When I started writing my first book in 2015, I didn’t know a single person who wrote. I also didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book because I didn’t consider myself a writer. I’d never taken a single writing class (except what was needed for school) and I was clueless on the whole process of writing and publishing books.
So I made the ultimate rookie mistake. I whipped out a book in five months and thought I’d written a bestseller. I figured I’d find an agent lickety-split and googled, “how to find a literary agent.” And then I sent out queries. NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON BESIDES MYSELF HAD EVER READ THAT FIRST DRAFT. You heard that right. I queried a FIRST DRAFT!
I’d also found from my google search that I should personalize my queries. So I sent out some cringe-worthy queries, such as the one below, where I told an agent I hoped my book would make her heart beat faster than a bike ride. Huh?
Miraculously, that first book actually netted me 5 requests from agents. The pages I sent out were full of more rookie mistakes – so much telling and barely any showing, pages of no dialogue, jumping back and forth between backstory and present with nothing anchoring it down, and pacing that stalled more than traffic on the 405 in LA during rush hour.
Needless to say, I wised up. I finally researched and joined a critique group. And met my first writers in real life. I shyly gave them sample pages to read and held my breath. They gave me such great constructive criticism that I cringed again thinking of the pages I’d sent out to agents. I realized as a writer, you can’t write in a vacuum, with no one reading your words. I had to put myself out there, have other writers read my work and also read their work. The act of critiquing other people’s works helped me to be a better writer, because I could see what works and what doesn’t.
I joined Twitter and found a whole writing community. I found an affordable conference in New York City and learned so much about how to write a query and how to pitch agents properly. And I didn’t give up, even when I wanted to. Through hundreds of rejections, I kept plugging along. I wrote 3 books total before I finally signed with an agent, 4 years after I started writing that first book.
And when I did, my then six-year-old son wrote his own story about Mommy finding an agent.
I think his advice says it all. If you believe in your stories, and if writing brings you joy, never give up. And find yourself some critique partners or a critique group and get to know the whole publishing process before you send out those queries. Don’t be like me.
And to the agents that I sent those strange queries to (there are more but I’m not showing you because they were even more cringe-worthy than the one I posted here), I’m sorry if I’ve scarred you for life.
Lyn Liao Butler
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- Interview with Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic and Adobo - Wednesday, July 28, 2021