully supportive today. And I worked with editors from St Martins and Tor (two imprints of the “Big 5” publishers) to rewrite the beginning completely. On the advice of an agent, I began “re-querying” – contacting agents who said no months ago or who never responded. I was hopeful, but still not sure. I was ready to enter PitchWars when everything took off.
First I got an offer from an agent. I then had to let my outstanding (hadn’t heard from them yet) requeries know. Within hours, I had six more full requests. I eventually got a second offer and it came down to an insane day of phone conversations, nerves, and difficult decisions. After talking to the two agents, however, I knew the original offer was the agent I wanted to stick with.
I am elated to announce that I am now represented by Will Reeve at the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. Kidd is a smaller agency, but one with an impressive track record in SFF, launching the careers of greats like Isaac Asimov and Ursula LeGuin. This is only one stage in a longer journey. The next step is for Will to work with me editing the book, then he’ll take the manuscript to the publishers and try to sell it to them. Even then, it’s a while before it releases. However, this is a huge step for me and my career as an author.
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Posted by Michelle Lynn.