Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where I am now :)

I signed with Jen (my fabulous agent) in May of 2012. She offered me rep. after reading my first novel ever – DREAM THINGS TRUE. It was (and is) a novel that will always be close to my heart, and – as Jen and I both still believe – very, very good, but after about nine months and two rounds of editors, there were still no takers, so we put it on the shelf.

When I signed with Jen, I’d already begun working on my second novel, and in December of 2012 (around the time we decided to put DREAM THINGS TRUE aside), I finished it. I sent it to Jen and she sent it back with edits and revision suggestions, and once the revisions were done, we brainstormed and decided to call it THE SOUND OF BEATING WINGS. (The novel centers around a girl named Raven who – due to horrible rumors that have made her a pariah at school – becomes obsessed with escaping into the worlds of silent movies from the early 1920s. She has also become obsessed with one of the most renowned movie stars of that era – Eldon Ambrose. It seems too good to be true when his great-great-grandson Vincent, his spitting image, comes to town as a visiting professor and agrees to an interview. It's even more unreal when he takes an interest in her: a modern-day realization of her fantasies. But the strangest moment comes later, when she's watching one of Eldon's rarer films and the lead actress looks out through the screen and clearly mouths her name.)

Jen sent the story out to the first round of editors last summer, in 2013. So far there have been a few rejections (one so glowing and complimentary that I was both flattered and aggravated) and of course, many who have yet to read and respond. Jen is still entirely hopeful that someone will see what we see in THE SOUND OF BEATING WINGS, but if no one does and we end up shelving it like DREAM THINGS TRUE, I will still feel okay, because I have ANOTHER book.

In November of 2013, I finished my third novel, which Jen and I have decided to call THE HEARTLESS CITY. I’ll wait until Jen’s made a pitch and the book is in front of editors to describe the plot in detail, but she and I both agree that it is my best so far. J

So that’s where I am now: still waiting on editors and working on my next project. I just finished Jen’s revisions for THE HEARTLESS CITY and am almost ready to start my fourth book (and first-ever sequel), which I’ve decided to call THE HYPNOTIC CITY for now.

That’s what writers do, I suppose: keep waiting and keep writing. J

How I got my agent :)

Here is the story of how I got a literary agent. :)

I finished my novel (DREAM THINGS TRUE, a young adult contemporary fantasy involving a girl goes to sleep and wakes up as Juliet in Shakespeare's famous tragedy) in late October of 2011 and started querying in early November. At first, like most people, I really didn’t know what I was doing – my query was one big, long paragraph with no voice whatsoever. Amazingly, I got a couple requests with that letter, but I knew I really needed to improve my query. So I did research on Querytracker, read the archives at QueryShark, and starting getting help and critiques from other writers. My query improved and I got some more full requests, but all of them (obviously) ultimately declined. By the start of May, I had had 11 fulls requested and rejected (1 with helpful comments, 3 or 4 with “it’s good but not for me,” and the rest all generic forms) but still had quite a few queries, 2 partials, and 3 fulls out there.

Then I had an enormous streak of luck that didn’t necessarily lead to my getting an offer of rep. but helped my momentum and esteem enormously. I won two blog contests by random chance – a full ms critique from Amy L. Sonnichsen from her blog, The Green Bathtub, and a partial critique from Ann Marie Walker’s agent, Erin C. Niumata, from Ann Marie’s blog. Amy’s critique helped clean up my ms SO much, and she was also amazingly kind and supportive. Erin’s critique was not only also helpful and supportive, but led to a full request from one of the YA agents at Folio that she then passed the partial on to (that agent also ultimately declined, but was very helpful and supportive as well).

So in the midst of all this contest fervor, I decided to enter The Writer’s Voice and was lucky enough to get in. Over the next few days I watched my email and the Twitter feed like a crazy person, wanting so badly to get picked by one of the four judges. I got passed over by three of them, and when the fourth one began listing her choices on the morning of May 9th, I started to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to get picked. I left Twitter and went back to my gmail, but when I did, I saw an email from an agent who’d only had my full for a little over a week. My gmail account works so that I can see the first sentence of an email that lands in my inbox, and the first sentence started like this:

“Dear Andrea, I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…”

That stopped me in my tracks. I was ready for another rejection, but the opening didn’t fit. I mean, what sadistic agent would write: “I wanted to write to you first thing this morning…because I like to send out my rejections before breakfast”? I opened the email and literally felt like my heart stopped beating inside my chest. It said:

“I wanted to write to you first thing this morning (ok, after coffee) -- WOW.  I finished Dream Things True last night, and love, love, love it.  It's haunting.  Not only do you have a fantastic premise, but you've delved into a topic that's VERY hard to do well, especially in YA, and you've done so skillfully and powerfully.  I'd be thrilled to represent you on your journey to publication!”

I am a high school English teacher, and I read this email just as the bell rang and my students started walking into the room. I was staring at my computer screen with my mouth hanging open, barely conscious of their presence, until one cautiously approached my desk and said, “Mrs. Berthot? Are you okay? You look kind of sick.”

I’m pretty sure I said something like, “No. I’m fine. I’m actually amazing,” and I probably looked and sounded insane, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. Next to my marriage and the birth of my son, reading that email was one of the best, most memorable moments of my life.

So I taught my next class in a total daze, feeling seriously and amazingly high. As soon as it was over, I wrote the agent back (Jen Linnan, of Linnan Literary Management)– thanking her and letting her know when I would be available to speak the next day. Then I nervously and frantically sent out notifications of my offer to the agents who had my partials, fulls, and queries. (I also quickly posted in The Writer’s Voice Twitter feed that if the last judge had planned to pick me, I was now ineligible!) Many of the agents said congrats and bowed out, but 6 more requested the full. So, at the end of the day, I had 9 fulls out, and all of them said they would respond within a week.

I can’t even put into words how nervous I was for the phone call with Jen the next day. When my phone started ringing and I saw the NY number, I actually closed my eyes and took a couple deep breaths before I answered. I didn't need to be nervous, however. Jen put me at ease right away and we clicked from the very start. She felt exactly the same way about my book that I did, and she really, really wanted to sign me. She understood though, that I needed to hear back from the other agents first. I think that I knew from the moment I got off the phone with her, however, that she would be the one I went with, no matter who else offered.

I did end up getting one other offer, but like I said, I pretty much always knew that I would end up going with Jen. When I finally heard back from all of the other agents on Thursday, May 17, 2012, I wrote Jen and accepted the offer.

Here are my final stats at the end of my querying process:

154 Queries sent
132 Queries rejected (82 specifically rejected, 50 no response)
2 Partial Requests (1 specifically rejected, 1 no response)
20 Full Requests (18 rejected, 2 offers of rep.)

It was a roller coaster ride, and obviously FILLED with rejection, and there would still be much more rejection to come (which I'll admit, I was naively unprepared for). But I didn't give up then and I won't give up now, and neither will the agent I now have fighting by my side. :)

In my next post, I'll talk about where I am in my journey now. :)

My Life in a Post :)

I guess I’ll start out with the basics. I was born and raised in Salina, Kansas. You may not have ever heard of it, but it actually gets a shout out in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the musical and film versions of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and one episode of Angel (which means a lot to this Joss Whedon fan).

I grew up loving four things: acting, singing, reading, and writing. Acting and singing was part of being in my family; my dad’s an attorney and my mom works at a non-profit, child-abuse-prevention center, but they have always loved the arts, and all five of us (including my younger brother and sister) were often in productions at The Salina Community Theatre together.

As for the other two loves, the love of reading came from my father (which came from his father) and the love of writing came along with it. Before I could read or write I dictated stories to my mother who (bless her heart) would write them down for me. I actually wrote a “novel” in middle school that was about 100 pages long and basically a rip off of every book and TV show I liked at the time. It was called Open Windows and I truly pray that it no longer exists anywhere in the world.

In high school, however, writing took a backseat to singing and acting. I went to Friends University in Wichita majoring in vocal performance but after one semester of Music Theory I realized that it wasn’t for me. I switched my major to English and the professor of my American Literature class basically changed my life. She showed me that literature really was my greatest love, and when I took her Creative Writing class and she said, “You are a writer,” I truly believed it for the first time. After graduation I started sending out my short stories for in hopes of publication.

In the meantime, I married my husband (whom I met in our college choir) and we moved to Winfield – about 45 minutes south of Wichita – where he had gotten a job as the high school choir teacher. I got a job teaching English (and later, Creative Writing) at the high school in Arkansas City, about 10 miles away. Over the next five years I succeeded in getting seven of my short stories published in various print and online journals, and in 2009 I gave birth to my beautiful son, Maximus Wayne.

In the summer of 2011, when Max was about 20 months old, I decided (at the prompting of my former college professor, who continued then and continues still to read and edit my work and give me the strength to journey on) to finally write a novel. All I knew when I started was that it would be a young adult book, because that is where my heart still lies as far as literature is concerned. Somehow, while being a full-time working mother (with a very busy husband), I finished the book in almost four months and began to query in November.

In my next post I will describe the roller-coaster ride of querying and the glorious story of how I got my wonderful agent.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hi! I'm Andrea Berthot - a writer attempting to start a blog. In the meantime, you can read six of my seven published short stories on the "Short Stories" tab (the seventh one was published in a paper-only journal). I hope you enjoy! :)