Lisa is a young adult author and her debut, Resurrecting Sunshine, is now available from Albert Whitman & Co./AW Teen! She is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writers House.
Connect with Lisa . . .
Get the book . . . (available in hardcover & paperback)
What resources and websites did you use when querying?
For researching agents, I used both QueryTracker and AgentQuery. But I didn’t use those exclusively. I think it’s also important to visit each agent’s website before querying, for specific guidelines on submissions and what they’re looking for, as well as to make sure that they’re currently accepting submissions. I also never submitted without checking Preditors and Editors, which is a great resource to make sure you’re submitting to legitimate agents and agencies. And don’t miss Manuscript Wishlist, which is an amazing resource for finding potential agent matches for your manuscript. Also, I can’t recommend Twitter enough for querying writers. It’s a great place to interact with agents and other publishing professionals in an informal environment. You can get a solid idea of agent likes and dislikes, as well as a taste of their personalities before you query them formally. (Just please don’t query on Twitter!) By following the right people, you can also get news about pitch/query contests, as well as some excellent advice on querying from agented writers.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
Yes. RESURRECTING SUNSHINE was the fourth manuscript I’d queried, but my first YA manuscript. In fact, after over seven years of querying I’d collected nearly 200 rejections. So don’t stop!
Are there any conferences you attended that really helped you move forward as a writer during this stage?
Yes! At the time our local SCBWI chapter announced their upcoming conference, I’d just embarked on something like the billionth round of revisions on RESURRECTING SUNSHINE. I was frustrated and exhausted and so close to calling it quits for good. I really wanted to attend the conference, hoping for a little pick-me-up, but couldn’t afford the registration fee, so my significant other made me a deal. If I got through at least three chapters of my revision by the registration deadline, he’d pay not only for me to attend the conference, but for a critique as well. So I did, and he upheld his end of the bargain. I ended up getting critiqued by a wonderful editor who told me, “You can write” and that she loved my beginning and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I emailed it off to her, making sure she understood that revisions were in progress. We subsequently exchanged several emails, wherein she rejected my manuscript but said she hoped to see it again post-revision, that she thought I was on the right track. So with renewed enthusiasm I continued with the revisions. Those revisions ultimately led to signing with an agent, and the editor in question did indeed get to see the manuscript again, this time when it was formally on submission. And while she ultimately rejected it as not right for her imprint, I have her to thank for giving me the motivation to continue on at a time when I wasn’t sure I had it in me.
What was the week surrounding your offer(s) of representation like for you?
Nobody else was home when “The Call” came. My family was away on vacation. My significant other was at work and unreachable. So I shot off a text message to my significant other, then an email to my critique partner with about a zillion exclamation points in the subject field, and then I danced with my dog. Yes, seriously, I danced with my dog and then fed her way too many biscuits. (She didn’t complain either about the dancing or about the biscuits.) The rest of the week was a blur, though I do have a vague memory of a celebration dinner with my significant other. In some ways, I found myself filled with more uncontainable excitement over signing with my agent than I did when I actually sold my book. I think it was because I’d spent so many years querying, whereas submission was a matter of months.
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
I’d just returned from walking my dog that Friday to find an email with the subject heading: time to talk this afternoon? It was from the agent I’d been corresponding with over the last few days. In the email she said she was headed to Book Expo America for meetings shortly, but that if I got the email within the next hour to please give her a call. So without any time to prep (or to get myself too worked up), I dialed her number. Now I’m not much of a phone person, but I felt an instant click with Bri. Her enthusiasm for my book was incredible, and so were her ideas for revision, but more than that, it was how easy the conversation was for me. I felt instantly that we were on the same wavelength, and I pretty much knew right away that she was the agent for me. I had other offers of representation that week, from other terrific agents, and I gave them serious consideration…but I knew deep down that Bri was the one.
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
My agent is very editorial. Right after signing we went through a major revision/expansion of the book. I don’t know that I had any specific expectations since I’d understood that some agents were editorial and others weren’t. Personally, I like having an agent who is so editorial because I feel that the manuscript eventually going out on submission is by far a stronger manuscript than I could have put together alone. But I do think for a relationship with an editorial agent to work, you really need to trust her skill and her judgment, which I do, 100%.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
Yes. At the time we went out on submission, my agent recommended that she save all feedback until we finished the first round of submissions. She said that this way we could look for common threads and make a more educated decision about possible revisions before we embarked on a second round. I actually enjoyed getting feedback from so many editors and found it overwhelmingly encouraging rather than discouraging.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
It varies. I had two editors interested in my book. One went straight to acquisitions. The other wanted to have a phone conversation with me first.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
This may sound like a strange suggestion but I’d say: enjoy it! I know a lot of writers find the submission phase to be stressful and unpleasant. But I think there’s another way to look at it. Personally, I look at it as a period of possibility and potential. Yes, there were days when paranoia would take over and I’d stress out over the waiting, or over the prospect that the book wouldn’t sell and my agent would abandon me and I’d be done before I even started. But more often I would wake up feeling like today could be the day…the day that my life changed forever. And I loved that feeling.
Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?
Yes. My agent sent me an email to tell me we had interest from an editor, and that my book was going to acquisitions. My agent also explained not to get too excited, that things can very easily fall apart during that stage. The next day, I got another email telling me we had a second house interested.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
It’s hard to pick one thing. Mostly, it’s the realization that something I’ve worked towards my whole life is about to be a reality, that all my hard work has paid off. But it’s also seeing readers respond to my book, to my characters. It’s the moments when someone posts a review of my book that just says, “Wow.”
What do you wish you had known about being a debut author?
I wish I had known that as amazing as it could be, it would also be terrifying, that I would hit a point where just about everything I did would be out of my comfort zone. I wish I had known that there would be times when I’d give anything to make the whole thing stop…and that it was pretty normal to feel that way, and that it would eventually pass.
What advice would you give to writers who are working hard to get to their own debut year?
What we do…trying to get a book published…it can be brutal. At times it can seem impossible. You might feel like you’re never going to get there. You’ll receive criticism…sometimes harsh criticism. There will be people who will go flying past you. There will be frustration, disappointment, insecurity, jealousy. But there are also amazing moments. When you find a critique partner you click with. The very first time you query a newly polished manuscript. The first time you get personal feedback from an agent. The first time you get positive personal feedback an agent. Full manuscript requests. My advice is to embrace the good things. Enjoy those moments and let them fuel you to move forward. And don’t be afraid to step away if you need to. Just always come back.
Thank you, Lisa!