Guest Post from Celeste Lim: How I Got My Agent

celeste-limToday we’ll hear from author Celeste Lim, who shares her agent story as part of The Sweet Sixteens’ #SixteensBlogAbout November theme.  A Chinese born and raised in Malaysia, Celeste holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and an MA from Manhattanville College. She is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio and her debut middle-grade novel is forthcoming from Scholastic Press in spring 2016.

About Celeste’s book: In Medieval China, a girl is sold by her family to become a nursemaid and wife to a toddler husband. With the help of sentient creatures called jing, she discovers internal strength, and a destiny that is foretold to intertwine with her spirit guardian – a great, golden fox spirit.

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With the agenting process shrouded in so much mystery to aspiring writers, I feel my querying journey is crying out for a little step-by-step recount. Of course, everyone’s querying experience will be different, but for those who are thinking of approaching Rosemary Stimola, this might turn out helpful.

After two years of writing and revising the manuscript with the help of professors and critique partners, I began doing agent research in July of 2013. I sent out my emails in batches of ten, and my email to Rosemary went out on 7/7.

According to her website, no response within a week = pass, so I was prepared for silence. But Rosemary sent me a very nice note on 7/12 saying that she’d be happy to look at the manuscript. Until then, hers was only my second request for a full, so the email still got me pretty excited. After sending out the story that very same day, I was prepared for a long wait, and in the meantime received two more full requests.

Rosemary was one of the first to finish reading my manuscript, and I heard back from her assistant, Allison Remcheck on 7/31 – 2 weeks and 5 days. The email was long – too long to be a form rejection (that I was used to receiving by then), so my heart was stuck firmly in my throat as I read her email. There were really wonderful comments about how much they loved the story and what they liked about it, but 80% of the email talked about things that they felt needed more work. In short, they were asking for a non-contractual R&R (a revise and resubmit). I knew this didn’t guarantee an offer at the end, but I agreed to do it, because I could tell from the feedback that they really had a firm grasp of what the story was about, and knew exactly how to further bring out its potential. I figured that, even if they did not offer me representation at the end of the process, I would still come away with a better novel for my next round of queries.

So I slaved away at yet another revision, and on 9/17, emailed them back a novel that I knew at least I was happy with. Allison replied me on the same day telling me how excited she was to read the revision, but reminded me that I needed to keep the manuscript exclusive for them in the meantime. This condition put a damper on things, especially when another agent from an agency I was also excited to hear from had expressed an interest in the story a couple weeks later. But ultimately, I didn’t want to ruin my chances with Rosemary, so held back the urge to send her the revised manuscript and promised to do that when the exclusive period was over. So, during the waiting period, I was counting the days, hours, minutes, manically checking my inbox every chance I had. I was plagued with thoughts like, “They’d probably decide to pass in the end, and where would you be?” and “What if the other agent got tired of waiting?” and “What if they take months to get back to you?”

Well, it turned out I only had to wait a month. On 10/15, Allison got back to me with a very encouraging email – they were utterly enchanted by the revision. And as I continued to read, I was almost expecting a mention of the offer… but it didn’t come. Not in this email. According to Allison, the story still needed a few minor tweaks, and she kindly offered to discuss the details over the phone. I’ll be honest and tell you that I was a little disappointed at first, but told myself that if it wasn’t a rejection, it was definitely a good thing.

One of the main things I had to do in this revision was to cut the 91,000-word novel by about a third. It was a heartbreaking process. I had to kill so many of my darlings – those scenes that I really loved but had to admit didn’t feel as essential to the story as other parts. And on 10/28, I emailed Allison a condensed version of the story. Then it was back to the waiting, and somehow, going through this a second time felt worse than the first. I was impatient, I was restless, I was anxiety-ridden and frustrated. I forced myself to write and barely produced anything worth a second look. But there was nothing else to do besides distracting myself as much as possible. My lovely classmates and professors from The New School and Manhattanville were endlessly encouraging; my friends asked me out as much as possible; my family and church friends prayed fervently for me; it was a dreary period, but that was also when I realized how much support I had around me.

And then, finally, on 11/20, Allison gave me a call. Or should I say, THE call. It wasn’t as magical as I had envisioned a thousand times before (I answered the phone in the middle of a nap, all groggy and stuff), but the news still took my breath away.

“I’m happy to tell you that we’re ready to offer you representation.” was all it took, and I was up in the clouds after letting out an irrepressible squeal. Totally unprofessional. Then, sitting in front of the computer, hours later, I found myself going through the phone conversation over and over again like a sweet dessert you want to re-taste, and also wondering if the agent actually liked me enough to overlook my childish, obviously unprofessional squeal.

When I realized that my quest for an agent had finally come to an end, I couldn’t help pulling up the Excel sheet with my list of queried agents. Out of all the queries I sent, I received 4 requests for my manuscript and 37 rejections over a period of 5 months. I’ve been disappointed so many times, especially when rejected by agents who had requested fulls, but now I realize that in the end, it’s really true what they say: You only need that one agent who’s right for you and your book, and whoever doesn’t connect with it, isn’t right for it.

As a writer who’s never been published, I still can’t help attaching the ideas of fame and glory to getting published… it is especially more difficult when friends and family around you are feeding your imagination. But by now, I’ve met enough professional and solid writers to know that not everyone is going to make it to the Rowling-Peak, and those who write, write because of passion, and money and fame kind of becomes a by-product of that passion.

Looking back, the journey from beginning to end took close to 5 months, not too long at all compared to some other experiences I’ve heard of, so I admit, with a little pinch of salt, I probably could have had an easier time. Nevertheless, I feel the offer came at the best time possible – right before Thanksgiving. Now I have Rosemary, on top of all those wonderful things and people I already have, to be immensely thankful for.

 

Find Celeste Lim online at CelestePLlim.com

How I Came to Work with the King of All Agents

This month’s #SixteensBlogAbout theme over at The Sweet Sixteens is “how I got my agent”, so I guess it’s about time I put my story out there. My agent is the amazing Steven Malk of Writers House, who represents, well, a bunch of amazing award-winners. I never would have even considered querying Steve, because I assumed he was miles out of my league.

imagesCA13K0F3This is where I should back up and say that I had been querying agents with three different novels since 2005. (One day I will sit down and write up my list of query and submission stats like Ellen Goodlett did – it’s a testament to persistence, if a little depressing.) What eventually became my debut novel was the third of these, and I submitted it to 9 different agents before I saw an article in Writer’s Digest about “25 Agents Who Want Your Work Now!” or something like that. When I read about Lindsay Davis at Writers House, a newer agent who was building her client list, I just felt like she would be a good fit. So I sent her a query – and she asked for the manuscript! Then, in January 2009, she responded and said she wanted to work with me to revise the book! The changes she wanted to make were fairly radical, but I decided to throw myself in and trust the process, so I went for it.

Months of revision passed. Yeah, I know there are writers out there who can crank out a revision in weeks, but I am the tortoise, remember? I hacked away at the revision, and then, in September of 2009, I went away for a camping weekend. I knew I wouldn’t have any cell phone reception in the woods, so I left my phone at home. And when I came home, I had a voicemail from Lindsay letting me know that she was leaving the agency and moving out of the country!

BUT. Lindsay had been working under the guiding hand of Steven Malk, senior agent and head of the West Coast office of Writers House, and she told me that he had read my book and was a fan, so he’d be taking me over. And just like that, I was working with The King of All Agents. (I should clarify that Steve would never say such a thing about himself – this is something that some of my author friends call him. Having worked with him, I can only agree with the title!)

Steve is definitely an editorial agent, something I have appreciated enormously over the years. And yes, it has been years of revisions – so many revisions. Four major rounds and one minor round before we even went to submission. But it’s all produced a better book, so I’m not complaining.

As much as I appreciated Steve’s editorial feedback, it wasn’t until we got to the submission stage that I really understood the value of having an agent. Of course I knew there was value in having someone else pitch your work to the right people, but I didn’t realize how much he would consider which editors and houses would be a good match for me and for my book.   For so long I had focused on just trying to sell the damn book – the idea that he was looking at which editorial relationships would actually make the process enjoyable for me was amazing.

I’ve read several interviews Steve has done where he talks about his philosophy as an agent (links at the bottom of this post), and one thing strikes me again and again – he believes in investing in the client rather than the book. For example, in this interview with Alma Fullerton, he says:

“My biggest piece of advice…is to slow down and take your time…Even if it takes you an extra 6 months, year, or 3 years to break through, in the scope of an entire career, that’s nothing if it means doing it right. If you want to have a long, successful career in this field, it’s crucial to present yourself as a professional who’s taking his/her career seriously, as opposed to someone who’s just looking for the first deal that comes along.”

And even though there were (and still are) times when I would like to speed this process up, the tortoise in me really appreciates that approach.

Here are some other places where you can read about my awesome agent:

Literary Rambles Q&A with Steven Malk

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Interview with Steven Malk

Writer’s Digest: Advice from Agent Steven Malk

 

Let’s Play #8TerribleTitles

In honor of the fact that my debut novel is well on its way to having an actual title, here are 8 random phrases from my book that would make terrible titles:

1) Surface of the Firepit

2) A Knowing Smile

3) Tense For the Rest of the Morning

4) Well, Then

5) Strip-Searched in the Garden

6) It Sounds Expensive

7) Several Battered Quills

8) Her Execution Started Everything

 

So now I am tagging some other author friends to share their #8TerribleTitles.  Here’s how it works: open your manuscript, scroll for a bit without looking and stop.  Pull out whatever phrase your cursor is on.  Do this 8 times and then share your list.  Even non-writers can play – just grab the nearest book and pull out random phrases as alternate titles.  Then tag some friends to pass it on.

I hereby tag:

Megan Morrison

Brooks Benjamin

Kim Savage

Jenn Bishop

Kiersi Burkhart

Meg Kassel

L.V. Pires

Kali Wallace

Celebrating Picture Book Month!

PBMBADGE-AMBASSADOR-FBNovember is Picture Book Month!  This international literacy initiative, founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas, celebrates the print picture book during the month of November.  Check out the Picture Book Month website, which will feature daily posts from “picture book champions” and has lots of great classroom and storytime resources!

Here’s how we celebrate picture books in my house: every day since my son JX was in kindergarten, I have woken him up by reading a picture book.  It started because he was notoriously hard to wake – he does NOT like to interact with other people first thing in the morning, but opening his eyes into the world of a story was different.  Gentler.  It gave us time to connect before the craziness of getting ready for the day set in.  You see, it had to be a picture book, because even if he was dozing, I could say something like, “Wow, look at that crazy sheep!” and his curious eyes would pop open.  (This still works.)  And as he grew older, and our bedtime reading turned to chapter books (we are now on month eight of The Lord of the Rings), those “morning books”, as he calls them, gave him a way to stay connected to the world of picture books.  Even now, my big fourth grader likes to start the day with a morning book.

So this November, I am celebrating what picture books offer to readers of all ages, because no one is too old for a picture book.  JX and I will be tweeting about our morning books every day this month.  Follow the fun at @kathys_quill and pick up a picture book of your own!

1000 is the Magic Number

For me it is, anyway. As in 1000 words per day. Ever since I started the draft of my newest work in progress, I have committed to writing 1000 words per day as a manageable amount, and this morning I hit 18,000 words after two weeks. This is lightning fast, for me. It’s a new era for this tortoise.

Years ago, when I first started writing, I couldn’t give myself word count goals – too frightening, too much pressure. So I set time limits for myself. I had to work for an hour at a time. I made myself a CD that was exactly an hour long and I had to keep at it, even if I was just staring at the screen, until the last song was over. The first 30 to 45 minutes were usually agony, but by the time that hour was up, I was hitting “repeat” on the CD player. That tactic got me through several manuscripts.

So when one of my critique partners, L.V. Pires, tried to get me to participate in National Novel Writing Month, I practically threw out my neck shaking my head. “No word count goals,” I said. “I can’t deal with that kind of pressure.”

And then I found myself struggling, while managing my day job, to get words on the page. I found myself waiting for the perfect time to write. And wow, did this recent post by Susan Mannix on As the Eraser Burns hit a nerve for me. She quotes E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Yup. So I decided to start my 1000-words-per-day goal. Why 1000? Because it’s enough to make me feel accomplished, and not so much that it makes me feel hopelessly overwhelmed. And here’s the biggest thing: my day job schedule is such that I have lots of pockets of time, pockets that were easy to convince myself were too short to make into writing time. But now, knowing that I need to knock out 1000 words each day, I can do 200 here or 500 there, and they add up!

Did I mention that I hit 18,000 words this morning? Really, I cannot overstate the awesomeness of this.

I have always been a person who expects myself to do more than I have time for. But I have found that when I get that 1000 words done, I feel like a rock star. And when I don’t, I feel like a slacker, no matter how many other to-dos get checked off.

So what about NaNoWriMo? Well, I signed up for the forum, but I don’t expect to get 50,000 words written in the month of November. 30,000 sounds just right to me.

What's that?  1000 "words", of course.

What’s that? 1000 “words”, of course.

Another Sneak Peek

So remember a few weeks ago, when I posted 7 lines from a recent work-in-progress because the current one was too formless for such things?  Well, maybe the 777 Meme has burned itself out by now, but I am bringing it back because I am so excited that the as-yet-untitled sequel to my as-yet-untitled debut now has words on pages (over 6000, even!).

Set-up: this story is from the point of view of a different main character than the first book, but I am not going to tell you who because it would spoil the end of the first book.  :) So I will give a very broad description of the plot: this story is about a character from a privileged background struggling to find her place in a new world where the things that made her special no longer matter.

I am supposed to post the first full 7 lines on the 7th page, starting 7 lines down.  Here you go:

 

 “Then one hundred saltbricks.  That’s all we can afford,” I said.

Mati turned the page around and frowned over it, absently stroking Raisa’s hand on the table beside him.  “Couldn’t we reallocate – ”

I crossed my arms.  “We’ve already laid out money for the repair of the pass and the main road and the port, relocated all the people in The Reach, and bought up all the food between here and Pira.  We’ve had to put off repairing the fountains and the bath houses.  What else do you propose we delay?”

 

Okay, so again, page 7 is clearly not the most exciting part of any of my stories.  But just the fact that there IS a page 7 has me ecstatic!

In my original post, I tagged 7 fellow authors to share too, and some of them heeded the call!  Read their (much cooler) sneak peeks at the links below:

Megan Morrison shares a preview of DISENCHANTED, the second book in the Tyme series

Brooks Benjamin shares a preview of TALES OF A TEENAGE SCREAM QUEEN

Victoria J. Coe shares a preview of the sequel to her debut FENWAY & HATTIE