Typing that made me beam.
I had pretty much given up on this. Not that I was ever going to stop querying and trying and persisting. But that little core of belief was dwindling pretty fast.
And now I’m so incredibly delighted that the amazing Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary is my agent, and shares my vision for my story and my career.
I always read people’s ‘How I Got My Agent’ posts, looking for reassurance and advice. Also I am just nosy. It is something special to be able to write my own!
First, the stats.
I’ve now written five complete books, and three unfinished about half books.
One is the first book I took to completion – REDEMPTION. There’s a lot I love about it, but it’s definitely in need of a full rewrite. It has been on the shelf pretty much since I wrote it. The only people who’ve read that one are my parents. It’s also the one I began writing when I was 19.
The second book I wrote is a full length fanfic on the return of King Arthur that I wrote initially for my sons and then for myself. It’s available on fanfic.net. Although I never had any intention of publishing it, I still count it because it’s a full length book (80k) and taught me a LOT about my writing process.
The last three I Queried.
Book number 3 is the first one I really took seriously, the book I began to believe I could do all the actual author things with – like get an agent and a book deal. That book is DUST BOUND.
I queried DB to over 100 agents (with 7 full requests) and then 6 publishers (with one full request) over the course of 18 months. The feedback (on the occasions when I got some) was pretty much universal – Fae are not marketable, the market is saturated with them, very well-written but I don’t know how to sell this.
DB won and placed in contests, and readers loved it, but it clearly wasn’t going to have a path in trad publishing. I decided last year that life was too short to sit around waiting when I have such faith in that book and its potential. DUST BOUND was self published in February this year, and has already had some really pleasing reviews.
Book number four, SIREN’S CALL (originally Lure of the Lost), was written while waiting for PitchWars mentees to be announced in 2018 (spoiler alert – I didn’t get selected). I didn’t query as widely for this one (only 27 agents and two publishers) because mermaids are a tougher sell, especially for adult, and especially with a more sci-fi/fantasy mash up. Following a RWA FFNP chapter contest win and a request, I published SC with The Wild Rose Press in January this year.
Book number five, and the book I signed with, LADY OF THE RAVENS, I queried to 50 agents over the course of 2020. I received 7 full requests and 2 partials, and one R&R. For the first time, rejections held much more feedback. I felt so positive about this one. I really felt it would be THE ONE. Then the realities of Covid and the political situation in the USA kicked in and the usual publishing waiting game seemed to slow down even more.
In total, over three manuscripts and three years, I sent out 180 queries.
I won’t say I gave up hope. But I kinda did. I think to be honest that’s more because I found writing during 2020 very difficult. I wrote about 35k on my WITCH OF MAYFAIR project before pushing it aside. I’d already pushed aside BLOOD CURSED ROSE, my vampire beauty and the beast, to work on WOM. (BCR is also at about 35k). Once the rejections on the fulls started coming in over the new year, I realised that for the first time in 3 years, I didn’t have anything ready to query. I threw myself into marketing SIREN’S CALL and getting DUST BOUND ready for release. Both things I am proud of. But all those writing fears about whether I’d ever be able to write a full story again kept raising their head and I was getting tired of smashing the doubts down again and again.
Then I got an email from Eva and everything careened back on track.
Funny story: When I got the email from Eva about ‘THE CALL’, I was sitting in my car sending angry texts to my 16yo while his 13yo brother had gone into my sister’s house where we were to have dinner with my family and told them I would be a little while. My son had not answered my calls so we were now crossly (on my part) texting back and forth about his evening plans (which didn’t involve the family dinner…) and a few other things that had really worked me up. I had seen a notification that I had an email from Eva, but I was certain it was a rejection. Of course it would come now, when I’m having such a crappy day, I thought as I stabbed at the phone keyboard. I took a minute in between texts to open the email.
I burst into tears.
I couldn’t stop crying as I read what Eva loved about the book, and those magic words ‘I’d love to have the chance to chat to you about this.’
I instantly messaged my son and said ‘I’m going to call and you have to pick up this time because it’s important.’
I rang him and started crying as soon as he picked up. I’m sure I freaked him out a little. I told him I had an agent wanting to talk about representing my book. He was so delighted and happy, told me again and again how proud he was.
I told him I was still cross. He laughed and said ‘fair enough’. But I said I wanted to tell him because I was so happy, and because for the last seven years he’s been a constant encourager and believer in my writing. We said our ‘I love yous’ then I went into the house to tell my other son, my parents, and my sister all at the same time. It was a wonderful surprise celebration.
A couple of things made me feel extra special about this. NASA’s Perseverance landed on Mars the same day as my own perseverance had seemed to pay off. And the call came five days after my late Grandmother’s birthday. The same Grandmother whose name I chose for my water witch in LADY OF THE RAVENS. I know it’s coincidence but it feels like a sign.
So that’s the stats, and THE CALL story.
Now I am sitting here in February 2021 having published two books and a short story since January, and with an agent. Seems like the universe dumped all its blessings on me at once.
But here’s the stuff that’s not so visible.
During 2018, when I finished and queried DUST BOUND and wrote SIREN’S CALL, I suffered from significant depression. Among other things in my life, it targeted my belief about my writing. I felt hopeless. Useless. Pathetic. A terrible awful writer. I couldn’t see any of the positive feedback from beta readers or contest judges. I blew any critique up in my mind to astronomical proportions. I kept saying I was going to give up.
But I didn’t.
I kept pressing send on those queries.
I kept revising.
I kept writing.
This was no inspirational ‘I felt the pain and did it anyway!’ This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder even than my marriage break up. I couldn’t make my bed or clean my house. I took prolonged regular time off work. I would sit sobbing on the edge of my bed for an hour, hopeless and hating myself. I wept in the shower, loathing myself and my stupidity because I had forgotten to bring a towel into the bathroom. I was very unkind to myself. I talked about deleting my stories. About giving up on my dreams, because I was so unworthy of them. It was an awful time.
But I kept turning up to the computer.
I kept pushing send on the queries, even when doing so made my heart pound so much I felt sick.
It was my writing buddies on Twitter and my family who kept me writing. Believed for me when I had no belief of my own.
If there are two lessons you take from this, let them be: a) find and hang on to those people who lift you up, and b) seek treatment and help.
The difference once I started getting better was noticeable. I re-read a beta reader’s comments and saw, for the very first time, all the wonderful admiring things she had said.
I didn’t start writing RAVENS, the story that snagged me an agent, until 2019, so you might wonder why I’ve included this story in this post. I think it’s easy to forget that no book stands entirely on its own. Each book we write builds on what we learned in the last one. Each book we write draws on the threads of our life and experience.
I also think it’s important that we acknowledge that life, and writing, don’t always go smoothly or the way we planned. I am so incredibly proud of myself for continuing to try when my brain wouldn’t allow me to have any hope or belief at all. Writing didn’t exactly save me, but it gave me the means to save myself.
An author friend I met at conferences, Yvonne Lindsay, told me years ago of her own story of persistence. That sheer bloody determination and never giving up is what it takes to get published, to achieve your dreams. At my lowest moments I would think of her story and keep going. I hope that maybe someone will see my own story and one day it will help them decide not to give up.
Writing and publishing is hard. We put our hearts into our work then offer it up to be judged and rejected. I know the ‘it only takes one yes!’ can be exhausting to hear again and again when all you are hearing is ‘no’. But it’s true. The real secret though – that yes has to be from yourself to yourself.
Say yes to yourself. Never give up. It will happen.
And in case it might be helpful, I’ve included here a copy of the query that snagged a full request from Eva.
Dear Eva Scalzo,
LADY OF THE RAVENS is a complete 94000 word adult fantasy which combines a reimagined Lady Macbeth with the forest witchery of UPROOTED and the battle for power twisted with prophecy of THE RUIN OF KINGS.
Elena killed a king to please her husband, protect her unborn child, and take the power she craves. Now, as her treacherous husband sits on a stolen throne, she hides her magic and identity in a small village, hoping the world believes her dead.
When she discovers her husband is hunting their infant son in order to prevent him from fulfilling a prophecy, she decides to seek help from the witches who raised her, and who helped her husband to the throne. Leaving her child in safety, and joined by a woodsman who has secrets of his own, she journeys to the coven in order to make a deal—her life for her son’s. Her power for his protection.
But two of the coven are dead, murdered by the king, and her sister has been taken captive.
Now, against a backdrop of rival claimants battling for the throne and a number of magical creatures to whom she owes favours, Elena must fight for her child’s safety and her sister’s life. When the woodsman she is learning to love reveals he too has a claim to the throne, she must choose her path—trust or isolation, love or power.
And, along the way, she needs to kill another king.
My debut novel, LURE OF THE LOST, will be published by Wild Rose Press 2020/21. I have won a range of awards for my unpublished writings across several manuscripts, all of which are fantasy and romantic fantasy. I am a member of the Romance Writers’ Association in New Zealand, and a keen blogger. One of my short stories appeared in The Flying Ketchup Press’s 2019 Goldilocks Zone anthology. I have also had an education based article published in February 2020’s New Zealand Education Gazette.
Thank you for your time and consideration.