I participated in the last round of Pitch Madness, hosted by Brenda Drake. I was picked by Team Bowser's Castle, which was headed by the amazing Rebecca Coffindaffer and NYT bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp. Fun fact: THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS hit the NYT bestseller's list the week of Pitch Madness! Our team had a plethora of LGBTQ+ manuscripts. Yay, right? Unfortunately, most of the agents participating had already seen my submission before its rewrite. So I was among those on our team who didn't get a request. These things happen.
It was the first time that I'd tried out for PitchMadness, and I actually got in. When my team crunched the numbers, there was an 8% chance of us making it as far as we did. We were rock stars not only for writing a full-length manuscript but for pitching it to such a huge contest. My first ever Twitter contest was PitMad some 3 years ago when I first started querying. It was such an amazing learning and networking experience. I've met so many editors and writers through these Twitter contests. I cannot recommend them enough. I recently had to drop out of Pitch Wars for obvious reasons, but I will always love Twitter contests (check out sub it club on Twitter for the latest!).
So I decided to participate in the PitMad Twitter party on March 17, 2016. I almost didn't. Almost. The pitch that my agent gave a favorite to was, "Blue discovers she can end #LGBT-segregation only if she breaks ties w her dads & leaves her LGBT Compound/community forever." I did receive another favorite on my Adult manuscript, which is the prequel to S:P. Recently, I was sent the rejection to that one about two days after I signed. No harm.
Instead of sending off a blank-slate query letter, I researched the agent, saw what their agency published, and looked into their clients. My heart went pitter-patter when I read how diverse and LGBTQ+ friendly they were. Oh, yes. Yes, please. They wanted LGBT+ books and diversity across the board from various genres and age groups. I had to include this in my query. Writing about under-represented groups and those in the LGBTQ+ spectrum is what I want to do and who I am as a writer. I was basically waving flags around screaming, "I have what you want! Me!"
The best advice I can give is, be honest, open, and sincere in your queries. If people don't like what they see afterward, then that's no an agent/agency you want to be with.
I sent in my personalized query letter and first three chapters, not thinking anything was going to happen. I'd been down this road so many times before, getting my hopes up only to have someone come back and say it was too controversial, they didn't love it, or they didn't connect with the voice. There are plenty of reasons why an agent doesn't fall for a manuscript. The opposite happened here.
I get an email asking me if it's still available. I say yes. As it turned out, my agent was working on her latest book (she's a writer, too) and didn't have time to look at the submissions just yet. You should totally check out the ultimate edition of her book BUTTERFLY TATTOO. ;)
Then, the worst happens. My hard drive crashes! Thankfully, I do all of my work on the cloud and can pull from there, which is good because I received a request for a full on July 28th with a ten day exclusive. For those who don't know, an exclusive is when you give one agent a window of time to look at your manuscript, and you agree not to share it with any other agents/editors/professionals or send it out for query. I sent off the full and don't expect to hear anything back for weeks, maybe even months. Fulls usually take a long time to go through.
The next day--Friday, July 29th--I get an email asking me how serious I was about working with the agency. My agent says she's absorbed with the book and compelled by the characters. She wants to know if she should keep editing/reading it. I'm freaking out because, yeah, what's happening? We exchange notes to make sure we're on the same page with what needs to happen with the manuscript. After writing and spending so much tie on ZIRKUS, I'm hanging my head, telling her, "Yes, we're fixing this. Let's do it."
My agent offers me representation on the spot, no phone call needed. She'll send me the contract on Monday! We get started on the manuscript immediately and have gone back and forth ever since. We have had "the call" to discuss my career, how I came up with the idea, and what the Status series means to me. I've also sent her a summary of how the entire series plays out so we can rearrange some things. We've already brought elements and characters from books 2 & 3 into book 1, and I am so happy we did. It works! I needed someone to push me and give me permission to do it. Sometimes you just need another person saying, "this works" for you to believe in your ideas.
Word of advice number two: Be prepared to edit like your life depends on it. If you're not prepared to kill some darlings and bring others into the spotlight, then you're not ready to be published.
I honestly had to take some time away from the Status series after my last big edit. The series deals with such difficult and hard-hitting issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, which includes discrimination against bisexuals both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. It was starting to get to me emotionally. I needed fun, fantasy, and a little romance, which is where ZIRKUS came in--aka the queerest little book of them all. Now, I'm ready to tackle Status once again.
What happens next? Now, I'm adding the new elements in, I'll go over my agent's notes, make more edits, then she'll do a second pass. Once we're happy with the state of the manuscript, we'll get it finalized to send to publishers. While that's being done, I'm working on ZIRKUS, which will be our next project. The attention for that little circus book hasn't died down. I have a new reader and it's been voracious. I can't keep up with the demand. I'm so scared people will get to a certain point then hate it. If they do, it'll need to be changed!
Again, be prepared to make changes. I love my stories, but I don't keep them under lock and key. I'm not a dragon guarding their treasure, saying this and that can't be done. If anything, I want to make sure as many people will like these stories as possible. There's a central message I'm trying to convey, and it's the most important thing to me. At the same time, I want to remain true to the characters. I'm not changing anyone's sexuality, gender, race, or religion. No one is getting whitewashed over here.
So that's what happened. During our phone call, my agent told me she wasn't afraid of the controversy surrounding this YA manuscript--she totally gets the message I'm conveying--and said I was just waiting for the right agent to come along. Thank you, whatever god finally listened! I think this is the beginning of a lovely relationship.