I can’t believe it’s finally my turn to write a post like this.
The fact that I now have an incredible agent is a fact that has! not! sunk! in! yet!
Let me start by saying that my writing-till-signing journey was a weird one, mainly because nearly nothing went as expected.
Like many authors, I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, when I glued together a bunch of papers and called it a book, complete with an illustrated cover, an ‘about the author’, and a fake ISBN. As I grew up (and man, even until now, if I’m being honest), me being a writer wasn’t something I shared because I’m a tiny shy person like that. As far as IRLs go, the only person sans my immediate family that I’ve told I’m a Serious Writer is my classics professor, and I told him/confirmed his suspicions only two days ago, summoning the courage to tell him after one stellar lecture of his blew my writerly mind. I started writing Seriously (read: an actual book) at thirteen, and I first had the hints of an idea for what would become HOLLOW SOULS (the book that Megan initially signed me on) after vicious, vicious editing, when I was fifteen.
It’s the first and only book I ever queried.
“Tala,” you say, gasping dramatically, “you only queried one book?”
Ah, see, my friend, now would be a good time to bring in a disclaimer. (Plus, I warned you nothing about my journey went as planned).
First of all, HOLLOW SOULS wasn’t the first book I ever wrote. It was the 3rd. And most importantly: the version of HOLLOW SOULS now is the result of four rounds of vicious, merciless, kill-every-darling-that-ever-existed rounds of conceptual editing. Four top-to-bottom, f*ck-it-I’m-changing-EVERYTHING rounds. FOUR. (Not counting line-edits and the like. Purely conceptual). Editing so vicious, might I add, that it made me end up with four almost completely conceptually different books.
So you could say I wrote close to seven books before one clicked.
What stayed the same across all four distinct versions? (Yep, I think of them as versions, not drafts. Draft-wise, the number becomes closer to 9). The fact that the MCs were twin sisters, the life-or-death stakes, the creepy forest, and the general tone. Everything else, from the very existence of a magic system, to how the magic system looked like, to how it functioned, to the dynamics between the sisters, to the way the villain existed, even to the motivations: changed every single time.
As to what made it change so much, I guess that’s just what happens when you want something very, very much, and also what happens when you wrestle an idea you had when you were 15 into shape. 1st shredding round was a reworking brought about by fabulous CP suggestions; 2nd round was a brutal and brilliant demolishing, supernova-style, courtesy of PitchWars; 3rd round was post-agent feedback sesh that made me see the story in a new light especially after I pulled out of the showcase to give the story the time it really needed; and 4th was an edit that, funny enough, I thought wouldn’t matter all that much but ended up setting off a domino effect of total manuscript destruction, tearing up plot holes in its wake that needed an entire reworking of the book to fix. The end result? A manuscript that I am SUPER proud of.
There was a fifth round, too, and it’s the relatively least dramatic/destructive edit round (though it certainly came with its own heft), and it came about after an R&R.
Real quick though, before I talk R&Rs, let me answer a question that you might have brewing: Why did I stick with this book instead of trying to query others? (And note: I did write other books. In the 3 year span of rewriting HOLLOW SOULS 4 times, I outlined 3 other books and finished drafting 1 of them, but I never queried anything else). The reason is a combination of intense love for the cast of characters (I love my confused forest children so much, and I love them more and more with every destruction and rebirth I throw them through tbh) and a very weird reason that has no business existing: during that very first query round (pre-PitchWars), when I didn’t know shit and the book was terrible, I sent out exactly 50 queries and got back a 20% request rate.
Reader, in its baby days, the book had no business getting any requests.
But it did, because it just so happened that back then, I was better at writing queries and pitches than I was at writing manuscripts. So much better, in fact, that I got a 20% request rate despite terrible (and I mean terrible) sample pages. Yet the concept was well-received enough to motivate me to bring it up to everyone’s high expectation of it. Odd, right? Armed with the knowledge that I knew more about writing as the years went on, each shredding round was a blurry, frantically-repeated mantra of “They’re so excited about it, and I don’t want anyone who reads this to be disappointed.” Which is kind of a weird mindset, but hey.
An additional, and the biggest, motivator was seeing my request rate slowly inch up, then explode in the very last round. I love numbers, okay, and seeing tangible proof that I was closer and closer to telling this story right … man, it’s the best feeling ever.
Actually wait, wait, I’m going to bring out the stats right now, because everyone loves stats.
|1st Round (pre-PW)|
contests participated in: #PitMad
|2nd Round (post-PW)|
contests participated in: none (all queries unsolicited)
|3rd Round (post-post-PW/eureka round)|
contests participated in: #DVpit
|50 queries sent||37 queries sent||34 queries sent|
|10 requests (7 fulls, 3 partials)||11 requests (10 fulls, 1 partial)||17 requests (14 fulls, 3 partials)|
|Request Rate: 20%||Request Rate: 30%||Request Rate: 50%|
Yep, the last query round had a request rate. of. FIFTY. percent.
Another disclaimer: that request rate is an ANOMALY. It only exists because I knew my book intimately after PitchWars, after the 3rd round of querying, and after writing 4 distinct versions and close to 9 drafts; I ONLY subbed to agents whose MSWLs I knew very well; and #DVpit helped with exposure (though not necessarily the requests afterward themselves, because Twitter pitching is a whole different challenge whose numbers don’t guarantee anything).
Third disclaimer: Do I recommend melting down and recasting your book like this, and this many times? It depends, of course, but generally … nope. You don’t want to fall into a trap of sunk-cost fallacy anxiety at some point. The only reason I did what I did is because I had an idea that I loved at a time when I didn’t have the skills to bring it across, so when I got comfortable, it became a parallel journey of me learning the ropes, and my book evolving right along with me.
I did mention I got an R&R, and R&Rs are very tricky. A Revise and Resubmit is query purgatory: not an offer, not a rejection, but an acknowledgement that hey, your book is cool but not that cool as it is. It’s not a guarantee of an offer. It is a guarantee of a ton of work and a ton of subsequent hope, though.
In my case, I took the R&R because it was a unique suggestion that I have never heard before, ever, in all the shredding mayhem I’ve been through, and as soon as I heard it, I fell in love with the possibility it suggested. It felt like the missing piece I’ve been chasing all along. It felt … right.
And most importantly …
It was a suggestion that could only come from someone who truly, truly understood the book.
So I took it.
And I’m super glad I did.
After sleepless editing nights where I subsisted on black coffee and Hozier’s discography, I finished my revisions on July 8, 2020.
On my 19th birthday, eleven days later, I only had one wish. You could probably guess what that wish was.
Six days after my birthday, Megan wanted to set up a call.
For two days after that, I was a mess of nerves. The contents of my brain were best likened to pots and pans and spoons banging together in a cacophony of excited, terrified anxiety.
Eight days after my birthday, Megan offered to represent me.
Those two weeks afterward were the most stressful (my usually-quiet inbox was terrified at the barrage of emails coming in like that movie kid cowering in the corner of the gym while the whole school pelts them with dodgeballs), yet somehow also … the easiest two weeks of my life.
Once I realized why it weirdly felt easy, I realized it was because, subconsciously, I had already made my choice long before the deadline was due to expire. I knew instantly what I had to do.
I accepted Megan’s offer.