I’m going to let you in on a little secret—I didn’t land my agent from a slush pile.
Mandy Hubbard—founder of Emerald City Literary Agency and affectionately known by me as Agent Awesome—never read a single sentence of a query from me. No full manuscript. No verbal pitch at a conference. No gushing recommendation from a writing pal.
In fact, Mandy signed me based on two chapters of I book I’d written, that wasn’t even my own.
Let me explain.
Back in 2013, Mandy was an agent at D4E0 Literary Agency, founded by Bob DiForio, a rock star agent I’d been thinking about querying for my adult thriller work. I was new to Twitter, and while looking up Bob’s wish list, I happened upon a tweet by Mandy. I wish I’d taken a screen shot of it, but the gist was basically that she and a co-agent, Bree Ogden, were auditioning a writer to execute a story they’d brainstormed. The successful writer would win representation from Mandy, as well as a chance to write the book in their mind.
The odds weren’t great. Semi-finalists were chosen from a 300-word sample—a few paragraphs to demonstrate voice, style, and craft. Plus, it was young adult…and I’d never written young adult before.
Nevertheless, I submitted my entry and then did my due diligence on Mandy. It took me about a nano-second to realize that she was my dream agent. I devoured her books, stalked her clients, and wrote down her sage Twitter advice. I dreamed about “the call.”
And then, it came. Well, not so much on the phone, but rather, the notice that I’d been selected as one of three to write two scenes from the proposed book—a modern retelling of the torrid romance between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I had two scene outlines, a setting, and POV direction. The rest I was free to explore on my own.
Two painstaking weeks later, I submitted my chapters. A day or so later, my husband and I went to the liquor store to buy some wine. While there, he said, “Do you want me to pick up champagne?” I said, “No. It’s a long shot. Don’t jinx it.” But, like any patient, non-paranoid writer, I was checking my email every three seconds on my phone. As my husband stood at the till to pay, I got this message from Mandy: You blew us away, and you ARE our writer.
A lot of that night is a blur, but I distinctly remember yelling in a crowded booze store, “HONEY! BUY THE CHAMPAGNE!”
That book became Anne & Henry, and while the story was conceived by Mandy and Bree, they handed over the creative reigns and allowed me to make it my own. For better or worse, I did.
But Anne & Henry wasn’t just my first book. It was the beginning of my career, and the start of a tradition that has become almost a joke in my house: we celebrate every milestone.
This industry is damn hard. Seriously. You weather rejection, paranoia, writer’s block, bad reviews, absent muses, quasi-alcoholism, partners that don’t understand, questions about when you’ll be famous/rich/award-winning/insert belittling comment here, exhaustion, financial stress, and crippling self-doubt. There isn’t one week that goes by when I haven’t asked myself WHY I do what I do—and my third book from Simon & Schuster (literally my dream publisher…but that’s a different blog for another time) hits the shelf on April 10, 2017.
The writer’s curse, though, is sometimes a debilitating lack of confidence.
And yet, when I see that hardcover on my desk, or that ARC drops in the mail, or I get that letter from a fan who just gets it, I remember that I’m married to this job—for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. And like any marriage, it takes work.
Which is why my husband “picks up” champagne whenever:
- I finish a first draft of a new book—no matter how terrible.
- My awesome agent greenlights that book or a new proposal.
- That book or proposal sells to an editor.
- I hack my way through every. single. revision.
- I receive advanced reader copies of my book.
- I get my first trade review that doesn’t tell me I suck.
- The hardcover hits the shelf. (Extra champagne if it’s available in my city!)
- The soft cover hits the shelf.
And sometimes, he brings home champagne when I’ve just made it through a really bad week of really bad self-doubt. Because that’s how I like to celebrate each milestone. Milestones that are determined by me. They’re what gets me through the tough times, and propels me to that magical moment of seeing my book come to life.
Next month, I’m excited to pick out a new champagne to celebrate the advanced reader copies of my third young adult from Simon Pulse, Lizzie—a modern teen retelling of the Lizzie Borden hatchet murders, with a lesbian twist. I’m thinking hubs will pick up a Rosé. <wink>
What are your writing milestones—and how do you celebrate them? (Also, if you have champagne recommendations, I’m all ears!)
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Dawn Ius is the author of Anne & Henry, Overdrive, and the forthcoming Lizzie, all published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster). She is the Deputy Editor of The Big Thrill, a book coach with Author Accelerator, and a co-instructor at Lit Reactor. When not slaying fictional monsters, Dawn can be found geeking out over fairy tales, true love, Jack Bauer, muscle cars, kayaking, and all things creepy. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two giant breed dogs.