I haven’t posted in a long time. A really long time. Over 14 months – yikes!
But how wonderful that I’m revisiting my neglected blog and kicking off 2019 by writing the post I’ve been dying to write since before I even had a blog …
… the I HAVE AN AGENT post!!!
There were times I thought it was never going to happen, but it finally has! And all I had to do was completely change my writing genre and category!
I wrote my first novel for NaNoWriMo in 2006, and it was a YA horror. All of the stories I’ve written since then have been some combo of horror, thriller, and mystery. Most of them have been YA, although for my last novel I dipped my toes into MG. But of course it was also a scary mystery.
I started entering contests in 2009, and I actually got some agent requests, but it was clear my writing wasn’t ready. And I was too scared to start officially querying anyway. Then I was picked as an alternate in Pitch Wars 2013, which gave me the confidence to wade into the querying waters. I ended up with a fair number of nibbles on both the YA and MG I queried, but I never managed to snag an agent.
Then this past year something weird started happening. I kept reading articles and bits of trivia that were science/nature related and made me think, “That would make an awesome kids book!”
But I’m not a nonfiction writer.
In fact, my two previous attempts during a writing class were pretty painful, with the instructor saying in the nicest way possible that I was clearly a fiction writer.
But it seemed like every time I had one of these nonfiction brainstorms, within a few hours, I’d get an email from the Highlights Foundation about The Nuts and Bolts of Science Writing workshop. It started to get eerie. Surely, it was a sign.
So I applied for a scholarship. And I was incredibly lucky to receive a partial one – thanks Highlights!
Now I needed to submit something for critique for the workshop, but I had no nonfiction to submit. So of course I procrastinated. Then with only two days before the submission deadline, I picked my favorite idea, did some frantic research, and dashed off the 8 pages we were allowed to submit, hoping I hadn’t embarrassed myself.
The second week of August, I headed to the magical place for writers known as the Highlights Foundation. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to go, GO! I met a wonderful group of people passionate about both writing and science, and I learned sooooo much (for example, I had no idea how to do proper research for a NF book). Despite my worries, both the instructors and participants were super supportive of my book idea, saying it had great kid appeal. Whew!
When I got home, buoyed by the enthusiasm from the group and my newfound knowledge about writing NF, I got to work finishing the book. Even though it’s technically a picture book, it’s one of those long ones, plus research takes forever, but by the end of October, I felt I was ready to query.
But even querying ended up being a learning process because the agents who rep PB/NF are different from the ones I was used to querying for YA/MG, so there was even more research.
But on October 30th, with a churning stomach and lots of deep, calming breaths, I started sending queries.
By the end of November, I had an offer of representation. Eeeeeeeeee!!!!!
So then it was time for the best worst two weeks of a writer’s life – the offer of rep nudge. You send emails to agents you’ve queried letting them know you have an offer so they have two weeks to consider your submission. Mine was complicated by the fact that some of the agents had fulls of my YA or MG, so it was like, “Hi, I have an offer for this NF PB, so even though you’re looking at my YA Mystery, are you interested in representing me?”
Then you become obsessed with your email and refresh it a lot. Like every 30 seconds. Just kidding! *whispers* no I’m not.
A nice thing about that two week window is that non-offer emails are no longer called rejections, they are called kind step asides. But let me tell ya, nine “kind step asides” in one day still SUUUUUCKS!
But by the end of my two-week window, I had offers from three AMAZING agents. Seriously, I loved talking to all of them and could have seen myself working with any of the three. A huge teary-eyed, heart-swelled thank you to all three of them for believing in me and my books!!!
For someone who hates making decisions, it was rough having to choose between three awesome options. (I know, poor baby having to choose between three great agents – boo hoo!). But after annoying my family, critique partners, and PW 14 Table of Trust with endless rounds of “Well, what about …?”, I finally made a decision. On December 14th, I accepted the offer from …
Tracy Marchini at BookEnds Literary Agency!!!
More whoooo hooooos!!!
Tracy’s vision for my book matched mine exactly, and she totally got what I was trying to do with it. I’m so excited to kick off 2019 with Tracy and see what this year has in store for us.
Here’s me signing my contract:
Here’s a collage of me trying to figure out how to look cute before I start signing:
I guess the lesson from my path to getting an agent is to be brave and step outside your comfort zone. Try out genres and categories you’ve never considered writing before because wonderful things might happen!
If you’re interested, here’s the pitch portion of my query:
Did you know manatees swim using farts? Or that wombats can crush enemy skulls with their rumps? Or that some turtles breathe through their derrières? If butts make you giggle, then you’ll laugh out loud while learning about a variety of animals with fantastic fannies.
BATTLE OF THE BUTTS is a 6,400-word nonfiction picture book for older kids in the vein of the funny and educational books by Rebecca L. Johnson and Jess Keating. It presents ten animals that have weird and wonderful posterior powers, explains what the power does to help the animal, and how each power works. While giggling and eww-ing their way through the pages, readers will learn about biology, chemistry, and physics – so it’s a win for kids and their parents and teachers. After reading about each animal (Fish that communicate through farts! Beetles that shoot burning chemicals out of their bums!), kids are asked to rate its posterior power. Then at the end of the book, they will decide on a winner and crown the ultimate King of Keisters.
And for those of you who like query stats:
YA Mystery – 5 years of on-and-off querying, 50 queries, 20 requests, 1 R&R, 0 offers
MG Mystery – 2 years of on-and-off querying, 77 queries, 27 requests, 0 offers
NF PB – 1.5 months of querying, 27 queries, 4 requests, 3 offers
Thank you sooooo much to everyone who has encouraged and supported me over the years.
For example, my sister sent me a box of snacks when I got back from Highlights to sustain me through the writing of the book. And then she sent me two tins of delicious cookies to celebrate getting an agent.
My brother sent me the Squatty Potty rainbow-pooping unicorn as a good luck charm when I started querying.
The book I started #amquerying the other day is about animal butts, so there’s a fair amount of pooping & farting in it. To celebrate, my awesome brother sent me the @squattypotty unicorn. I literally screamed with delight when I discovered Dookie’s special surprise! #pitchwars pic.twitter.com/lPVKLNYjsE
— Jocelyn Rish (@JocelynRish) November 1, 2018
And my longtime friend and critique partner Kathleen sent me unicorn cookies to celebrate signing with Tracy.
And there have been so many more of you who have been there for me – too many of you to name – but please know that your encouraging words, supportive feedback, and kind thoughts have kept me going when it would have been much easier to give up. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!