How I Got My Agent, Part 2 [Part 1 here.]
Or, How Monsters Born and Made became the book that got me my agent
The very first kernel of MONSTERS was the world. An oceanic world with monstrous creatures and only ten islands, and a harsh sun. All of it makes living conditions unbearable. There was a lot of conflict in this basic premise and I came up with many ideas almost immediately.
I made a careful outline and finished the first draft within weeks. After two rounds of my revision, I sent Draft One to my two writing friends, whose feedback was similar, so I knew I was on the right path and at least was understanding what was wrong with the draft (spoiler: I wasn’t).
The feedback-based revision expanded the same story, added things, made the lore more complicated to make the story interesting. So, Draft Two was a too-convoluted-for-one-book manuscript which I entered into pitch wars. I got requests, and thought my careful planning of the outline is paying off. Except, of course, it didn’t.
At this point, in my previous manuscripts I’d have given up. I have revised and it’s not clicking. I love the story and the characters, but I’m equally interested in having a big splashy event of finding the perfect story and getting an agent the day before. But something about this story had got stuck in my mind. I went back to every craft book I’d read. Spent months analyzing what they’re saying about what makes a good story. Made outlines again, went chapter-by-chapter to make spreadsheets and what not. I was extremely technical about this draft and because it fit every parameter in the craft books, I knew the structure I had was right. I needed that one thing that makes it all click.
Draft Three was a major re-write. It added characters, rounded out existing characters, combined subplots and changed the trajectory of the story. It was, again, a different iteration of the story. Recognizable, but not.
In between all these drafts, I was nearly always tweaking the ms’s anyway. Three re-writes also include the constant sessions of feedback and revisions. I also had my perfect query–and I don’t say this lightly. My agent and publisher both made use of my pitch from the query, too. So I once again got stuck on how I could have a good story on my hand, but not the execution.
Draft Four was experimental. I added new POVs, which expanded the story and freed up the main POV from a lot of back and forth. This time, I thought the story was interesting and more fun.
This Draft Four (or Draft Eight, depending on if you count the developmental edits going on in each draft too) is what I entered in Pitch Wars. My mentor emailed to ask me what I thought of re-hauling the whole entire manuscript and make big changes. I was so tired by that point. But I had done so much for the story, it deserved this one chance. So of course I said yes. Whatever it takes.
The Pitch Wars revision involved, guess what, stripping the entire story and going back to the beginning. Change the entire tournament arc and local settings, delete multiple characters several of whom drove subplots crucial to the climax, and streamline the many threads or delete them.
This final Draft Five, thanks to my mentor’s insight, finally reached the execution I had always wanted to bring to the first kernel of this idea. I had what this book was about: the world, the creatures, and my main character, Koral. This was finally her story.
All the logical analysis of structures and plots, and I find that it was the core soul of this story that had made home in me. No matter what happens with it, I wanted to give it every chance without impatience.
Pitch Wars, of course, is a slight advantage in the querying inbox because it makes agents read the queries faster since they know that others are vying for the same manuscripts they’re interested in.
That is why, after years of the querying process, I dropped my phone on my face when I saw my first offer within 24 hours. It was a whirlwind two weeks as I went back and forth with agents and signed with one. I had an advocate for my story, the way I had always wanted.
If anyone hears this last part, devoid of everything that came before, it would sure feel like an exception. But again, these 24 hours came after years of persistence and tears. When I read these kinds of posts before, there were two reactions I always had: 1) Scoff and close the tab 2) Believe that the person writing this might really know what it’s like to be in my place, maybe I can be easier on myself, and trust myself.
Talent and hard work goes a long way in publishing, but the perfect alchemy also requires luck and timing. This industry is easier on the privileged, so remember that.