on signing an agent

The publishing odds are stacked against an aspiring debut author. In the cutthroat industry that converts stories to books, even having an established name (not to mention talent) doesn’t guarantee your work is going to make it to e-readers and bedside table stacks across America and beyond. But I couldn’t let myself dwell on the negative while writing my first novel. In the world of fiction writing (which differs from non-fiction) you write the book first, pitch second. So as I poured my heart and soul into completing my work, the farthest thing from my mind was failure.

My mentor later warned me: “You’ll probably get over 100 rejections. But don’t let it get you down. The right literary agent will love your story enough to take a chance on you.” Her words didn’t lessen the impact of the first rejection or even the tenth. I’ll spare you the final number of agents who sent their regrets. I’m sorry, I’m not the agent for this work. Most wish you luck. Some don’t respond at all. One stapled a mimeographed slip of paper to my original query letter. Suffice it to say, I began writing a second novel as a form of therapy.

Then I got a nibble. A request for the first three chapters. A few days later, the same agent asked for the full manuscript. It had been months since anyone had asked for the full. A flicker of hope fluttered in my stomach for three weeks. She ultimately rejected the story, though it wasn’t despair she left me with, but hope. She complimented my storytelling ability and even my novel. She had read in my blog (yes, agents read the blogs of prospective authors) that I was writing a second novel and offered to read it when I was done if I didn’t yet have representation. I nicknamed her Nice Agent, short for the nice agent who thoughtfully rejected me. Then in late January, I took her up on her kind offer.

Fast forwarding through the details, I’m thrilled to announce that the last agent to reject my first book, the first agent I pitched on book two, offered me representation on that second book. Barbara Collins Rosenberg of The Rosenberg Group is officially my literary agent. (Cue applause and champagne.)

There’s nothing more validating than a professional who believes in your work. I recognize we have an uphill battle ahead of us; having an agent doesn’t guarantee publication, but I trust in Barbara, her instincts and connections. I know she’ll be thoughtful about which publishers she takes my story to, and she already has a great hook in mind. I’m fueled by her enthusiasm for my career as a novelist. Here’s how she laid it out: the second book gets published first, the sequel gets published second, and the first book I wrote (with a tiny facelift) gets published third, while I work on my seminal fourth novel.

I’m a jumble of feelings right now: overwhelmed, giddy, relieved, scared. But mostly, I feel gratitude for Barbara. My agent. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying those two words.

on writing sex scenes

When I mention I wrote a novel, it’s amazing how many people ask if it has sex scenes. It’s a fair question. Sex intrigues. Sex sells. But honestly, while there’s implied sex and the hint of sexual activity, a go for broke sex scene just didn’t fit. (Yes, I am aware of how many copies the Fifty Shades series sold.) In my pages, you won’t find ripping bodices, pulsing anything or turgidity, except a little bit in one self-love scene that may or may not make the cut as the story moves through the process.

Frankly, it’s a little intimidating to write a sex scene (unless your name is Pavarti K. Tyler, my erotica writing friend). For starters, you have to use the right vocabulary, and that’s hard to do without blushing or giggling. I recently read an article written by a poet who was trying her hand at prose. The one aspect in the conversion she found most difficult was sex. In poetry, fruit can serve as a metaphor for sex acts and body parts. But “he cupped her ripe mangos” isn’t exactly going to fly, even in chick lit.

Seriously, the synonyms for the real words are worse than the words they are meant to replace.

But it wasn’t the difficulty of writing sex scenes that kept book number one on the dirty side of chaste. I just wanted to emphasize the other ways my main characters bond.

But gird your loins for my second book. It’s going to be steamy.

 

time of reckoning

I’m still in a bit of awe that I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It’s the most natural thing I’ve ever done but it also feels like it happened to someone else. I appreciate the warm wishes as I reached that milestone. I’m truly humbled by the positive response and support. And it’s cute when people ask, “when’s it coming out?” because you see, writing the book wasn’t the hard part. I know I can write. (I already wrote the outline and ending to my second book.) But there are many grueling steps to before you’ll find my debut novel gracing bookstore shelves.

The last you heard, I shipped my baby to a professional manuscript consultant to edit. Initially, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to get to it for a week because she was finishing up another project. That was fine with me. I needed some time away from my story and characters.  So imagine my surprise when I received her complete edits last Friday, the day she was scheduled to start reading.

“That was fast,” I wrote her via email. “I’m going to take that as a good sign.”

“It is a good sign!” she replied. “I have a problem manuscript to look at… it needs so much work…Your novel is really strong.” In fact, she couldn’t put it down.

I’ve been on cloud nine over her summary of what she loved: the writing (“it reads real”), my main character (“luminous… so alive”) and the ending (“moving”).  As for what needs work? Well, I haven’t gotten there yet.  There was no way I could read her comments last weekend given the kids’ schedule. Then I was traveling early this week. Yesterday I had my 2014 turn at Warriors. I haven’t had but an hour or maybe two in between gigs, meetings, obligations all week. I’m not avoiding the task at hand. I swear. I look forward to perfecting my manuscript. I need to set a new deadline. But really, I need the luxury of an uninterrupted day to get started.

Lucky for me, the universe is going to deliver. Snow is in the forecast tonight. Enough snow for delays and cancelations tomorrow. With any luck, I’ll be home all day with my manuscript. While everyone in the DC Metro area is rolling their eyes at winter overstaying its welcome, I relish it.

Just please let the power stay on. I have a manscript to polish.

parting is such sweet sorrow

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, drink, sleep or throw up. Maybe I will just go to yoga.

I’m elated, but exhausted. My confidence is high, but I have moments of self-doubt. My book is done. At least stage one. At 91,837 words, it’s probably too long for a debut novel. It has a working title. Emailing it to my editor (you know I wanted to say “my editor”) approximately 22 minutes ago was harder than sending my kids off to school for the first time.

I set an initial goal to finish writing by March 31st, but as the words came freely, I upped that self-imposed deadline to COB today. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t editing/writing up until the end. In the moments before sending off my manuscript, I was seeing double. I was probably doing more harm than good. Pencils down. Step away from the computer, Chelsea.

A little piece of me is gone. I already miss my baby, though I’m glad it’s temporarily out of my hands. I know it will be a better story after undergoing a professional edit. I can’t wait to be reunited with my characters and their plot lines to rewrite, rethink, restructure.

If I’ve canceled lunch/drink plans with you, cried on your shoulder, sent you panicky texts/emails, or just generally been unexplainably weepy, absent-minded, spacey, anti-social, insecure and/or self-absorbed, I’m sorry. I owe you one.

The hard work lies ahead. (Trying to find an agent sounds worse than on-line dating.) This journey is far from over. But thank you all who have helped me get this far. You know who you are.