This was originally published on my website on 9/29/10, a little over a week before I landed my agent:
Finding Claire Fletcher
Started Querying: April 12, 2006
Total Number of Queries to Date: 130
Total Number of Fulls Requested: 8
Number of Referrals to other agents: 2
Number of Personalized Rejections Based on Query Only: 4
Number of Drafts the Book Has Been Through Since 2006: 4
Started Querying: March 17, 2009
Total Number of Queries to Date: 85
Total Number of Fulls Requested: 4
Total Number of Partials: 2
Number of Personalized Rejections Based on Query Only: 4
Total Number of Drafts: I’m revising now!
I read once that you haven’t even gotten started finding an agent until you have 125 rejections under your belt. So it looks like now that I’m at 129 with Finding Claire Fletcher, I am finally beginning.
When I finished the first draft of Finding Claire Fletcher in 2006 I had no idea how flawed it was. Sure, I knew it needed work but I was too close to it. I only knew that I had loved writing it and I believed it had some potential. This was before I started reading agent blogs, before it occurred to me to look around online for critique partners. I don’t remember there being as many online resources in 2006 as there are today. I asked my friends and family to read the book and they did but only had good things to say. They probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings but they didn’t realize that holding back was hurting my writing and I care more about my writing being good than I do about my feelings getting hurt.
I did three weeks of intense research on how to write a query letter and I came up with one I felt would work. I started querying April 12, 2006. Within two weeks I had two requests for full manuscripts. Within a month I had three. I was so excited. I checked my email every ten seconds. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t concentrate on anything else. This was it! After reading so many horror stories from other aspiring writers I hadn’t really believed I would find an agent so soon but they wanted my book and they liked it.
Agent A contacted me after I had mistakenly sent my query to the attention of an agent who was no longer with the agency. He asked if he could have a look at Finding Claire Fletcher. I sent it along. After a few months he sent me a long letter that started out with “In many ways, this novel is a home run . . . “ Then he went on to give me a long list of suggestions/concerns about the plot. Maybe I should have been crushed but I was elated—when I read his suggestions I could see the flaws in the plot and other areas and I immediately envisioned how to fix it. I have always said that I just want the work to be the best that I am capable of producing—I don’t care how I get there. It’s about the work, not about me. So I read this email with a growing sense of exhilaration. I wrote Agent A back and asked if he would read a revised version based on all of his suggestions. He graciously agreed.
I tore the book apart and changed the second half of it completely. I resubmitted it to Agent A. When he got back to me he said it was definitely much improved but he had some editorial suggestions/concerns that he wanted to put together and run by me. He said he wanted to make sure we were on the same page before he signed me as a client. I didn’t say this to him—maybe I should have—but I thought, “Well as long as you don’t suggest something outlandish like putting UFOs in the book, I’m going to go with whatever you say!”
Later Agent A started his own agency and asked if he could take me with him as a potential client. Of course I agreed because that seemed so promising. Three years passed. I kept in touch periodically to see where he was in terms of his list of editorial concerns. I was last on his list of priorities—clients come first—and that was okay. I understood. Agent A was extremely gracious and honest with me and I always appreciated that he took the time in his initial rejection to give me so much feedback on my work. But after three years I pressed him and he passed altogether.
Agent B told me she loved it, loved how gritty it was and wanted to know if I would talk to her on the phone. I spoke with her by telephone and she made some suggestions in terms of revising the book, all of which I found reasonable. She wanted to know how fast I could write. When she finished the book she said that she loved it but she had some suggestions and editorial concerns. She wanted to go back through the book and make a list for me. A year passed and I didn’t hear from her although I emailed her every 2-3 months and she always responded promptly, apologizing for taking so long and promising to get to my book. Three more years passed. During that time I revised the book on my own and asked her to read the revised versions which she agreed to do. I’m not sure that she ever did. When she finally passed, she said the decision was extremely difficult for her since I was a great writer and she loved the project. She referred me to another agent who read the book and said he just didn’t fall in love with it the way he had hoped. His rejection, thankfully, only took about a month.
In 2008 I got a request for a full from Agent C who passed it to Agent D who passed it finally to Agent E (all in the same agency). Agent E told me that she thought about the characters for weeks after reading it. She too, wanted to put together some editorial concerns to share with me before proceeding.
Starting to see a pattern?
When an agent tells you they need to put together some editorial concerns, it means two things: NO as in they are going to pass on your book (they really don’t have time to do this, especially for someone who is not a client) and most importantly, YOUR BOOK ISN’T READY.
(By the way, Agent E held onto my book for a year and a half before referring me to another agent who also passed because he just didn’t like it.)
The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that the worst mistake you can make is submitting your book before it’s ready. How do you know when it is ready? I don’t really know.
I went out and found a number of critique partners—all great writers who were kind and completely honest—who read Finding Claire Fletcher and gave me fantastic suggestions. They diagnosed what was wrong with my book. I used their suggestions to revise AGAIN and now I think that the book is better than it has ever been. It is a different book. It feels like a different book. It is shorter, more polished, the pacing is different, the plot is different. I think it might just work this time. So I start the process anew and hope that I can find an agent who agrees with me.