RSS Feed Print
Pretend You're an Agent: Would you want to read more?
LilySea
Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2011 1:44 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Dear Agent,

 

[Something specific about you] and I thought you might be interested in my 50,000-word young adult adventure novel, Jack.

 

Born a girl during the Civil War, Jack has been passing as a boy in the slums of Five Points, Manhattan since running away from an orphans' home at age eight. At nineteen, Jack is a young man with ambitions beyond picking pockets and playing poker. Most of all, he longs to see his childhood sweetheart, Lily, again. When the opportunity to steal a diamond necklace for a rich client comes his way he takes it. But finishing the job may require much more than he bargained for--especially since the diamonds are in the hands of Lily's rapacious stepfather, in a rowdy mining town in the Arizona Territory.

 

I am a freelance writer with many online and print credits in the areas of personal essay and opinion. I have a PhD in English and high school and college teaching experience in writing and American literature. You can find me online at ShannonLCCate.com and on Twitter as LilySea.

 

Thank you for your time,

 

Shannon LC Cate

email

phone number


Stevie McCoy
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 6:18 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 38


The first couple sentences kind of have me not interested but when you say she wants to see her childhood sweetheart again. Then I have a question in my mind, why hasn't she seen her already, why was she separated from her in the first place? These are good questions and gives the reader incentive to read more.
I am not an agent but I would probably ask for the first chapter to see what this was about. Though the intro first sentences could be stronger.

Exciting that your starting your queries! Goodluck
nancy lopez
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 8:57 PM
Joined: 8/12/2011
Posts: 23


Hi Lily,

I'm far from pro status, you're more at the top chain than I am, but what I can tell you is that this does sound interesting. I would be curious to read that first chapter. But I agree with Stevie McCoy. I don't know how to feel with that opening girl-boy line.

If anything, it's sure to the point what he wants-where's he going.

What I want to know is if this young girl is aware about this and accepted her/him in their childhood. So, I am a little curious about their relationship and what's she expectiong.

Hope this helps?

Nancy
LilySea
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 9:52 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Yep--I have to slip that gender stuff right in there, because it's an important twist on the story, but not a huge plot element.

Thanks for the feedback, folks!
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:19 AM
• At nineteen, Jack is a young man with ambitions beyond picking pockets and playing poker. Most of all, he longs to see his childhood sweetheart, Lily, again.

Doesn’t work for me because we went from eight to nineteen. Does childhood sweetheart mean at eight, or later? No way to tell since at eight it would be a friend, not sweetheart. This paragraph made it seem that this is a lesbian story.

You’re only using 109 words. I think you need double that to flesh it out a bit.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 3:29 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


Hey Lily,

I think if I were an agent the coyness of your query would bug me. In your WIP, Liaison, you create a thoroughly convincing world where sexual orientation and gender identity are purely personal matters. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world yet. So, you can't act as if the gender and sexual orientation of your MC is not a "huge plot element." Whether you like it or not, your 21st century reader is prolly gonna make a big deal of the gender stuff (I notice the commentators so far have all zeroed in on the gender issue despite your desire for it to be secondary).

The more I investigate this business of querying, the more it seems to me that the main thing we're supposed to get across to the agent is not how wonderful and engrossing our book is, but rather how savvy we ourselves are about the business of writing. When you act as if the gender/sexual orientation of your protagonist is no big deal, you risk coming across as too naive about the market or too blinded by political concerns to write a saleable book. You don't want the agent thinking you're trying to teach her/him about gender politics, do you?

I think you need to consider the issue from the emotional standpoint of your MC. Surely she would like nothing more than for her gender to be of secondary significance in much of her dealings, but if she's forced to hide her gender from the world, and there are any negative consequences to discovery, then that's going to have a huge impact on her emotional life. And that's where your story, and your chances with an agent, lives or dies: the emotional life of your MC.

Aside from your query's specific viability as such, I was immediately engaged with the idea of your novel. Intersex and transgender people have a tough enough time finding a place in the modern world, the thought of such a person trying to survive 1860's America is heartbreaking to me. I think it would be heartbreaking to any sympathetic reader. Without it completely taking over your query, I think it's that heartbreak that you most need to address. We can't fall in love with Jack if we don't know how Jack feels.

-Kevin
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 3:55 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


hmmm... the basics of Jack's gender are there--he's an "orphan" (actually his mother abandoned him) and living on the street is far safer if you are a boy. Being a boy on the outside and a girl under his clothes certainly does affect his choices and chances in life, but the main gist of the story is the actual adventure plot. To say much more about Jack's gender in the query would feel like overplay to me.

Perhaps a sentence before the bit about gambling and picking pockets along the lines of "He can't go to sea with his friends for fear his secret will be discovered, so he makes his living on the street...yadda yadda."

I have seen too much out there about agents who want to see more queer characters in young adult fiction to think this will be a big roadblock, unless it really isn't the agent for this book anyway. But another sentence wouldn't kill me, I suppose.
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 4:10 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


All right, here's a revised version:

Born a girl during the Civil War, Jack has been passing as a boy in the slums of Five Points, Manhattan since running away from an orphans' home at age eight. Unlike other boys he knows, he can’t get a job at sea for fear that his secret will be discovered in the close confines of a ship. Instead he makes his living at petty thievery, surviving pocket watch-to-pocket watch until he discovers a talent for gambling. But by nineteen, Jack’s ambitions are beginning to outgrow his frayed clothes. He spends his days dreaming of striking it rich and finding his childhood sweetheart, Lily, who left with her mother for the West four years ago. When the opportunity to steal a diamond necklace for a rich client comes his way he takes it. But finishing the job may require much more than he bargained for--especially since the diamonds are in the hands of Lily's rapacious stepfather, in a rowdy mining town in the Arizona Territory.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:08 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


Hey Lily,

You write, "I have seen too much out there about agents who want to see more queer characters in young adult fiction to think this will be a big roadblock, unless it really isn't the agent for this book anyway." I think that's the point: they want to see more queer characters in YA. The roadblock I'm talking about is not the queerness, it's this awkward pussy-footing around the issue. Agents WANT to SEE your queer character. Your query still feels like you're downplaying your character's queer identity. You're like the Great and Powerful Oz saying, "Pay no attention to the gender behind the curtain!"

Funny thing is, you give a vivid and to the point summation of your MC's situation when you write: "he's an 'orphan' (actually his mother abandoned him) and living on the street is far safer if you are a boy. Being a boy on the outside and a girl under his clothes certainly does affect his choices and chances in life..." "His mother abandoned him" is rich with implications, as is "living on the street is far safer if you are a boy." And I know a lot of folk not steeped in queer culture are uncomfortable with calling a biological female "he" without some explanation. It throws 'em off, confuses 'em. But you clarify that piece nicely when you write, "being a boy on the outside and a girl under his clothes..." All of that is great stuff. Sometimes just coming out and saying a thing is best. I think if you lead with this information and write something like, "...but life on the streets leaves Jack little time to ponder such intimate matters," or the like, your query would be the stronger for it.

-Kevin
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:26 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


But the abandonment by his mother is just character back story. I will grant you that it's a good story--but I don't want to grandstand on his identity--to me, that's what would be overly PC.

BUT if you like the language of boy outside/girl underneath etc. I could play with that a bit. I just don't want half the query to be "hey look, he's a hip and trendy queer!" I am more than glad that jack is terribly intriguing, but that's not the STORY, and it's the story an agent typically wants.

Am I wrong?
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:37 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Another revision with more detail, but now it's getting a bit long...

Born a girl during the Civil War and abandoned by his mother at six, Jack has been passing as a boy in the slums of Five Points, Manhattan since running away from an orphans' home at age eight. Living on the street is safer for a boy, but for one who is a girl under his clothes, there are unique challenges. Unlike other boys he knows, he can’t get a job at sea for fear his secret will be discovered in the close confines of a ship. Instead he makes his living at petty thievery, surviving pocket watch-to-pocket watch until he discovers a talent for gambling. But by nineteen, Jack’s ambitions are beginning to outgrow his frayed clothes. He spends his days dreaming of striking it rich and finding his childhood sweetheart, Lily, the girl with a troubled past of her own who left with her mother for the West four years ago. When the opportunity to steal a diamond necklace for a rich client comes his way he takes it. Jack is especially delighted to learn that two other young men with secrets like his own will be along for the heist. But finishing the job may require much more than he bargained for--especially since the diamonds are in the hands of Lily's rapacious stepfather, in a rowdy mining town in the Arizona Territory.
LilySea
Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 10:46 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Howdy folks! Just a note to say I got a manuscript request for this. I think the query was version two of these three...
So thanks for your help.
Here's hoping I get a couple more. Just finished all the queries I had planned, yesterday.
LilySea
Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 11:10 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Just adding a data point. I got another ms request, also based on version 2 of the query here. I think almost everyone I queried with the first version has turned me down, now.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 2:19 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


Let us know what the first agent says, too! Good luck! =)

LilySea
Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 7:31 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


I popped an email off to her, Colleen (using almost exactly the wording you suggested), and she didn't say anything in return. But the second agent (actually the assistant to the second agent) said they'd get back soon after initially saying 8 weeks, hopefully.

nancy lopez
Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:15 PM
Joined: 8/12/2011
Posts: 23


Hi Lily,

This is great news! I just reread the three versions.  The second gives just the right amount of info while the third, I think, gives too much.  The first was too short and needed details.  This is a good lesson for us all.
I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.  You go girl!
Nancy
LilySea
Posted: Friday, December 16, 2011 5:50 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Thanks, Nancy. I'm still waiting to hear.

LilySea
Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:36 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


For those of you following along at home, I got an enthusiastic, "not quite yet" from one of the agents today. Actually said they were very sorry not to say yes, but felt the ms needs a bit of work, made suggestions and asked that I please send them future work.

I felt really happy all day and wondered why a rejection would put me in a good mood, but it was a very encouraging rejection that made me feel like I am on the right track and alllllmost there.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting to hear from the other agent. I may drop her a nudge sometime in the next few days.


nancy lopez
Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 8:46 PM
Joined: 8/12/2011
Posts: 23


OMG!  I agree, it's still great news because they want to see it after those corrections.  Just the fact that they told u what they felt it needed. . .heck, I would hurry, fix it, and ship it back to the ocean.  This time with a heavier bait on the hook.

Best of Luck Lily.
You ARE almost there......I'm happy for you.
Nancy  
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 11:18 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


I haven't been around this site much recently, folks. I miss you all!

But I have been revising. I'm trying not to rush because "too rushed" was one of the agent's concerns (and it's my downfall--I rush endings).

I'd say I need to add about 5K words and then edit those and I'll be ready. Maybe another month.

Meanwhile, the agent wrote AGAIN to remind me she wants to see the revised ms.

It's good but also nerve-wracking.


LilySea
Posted: Friday, July 27, 2012 11:14 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Well... for anyone still waiting for the end of the story, alas, the story never ends.

I got a final no from the agent who requested the revision, and a no from an agent who requested the ms since I last posted here.

This leaves one agent hanging, and while I've read good things about here, snooping around the Internet, she is not a hasty communicator, so I've kind of given her up too.

Still, three requests, including a R&R, is a good thing, right?

Now I am revising again with some feedback from a friend (beta reader) who has not read it before. I am also submitting it to various small presses.

I am also (mostly) working on the next book, which I also plan to seek an agent for, unless I publish Jack with one of the two or three small presses that I rate 10/10, in which case, I may offer subsequent books to the same press.

Most of the presses I'm submitting to are less than 10s, though. And I still want an agent to help me with contract negotiations, career guidance, etc.

So I'm a bit up in the air about what happens next. Just keeping my nose to the grindstone and hoping for the best.


LilySea
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 11:54 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Well....

The first small press I queried has offered me a contract. It's a credible company and the contract looks pretty typical and even includes a small advance (which I didn't expect).

I am not sure this is what I'm going to do (I need to nose around for advice and perhaps wait a bit and see if the other presses I queried make offers), but I am delighted to hear a yes and ponder the potential career I might have with this particular publisher.

I have to say though, I hate looking at a contract, pondering future career possibilities and NOT having a an agent to consult. It's exactly times like these I want an agent FOR.

Does anyone know the likelihood of finding an agent when one is in this kind of situation (versus without a particular offer)?