The Difference A Year Makes

One year ago today, I sent the most nerve-wracking email of my entire life. It looked like this:

Dear Andrew:

Please find attached my YA novel, The Story of Owen. It’s 65,865 words long, and if pressed, I’d say the subgenre is contemporary fantasy. Based on what I know about Carolrhoda Lab and the books you’ve published, I think The Story of Owen would be a good fit because it’s contemporary with a twist.

I’m sending this to you on a non-exclusive basis, and I will let you know if I get another offer or accept agent representation.

I look forward to hearing from you sometime before the end of 2012,
Kate Johnston

It doesn’t look that scary. And it looks even LESS scary when you know that the only parts of it I wrote were:

Comtemporary Fantasy,
contemporary with a twist

Seriously. It was FILL IN THE BLANK. That’s the whole query. That’s also why I have never really posted much of a “how I got my book deal” story. Because my story is profoundly useless to other people.

Except. Except it might not be entirely so.

Yes, by the time I queried OWEN I had spent a year on Twitter networking and getting to know how other writers worked. Yes, I read a CRAP TON of books. Yes, I had painstakingly written a different query for two other novels at this point. Yes, I had even tackled the dreaded synopsis. But while all of those things turned out to be tangentially important, there are two things that I often overlook that are MORE important.

The first is that I wrote the book. I realize that seems like an odd thing to forget, but you can have all the connections and have done all the homework, and if you don’t have the book, you can’t sell it. All the other things help (a lot, I can’t understate that: they help A LOT), but at the end of the day, you have to have written the book.

The second thing is that I took a chance. I had my list of preferred agents, but at the very last minute, I decided to query Andrew Karre as well. Andrew was hosting an open call at the time, and it was the second one he’d done since I’d finished writing OWEN*. I had wanted to query the first time, but one of the “no”s was “6. I don’t do high fantasy. Here there be no dragons.“, and that took me out. The second time, though, it just said “any YA subgenre except high fantasy“. And I rolled the dice**.

The rest, as they say, is history. Within a week I had added 18,000 words to the manuscript at Andrew’s suggestion. Within two weeks, I had an agent. And within a month I had a book deal.

So maybe I got lucky. And maybe I knew the right people. But I wrote the book. And I took a chance. And I sent an email that made me nervous.

And I’ve never looked back.




*Though the first since I had really thoroughly EDITED it.
**I am a PEDANTIC rule follower, which is why the first time I went with “no dragons” knowing the book wasn’t high fantasy, and why the second time, I was all “OH GOD I AM BREAKING THE RULES” even though the book STILL wasn’t high fantasy. At this point, I’d been job hunting for MONTHS and I was very good at being “creative” when it came to requirements. Sometimes I still worry that I am not weird enough for Carolrhoda, even though clearly I am. 🙂

One response to “The Difference A Year Makes

  1. First, I am not really a fan of fantasy. I will read it, but sparingly (The Lord of the Rings). I found your book on Kirkus Reviews, and I am in the middle of blogging a preview right now. I will link to this blog. Your post is inspiring to me. I am writing literary fiction, not sure of the subgenre at this point, not sure of anything. But I think maybe I should check out Twitter. I don’t know how to network, but I’m learning (I am an old dog with a few tricks up my sleeve.) Best wishes in your future endeavors.

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