A Major Award and the Déjà Vu Blogfest

My friend Karen Peterson hosted the coolest awards show on her blog earlier this week, and The Serial Killer Files tied with Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog for Favorite Blog About Writing for 2011! I mean, HELLO. That's a MAJOR AWARD. People voted and everything. And to receive a Major Award from Karen Peterson, which I get to share with Alex Cavanaugh... dudes. Doesn't get better than that. Read all about the awards HERE.

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And now, I am happy to be participating in the Déjà Vu Blogfest, hosted by the amazing Lydia Kang, DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, and Nicole Ducleroir. The idea is to repost a favorite blog from the past, one that maybe deserves a second chance at the spotlight.

The day I signed with my literary agent was easily one of the greatest days in my publishing journey. It was the only time in my life I've burst into tears out of pure happiness (and if you tell anyone I cried, I'll deny it and then stalk you). Why the waterworks? Because the day Victoria Skurnick called to offer me representation was the very first day I let myself believe that I could really write.

And you never forget the first time you believe.

The Call 
Originally posted Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So here's how it happened... and this is a long post, so you might want to go get a coffee before settling in. I don't tell good stories quickly! ;)

I queried Victoria via email in the wee hours of the morning on January 15th (I was up very, very late). She responded a few hours later with a request for a full. You might recall this post. A very good day it was, indeed. That full request was from Victoria!

(I need to interject here to say that this was the second time I'd queried her. The first time was back in November, but I never received a response. I'm pretty sure Levine Greenberg's server ate it. Normally I would never re-query an agent – and up till this point I hadn't even considered querying someone twice, because a non-response normally means NO – but I felt compelled to re-query Victoria. I'm glad I trusted my instincts!)

But I digress. Where was I... oh yes. The full request.

As awesome as it was to get a full request, I couldn't allow myself to get too happy about it, because I'd sent the query out naked (meaning no excerpt pasted in) and knew it was Victoria's policy to always request a full right off the bat. All I knew at this point was that she liked my query. But there was no way to know whether she'd like my work, and that's all that matters. For all I knew she would read the first ten pages, hate my writing, and delete the entire thing.

But hey, this was a chance to get my entire novel in front of an agent for the first time. This was not the time to second guess myself. Immediately I emailed her back, attaching my manuscript as she requested. I happily logged it all into my spreadsheet.

A few days later, I sent out more queries. Got more partial requests. Got more rejections along with them, but that was all right, because all told, things were going fine. Since I'd had a good run with requests with my last two query batches, I figured I could relax for a while. Certainly, it would be months before I heard back from anyone. Things work slowly in publishing.

I was in a great mood.

The great mood didn't last.

The weekend of January 23rd, I got two manuscript rejections. Back to back. And just like that, my optimism was gone. Rejections based on your actual work are so much worse than query rejections! It means something about your work – the writing, the story, the characters – didn’t resonate with those agents. And that is beyond disappointing.

Remember, as hard as we work on our queries, they're just marketing tools. Their only purpose is to get an agent's attention. It's your work that matters. And when an agent decides they don't like your work, it hurts like hell.

But okay. I had to suck it up. I still had several submissions out. Including the one with Victoria.

I shook the rejections off and moved on. I started writing Beautiful Disaster [the book now known as FREAK]. And for the first time since this whole process began, I totally forgot about querying. I completely lost myself in my new WIP... which, by the way, is the BEST and ONLY way to survive Query Hell. (I wish I'd listened to my writer friends when they tried to tell me this months ago.)

Fast forward to the morning of Thursday, February 4th.

I woke up early and in a good mood, eager to get going on another installment of the new WIP. First drafts are the most fun and most inspiring! Then I checked my email, as I always do first thing in the morning.

Saw an email from Victoria in my inbox.

My heart SANK.

Of course it was a rejection. Of course it was. It had to be. She'd only had my full for two weeks. No agent reads an entire manuscript that fast. Obviously she'd read the first few chapters and hated it. If she even got that far.

A rejection on a full. Oh man, this was sooooo gonna hurt.

It took me a full minute to bring myself to open the email. And this is what it said:

Jennifer - I just wanted you to know that I'm in the middle of the manuscript, and enjoying it a lot.  I'll be back to you by next week.

I stared at the email in disbelief.

OMG! It's not a rejection!

OMG! She likes it!

OMG! She's made it to the halfway point! Halfway! That's like, page 190!

OMG! What does it mean?

I was so tortured by this one-sentence email that I nearly gave myself an aneurysm analyzing it to death.

She wouldn't bother to tell me she likes it if she was only going to reject it in the end, right? Because that would be cruel beyond words. Nobody's that mean.

But she's only read half of it! What if she hates the ending? Will she give me the chance to revise and resubmit?

OMG, is the last half of the book as strong as the first half? I've been so focused on the first half... what if the last half sucks?

She's reading it. She's enjoying it. Holy moly.

Poor Steve. I made him analyze this email with me for an hour over dinner that night. But he's a lovely, understanding man, and instead of telling to me just shut up about it and wait and see what she says, he listened patiently and even participated in my debate with myself over the deeper meaning behind this One-Sentence Email.

I went to bed that night knowing there was a very long weekend – and week – ahead of me. Would she email me on Wednesday? Would she email me on Friday? What if she forgot? Got sidetracked? Decided she hated it?

What if she didn’t get back to me at all?

Oh the torture.

I woke up on Friday morning determined to get back to work as usual. After all, I was still basking in the glow of the Inspired First Draft of the New Work in Progress. Somehow, between hitting my quota for the new book and paying some bills, I managed to put the One-Sentence Email out of my mind and was piddling around on Facebook.

At 1 pm, the phone rang.

I looked at the call display.

212 area code. That's Manhattan.

Victoria's name flashing on the little screen.

She was calling me. From New York. She was actually calling.

I stopped breathing. Shaking, I managed to pick up the phone without dropping it.


Yes. All in caps. Because my voice was that shrill.

She introduced herself. Raspy voice. New York accent. Apologized for not letting me know in advance that she'd be calling. I asked, very shrilly, how she was doing. She said she was doing great. Was loving my book.  Would like to represent it. Did I have a few minutes to talk?

"Of course I do!" I shrieked at her. I shooed poor Steve away, who'd been creeping up the stairs towards me with wide eyes. I couldn't do this with him looking at me. I tried to breathe. I wanted to sound normal and professional and creative, not insane and shrilly and out of breath.

I was on the phone with a New York literary agent. I needed to get it together.

I needed to stop shouting at her.

We had a thirty-minute conversation. She told me what she liked about the book and was very complimentary. Then she asked how flexible I was about making changes to make it more marketable.

I assured her I was very flexible. Hell, I could be Mary Lou Retton if that's what she wanted!

She ran through a list of the things she thought I could work on. I made notes in handwriting I can barely decipher now. Yes, some of the changes seemed alarming at first because it's hard not to feel married to the story the way I wrote it. But I will do whatever it takes to get it sold. I am no prima donna.

I asked her a few questions about the submission process, and the contract she was going to send, and maybe one or two other things. I can't remember exactly. She answered everything succinctly and satisfactorily.

Then she asked me what I do for a living.

I said, "Well... this." I launched into a rambly explanation of how we'd moved from Toronto to the Northwest and how I thought it was time to give this writing thing a shot. I said, "I have no plan B. I write full-time."

She said, "It shows. You're talented. Your book's very good. I really think I can sell it."

Compliments! Praise! From a literary agent! OMG OMG OMG!

Somehow the conversation ended. The contract arrived via email an hour later, and Steve and I read it over together.

The contract is fine.

I have an agent.

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  1. That's a beautiful story. I can picture you shooing Steve away, I can feel your excitement (and your nerves), and I'm still happy CREEP is doing so well. Congratulations on another well earned award.

  2. Congratulations on the award! It was well-deserved.

    Ah, I never get sick of stories like this... :)

  3. Awesome story on how you got your agent! :) And congrats on the award! SO AWESOME! :D

  4. That's one cool award, Jennifer!

    I see you're quick off the mark for the Deja Vu blogfest, and what a post to remember! Well worth reliving.

  5. I'm so glad that you posted this one again. There are many of yours that I actually have bookmarked. Is that weird? Because you're so funny! You don't just tell me things that I need to know - you make me laugh while you're doing it! I love that I could read through this a second time and my heart was pounding with yours when you clicked on her email and again when the phone rang with the 212 area code!

  6. OMG! I could feel the tension...the excitement! If you can do that in a blog post, no wonder Victoria loves your writing!

  7. Congrats!!! I had tears in my eyes as I read your blog, I am still in amazement and whole heartedly elated for you and proud of your achievements. Way to go Jenny! Thanks for taking all of us along for the ride. It has been a joy and I still hang on every word that you write. Love - Deyana

  8. Wow, I feel like congratulating you all over again for getting an agent! Great story. I think if I got a call from an agent I'd lose them on the spot with all my nervous rambling.

    And congrats on the award. :)

  9. Awesome posts! Still great the second time around!

  10. Congrats on the award! You so deserve it. I love that post, I had read it before when I first discovered your blog. Hope next year is even better for you than this one! Much success! Can't wait to read Freak.

  11. I hung onto every single word of this post. I love the success stories!!!!

    Thanks so much for participating in the Blogfest!

  12. I love this post! I felt so in the moment with you, experiencing your frustration and joy. I imagine it as one of the most fulfilling moments of my own life, should it ever happen. I think I'll react pretty much the same, if I get there at all. Thanks for sharing. It gives me hope & something to look forward to!

    BTW - I'm doing Deja Vu too!

  13. As far as I'm concerned, you can re-post this every week!! I love this story, I love your story! Thank you for sharing it with us again today and helping to make today so special! :)

  14. Love hearing about this. Thanks for choosing this one to repeat.

  15. I can see why this is the post you picked. It's awesome to read how you got your agent. :-)

  16. Congrats on your award for your blog!

    And, aww, your "call" story is fantastic. I probably would've analyzed that one sentence to death as well. :)

  17. Congrats on the blog award! :)

    LOVE this post. Success stories are the best.

  18. I'm in the process of querying at the moment. You are absolutely right: your WIP helps you through. Focusing on the next novel helps you deal with the worst-case-scenario: the one your querying isn't the one. If you love the one you're writing, then it's okay if the one you're querying isn't the one that gets you published. Pouring your energy into the next book stops you from pouring energy into worry, frustration, and despair.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It's inspirational. :)

  19. YAY! Awesome post. JUST TODAY, I signed a contract with an agent! It's a very good day. YAY!

    I'm a new follower of your blog - nice to meet you!

  20. What a great post, love to read stories about "the call." :) You made me laugh out loud with that Mary Lou Retton bit. So funny.
    Congrats on your success!!

  21. I loved this! Found you via Deja Vu blogfest. I'm definitely following. I think I'm very close to experiencing the elation of having a good agent who believes in you. And I know there will be mucho screaming involved at that point!

  22. I always love these stories. They're a bit like birth stories...excited and incredulous and happy. :)

  23. Well, I'm new to this Congrats party, but better late than never. You had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Fully engaged!

    New fan.

  24. Great one to re-post, Jennifer! I love The Call stories, and I love the way you related yours!

  25. WTG, Jennifer! I'm so glad you re-posted this. I enjoyed this so much. I love to hear writers' success stories! So inspiring. And humble. Nice to meet you! Wonderful blogfest!

  26. This post is awesome - I imagine the only thing more fun than reading it would be writing it!

  27. How much do I love blogfests? Thanks to all the new followers for stopping in! :)

  28. I really enjoyed reading that re-post, Jen. Wow! That's the type of experience you remember forEVER!!! So cool! :)

  29. You made your husband analyze the email - that made me laugh out loud! We don't even realize there are lines between the lines, let alone how to read them.
    And the honor of sharing the award with you is all mine!
    You are one awesome person.

  30. I can't read this with out tearin up a lttle :) you told that beautifully! I'm so happy she had the great taste to read your manuscript! She made a great discovery for your genre that day!

  31. Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I LOVE hearing stories about how people meet their agents (the publishing world's equivalent of a love story :) ) and yours was wonderful. I got a little teary, wondering if my day would ever come. So happy for you that your dream came true!!

  32. I'm glad you chose this one to repost. It was a lot of fun to relive that moment with you.

  33. This is such an uplifting story! Thanks for re-posting it, and congrats on your amazing award! Julie

  34. First, congratulations on winning Favorite Writing Blog!

    Second, I absolutely love this story. I can't even imagine what it feels like to get that call. Hopefully, one day I won't have to imagine it. And I'm so glad Victoria liked your manuscript because it is a fantastic book!

  35. YES!! I remember this post!! It made me sooooo happy!!!
    And somehow it didn't read long to me! You're a great storyteller! :D

  36. Oh and as I read the second part of the post I almost forget the first part! It's so COOL about the contest!! YAY!!

  37. I remember reading this in your archives! A great post for sure. What fun!

  38. Awesome post. Reminds me of my ups and downs as I queried. I enjoy reading people's journeys toward "the call."

    Congrats on the award.

  39. Nice articles. I'm just blogwalking and very happy to stop here. And also give you some comment and following your blog here.

    Dont forget to give us some your comment into my blog and following me back too.

  40. What a happy repost. Thanks for (re)sharing your story.

  41. I teared up again reading this. It was definitely the one to repost.

  42. ah, sweet. Just as cool the second time, huh? :o)