scbwi & my agent story

I’ve been messing around my website here and realized I’ve never done a blog post (at least that I can find, or remember) about signing with my agent, Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. I did have a page on here for awhile about it but it’s time to take it down and make room for other things, so I thought I’d turn it into a blog post, so I can keep it forever. 🙂

During my querying years, I always wished that every writer would post their queries and query stories on their websites/blogs since the agent query process is such a HUGE part of this publishing journey.  With the first novel I queried I sent out over 120 query letters over the course of almost a year and a half. I had five requests out of those 120 queries. Five. Five requests, 120+ rejections. Ugh.

For the next novel I kept the query in mind while I was writing, and I had a file where I’d stick little query notes for the time I would need them. With the last novel I had bought Elana Johnson’s online book From the Query to the Call, so I started with her awesome format. I started writing my query in the summer (before I started sending it out in December), and worked on it a little at a time for almost 5 months! Of course during that time I was also revising my novel. I had my critique partners critique the query for me and then I was ready to send it! So here are my stats for this novel:

Query 1: 12/12/12 (uh, I thought submitting on this date would bring me luck)

Reject 12/13/12 (obviously it didn’t!)

Query 2: 12/12/12

Reject 1/30/13

Query 3: 12/18/12

Reject 12/19/12

So, after Query 3, I was having flashback feelings of the first novel I queried! So I went back to the query drawing board for tweaking. I had just bought Mary Kole’s book and started at the end, with her query help section. Reading this helped me fine-tune it a little bit! But… it was January, and I always hate January! Holidays were over, I had to go back to the classroom and practically start over with my kindergartners, and go on a diet. Ugh! Surely January couldn’t bring me luck. I almost waited until February to start querying again.

Little did I know this would be my best January ever!

Query 4: 1/2/13

No response

Query 5: 1/4/13

1/21/13 Full request (wishes of good luck as she bowed out later due to my offers of rep)

Query 6: 1/7/13

Reject 1/16/13

Query 7: 1/8/13

Same day Full request (bowed out later due to my offers of rep–didn’t have time to read yet)

Query 8: 1/10/13

1/11/13 Full request

1/21/13 offer of rep! (from an agent who rejected my last story)

Query 9: 1/10/13

1/16/13 Full request

1/22/13 offer of rep! (from an agent who rejected my last story)

Query 10: 1/10/13

1/14/13, Full request (this agent knew I had offers and I was confused by their emails regarding   if they were still reading or  not, or bowing out.)

Query 11: 1/11/13

1/16/13, Partial request

1/22/13 reject

Query 12: 1/12/13

1/14/13 Full request

1/17/13 offer of rep!

Query 13: 1/16/13

Same day Full request

1/19/13 offer of rep! (from an agent who rejected my last story)

Holy cow. I walked around like a dork with my mouth hanging open! The requests blew me away (because of history of course).  Those requests had me in unending smiles. Really. I was over the moon to be getting REQUESTS! And I thought, wow, this so cool, these awesome agents wanting to read my story. But of course the LITTLE VOICE comes in and says, yeah, but they’ll think your story sucks, so I’ll sit back and eat popcorn and wait for the rejections to come.

But then…the offers.

Within that one very fun week in January I had four offers of representation from AMAZING agents! Including Sarah Davies who had been at the top of my list for almost two years! And even though I had the offer from her, the other agents spent the time reading and loving my story that it was very difficult to make the final decision. Actually, this part was painful. It’s no fun to reject anyone.

This is where SCBWI played a part in my query success. I attended my first SCBWI Western Washington conference in 2010 and kept the booklet from it so I could query those agents later. Actually, one of the agents at that conference was one of the agents above to offer rep! I think I’d gotten a request from her because I’d been able to reference that conference in my query and mention that she’d read my first page in a First Pages panel and said that based on that, she would’ve kept reading to the next page!

At my second regional SCBWI conference, in 2011, I was lucky enough to have an MS consultation with Sarah Davies, where she actually nominated my story for a most promising WIP, and asked me to query her when I was ready. Nearly two years later, I queried her. 🙂

My name was listed with a bunch of other writers on the next screen.

My name was listed with a bunch of other writers on the next screen.

So, here is my final query (minus the greeting, word count, etc.):


Sixteen-year-old Kara McKinley thinks winning a national baking contest will help her escape her life, which includes her Holy Roller mom and the stalker who might have killed her sister.

Kara is alone.

She tries to be a girl who cuts class to smoke weed. But her sister isn’t around anymore to teach her, or to tell her what a cookie-baking loser she is. And even though her sister is dead, Kara can’t escape what she did to her before she died, or the creepy stalker notes she’s now getting at school.

He watches.

He follows Kara, hiding and leaving her love notes. So when a teacher encourages her to enter a national baking contest, Kara sees her escape–the prize, a scholarship to culinary school in California.

Kara works on her plan for winning the contest but there are distractions: like that guy who hangs out in Mom’s cafĂ©, the unanswered questions about her sister’s death, and her stalker–he’s getting closer, his notes more frequent and disturbing. Kara has no one she trusts enough to tell, and if she doesn’t figure out who he is, she’ll lose everything. Her chance to escape. And her life.


This little query letter brought me to my agent, and this novel is now in the process of becoming my debut with Soho Teen, out next year! If you want to read a little more, here is my success story on QueryTracker.

Querying is both painful and rewarding, an up and down of emotions (as is the submission process, but that’s an entirely different post to come!) and if you are on that ride now, I feel for you, my heart feels for you because I know how hard it is. It’s worth it though, isn’t it? I think so. Every grey hair, every tear, and every pound gained due to gobbling chocolate was worth it because it’s a dream come true. Keep going! And go to writer conferences, especially SCBWI because it makes a difference! ❤ 🙂


My Interview with YA Author Talia Vance, and ARC Giveaway of Spies and Prejudice!

Congratulations to my Greenhouse sister Talia Vance, who has a new book coming out from Egmont June 11th! Read through to the bottom of the page to find out how you can win an ARC of Talia’s second book, Spies and Prejudice!

Product Details

Fields’ Rule #1: Don’t fall for the enemy.

Berry Fields is not looking for a boyfriend. She’s busy trailing cheaters and liars in her job as a private investigator, collecting evidence of the affairs she’s sure all men commit. And thanks to a pepper spray incident during an eighth grade game of spin the bottle, the guys at her school are not exactly lining up to date her, either.

So when arrogant—and gorgeous—Tanner Halston rolls into town and calls her “nothing amazing,” it’s no loss for Berry. She’ll forget him in no time. She’s more concerned with the questions surfacing about her mother’s death.

But why does Tanner seem to pop up everywhere in her investigation, always getting in her way? Is he trying to stop her from discovering the truth, or protecting her from an unknown threat? And why can’t Berry remember to hate him when he looks into her eyes?

With a playful nod to Jane Austen, Spies and Prejudice will captivate readers as love and espionage collide.

SG: Talia, thanks so much for stopping by my little blog! I just finished reading reading this book, which I loved and it was so fun to read. Where did the idea for Spies and Prejudice come from?

TV: My dad is a private investigator, and I once spent a summer working for him between college and law school.  I was a terrible spy, but the experience got me thinking about a story involving a teenage P.I.  Within minutes, Berry Fields appeared, talking in my head like a living, breathing person.  I knew that Berry was jaded and tough, and that she would not fall in love easily: she would be kicking and screaming all the way.  What kind of boy would she fall in love with?  It would have to be someone equally strong, someone who was more than Berry’s first impression.  Enter Tanner, a modern-day Mr. Darcy.  Once I knew I wanted the romance to follow the basic structure from Pride and Prejudice, I was off and running.

SG: Wow your dad is a P.I., very cool and what a great resource! Very authentic in the book. Did you research much for all the cool spy stuff/technology?

TV: I did research spy gadgets on the internet.  Some of the gadgets Berry uses (like the ninja claws) are actually available on the internet.  I also spoke to someone who worked for a company that developed gadgets for a government agency.  She couldn’t tell me about specific gadgets, but she did vet some of my gadgets, and was surprised that I came up with a few things that are actually in use.

SG: I can only imagine how many would love to get their hands on some ninja claws! So when you started writing Spies, how long did it take to write the first draft? Revisions?

TV: The first draft was written over about 90 days, which was largely deadline driven.  We sold the book off of a fifteen page sample, and the publisher wanted to see a full draft four months later.  It’s the fastest I’ve ever written anything, but the revisions took another eighteen months, including a from-scratch rewrite that took about six months.

SG: What was the hardest part of writing Spies and Prejudice?

TV: I had to cut a character based on Lydia Bennet from the final draft.  She was fun to write, but overcomplicated the plot, so I had to let her go.

SG: That’s too bad. Cutting characters you love is difficult, and would send me to the candy aisle. So If Berry walked into Albertson’s what would kind of candy would she buy?

TV: Berry would buy Sour Patch Kids.

SG: Excellent choice! Sour Patch Kids are the best! So, say Berry and Tanner were real teens riding in the limo going to the dance and they got hungry, where would they stop to get food?

TV: They would stop at In-N-Out burgers.

SG: Dang I wish they had those up here in WA. Hey, Talia, do you outline? Use any visual plotting method? And what are your favorite revision tools?

TV: I wasn’t always an outliner, but I definitely outlined this story.  I used index cards and a  cork board to visualize the plot, but once I created it, I never looked at it again.  It’s funny, because I still have those cards storyboarded, and fair portion of those scenes are not in the book.  So I outlined the basic plot elements, and then allowed myself to go “off-book.”

After I finish a complete draft, I create a chart summarizing each chapter in one or two sentences.  This “big picture” outline usually reveals plot holes or scenes that aren’t moving the plot forward.  It’s a great revision tool!

 SG: When do you write? What does your schedule look like? And when are you the most creative?

TV: I write on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Usually in four to six hour stretches. I’m most creative in my car, driving to and from work.  That’s when ideas pop into my head.

SG: It’s so weird how stuff always comes up in the car, huh? So where is the weirdest place you’ve written down story notes?

TV: I actually don’t write story notes outside of my outline.  I guess I follow Stephen King’s school of thought when it comes to story ideas.  If an idea sticks with me, than it’s something I need to write.  If it doesn’t, than I wait for the idea that does.

SG: This isn’t your first book, but did you learn anything new when you wrote this?

TV: Yes!  Every book has something to teach me, and this book taught me that it’s okay to start over.  I wrote and revised an entirely different version of this book, then threw it out and started over.  It was terrifying and liberating at the same time.  In the end, I let the characters tell their own story, and tried to keep myself from overthinking it.

SG: Have you ever wanted to strangle or shake one of your characters?

TV: Yes, Tanner.  He was not nearly as forthcoming as Berry when it came time to write.  I actually had to give a different name before he would let me peek inside his head.

SG: Um, I wanted to shake him too. What is your favorite part of the whole process of getting this book from your idea and into the hands of readers? Anything you want to share that I haven’t asked?

TV: I loved writing this book.  There were moments where the characters seemed to show up and start talking, completely wresting control of the scene from me.  Jason was especially good at stealing scenes and I loved writing every scene he was in.  But my favorite part has to be hearing from readers who enjoyed spending time with Berry, Tanner, Mary Chris and Jason as much as I did!  That’s always the hope, so it’s great when it happens.

SG: I loved these characters, especially Jason! I also loved how Mary Chris has two names, like most of the Marys I grew up with. Okay last question. When you’re sitting at your computer, stuck , what distracts you?

TV: Twitter.  I usually start tweeting my writing goals for the day as kind of a self-generating peer pressure.

Thank you, Talia! And speaking of Twitter, you can follow Talia @TaliaVance.

**Thanks for entering! Contest is now over!** Winner is KIERRA 🙂If you want to win an ARC of Spies and Prejudice Click here to enter Rafflecopter link

If you win, I may just toss in some Sour Patch Kids too!

Sorry, you must live in the United States because I’m a poor teacher and I can’t afford international shipping!