Lindsay is a middle grade author and her debut, HOUR OF THE BEES, is now available from Candlewick Press. She is represented by Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency.
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Now for Lindsay’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!
What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?
1) Make sure you really understand the role of an agent before you begin defining the right kind of agent for yourself. Many authors don’t sell the first book they send on submission. Many authors find themselves at creative crossroads after hitting the publishing milestones (getting the book deal, handing in edits, after the book releases, etc.). In these tumultuous moments, you want an agent on your side who has the end game in sight, someone who can offer perspective and guidance for this particular book deal, yes—but also for your entire career. A good agent is not just a salesperson; a good agent can act as book doctor, author therapist, contracts advisor, and that wise little voice in your head.
2) I’ve heard a lot of people compare signing with an agent to marriage. While I understand the hilarity and accessibility of this metaphor, it’s actually pretty important to understand that it’s not a marriage, or a friendship, or any kind of interpersonal relationship. It can definitely blossom into one of those things, but the truth is that many authors switch agents throughout their careers. Agents quit. Agents switch agencies. Agents see differently than their clients and have to part ways. This doesn’t mean you should have the mentality of, “Oh, if this agent doesn’t work out, I can find another one!” It’s still a serious step to hire an agent, and you should do so as if you will be working together and selling books forever! But there’s also a comfort to know, when you are querying, that it isn’t a commitment until death do you part. It’s a business relationship. There are boundaries, and expectations, and you should both be honest about what to expect out of your new pairing.
3) Wait until your manuscript is ready. Really. If you query before you have revised and brought the manuscript up as high as you can bring it, you’re just ensuring that you’ll have rejections. Yes, every author has their own stack of rejection letters—but there’s no reason to add to that pile by querying with an unfinished, unpolished manuscript. Wait until it’s ready—and then wait another week, just to be sure.
What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?
I wish I had known that it was just the first step of many (and the first celebration of many!) on my publishing journey. I had put so much stock into this milestone that the next milestone—selling a book—felt so far away. Signing with an agent is absolutely cause for joy, but it is the very beginning of the workload, not the end! I also wish I could have bottled my momentum to unleash during long months of waiting. Seriously, publishing is an industry of mostly silence, a few flurries of emails, and word-by-word, page-by-page book-writing. Getting an agent doesn’t change that, I’m afraid.
What helped you get through the query trenches? Inspirational posts? Writer friends? Writing another book?
I devoured any blog posts like this one—the “how I got my agent” posts were like sweet, sweet candy to me while I refreshed and refreshed my inbox. I also did start on a new project. It kept my mind busy while waiting for feedback from agents, and it also reminded me the reasons I was willing to put myself through such psychological and emotional torture: because I wanted to write stories.
How did you know your agent was right for you?
When I was learning how publishing worked (through Google University), Sarah Davies’ blog on her Greenhouse Literary website was the first agent blog I had ever read. I stayed up all night reading her archive, and took notes, and marveled in her perspective on what makes a book good and timeless. I knew she was an agent I would query someday, and when I finally had a manuscript, I gritted my teeth and screamed a little when I sent the e-mail out to her! You’re not supposed to have a “dream agent,” smart people will tell you—but I absolutely did, and when she offered me representation, I pretended to take the weekend to think about it (so I would look like a levelheaded, patient, responsible adult) but she had me at hello!
She is the right agent for me because she is passionate about representing only the highest quality books. She has a killer sales record, and a very grounded, no-nonsense approach to building her authors’ careers. I’m very lucky to have her as my agent.
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
Yes, she is editorial with a capital “E!” Sarah worked as an editor for years. She has a high standard for manuscripts that she sends out on submission. We worked on BEES for a good six months before we sold it.
I did expect it, because that was one of the reasons I queried her, but working with Sarah was my first experience with an edit letter. It was so much work, but it taught me that a thoughtful critique is the greatest gift you can give to a writer, and I was so grateful that she was thorough with my manuscript before we shopped it to publishers.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
This is something I recently learned about myself the hard way—as much as I wish I could know what a book is about before I finish it, I really need to get through the first draft and at least one round of revision before I can correctly pitch it. I had a heartbreaking experience with this, when I pitched a book that I didn’t quite understand and sent along sample pages, and the critique of this half-baked book put me off the whole idea for months! The poor book just wasn’t finished simmering yet. Thus, I made my own rule about this: I won’t send her anything until I know my book well enough to withstand its evaluation, and for me that means a semi-completed manuscript.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Find something to work on. It doesn’t have to be Your Next Book— it can just be a bit of writing that sets your heart a-twitter, or it doesn’t even have to be writing! It could be a quilt, a classical music piece, your roller-blading skills. It’s better if it doesn’t involve computer or TV screens, and double points if it’s something physical. That way, your hands are kept from inbox refreshing, your mind can go into that trance-like state that comes with creation, and your heart can remember that there’s more in this world than this book, this round of submission, this deal.
Did you see the feedback from editors?
Yes! I asked that Sarah forward me all messages, positive and negative. It was surprising to see how much the rejections conflicted—one editor thought my main character was too passive, another thought she was much too headstrong and proactive for a twelve-year-old. How funny is that! It was also great to see the ones that were so close—one editor asked to see any future projects from me, even though they couldn’t buy BEES. That was such a great beacon to find in a rejection letter—that my career would have a future, even if this book didn’t.
How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?
I went to the bookstore with no price limit and spent $*** of money on whatever books I wanted to buy. (I’m blurring that number out, because it will shock you.) It was the most fun I’ve ever had. I’m doing it for every book deal.
What was it like to see your cover?
Surreal! I was already a fan of Matt Roeser (my cover designer) so when I heard he was assigned to my book, I heaved a sigh of relief. The initial e-mail with the cover comp required a bit of faith on my part—the watercolor letters of the title were going to be raised and glossy against the matte white cover, but of course, I couldn’t see that online. But when I finally got to see the in-person effect, I swooned. It is the perfect cover for this story.
What else are you working on along with all the promotion?
I am finishing up edits on my second middle grade with Candlewick Press, out fall 2017. It’s called RACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and it’s a very special book to me, but also incredibly difficult to work on—it was a trunked manuscript, and I’ve rewritten it so many times in the last five years. But I’m so excited to see it on shelves.
What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?
If you want it, if you truly want to write stories and see them published, you will have to work hard to get there. Either it’s worth it to you or not, so if it’s not, then get out while you still have your heart! If you do want it, then know that everything else fades away and the work is all that remains. Talent fades, cleverness is only relative, and shortcuts lead to the big bad wolf. Publishing requires you to work harder than you ever thought you could… But ultimately, it’s the only thing that matters, and it is the only thing that is rewarded.
Thank you, Lindsay!