So this post has been a while coming!
When I was querying I loved reading all the ‘how I got my agent’ posts and fantasised about writing my own. And here it is! Warning: it’s a bit long.
I began writing Lucy in the Sky in 2011, shortly after my daughter was born (because why not!). I’d never written a manuscript before. My previous writing was a bunch of enthusiastic short story beginnings from high school English, angsty emo poetry circa 2002 and obsessive My So-Called Life fan fiction (JORDAN CATALANO). But I was a reader. I’d been devouring every young adult book I could get my hands on and, as if often the case with me, what I was putting in I needed to start creating. So I wrote.
It started out auto biographical, wanting to tell the story of the insane, beautiful people I’d known in my early twenties. A girl trapped in the suburbs and a boy sending her mix tapes. But then the story changed and changed again. (Side note: I recently read my first first chapter to my CPs and there might be something salvageable in there. Stay tuned.) As stories do. I wrote out of a premise and this aching feeling. The story tumbled out, plotless, sceneless, and windy. I pinched some things from my life but mostly it had very little to do with me.
Which was a relief.
I shared bits and pieces with some early readers. (I find it hard to write in a vacuum; I need other people getting excited to keep me excited.) I read blogs and books on writing. I learnt what a scene was and how I had none. And I finished the first draft almost a year later.
Then I rewrote.
I could say I revised but there’s very little left of that first draft now. Some scenes made the cut but most didn’t. I sent the next draft off to beta readers and revised again based on their feedback. Sent out once more and revised again. Each time the story became cleaner and sharper. Meanwhile another story was invading my mind and I wrote the first scene over and over in my head. I started to think about agents, I thought I should start writing a query letter.
I hate query letters.
I started small, I started with a log line. Which I will share with you now, for learning, but promise not to show anyone, K.
Teen girl is unable to cope with the death of her brother, but will further revelations help her heal or pull her further under?
Please learn that this is a pretty weak log line. As many commenters on Miss Snark will tell you. (Side note: getting critiqued is hard but necessary. I recommend having people you can swiftly email and cry to and then pick yourself back up.)
I realised I had a lot to learn. I hit up books on query and synopsis writing. Wrote and rewrote this one line. And here is what I came up with:
16 year old competitive swimmer Lucy Taylor is haunted by the drowning of her older brother, Cam, and struggles to come to terms with his death and her newfound fear of the water.
Bit better hey? I workshopped different forms of this line so I had something similar for twitter pitches and synopsises. But this was the line I used for the hook in my query.
Oh the query. Some people love them and I stare at those people in disbelief. Like my log line I floundered. I struggled to get the stakes across (I struggled to identify what the stakes even were), it was vague and rambly and tried to say too many things. I will spare you a look at that. But I took my flimsy letter and worked it to death. I read books, I signed up for online classes, I put it up in forums. I got it as bright and shiny as I possibly could.
During this time that other story was niggling at me. I saw an opportunity on the ASA site to submit the first ten pages of your draft for the chance to win a writing residency. And I thought, why not? I took what had been bumping about in my brain, wrote ten pages and sent it off. A month or so later I got an email saying while I hadn’t won I’d been one of four writers to be commended by the judges! (I took to twitter and twitter hugged me back. You guys are the best. Really.) Then something happened that I didn’t expect. While I was at work I received a notification. It was an agent. They wanted to read my MS (the one I only had ten pages of). After I’d picked myself up off the floor I replied, informing them it wasn’t quite done yet and asked if they’d like to have a look at Lucy. They did. I raced through my MS again (decided to change the end, again) attached it with my query and sent it off.
I was querying.
This was my letter (with notes!):
Dear [Agent], always, always put the agent’s name either first name or last, or both
Since you recently sold X ms, I’m hoping you’ll be interested in mine (as long as they share genre, similar concept, etc)
Because you represent the work of (x author), I think you’d be a great fit for me.
After reading your interview with X, I think you would be a great agent for me, particularly because you mentioned X. Tell them why you’re querying them. These were my go to lines.
16 year old competitive swimmer Lucy Taylor is haunted by the drowning of her older brother, Cam, and struggles to come to terms with his death and her newfound fear of the water. Hook.
Meanwhile Lucy’s home life is suffocating her. Her mum is broken and sleeps all day, while her dad barely talks, disappearing to God knows where. And to make matters worse, her aunt moves in, stinking up the house with her terrible cooking and good intentions. All Lucy wants is her parents to comfort her but they can’t see past their own grief. Shows what’s happening and what she wants.
Pressured by her dad to get back in the pool, Lucy suffers a panic attack at the water’s edge and quits the team, shutting down her dreams of national competition and the only future she’s imagined. Now she’s torn between her squad friends and falling in with her wild ex-best-friend who reminds her all too much of her crazy, artist brother. Her conflict with the water is the underlying tension of the book. I still don’t know about the other line could probably have cut it. I wanted to show there was more going on haha.
When Lucy learns that Cam made no cry for help the night he died she wonders if he killed himself. She can’t reconcile this new reality with the brother she remembers. She wants to talk to her parents about what she suspects, but her mum is beginning to heal and this might blow them apart again. Twist! Also leaves them with MC needing to make a choice.
LUCY IN THE SKY is a 58,000 word young adult contemporary manuscript. I believe this story will appeal to fans of Courtney Summers’s FALL FOR ANYTHING or Jessi Kirby’s MOONGLASS. This paragraph would sometimes go at the top depending on agent’s preferences. Word count and genre is essential. Comp titles show you read and have an idea where your book goes in the market. Also if the agent likes those books they might like yours! Be careful comparing yourself to anything on their list as it might come across odd.
I am a member of the Australian Society of Authors, and attend writing festivals and events. I am the creator and host of the Ladies of YA podcast available on iTunes and through our website http://ladiesofya.blogspot.com.au. Bio’s make me uncomfortable but I wanted to get across that I was invested in writing and knew my genre.
Please find the first 50 pages of LUCY IN THE SKY attached. or whatever their guidelines state. Read guidelines!
Thank you for your time. be polite.
Followed by contact info
I’m going to leave it there because, oh my, it’s really very long and I still have a bit to say. So there will be a part 2! In Part 2 I’ll talk about researching agents and the importance of knowing and communicating what you want. Also the call!