Wednesday, March 30, 2011

QUICKIE: Finally Field Grade

Every post doesn’t have to be long and thoughtful. Sometimes a quickie is in order.

Last night, I received great news. My Air Force Reserve commander called to inform me that the promotion board selected me for Major. I jumped for joy while my dh watched with a perplexed expression, then squashed my squeal of glee and maintained some semblance of military bearing in my voice.

I’m finally a field grade officer. For those who don’t know, a field officer in the US military is a commissioned officer (O-4 to O-6) senior in rank to a company officer (O-1 to O3), but junior to a general officer. Field officers can be expected to operate somewhat independently for short periods of time commanding infantry battalions, cavalry or artillery regiments, warships, or air squadrons (depending on service of course). They also fill staff level positions. The Army, Marines, and Air Force typically use the term field grade. I believe the Navy prefers the term senior officer.

Although this is my first time up for promotion to O-4, I feel like it has been long in the making. After leaving the Army and running toward the light, aka the Air Force, I have worked toward this goal. Every military decoration earned and every officer performance report I have sweated over, even as a butter bar, was with this objective in mind. Hallelujah.

And for the record, I was just as proud to serve in the Army as I am in the Air Force, but now I'm a lot happier.

I know all of my military buddies are wondering, what about Lt Colonel? For now, my current objectives flow from my primary focus: my family and my writing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not A Golden Heart Finalist: What Does It Mean?

We all know what making the finals in the crème de la crème of romance contests means. Becoming a Golden Heart finalist means recognition and requests from professionals in the industry (agents and editors). Not to mention joining the prestigious ranks of previous finalists and earning the respect of your peers. It is the one romance award pre-pubs go Goo-Goo Ga-Ga over, and some lose sleep in anticipation of the announcement of the finalists.

I entered the GH in Nov 2010, and then put it out of my head. Constantly focusing on the outcome would only lead to stress, and in the event I didn’t make it also heartbreak. Well, I didn’t make the finals and I’m completely bummed. Having recently landed an agent does help, but I’ll be honest, previous contest wins no longer hold the same weight. At the end of the day, what does it mean?

For starters, the world is not over. If you didn’t make the finals, spend the weekend acknowledging your disappointment. Eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s, have more wine than you should, drown your sorrows in a scented bubble bath, or get a massage like I plan to tomorrow. Then on Monday morning, let it go and take a reality check.

There are lots of successful authors who have entered contests and never won any of them. It does not mean your writing is sub-par. How many times have you heard of writers who entered the exact same manuscript two years in a row in the GH and only finaled once? Okay, you have the rare heavy-hitter out there, like Sharon Lynn Fisher who keeps making the finals and her talent clearly can’t be denied. BTW, Huge Congratulations to Sharon for making the finals yet again! For those who don’t know, Sharon has a phenomenal “Untouchable” agent, Robin Rue.

Getting back on track, if you didn’t receive the GH call, the same manuscript can still be published. In 2010, Erica Ridley’s Too Wicked To Kiss didn’t make the finals, but her agent sold it later that year to Kensington in a two book deal. It’s also a book club pick, www.2wicked2kiss.com.

When Anne Marsh entered the Golden Heart, she scored in the bottom 25%. Six months after not getting the GH call, she landed agent Roberta Brown and had a contract for a different book. Her manuscript, which didn’t make the GH cut, Bond With Me, was published in 2010, annemarsh.wordpress.com. Vicky Dreiling entered How To Marry A Duke in the GH twice and didn’t final either time. Her book was published by Grand Central this past January, www.vickydreiling.com.

To all those wondering why the novel you rushed to complete simply to enter the GH or poured your soul into didn’t earn the scores to become a finalist, I say take HEART. Your “baby” is not ugly. Publication is still possible and so is landing an agent. Last year, Wendy Marcus was exactly where you are today, disappointed she didn’t get the call. Less than a month later, she had an agent, wendymarcus.blogspot.com/2010/04/lots-of-good-things.html. You never know what wonderful news is just around the corner. So keep writing, querying, and yes, entering contests. And don’t forget to stay positive!

Congratulations to Aislinn MacNamara, Laurie A. Green, and all other GH finalists.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Call: How I Landed My Agent

I waited until I had a signed contract in hand before blogging about this because I am still in shock. For my fellow aspiring authors who may be curious, I queried for a year following the rule of ten. I always had ten things going between contest entries and queries.

Three months after I started entering contests, I made the finals and created four lists of agents. The first list was labeled “Untouchables”. They were great agents I wanted, but were either super hard to get AND not taking e-queries or not accepting queries at all. What made them great? They had to have five things that were important to me on a dream list of agent qualifications, and not many have all five. I’m not sharing what those five things were, but I highly recommend doing your homework on Publisher’s Marketplace to decide what factors are important to you when choosing agents. I figured if I was lucky enough to become a finalist in the 2011 Golden Heart, I would query the Untouchables.

All agents on the other three lists took e-queries. I ranked them in tiers based partly on qualifications and partly on likability from interviews or their blog, and queried KINDRED OF THE FALLEN in small batches. In the summer of 2010, I received a request for the full from an agent I shall refer to as Agent A. She liked the manuscript and thought it could be terrific with changes = revise and resubmit (R&R). While working on revisions, I focused on contests instead of queries. The major changes I made took five months as I had a ton going on in my life, which is a story all by itself.

By the time I resubmitted to Agent A, I had a request for the full from an editor at Grand Central publishing, but Agent A said it would take her “a while” to get to it. Patience is not my strength. I queried Agent B from tier three to test out the revised manuscript. Her assistant requested the full. Feedback arrived right after the New Year and it was extremely positive. There was one thing she thought needed to be changed, but no request to resubmit. I was appreciative of the feedback and not particularly bummed.

My plan was to finish polishing my urban fantasy, PARADOX, and to work on changes of KOTF later. At the end of Jan 2011, an agent I had queried months ago, Agent C, said she found my query letter in her spam folder and asked me to send her the full. I knocked out the changes to KOTF in a week based off of Agent B’s feedback, and sent it off to her. I was excited about the revision, and had received another request for the manuscript from an editor at Tor, so I queried a new batch of agents. I wanted an agent advocating my work to editors rather than sending it directly myself.

Agent D, from the new batch, responded fairly quickly to the query saying she loved what she read in the opening pages and wanted to read the rest. As other agents were also reading, she told me she would get back to me soon.

Then out of the blue, I received an email from Untouchable Agent E. I thought the email was some kind of mistake, as I hadn’t queried Agent E, and stared at her name for five minutes before opening it. She was the Romantic Suspense judge for a contest I had entered and saw my name on the list of finalists in the Paranormal category. She googled me, found my website, contacted me through my website email address and requested to see the full of KOTF if it was still available.

After hyperventilating, I sent her the full manuscript. The very next day, she wrote back stating she only wanted to take a peek, but loved what she’d read so far and would get back to me in one week. I didn’t get too excited because I knew I could get another R&R. One week later to the day, she emailed stating how much she enjoyed the manuscript, was most impressed with the world-building, the spirituality inherent in the storyline, and the writing, and wanted to know if I would be open to some editing suggestions. I said YES. She stated she’d call me the following week. Okay, I screamed like a maniac at this point, but I knew the phone call didn’t mean she wanted to represent me.

So, I made a list of questions for the agent and came up with a game plan. If super agent E, who I wanted, conveyed passion about my work on the phone and I clicked with her, then I would look no further if she offered to represent me. If offered representation, but we didn’t have that magic spark, she seemed lukewarm while speaking about my work, or said anything which raised an instinctual warning flag, I would ask for one week while contacting all other agents.

During the conversation, I found out she wanted to expand her current paranormal list and contacted me because she loved my name. And for the record, Isis is my real name. Kisses and Hugs to my mother. Thankfully, I had a website providing contact information. Of course I wondered if she had reached out to any of the other paranormal finalists. She was quick to satisfy my curiosity by telling me I was the only one. Her enthusiasm over my work gripped me with both hands, she understood my vision for the series, and I had no qualms about her editing suggestions. I was sold!

I know, I know, you’re supposed to contact every agent reading and those sitting on your query, tell them you have an offer of representation, give those interested a week to read, and hear what they had to say before making a decision. I received more requests for the full manuscript from agents leading up to the call and after. I’ve heard accepting an agent’s offer of representation is sort of like accepting a proposal of marriage. Well, I was looking for true love with a hot guy, so to speak. It’s great when others want you because editors are interested (I received a third editor request) and another agent has deemed your work worthwhile, but deep in my gut I knew this was the one. When she asked to read the full, she didn’t know editors had requested my work and it wasn’t until after she offered representation that she learned other agents were reading the manuscript.

Agent E finding me and loving my work felt like destiny. Who am I to question a gift from the universe when it’s exactly what I wanted? It may sound crazy to pass up a chance to say I had X number of offers or to find out what that number might have been, but I can honestly say I have never regretted following my gut … except for that one time in Vegas. Even my husband, who is an unwavering voice of reason, agreed with my decision.

Today, my contract arrived in the mail and I signed with Helen Breitwieser of Cornerstone Literary Agency. For those aspiring authors on the hunt, I say don’t hesitate to enter contests or to create a web presence (blog or website) where others can find you. You never know what can happen.