Celebrating a Success!

confetti 4With all the scary, anxiety-inducing world events currently taking place, it’s wonderful to have something to celebrate. I am so thrilled to announce that Sarah Taylor, who was my Pitch Wars mentee in 2017, signed with literary agent Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong Literary Agency!! Sarah is a delightful writer and person, and I hope everyone will get a chance to read her heartfelt YA novel one day soon! Below, she tells the story of her journey to signing with an agent.

SARAH’S STORY:

Finding an agent is one of the most challenging steps to becoming a published author. Not only does it take lots of hard work and persistence, it also requires serendipitous timing and a lot of luck! For me, the process took several years.

While I’ve written in sporadic bursts throughout my life, I only began writing seriously about ten years ago—when I wrote a book with a scattered plot that I could never quite tie into a structured novel. Sensing that I needed to improve my story-telling skills, I began reading books and blogs on crafting a novel.

Then, about five years ago, I started a new book, which I drafted in only a few months. I completed a round of revisions and decided to start querying literary agents. As a novice writer, it can be hard to know when your novel is ready, and mine wasn’t. I suspect this is pretty common—in retrospect I can see that my manuscript needed more work, but at the time, I didn’t have the experience to realize that.

I received a few manuscript requests (just enough to keep me encouraged) and a lot of rejections. As time passed, I worked hard on improving the query letter I sent out to agents and on revising my manuscript. I also utilized the critique skills of numerous agents by doing a “first pages” critique and several short critique meetings, which were facilitated by the writing and publishing website, Manuscript Academy. Those meetings helped me to acquaint myself with reputable literary agents while also improving my writing skills.

Eventually, I decided to call it quits on the manuscript I’d been polishing. But, as a last-ditch effort to make my manuscript publishable, I decided to enter a revision contest called Pitch Wars. I crossed my fingers and toes, submitted to Pitch Wars, and spent several weeks waiting in anxious expectation.

I think my heart stopped beating for a minute when the “Welcome to Pitch Wars!!!” email from my new mentor, Susan Gray Foster, arrived in my inbox. While Pitch Wars was stressful and involved lots of deadlines, working with Susan was a dream! Her experience as a book coach gives her a great editorial eye and a good instinct for story. She helped me develop a new subplot, give my manuscript a much stronger ending, craft a concise pitch for the agent showcase, and land on a new title. And her detailed line edits were always spot-on!

By the end of Pitch Wars, my manuscript was a thousand times better. I sent the manuscript off to agents who had requested during the contest and also started querying again. The rejections rolled in slowly, but I also got complimentary comments from agents and two requests to revise and resubmit (known as an R&R). I could tell I was getting closer! Inspired, I buckled down and completed two more rounds of intense revisions, both of which took several months.

Then, one evening in January—about three years after Pitch Wars—it finally came: the email I’d been waiting for. I think I read that email a hundred times, because I couldn’t quite believe my eyes! It was an email from the agent who’d read an early version of my manuscript and who’d encouraged me to revise it again. This time, she said she’d loved my manuscript and that she wanted to set up a phone call.

I had a great chat with the agent, Alyssa, and I signed with her about a week later. I had followed Alyssa’s career online from afar and was always impressed with what a tenacious advocate she is for her clients.

Now, I’m in the process of getting ready to go on submission to editors at publishing houses and also outlining a potential sequel for my manuscript. I’m excited and grateful, and I know I couldn’t have done it without Susan’s constructive and kind critiques, her thoughtful analysis, and her love for my manuscript. The path to publication isn’t an easy one, and I’m so grateful to have a friend and ally in Susan and a new advocate in Alyssa!

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Follow Sarah on twitter: @s_taylor7

 

A little romance—in writing and in life

img_0104Many think of romance as grand gestures: dozens of roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, diamond jewelry. That may work for some, but to me romance isn’t about big gestures or stereotypical gifts. Romance means a special, almost magical connection between two individuals. It’s knowing and caring about what another person values and what will make them feel understood and loved.

It’s universal. It’s personal.

Once, when I was a student doing a junior year abroad in London, I went on a date with an American boy who had many romantic notions, not only about the kind of romance that happens between a boy and a girl, but also a fascination with the Romantic poets—Keats, Bryon, Shelley—and about reading and writing poetry in this beautiful, history-laden city. He pulled out all the stops for our date: a European-style picnic with baguettes, brie, wine, flowers, and reading romantic poetry.

I was not impressed. I was angry.

Why? Because the date had nothing to do with me. He knew nothing about me and gave no thought to learning about what I might enjoy. He didn’t talk to me or get to know me. I was just a pawn in his elaborate romantic fantasy. (And I’m pretty sure he was deceiving himself, too.)

Romance is an important aspect of many novels, yet, as writers, we often struggle with how to convey romance, how to capture the essence of two people falling in love in a way that will capture readers’ hearts as well. Sometimes we resort to overblown romantic gestures that fall flat.

Anna and the French Kiss (Anna and the French Kiss, #1)However, one beloved YA novel that catches the essence of romance beautifully is Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. It’s full of sweet, personal connections between fully fleshed-out, individual characters.

There’s a moment when St. Clair gives Anna a gift—not flowers, chocolate, or expensive jewelry. It’s just a little trinket, probably costing less than a dollar, useless, meaningless to almost everyone except the two individuals involved. It’s a little bead in the shape of a banana—St. Clair’s silly, affectionate nickname for Anna. To the two individuals involved (and the reader), it’s full of meaning. It’s personal. It’s his name for her. It’s an “inside joke”—something that only the two of them share. And it means he’s thinking about her. It’s romantic. Anna, and readers, are falling head-over-heels for St. Clair.

To me, in both life and in novels, that’s what romance is all about—a unique, individual, personal connection that hints at the mystery and power of love. And a little can go a long way.

What does romance mean to you? What are some of your favorite novels when it comes to capturing romance? Please leave a comment!

Why I write

Each day after lunch, I rushed back to my fourth grade classroom, where our teachers where-the-red-fern-4would gather all four classes together and read aloud. I cherished this time, adored Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

But Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, captured my heart forever. This middle grade novel tells the heartbreaking story of a determined boy and the bond of love he builds with his hunting dogs, Big Dan and Little Ann.

Why did I fall in love with Where the Red Fern Grows, why does it still hold a special place in my heart, and what does it have to do with my writing? The obvious answer is that I loved dogs as a child (and still do!) and so of course a story about a boy’s love for his devoted pair of dogs appealed to me. But when I think of that book, through the years, a particular image fills my mind: a red fern growing between two graves. Although I couldn’t have articulated it at the time (or before today, actually) that red fern told me that love lives on, the spirit lives on, that even when life is tragic, it has meaning.

I’ve heard some people don’t like Where the Red Fern Grows or think it’s appropriate for children, because it’s “too sad.” Yes, it’s sad, heartbreaking, but I would argue that there is nothing more hopeful and uplifting than that red fern growing between the graves.

The meaning of the red fern resonates for me just as strongly today as it did back in fourth grade, and I’ve been reflecting on this recently. I’ve realized that many (possibly all) of my writing ideas and works-in-progress are concerned with the boundaries between life and death, and glimpses of an afterlife.

Why?

Because I believe in the power of the spirit, the power of love. I believe that we are more than just physical bodies with physical needs and desires (and this includes all living creatures—Big Dan and Little Ann—not just humans). I believe that two dogs could love a boy enough to sacrifice their lives for him and for each other, and that their love is powerful enough to transcend death and make a red fern spring up on their grave.

I write because of that belief in love and the spirit and hope. Life has meaning. And I have the audacity to hope that I can capture and express a little of that in a story that will maybe mean something to someone else. (And I hope my stories will also be exciting, fun, captivating, entertaining, and maybe a little scary and heartbreaking, just like Where the Red Fern Grows.)

I hope that one day, maybe I can plant the seed of a red fern in someone else’s heart.