Placing in the Tu Books contest started a chain of circumstances that entailed a lot of fairly quick movement and a lot of sleepless nights. For once, the publishing world moved at a rapid pace. I think that the last two weeks have been the only time in my life when my writing life has moved faster than my real life.
My agenting story starts in January of 2012, when I started querying agents about this novel. I got a few manuscript requests, but my submissions process was interrupted by several long breaks during which I tried to hone my query.
Then, in January of 2013, a query that I’d sent out in October resulted in an offer of representation from a literary agent (A1). I was excited about the offer and was leaning towards accepting it, but there were two problems: a) I still had manuscripts and queries out with other agents who I wanted to hear back from; and b) I was a finalist in this Tu Books contest, which required that its winner be unagented.
A1 rather graciously agreed to hold the offer until the award was announced. If I lost, then I’d be free to sign with her.
A week later, the public announcement of the slate of finalists for the Award generated a manuscript request from another agent (A2), which I also had to put on a shelf until the results were announced.
About two months later (and roughly two weeks ago), I was notified that I’d won the Honor Award. Since I hadn’t taken the top prize, I was now free to sign with A1, who was still waiting for me to respond to her offer. However, I asked her for two weeks in order to follow up with A2. I then emailed A2 and asked if she could possibly get back to me within two weeks, which she agreed to (try) to do.
I also emailed all the other agents who were sitting on partial manuscripts* or my query, and said that if they wanted to consider the manuscript, they should get back to me within two weeks, because I was considering another offer. This generated a lot of very nice notes of the “Good luck with your new agent!” variety, as well as another (partial) manuscript request! (Oh, and a lot of the agents never responded at all, of course)
At this point, I was still relatively sane, since I was really only waiting on one person to get back to me.
But then the winner of the contest, Valynne Nagamatsu, emailed me (and all the other finalists) out of the blue and offered to refer my manuscript to an agent (A3) with whom she had a personal connection.
A day later, an old high school friend who I hadn’t spoken to in quite awhile Facebook-messaged me and asked me if I had an agent yet, because one of her college friends was an agent (A4). My high school friend knew from Facebook that I was an author, but I don't think she knew that I was actively looking for representation, which, to me, makes this the weirdest bit of serendipity in the whole process.
Anyway, both A3 and A4 wanted to look at the manuscript and were willing to get back to me within the deadline I'd set for responding to A1.
During the whole querying process, my full manuscript had never been on more than two desks at the same time. Now, within the space of a few days, it was on four.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. Well, actually, that’s not true. I wrote 20,000 words over the course of one weekend. But there was a frenetic quality to everything in my life. I was flitting from euphoria to despair every few hours.
When all of this began, I was reading a story collection by Miranda July that’s only maybe 60,000 words long. Now, two weeks later, I’m not even close to finished. I still have a third of it left!
While I waited, I developed some unsettling behaviors. There were days when I literally spent seven or eight straight hours staring at the GMail client, waiting for emails to come. I developed a cardiac arrhythmia that only appears when I hear the little beep that my iPad uses to signal new emails. I turned down social engagements so I could spend time in my room, alone, worrying. I exhausted every possible way of obsessing about this process.
Then, last Tuesday, I got an offer of representation from one of the agents. I had a very pleasant talk with the agent (one that made me late for my fiction workshop). And after hanging up, I dropped into an even deeper abyss of insanity while I waited to hear from the rest. Before that, I’d been somewhat convinced that A2, A3, and A4 were all going to turn me down. But now I knew that anything could happen.
The agent search has literally been all that I've thought about for the last week. Thank God that I had a class to teach, or I think I’d have skipped all my seminars and literally just have holed myself up in my room with my computer for days on end. I owe a very special thank-you to all the friends who were willing to listen to GChat with me about this agent stuff, ad nauseum, for hours.
Anyway, I’m not going to describe the details of my deliberations over the various agents (or, for that matter, their deliberations over me). All were amazing options, and I think they'd all have represented me very effectively. But I finally decided on A3 (John). I think he’s awesome: he seems enthusiastic about my book and my career, and he belongs to a great agency. I am extremely satisfied with this outcome, and I'm really looking forward to working with him.
In all of this, special thanks go to Valynne. She’s amazing. During this whole query process, I never even thought to ask anyone to refer me to an agent: my only referrals came totally unsolicited, and I really want to thank everyone who thought to lend me a hand. But I think it’s a special kind of awesome to win a contest and immediately turn around and offer to help the same people you’d been competing against. Also, during the last two weeks, she answered a lot of my questions and gave me plenty of useful advice on how to conduct myself. Before talking to her, I hadn't realized how much I didn't know about the publishing world.
And thanks are also due to my old friend, Valerie! Hearing from her would've been wonderful under any circumstances, but few rekindled connections are as wonderful as those which come attached to amazing career opportunities =)
*Agents will often respond to an author's emailed query by requesting a partial manuscript (usually the first three chapters of the novel), so they can better judge if they want to see the whole manuscript.