Natalie is a young adult author and her debut, THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, is now available from HarperTeen Epic Reads! She is represented by Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency.
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Now for Natalie’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, going on submission, and being a debut author!
What advice would you give to querying writers?
Keep querying. Every time you receive a rejection, send out another query. It takes a long time. Long enough to get discouraged, but you need to push through. Remember: everyone gets rejected. Nobody sails through the query process to a fantastic agent to a six-figure deal to the NYTimes Bestseller list. At every stage it takes pushing through the doubt, timing, luck and so much hard work. You definitely won’t sign with an agent if you stop querying after rejections.
How did you keep track of your queries?
Querytracker is amazing and it was one of the only things I missed when I stopped querying. It’s simple and clear, and for the most part, a very supportive community. And you get to see how many other people are just as nervous as you.
What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?
I queried in small batches. I kept a file with information on all the agents I was interested in, what comparable writers they had as clients, what personal touches I could add to the letter. And then I’d send them out five at a time, each time careful to make sure that I put the right name on the top and in the email, and that I had the right information of what they were looking for in a query (1 page, 5 pages, 10 pages, etc.). Truthfully, I put off anyone who asked for a synopsis because I was scared of writing one. Now however, I’d suggest you teach yourself to write a synopsis because you’ll be writing them at every stage.
What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?
Hell. I hated every moment of it. You’d think that after receiving a good number of rejections, I’d be happy to say no to agents who were interested but it made my stomach hurt. And I was terrified I’d make the wrong choice. And I felt so angry that all these agents who’d had my full for six months or more were telling me: I really love your book but wish we’d had time to do an R&R. Because we did have time!
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
I didn’t. And I don’t think you can. Truthfully, my first agent and I parted ways very amicably. You really can’t know exactly what you want from an agent until you’ve been in that kind of relationship. You can say you want lots of editorial support, until your agent (not mine!) takes you on edits for a year or more. All you can do is ask the best questions you can, work hard on the relationship and, if it doesn’t work, part ways in a professional way.
Once a writer has signed with an agent, what’s the next step?
For me, it’s always been edits. This is actually the easiest part because it shouldn’t be a surprise what they want to see changed in your manuscript: it should be what you talked about during your call. What gets much more difficult is when you start sharing new manuscripts, ones that your agent didn’t sign you up based on. Then you need to go through the difficult process of figuring out what advice/ edits you agree with and what you don’t.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
I did. I wanted to see it, and while it was tough to read some of it, I would have imagined it much worse. There were times that I wanted to send one editor’s rejection to another editor, since they directly contradicted each other (one says: it’s too commercial, we’re looking for literary; the other: it’s too literary, if only it was more commercial). It helps you remember that all editors aren’t looking for the same thing. Which is why even the most successful books receive rejections in the submission stage. My editor had to read my manuscript dozens and dozens of times. She had to go to bat for it constantly. You need to personally love a book in order to do that.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Write. Another. Book. Preferably one that you’re really excited about or that you can lose yourself inside. It is such a difficult time emotionally, you need to remember why you’re doing all this, how much you love writing. For me, the books I wrote while on sub both times were vital for my sanity!
Also, you need a circle of writer friends you trust completely. Anything that happens while on submission needs to be kept quiet. You can’t react to anything, all those crazy emotions need to be far away from social media.
Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
It’s hard not to drive your agent crazy while you’re in the midst of this emotional time when people are critiquing your baby. So yes, I contacted my agent every tenth time I wanted to. Otherwise I’d be asking her to refresh her email as often as I was refreshing mine.
It’s really, really hard to be in this process. But really, the only thing that helped me was writing at the same time. And having amazing friends and critique partners.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
The best? Having an answer to the question: oh, you’re a writer? Where can I buy your books?
What’s involved in promoting a book?
Getting outside your comfort zone. You need to talk with bloggers and do all that self-promotion that almost all authors hate. That said, don’t do more than you can, and try to focus on the stuff you enjoy. I really liked making teaser graphics, so I did a lot of that. And I think it helped that I really loved it!
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
There is a ton of support in the community. Different people handle their debuts differently. Some people are really, really active in debut groups while others get overwhelmed quickly. But if you want that support and friendship and commiseration, you can find it. The best thing about social media (in my opinion), is that even as an introvert, you an be part of all that community. You can just shut off your computer when you need to – it’s much easier than walking out of a party!
What was it like to see your cover?
Amazing. My book actually had a cover contest between three covers, and before that I saw two other possibilities. There’s something about seeing your story with a picture on the front and your name on top that is so freaking amazing. I would have been happy with any of those covers!
What was release day like?
Totally overwhelming and wonderful. Part of being in a debut community is that everyone there knows or can anticipate what the experience is like for you. So you wake up and go to sleep with a ton of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram love. And that really helps as you constantly refresh your book’s Amazon ranking (don’t do it) and read the reviews coming in (definitely never, ever do that).
And frankly, release day is way longer than a day! It goes on and on … soak it in because it’s amazing. You wrote a book. People are buying that book and reading that book. It’s what it’s all about.