I've been smiling a lot lately. We're talking Goofy Grin City, people. It's enough to make a curmudgeon sick. I've also...
Finding the Words
I've been smiling a lot lately. We're talking Goofy Grin City, people. It's enough to make a curmudgeon sick.
I've also been panicking. Actively. And forgetting to breathe often enough there's this knot of pain dead-center in my chest. My current mantra?
"Positive stress is a real thing."
One of my (many) positive stresses is figuring out how to write my "How I Found My Agent" post (or, as you'll soon see, my "How My Agent Found Me" post). That's THIS post! You can skip to the end if you want--I won't be offended, because it's a looooong story. I've been doing this querying thing since May of 2011. That's when I sent my first query (for a rather hilarious if poorly conceived MG superhero novel), having no clue that a spiffy query and funny opening chapters weren't enough. The rest of the book was a bit . . .
But we don't know what we don't know, and I really didn't know much back then.
After 20-something full requests and just as many rejections, I moved on to a new project--a YA portal fantasy with a love triangle in it (one of the really bad kinds). After some helpful feedback, I revised the love triangle outta there and developed the plot more, finding my voice along the way. Then I added high speed chases in hover cars and secret holding facilities in abandoned warehouses! I even blew something up! Oh man, did I have fun. But when you focus on your plot arc and ignore your character arc, things get . . . wonky.
But I didn't know what I didn't know, and the opening chapters were solid enough that I was chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee. My mentor (Hi, Lori!) taught me about emotional authenticity, organic narrative flow, and POV depth, and I revised and I revised, but I kept fiddling with the plot and mostly just the plot, and the story got better but not enough. Then I queried and received a boat load of full requests (over the course of querying this project, I received upwards of 40 in total).
But the agents who read the manuscript knew what I hadn't realized yet, that the story had a lot of unrealized potential that needed . . . realizing. I received my first R&R (revise and resubmit), but became severely ill shortly after (mono as an adult can be fatal--not for me, but oh, it felt like dying). The virus affected my ability to think (and write) clearly, and I botched the R&R (big time). The day that manuscript was rejected, I received another R&R! My brain was clearing and I thought, I can do it this time. I scrapped what wasn't working, churned out a whole pile of new words . . . and then my husband's step-mum died. And it was gutting. Grief is a word-thief, but I fought it off and eventually got back to work. Just when I thought I was ALMOST done . . . my dad died. And then my husband's mom died. And then his step-dad committed suicide.
And I lost my words. I lost them in a way that would have terrified me if I hadn't been so numb.
But I'd signed up for an agent manuscript consult at a conference I attend every year (my fabulous critique partners talked me out of cancelling it), and I made it off the waiting list and into a room where I got to sit across from a lovely man named Josh Adams. He told me everything he loved about my first ten pages, gave me helpful notes and suggestions, and asked me to send him the full manuscript when revisions were complete.
Having an industry professional you respect love your opening pages can feel like a miracle, and for me, it was the silver lining on what had been a very dark cloud.
I found my words at that conference. I found them in the agent's genuine praise. I found them in winning my category in the first chapter contest. I found them in the amazing classes and the fantastic friends I spent those days with. If you ever get the chance, the LDStorymakers Conference can be life-changing. Quite literally.
But shortly after all the life-changing epiphanies I had during that glorious weekend, my oldest daughter said she didn't want to be alive anymore. The words were back, but I couldn't reach for them. I had something more important to reach for. We got her the help and medicine she needed, and things are better but not perfect now, as life often is.
When I finally reached for them, the words came in trickles at first. Twitter writing prompts kept me going. I crafted sentence after sentence after sentence, and began to dream of paragraphs. Then I crafted paragraphs and dreamed of pages, till at last the words came all the way back, and I finally returned to my story, and to the character I left behind long before the illness and grief. In the quiet aftermath of personal crisis, I let it be her story in a way I never had before. I slowed it down. Let her character arc drive the plot instead of the other way around. I cut half the story out and wrote it from scratch. And rewrote. And ate pizza. And revised. And ate more pizza. And revised some more.
It wasn't a masterpiece (still isn't--I realize now that I slowed it down TOO much), but the end result was beyond anything I'd accomplished before. Having given everything I knew how to give it, I sent the story off to the patient-beyond-patient agents who were still willing to look at it, including the agent whose encouraging critique helped unblock me.
Offers came in, and I can't pretend I wasn't shocked (I rock at being humble). I advised agents who had materials and in the end, I received three offers of representation, three R&Rs, and several "I would offer an R&R if you didn't have offers of rep already." Like I said, I slowed the story down WAY too much. It needs work still, and some of the interested agents were willing to take a chance and work on those revisions with me as their client.
One of those offers came from an agent I hadn't queried or met or encountered in a pitch contest. Josh Adams, the agent I'd had the manuscript consult with, emailed one hazy Saturday morning to let me know he'd shared the manuscript with his colleague, Lorin Oberweger, who'd read it and wanted to talk to me about representation. I woke up REALLY fast that day.
I researched Lorin and became increasingly excited. She's an editor, author, and agent all rolled into one. Her editing clients adore her. She's been doing the Breakout Novel Intensive for the past sixteen years. New agent? Yes. Inexperienced? Hell no.
We spoke on the phone, and it's clear that she not only loves the story for the same reasons I do, but she has awesome ideas for how to address the pacing issues. She wants to work together to take this story to a level I'm certain I can't reach on my own. And best of all? That knot of pain dead-center in my chest was gone within two minutes. I breathed easily (and consistently) through the entire phone call.
And I knew.
I'm a big fan of knowing. I crave certainty. I crave understanding. So the notion of making such a crucial decision based on a feeling--even a knowing one--didn't sit well with me. I wrestled over which offer made the most sense to take, and there were merits to all three (and to the R&Rs for that matter). But while Lorin won me over on both an intellectual and emotional level, it was that feeling I kept coming back to. I have zero doubt that she is the agent I'm supposed to work with.
While I would rather not have gone through the physical struggles and soul-sucking grief of the last couple years, I am so grateful that mine and Lorin's paths intersected the way they did. There were so many dominoes that had to fall in just the right way for this to happen. And yes, I'm mixing my metaphors, but I always do that when I'm super excited.
I am thrilled to announce that I am now represented by Lorin Oberweger of Adams Literary!
It's too soon to write an acknowledgments page, but I want to thank so many people (if you're reading this post, odds are you're one of them), especially the dear friends who've encouraged and supported me over the years, even way back in 2011 when my potential was something you needed a magnifying glass (or a profoundly kind heart) to see.
You all helped me be better. I could revise this post for days and never find the right words to explain just how much. :)
About author: Kimberly VanderHorst
Kimberly Vanderhorst wrote her first book when she was seven (it was totally awesome, but the world isn't ready for it yet), and her next when she was twenty-seven. When asked to account for the intervening decades, she likes to suggest the possibility of alien abduction with as straight a face as possible.