The most beautiful parts of life are born from chaos
So, remember that one time in January of 2009 when I thought I was ready to query literary agents because I finished writing a novel and I thought that I was #TheMan.com?
Not my finest hour.
Actually, it was the worst.
Picture this: Peekskill, 2009 …
I finished writing my second book, which, as I wrote about here, was the really unfortunately titled Finding Georgantica (I know, it was a whole thing … whatever … #NotDwelling). And when I finished, I was all, “OMG, TIME TO GET PUBLISHED!!!!!!”
I was hopelessly naive.
It was a wonderful time of joy and rapture, shrouded in a cloud of complete and utter obliviousness.
But I had done my research. I knew that I needed a query letter. And once I had written said query letter, I would send it to an agent and said agent would respond with pure love and excitement …
… and my book would be on store shelves by summer!
I mean, I wrote the book right? AND IT WAS FREAKIN’ BRILLIANT, RIGHT?
I did my part. I was prepared. I knew everything that I needed to know.
Fingering an apple pie means you’re ready for sex, right?
I should’ve learned from American Pie that, like sex, querying agents is way more than just thinking you’re ready.
Like I said, I was wildly naive.
So I sent out a query letter to an agent, whose name I changed to protect her from the sheer embarrassment of being associated with this AWFUL book that I tried to dump off on her.
“Turning back as they walked, Alex looked to find the well again, but could no longer see its silhouette. She wanted to heave a sigh of relief, yet couldn’t. Before diving back into the waters, her ears strained to hear, for one last time, Georgantica breathing in secret around her.”
Querying 101: NEVER open with an excerpt from your book. What did I know? I was all Bruce Willis on FRIENDS when he’s giving himself a peptalk in the mirror right before he thinks he’s about to have sex with Rachel. “I am a sex machine.”
Plus, the excerpt wasn’t even that good. WHO DID I THINK I WAS?
Finding Georgantica is a first novel of 345 pages set within the mysterious islands of Lake George. Georgantica tells the story of Alex Nichols who, following the untimely death of older brother Kyle is left completely alone in a house with no imagination. Her mother is a pill popping manic and every time she passes her father in the hallway he just stares blankly with swollen, tired eyes. It’s not until she finds an old treasure map she and her brother created together ten years earlier that she begins to remember how unpredictable and imaginative life can be. When her brothers’ best friend Micky decides to take Alex on the journey detailed by the map, they encounter new emotional and physical obstacles, and team up with two old friends, brothers TJ and Dave. Only when she loses hope and is forced to deal with her emotions does Alex discover Kyle’s hidden world of Georgantica. Additionally, spending time researching and observing Lake George extensively has allowed history of the French-Indian war to organically weave itself into the small, yet pivotal Terabithia-esque climax. Through it all, Alex is on a mission to find answers and acceptance with her brothers’ death; she’s also out to find herself.
I mean, this paragraph is HORRIBLE.
Walking the line between literary young adult and commercial adult fiction, Finding Georgantica is a mass marketable novel, one that is refreshing for readers of all ages who are dealing or have dealt with the death of a friend or relative. It was written with intent –like a Bridge to Terabithia for high school-aged to adult readers – to help readers deal with the powerful emotions of death and tackle issues like grief, depression, addiction, sex and love, but most importantly the art of growing up in a world that doesn’t make sense. As such, it has great school-adoption potential. In addition, it has definite potential to develop into a series following Alex as she grows into adulthood, though it stands alone.
SO: It’s literary young adult fiction, but it’s commercial ADULT fiction? It’s appropriate for readers of ALL ages? It’s a series, but it’s also a stand alone?
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I DOING?
WHO WAS I?
WHAT WAS I SMOKING AT THAT POINT?
I mean, it’s like I was on the street, whoring myself out to the highest bidder without ever having sex before.
That’s totally a thing, right?
There was more … general closing letter stuff: Contact me if you’re interested or if you want to just beat me over the head with your laptop. You know, the norm.
So, I hit ‘send,’ and I waited.
One day later, I got my first response:
Thank you for thinking of me with your query for FINDING GEORGANTICA. While this sounds like a strong project, I’m afraid it doesn’t strike me as a likely fit with me and my particular editorial contacts. I wish you well in finding the right agent for your work.
I was CRUSHED.
So I revamped. I reworked. I retitled the book and spent a lot of time rewriting because HOW COULD AN AGENT REJECT ME?
I came up with this:
With a little imagination, life can begin again. Alex Nichols is resigned to learn that the hard way when, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, a fatal car crash kills her brother Kyle. This catastrophic event dismantles everything she thought she knew causing her to lose sight of who she thought she was. Breathing in Secret, a complete work of 344 pages, is set among the mystical islands and waters of Lake George, New York. After Kyle’s funeral, Alex stumbles across an old hand-drawn treasure map created by her and Kyle years earlier outlining a trail to an historical treasure hidden on the lake. In an effort to keep his memory alive, Micky, Kyle’s childhood best friend – and unrequited love – decides to take Alex on the expedition. When paths cross with brothers TJ and Dave, all are pushed to the limit with emotional memories; secrets float to the surface threaten to tear their friendships apart. As Alex begins to lose hope in finding solace, she’s forced to confront her heartache and find that in the dark with some faith and imagination, she’s able to unlock Kyle’s imaginary world of Georgantica that exists beyond the map and rediscover herself. Only within the stunningly vivid Georgantica will she finally learn to breathe again.
As literary young adult fiction, Breathing in Secret is a mass marketable coming-of-age novel written with intent to help readers cope with the powerful emotions of death and tragedy. It tackles grief and depression, taboos like addiction, sex and love, but most importantly the art of growing up in a world that just doesn’t make sense. The history of the French-Indian War on Lake George was able to organically intertwine itself with the imagined Georgantica weaving in with the story and folklore. Contiguously, these components allow for school-adoption potential.
And from that, out of the 25 query letters that I sent out, I actually had TWO agents request to read more! #SCORE! (Side note: I also got about 20 rejection letters back in the mail — that was when snail mail was still #AlltheRage.)
Like a hopeless virgin at a bar waiting to buy that special anyone a drink so that they might take me into the bathroom and #ravage me so that I could finally ditch the V-card (#OhWait #WasThatJustMe?), I was just excited that somebody bit my line.
I was high on life. I was DEFINITELY going to get represented. I could feel it in my bones. So I celebrated!
Right? Why I shouldn’t I celebrate? AGENTS WERE READING MY SHIT! I WAS GOING TO BE A HUGE AUTHOR!
Dear Mr. Shaw,
Thank you for sending your materials so promptly. Please be assured that I have carefully considered your project. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the manuscript is right for us at this time.
Because we receive more than two hundred submissions per week, it is necessary to be extremely selective on a very subjective basis. I wish you the best of luck. There are numerous excellent agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript. Don’t give up!
AND THEN, after multiple requests from Agent J, this happened:
Dear Mr. Shaw,
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. We must decline, but do so wishing you best luck in finding the right agent, or better yet, a publisher.
The biggest thing I learned during that whole process was that I wasn’t ready for rejection. I wasn’t ready for agents to not accept the book I had written, and the main reason behind that was because I felt that, at that time, simple because I had written a book, that mean that I DESERVED to be published. When it came down the written words, I wasn’t 100% invested in what I had written. I let the simple act of writing a book take ahold of me. It wasn’t the book that I set out to write. It lacked focus. It lacked authenticity. It lacked an audience because I wanted it to be the book for everyone. I wanted it to be Bridge to Terabithia, but for adults, meanwhile I was completely ignoring the fact that YA and MG books COULD be for anyone, if written well-enough.
I just wanted what I wanted. I was a teenage boy all over again, just wanting to get off however possible.
I wanted something that I wasn’t ready for.
I was so caught up in the sex appeal of PUBLISHING A BOOK that I forgot that the only thing I ever wanted was to make love to the page, to press my fingers up against the keys and produce something much more intimate than the act of sex; I needed to fall in love with the story, to feel the story, to write something true to my life, to explore the body of that truth, undress it and see it’s naked beauty on the page. I wanted it to be beautiful, feel organic, and be true to who I am. I wanted to be the kind of writer that I would fall in love with.
And that wouldn’t happen with Finding Georgantica/Breathing in Secret.
The next time, it would be real. I would be ready. It would be a new book, a better book, one that I was proud of…