From Finished Manuscript to Agented Author: A 21-Day Journey… Not Quite

Landing an agent didn’t happen overnight for me. Although, when it did happen it felt that way, because it happened so fast – eighteen days to be exact, from the time I participated in Pitch Madness on Twitter to the day I signed a contract with my agent, for my manuscript TIL DEATH DO US PART.  However, TIL DEATH DO US PART was not my first novel.

In 2016, I decided that I was going to finally write a book. I didn’t know if I had the talent, the patience, or the drive to do so, but I sure as hell was going to try. This was it. I even made it my New Year’s resolution as if that would hold me more accountable. I decided my first book would be a women’s fiction dramedy: the story of a hapless 30-something single woman who wakes up in 2002 after a night of binge drinking. When she realizes what year it is, she thinks she’s been given a second chance to do things over, that is until she comes face-to-face with her reckless eighteen-year-old self. That book had so much of me in it, and it helped me tackle some of the grief I still had from losing my mother at the age of eighteen. I started writing it in August 2016 and by November 3rd, 2016 – I had completed my first draft of my first manuscript, THE GIRL I WAS.

I knew from when I started that book that it may never be published, it probably wouldn’t get me an agent, but it would be proof to myself that I can in fact write a book. I knew it would be a hard sell, since it’s falls between several genres, but I needed to write that manuscript – not for anyone else, but for me.

After a couple of edits and drafts, I began querying in January 2017. I would face eight months of rejection, 70+ to be exact. By September, I thought about rewriting the book. I thought about quitting. I thought about self-publishing. But then I thought, I wrote one, I can write another.

In October 2017, I decided that I was going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I had this idea for a psychological thriller that had been in the back of my head for years and years and years. I thought of it back in 2010 when I was co-writing screenplays with my older brother, Austin. We had typically worked on comedies, but had also dabbled with a horror script and an action script – but I wanted to write a THRILLER. I loved thrillers. As I was mulling over ideas, this premise came to me and it was truly the beginning of this book, even though I had initially thought of it as a film, and didn’t begin working on it for another seven years.

A light bulb went off in my head as I wrote down the idea for the story that would one day become TIL DEATH DO US PART. “Picture this,” I said to Austin. “Criminal defense attorney, Rachel Sanford, faces her most challenging case when she must defend her husband, a man accused of murdering his mistress,” I continued. His brow furrowed, and then he informed me that was the plot of The Fugitive. I remember being so disappointed, because I thought I had this grand idea. I had never seen The Fugitive, but I took my brother’s word for it, and I put it on the back burner.

While dabbling with my notebook of ideas and trying to prep for National Novel Writing Month, I saw the one I had come up with back in 2010 – The Fugitive idea. I had never done NaNoWriMo before, but I thought it was just the motivation I needed to push myself through a second book (especially, after all the rejection I faced with my first). At this point, I was struggling to hone in on a single idea for my project, but that thriller I had come up with was still stuck in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to write it. I needed to write it. But there was one thing I had to do first.

It was a Friday night in October 2017, I went over to Family Video and I finally picked up a copy of The Fugitive. I needed to know. WAS THIS MY BOOK? I had read a synopsis of the film and it didn’t sound anything like my book, but my brother was adamant that my idea had been done. I popped in the disc and of course, it was skipping and freezing – a standard of old DVD’s rented from Family Video. So, I switched over to Amazon and rented the film for $4.99. I know what you’re thinking. Five dollars for a film from 1993? I thought the exact same thing, but I was determined to watch it.

After two hours and ten minutes, I had learned the truth. The Fugitive had zero similarities to my book idea. I called up my brother and was like, “What the heck? The Fugitive is nothing like that thriller idea I had about the criminal defense attorney.” He shrugged it off saying something along the lines of, “Oh, my mistake, but was it good?” I replied, “Yes, it was a good movie. But that’s not the point.”

I ended that call in a fit of determination. I began plotting, picking out character names, putting together character descriptions, figuring out a setting, and getting prepped for NaNoWriMo. I was going to write this book – and I knew that if I could write this book the way I envisioned it, it could change my life.

At the end of November 2017, I completed NaNoWriMo, writing just over 50,000 words. I was exhausted, having been working full time as social media manager, writing at night and on weekends, and still keeping up with a freelance job on the side. I took six weeks off from my book and during that time, I spent time with friends and family, I read nine books, and I traveled for the holidays as well as took a trip to San Francisco.

At the end of January 2018, I jumped back into my book. I figured I had 30,000 words left to finish that story, and I was determined to complete it and have time to edit it before #PitMad on March 8th.

I wrote, drank copious amounts of coffee, spent far too much money and time at a local coffee shop called Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute, WI (highly recommend by the way), but by February 20th, I had completed a first draft of TIL DEATH DO US PART. I had sixteen days to edit, which I accomplished with the help of my fiance, Andrew, who pushed me when I wanted to quit and believed in me, even when I stopped believing in myself. I finished my edits on March 5th, 2018 – just in time. On March 8th, I put out three pitches on Twitter for #PitMad for my manuscript (I’ll cover those in a future blog), and at the end of the day, I had ten requests.

On March 12th, I fulfilled those query requests and I waited. I didn’t think anything would come out of it. I had gone through this before with THE GIRL I WAS. But on March 13th, I had a full manuscript request. Once again, I didn’t think anything would come out of it. I had had a partial request with THE GIRL I WAS six months into querying that ultimately was rejected. So, on March 14th after doing another read through, I sent out the full, and went about my life.

I forgot that I even had a full request out there, until I received an email on March 18th (just 4 days later) offering me representation. This agent had read my book during a St. Patty’s day party and couldn’t put it down. I read the email several times ensuring I was reading it right, and then I cried, I jumped up and down, I drank wine, I called friends and family, and then I got down to business. I googled what to do when you have an agent offer. I googled how to handle it. These were things I never ever thought I’d have to google. I couldn’t believe it!

I informed all agents that had chapters that I had received an offer of representation and I told them I could give them a week with the full. This is what google told me to do, and google hadn’t failed me yet.

Over the next few days, I had two more full requests and then all of a sudden, I had multiple offers of representation. I had to resort back to google, asking what do you do when you have multiple offers of representation? I compiled questions to ask the agents. I scheduled “The Calls.” I listened, I talked, and I thoroughly evaluated each offer.

In the end, one agent stood out to me. She was on the same page with me as far as revisions and submission strategy. She had so much passion for the story and she believed in me and my book. So, I knew that she was the perfect agent to represent myself and my manuscript, TIL DEATH DO US PART.

On March 26th, 2018, I signed with Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. And thus our journey has just begun…

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