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How I got my Agent

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.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

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.

Sincerely, 

Clementine Fraser

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You don’t have to please everyone. Really.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to people please. Not out of a desire for approval, at least not anymore. I just love making people happy. But there’s a fine line between enjoying making people happier and beating yourself up because you can’t please everyone.

Bottom line – life is far too short to go around beating yourself up over anything. It’s not helpful, effective, or kind.

My journey to realising I don’t have to please everyone began years ago, back when my marriage first started cracking. I was talking with one of our school counsellors and out of the blue she asked me: “Where does this need to please everyone come from?”

Reader, I Was Shook.

Did I have a need to please everyone?

Where had it come from?

It took me ages to work it out. Closest I can make it is the lesson I learned first as an 8 year old and then again as a young adult dating – it doesn’t matter how nice and kind and pleasing you are, people will still leave you if they think you aren’t ‘good enough’.

That’s clearly an oversimplification of the complex dynamics of playground friendships and dating. But, on reflection, I realised it was an internalised certainty. If I don’t make everyone happy and twist myself into all sorts of compromises and take the blame for their negativity (basically if I fail to please them) they might leave me. They might hate me. Or just think I’m ordinary and boring (I’d prefer antagonism to be honest).

It has taken me a Long Long Time to be fine with the fact that not only will I not please all the people all of the time, but that I can’t. None of us can.

This doesn’t mean we don’t try, but rather that I believe the more assured and confident in our self we are, the more secure in our approach to the world and our art, the less we worry if who we are isn’t pleasing.

The three things that helped me to realise this are: teaching, writing, and Twitter. Yes. Twitter. That renowned hell site of social media.

Teaching:

One of the most important things you learn as a teacher is that your style of teaching is not going to suit every learner. With 33 teenagers in each class, and five classes a day, it’s simply not possible to be as differentiated in teaching approach as you want to be. You can’t be all things to all people all of the time. The most we can do is try our hardest to be effective in what we do, and keep trying new ways of communicating the learning to reach a range of kids. Sometimes, it comes down to figuring out who needs the most help, what kind they need, and giving everyone that same kind of approach. Those who are fine anyway deal with it, and those who are most in need are lifted.

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But here is the key thing – you don’t have to be the favourite, or even exciting and fun, to be an effective teacher.

Do I want to be everyone’s favourite teacher? Of course! Am I many kids’ fave? Yes. Do I need to be? No.

My job is to teach. And although I agree with Rita Pierson’s declaration that ‘kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,’ there’s a big difference between being liked for being fair and encouraging and good at your job, and being the favourite. As Pierson says, it’s more about being a kid’s champion than anything else. And you can do that without them loving the boring activity you made.

Not everyone is going to love every minute in your classroom or of the content you teach. And that is okay.

We all teach differently because we are all different people. Teaching is very bound to your own personality and style. Not every personality is the best for every student. And because teaching is founded on relationships, this can sometimes feel overwhelming. How do I be everything to all people?

We don’t.

We be ourselves as hard as we can. We respect and like students for who they are. That’s the foundation of a relationship, and that, in my opinion, is the foundation of successful teaching.

Writing:

The art we create through writing or drawing or music does not please or engage everyone.

That’s okay

*sob*

No, it really is.

But for someone like me who desperately wants everyone to LOVE AND ADMIRE ME GODDAMMIT, it has been hard to completely accept.

What has made it easier to be at peace with, for me, is critique. Critique by beta readers and critique partners, and critique by contest judges.

The first time someone critiques your precious beautiful piece of art, it can feel like a critique of YOU. We put so much of ourselves into our art that it can be hard to separate the two.

But (good) critique is never personal. It’s about making your vision even MORE your vision. Shaping the sketch into the masterpiece. And the more you feel centred in that vision, the easier the critique is to take.

Knowing your own voice as a writer is so important. Leaning into those stylistic quirks that distinguish you from others, knowing when to discard feedback that would change the nature of your story to someone else’s. Those are essential.

But also essential is knowing, and accepting, that not everyone is your audience. You won’t please all the readers all of the time.

I’ve had feedback from contest judges on the same pages that have varied ASTONISHINGLY. As in, one judge listed about 8 things in detail they thought I should change, and another said ‘seamlessly flawless. I wouldn’t change a thing.’ I’ve had rejections from agents saying they couldn’t connect with a morally grey character, and feedback from other agents saying they love that same character, but aren’t connecting with the concept. My debut is beginning to get a few reviews from advance readers and what makes it easier to handle is the fact I’ve completely internalised the fact that not everyone will love it. And that’s okay, because some other people will.

All I can do is be myself, tell my own stories, as hard as I can.

Likewise our enjoyment of art and media does not have to be shared by everyone. And we are allowed to have dissenting opinions.

Which leads me to….

Twitter:

Prior to joining Twitter, I’d never had a public online presence. I guarded my privacy and only had friends and family on my Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, I found I could curate my social media presence and experience. Connecting with and interacting with random strangers taught me a few things.

Listening is a good thing to do. Just listen. So often, we feel an urge to get involved in the ‘discourse’. It isn’t necessary and sometimes it just ends with us feeling riled up or upset. We don’t have to agree with or even understand everyone’s opinions. They don’t have to agree with ours. But it helps to listen and read and reflect.

Don’t track the follower numbers, just make friends and genuine connections. If you focus on building a platform over simply interacting and doing what you want, I believe that not only will you not have as much fun, but you won’t be as successful as you hope. People are drawn to authenticity. They don’t want to feel like they are just a means to an end.

I see a lot of writers worrying that they will lose followers if they aren’t bland and never voice opposing opinions. I say that it’s your page, your account, your views, and your values. If your follower count goes down because you made it clear you hold no space for racism or transphobia (for eg) then that’s a good thing.

Be yourself, and you will find the right audience. You will find the right friends.

You don’t owe anyone on social media your time or attention. I’m not talking about friends here (I have many true friendships with people I met on Twitter). I’m talking about acquaintances or randoms. We are brought up to be polite and considerate. And for those of us with people pleasing tendencies, it’s hard to feel like you can just ignore or not engage with people who are talking to us. But the thing is, social media is not the same as real life. They aren’t co-workers you have to nurture a relationship with so that daily life is not awful. They are, essentially, strangers. And you don’t have to be anyone’s mentor, therapist, life coach, bff, admirer–unless you want to.

Ultimately this comes down to being confident in yourself and looking after your boundaries.

Why is this important?

Feeling like you have to please everyone can leave you feeling overwhelmed and wrung out. It can make you feel like a failure, or that you have let people down.

When you truly accept that you CAN’T please everyone, but also that you don’t have to, it is very liberating.

People love you and admire your work because of who you already are. You don’t need to be anything other than yourself.

Trying to twist yourself into someone else’s expectations isn’t necessary and in the end just leaves you feeling discontent.

Be your own wonderful self. Do what you can to make people happy (because that’s a great thing to try to do). Don’t be afraid of holding your own opinions. Don’t feel bad for having boundaries. And accept the fact that just because you or your art are not some people’s fave, doesn’t make you any less wondrous or worthy.

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Toddler Tantrums and Life Lessons

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Hear me out. I know no-one enjoys a toddler tantrum, but as I drove past a park the other day I saw a mum trying to lift her toddler off the ground. Said toddler clearly didn’t want to leave the park and was embracing gravity for all they were worth.

It struck me all at once how this little scene was in fact a lesson for how to deal with all sorts of people, tantruming or not. I mentioned it to my teen who immediately understood what I meant and why I thought it related to him, and his peers.


Parents lift toddlers all the time. They’re heavy, but moveable. Mostly because they’re all ‘up! up!’, and hold themselves up.

Toddlers who refuse to be lifted are a different story. It’s like they’ve sucked in gravity and it’s holding them bound to the earth. When you finally heave them up, you might get a kick in the stomach for your pains and a screech in your eardrum.


We can try and lift people, and help them, and support them, but sometimes they aren’t ready. Sometimes they’re lying on the ground refusing to get up. Sometimes they’re frightened to get up. They push us away, shout, cover their eyes.

When people want to be lifted, it’s a lot easier.

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This isn’t to say that we walk away from them when they’re not wanting the help. That might be necessary for our own wellbeing at times but mostly I think when we have the spoons we want to stick around to help.

What it means is that we can’t save everyone. We can’t always help people who aren’t ready to be helped. Who don’t want us there.

And that isn’t our fault.

It’s not a burden in particular that a teen or child needs to bear when friends or those close to them aren’t ready to be helped. I think it’s an important message to let young people know that they don’t have to be the saviour. They can still try and help, but they need to know that stepping back to look after themselves is okay. Refill the jug. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

The way I see it in teaching is that I can easily help a kid who is struggling in my subject but who wants help and wants to improve. It’s so very much harder when they don’t want to be there at all. Part of the rewards of my job is when, through patience and kindness, I can wait long enough for the student to shift, to be able to sit up and ask to be lifted.

Many people I’m more than happy to wait it out. Be there until they’re ready.

But sometimes we can’t do that, and it’s actually okay.

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When negative emotions overwhelm – 7 suggestions to deal with it

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Emotions are tricksy beasts. Especially the negative ones. They build up until they’re a roiling mess of sobs and anger and UGH lying just under a thin film of ice. At any moment the control can snap, the ice shatter, and everything just cascades out.

Negative emotions are not inherently bad. Sadness can have its place, as can concern and worry. It’s when they layer one on top of each other so you can’t breathe, or when they appear hand in hand with negative self-talk, that the problem starts.

Suggested ways to deal with emotional tsunamis

These are ideas that work for me, or at least can help a little.

One: Write it Out

Maybe because I’m naturally happy writing, but I’ve always written out my emotions. In letters that I don’t send (and some that I do), in diaries, in endless lists and mind maps and jotted notes in planners and bits of refill.

Research shows that writing out your problems and emotions can be just as, if not often more, effective than talking it out. This article explains it well, and this one gives some advice on how to do it. Writing your feelings helps you to structure your thoughts – we naturally think in paragraphs or bullet points when writing. We edit ideas and words and definitions. This earlier post of mine shows the process I often go through. Writing can help me parse my thoughts and reframe my catastrophising.

You don’t need to do regular journalling to benefit from writing out your emotions. To be honest, the most therapeutic benefits I’ve experienced is from simply allowing myself to spill out all the thoughts and fears and demons that sweep down to roost at various times.

Two: Talk With Someone

Although writing can be just as therapeutic in many ways, there’s no doubt for me that talking is important. I think it’s the whole “a burden shared is a burden halved” thing.

Telling someone you trust about your problems, about the emotions threatening to explode out of you or the sneaky ones eating away at your sense of being – that talk can be such a weight lifted off. For me it’s that I’m no longer hiding how I feel. And honesty and openness are, I believe, healing.

Opening up to someone also means you end up with someone else in your corner, someone ready to have your back. And that’s helpful when dealing with either the negative self-talk, or emotions about something you can’t control.

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Three: Look! a Squirrel! Distraction Distraction

Honestly? Sometimes we just need to fill our heads with something light and fluffy and different. Baking shows. Comedians (I love Michael McIntyre for this purpose). Golden Buzzer winners. Puppy pictures.

Chris Evans Laughing. No, really. Evidence below.

Told you it is good.

Four: Exercise and Sleep

I know, sometimes sleep is impossible to achieve when those emotions keep you up in the middle of the night, brain whirling, or worse – tears falling. Routines help here. Doing the same thing every evening at the same time can help train your body into falling to sleep mode.

And this is where exercise helps too. Not just for working out those emotions and getting those sweet endorphins, but for helping you sleep.

Sleep is so incredibly important for resilience. And resilience is what helps us cope with emotional overwhelm in the long run.

I feel hypocritical advocating exercise when I’m possibly at my unfittest, but I also KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that when I’m fit, exercising, I feel better. I have more energy, I have more confidence, I feel more capable.

Exercise can be as simple as a walk, or some stretches, or dancing in your living room (dancing also gives happy vibes so that’s extra bonus points).

Five: Use Logic

So what I mean here is – I catastrophise. It’s easy to do, especially when those emotions are roiling. Logic makes me stop. I think backwards from the horrific end point my catastrophising has filled my brain with and at each step I question ‘how would THIS have happened?’. In the end, I usually prove to myself that whatever overblown fears my brain has cooked up are unlikely to happen.

If it’s a reasonable fear it’s a bit trickier. That’s when I use logic to tell myself things like; ‘It’s 3am. I literally can’t do anything about [Big Problem] now, so thinking about it will have to wait until tomorrow.” I follow that up with a promise to myself with a set time: ‘I will look at this or think about it at 11am tomorrow.” Middle of the night jotted out lists also help me go back to sleep because I’ve tricked my brain into thinking I’ve dealt with it.

This is reminiscent of ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy where you acknowledge the emotion, assess whether it’s useful, and if it isn’t, ‘thanks Brain but that’s not helpful right now.’ It isn’t about denying emotions, or even about solving them, just recognising that they exist but aren’t necessarily helpful. Then choosing a direction to take that is more helpful. Have a read about it here.

Six: Cry

Pretty self explanatory.

Sometimes we need a good cry.

Those emotions that are roiling under the surface? Sometimes we need to let them out in a safe space so they don’t explode at inopportune moments in ways we regret or are embarrassed by.

Stock up on the tissues and let it all out.

Seven: Be Kind To Yourself

This is kind of my go-to advice for most things really. Let yourself feel the emotions. Don’t beat yourself up for having them. Don’t tell yourself you’re weak for having emotions or for not being able to cope with them. That’s human. And feeling intense emotion is not a bad thing. It probably means you have a strong amount of empathy and empathy generally = good.

Don’t be horrible to yourself.

Give yourself time and space to deal.

Have that cupcake if it will help.

Snuggle in the blanket and feel sorry for yourself.

But also be kind enough to look after yourself – do the things that will help you feel better in the long term, not just in the short term.

That brings me to my final point

Bonus: Seek help if it’s really bad

Seeking help from trained professionals (General Practitioners, Counsellors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists) is never shameful. It isn’t weak. Seeking help is about one of the strongest things you can do. And it’s a big part of being kind to yourself.

I hope that some of these can help, and remember – you are not alone. There are others out there on the rising tide of overwhelming emotion as well. Maybe if we help each other out we can build a life raft that takes us to calmer waters.