Hello there, you perky cup of caffeinated life-giving force,
Oh, sorry. I was speaking to my coffee. Again.
One of the best things you can do as a writer trying to take that next big step--securing literary representation--is to see how other writers have successfully done so before you. It is not magic, but it can require a great deal of effort, revision, clever wording, and good old-fashioned putting-yourself-out-there. And of course, a great project that matches just right with someone else, which is a bit like magic, after all.
After I workshopped my second MG novel, SURF MONKS OF NEW HAWAII, in Pitch Wars 2017, I got a good bit of requests and was eagerly awaiting to hear back from agents on my full submissions. I also queried when it was allowed, and this is the one I used:
Dear Agent First Name,
I'm excited to query you with SURF MONKS OF NEW HAWAI'I as it hits your MSWL for humorous, fun, fresh, thoughtful stories. I hope you enjoy!
Twelve-year-old Pallie lives in exile aboard a city of sinking cruise ships where she spends her days dreaming about the family she's never had and spying on the shores of New Hawai’i—forbidden to Tourists like her. When Ship City receives the first radio transmission from the Mainland U.S. since the world went dark and New Hawai’i’s Locals banished them to the water, there’s finally hope for rescue and an end to the Tourists’ extended “vacation.”
Until Pallie accidentally fries the radio.
Now Pallie must sneak ashore in a dangerous undercover mission to find the radio’s replacement. The annual gathering of the Surf Monks has just begun, and acolytes seeking to train in their mystical bodacious ways are arriving from all over Big Island, giving Pallie the perfect cover. Surfing by day and searching for the radio by night, Pallie discovers the life—and the family—she’s always craved among the Locals she believed were her enemies. But with water levels rising every day, Ship City needs her more than ever, and completing her mission means risking her new life. Torn between two feuding worlds, Pallie must choose before her secret’s exposed, Ship City sinks, and she loses her chance at a family forever.
SURF MONKS OF NEW HAWAI’I is an upper MG speculative adventure complete at 65,500 words and was recently showcased in the 2017 Pitch Wars Competition. SURF MONKS will appeal to fans of surfing, espionage, and survival stories, while making everyone who reads it desperate to visit Hawai’i. As for me, I’m a _______, a former teacher, a terrible surfer, and a two-time Pitch Wars Mentee (2016 and 2017). Thank you for your time and consideration; the first ten pages are pasted below.
But, despite this cute little query and the obviously delightful novel it represents, things were taking a while. About 6 weeks after the Pitch Wars agent round, I'd gotten a few rejections, but had many more I was waiting to hear back on, and the December shopping holidays were upon us all. I felt quite a bit of doom, to be honest, so I decided to slap together some tweets for #pitmad to drum up more interest.
It turns out that was a very good idea. I wrote 3 different versions, but it was my strange, slightly poetic one that caught the eye of two major editors, and... no one else. I was heartened to see such amazing editors favorite my pitch, but disheartened that agents had left me asunder, yet again. Here was the pitch:
A city of sinking cruise ships,
A forbidden paradise in her binoculars view,
An undercover #MG mission ashore to find the last working radio Before Ship City sinks, the Locals discover a Tourist spy in their midst, + Pallie loses the family she never expected to find #pitmad
Nice, right? I thought so. Thanks, coffee cup.
Two favorites. From two big editors. Now, what was I supposed to do with that?
After asking approximately 3 dozen of my closest writer friends, I decided to go with the slightly less popular advice of notify all the agents with my full and partial subs to let them know I'd had editor interest. It just seemed like a big deal. Also, I was very impatient and nine months' pregnant. Did I mention that part yet?
Here's how I notified them:
Yesterday during Pitmad, I received two awesome editor requests for SURF MONKS OF NEW HAWAI'I. (Awesome Person), Senior Executive Editor for (Awesome Imprint), requested I send the full directly to her, and (Amazing Person), Senior Editor for (Amazing Imprint), also favorited my pitch. Amazing Person's instructions were that if anyone she requested got an agent, to please submit to her right away. I wasn't sure whether this is update-worthy, but the idea of sending my MS straight to Awesome Person is both exciting and terrifying, and I'd much rather have an agent before making that kind of contact with a big imprint.
I hope this is appropriate to update over! I'm grateful for your time and consideration for my manuscript--not trying to rush you at all! I just figured it was good information to share. :)
Of the 20 or so agents I let know about this, about 10 responded enthusiastically that yes, this was important to update over, 5 more said awesome, I'll try to read soon, and the other 5 were like, who are you, again? Not bad odds! And it turns out, my wonderful agent, Carrie Pestritto, was one of the ones whose interest was piqued. She'd already had a partial, but she read it, upgraded it to a full, and a few days later, I received a request for a call.
I almost gave birth right then. Instead I threw my cellphone forcefully on the bed and did a strange little hop, the best such a large, unwieldy body could manage, and I've been smiling ever since.
The moral of this story is, don't be so scared of agents that you don't update them with news that might get them excited about your book. SURF MONKS is a weird premise, which you probably can surmise from the bit you've read about it here. Knowing big editors were interested in it absolutely helped get my book read. It was up to the book itself, and me, after that point to woo them into offering rep.
Now, go put yourself out there and rock back in forth in a corner for a bit until you're externally validated.
Cheers! And good luck!