I am so excited to announce that… I HAVE AN AGENT!!! After an amazing whirlwind process that began with #DVpit, I signed with the amazing Mr. Peter Knapp from Park Literary and Media. Here is my story.
Happy author signing her contract on one of the best days of her life.
It still hasn’t hit me fully. I’ve wished for this, prayed for this, blown an entire lifetime’s worth of birthday candles for this… but I never thought this day would come.
To most, who might have glimpsed my tweet during the #DVpit pitch, my querying process seems unbelievably, unfairly short. I started querying on September 27th, and I now have representation.
But I assure you, like every writer, my story starts long, long before this. In fact, the pages of my little book opened 19 years ago, when a six-year-old Chinese girl learned her first English words and fell in love with writing.
I’ve been writing since kindergarten, when I wrote a one-paragraph story about a caveman and drew a really ugly little picture and felt so proud. That budding interest turned into a passion in elementary school. By middle school, I was telling everyone that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I devoured books; I wrote a ton of fairytale and fantasy little stories, and by high school, I started writing seriously, considering publication.
And then came college. College was a bit of a break for me; I was so immersed in school, social life, and extracurricular activities that I barely had any time to read and write for leisure. And, growing up, my parents had given me a wonderful, financially-stable life. I knew the risks of being a full-time writer; I heard warning stories of failed artists and all that, and I knew I needed to focus on a career path that would allow me to feed myself and provide the same kind of lifestyle my parents had given me.
Finance was a great option; I loved economics, I loved politics, I loved international affairs, and I wanted to learn about the world. Throughout my college years, I steeped myself in the world of finance, determined to love this career path that I had chosen. I had amazing grades. I scored a great banking job in my junior year and my path onwards was set.
I so wanted to fall in love with the world of finance. But the more I studied, the more I interned, I realized that I could be interested in it, I could like it, but it wasn’t … my dream.
The smoldering ashes of my love for writing were rekindled when, in the summer of 2014, right after college graduation and before starting my job, I went on a trip to Russia with my family.
I fell in love with the country. The storm-washed skies, the blood-red cathedrals, the faded majesty of a once-grand empire that had fallen absolutely enraptured me. I completely absorbed the opulence of the Winter Palace, letting its painted angels and gold-gilded statues whisper its secrets to me; I reveled in the beauty of the Red Square, a solemn monument of the country’s great history.
I began to wonder what kinds of stories had once graced this mysterious and empowering country; whose footsteps had once sounded through the great halls; what ghosts lingered in the dust and echoes of silent corners.
I began to dream again. And I began to write again. I started working full-time in fall of 2014, and with whatever spare time I could grasp, I wrote. Between 2014 to 2017, I wrote and rewrote three drafts of Blood Heir, each time receiving feedback from the Absolute Write community and my beta readers. And every single piece of advice was pivotal to shaping my manuscript into what it is today, and creating the writer that I am today.
2017 was the hardest year for me. I still remember the early winter months as a blur of cold, bleak days where I entered my office building in the pre-dawn darkness and left well after nightfall. And, mentally, as well, I felt as though the light at the end of the tunnel — my lifelong dream — was shrinking farther and farther away. I had finished my third rewrite of my novel, and though I could feel my writing growing stronger, the latest round of feedback from my readers told me that there were still a lot of things to be fixed.
I came to the conclusion that another major rewrite was necessary.
By that time, I was mentally and emotionally drained from work. My job had taken a significant turn; I had more responsibilities, and longer hours; 11PM nights were no longer isolated cases, and my workload took a toll on my health — both physical and mental.
At that time, I was hitting the three-year mark of my finance career, when most decide to pursue higher education (i.e. MBAs) as the next step of their career. I needed to make a choice. I was so torn, guys. I couldn’t keep on focusing on two career paths forever, not when both demanded so much of my time, and one might never see the light of day, might never come to fruition. I feared that if I tried to be jack of both trades, I’d end up master of none. And I feared that if I poured 50% of myself into my writing, I’d take away that part of myself that I could have poured wholeheartedly into my finance career. I was afraid that I’d end up as an average banker and a failed writer.
I told myself I had one last shot at making something of my childhood passion and dream, and I told myself to give it all I could. If this failed, I would gently close the book and tuck it away as a far-off dream, perhaps to be dusted off and reopened someday in the distant future.
I worked my butt off in 2017. I worked 14-hour days as a banker, and when I got home, I’d shove down whatever food I could avail myself to, prop open my laptop, and write write write. I completed most of my writing between the hours of 9PM – 12AM, and longer chunks over my weekends. It was so, so hard. I would come home from a long day of work, spreadsheets, models, and deals, have an hour-long break during which I could eat, rest for a little, and switch gears. And then, for the next few hours, I would pour my heart and soul into my manuscript. Sometimes, I would go to bed at 11PM with my boyfriend, only to crawl out of bed again half an hour later and write until 2AM because I hadn’t completed my goal for the day.
By August/September of 2017, I had finished my final rewrite, and sent it to my critique partners. With bated breath, I awaited their feedback.
They loved it.
Finally, I had something. I didn’t know what, but it was … something. Somewhere to start.
On September 27th, I decided to send out my first batch of queries, just as a test. And on October 2nd, a miracle called #DVpit happened.
I owe so much to this incredible Twitter pitch event, hosted by Beth Phelan of the Bent Agency, that promotes marginalized voices. I crafted what I thought was a neat-sounding little pitch, threw it on Twitter at around 11AM on a Tuesday, and went back to work.
Notifications began popping up. Favorites, in single digits, and then double digits, and it just kept growing, and growing, and growing. By noon, I wasn’t able to focus on work anymore; by the afternoon, I had so many likes that I could no longer keep track of which agents liked it. Skimming through, I almost threw up when I saw that most of my dream agents had favorited my pitch.
By the end of day, I was in the “Top” entries of the hashtag. This was my first little writing victory, having not had many on which I could solidly slap numbers, as I am so accustomed to doing in my industry. I made my selections and sent out as many queries as I could over the next few days — because I was flying to China two days after #DVpit!
Within two days, I had five full requests and two partial requests. More almost-throwing-up. And then a 16-hour flight (which is much more laborious than I make it sound here), and I was back in China for three weeks!
But from then on … it was radio silence. I checked my email obsessively; I would check it last thing before I went to sleep and first thing in the morning. Nothing. Silence from the agents who had requested my materials; silence from the ones who had my queries.
Self-doubt began to kick in. It would be the saddest thing, I told myself, if my over-hyped Twitter pitch resulted in nothing. I went through waves where I believed my manuscript was not special; it fell into the long laundry list of princess stories that go unpublished; the setting is not traditional European-Western, but still sort of Western; my writing sucked; my plot sucked; my pacing sucked.
On an October morning, I opened my inbox to another full request — from another one of my dream agents! I was thrilled, and this time, per my writer friends’ advice, I let him know my current query stats.
I received an email from him 12 hours later. I clicked into it, bracing myself for a quick rejection. But the email said he had started reading and was loving it … and that he would be in touch “later in the week.”
Oh, my God. OH, MY GODS/DEITIES/BUDDHAS/PROPHETS!
I told my parents and boyfriend and writing buddies, but then I told myself not to get too excited. So many writers had warned me of getting form R’s on fulls. Plus, I was convinced that he only liked my first few chapters and that the introduction of a new POV would throw him off and he would reject (I had two rejections thus far, one of which said my second POV sounded too “adult.”).
Fast forward two days. I cracked my eyes open to a dreary Beijing morning. Gray skies with the scent of rain, the cold seeping through my down blankets. 7:30AM. I rolled over in my bed and tried to convince myself not to wake up and check my email, as I had been doing every single day for the past two weeks. I had been disappointed 99.5% of the time.
But curiosity won me over, and I logged on. There was the usual clutter — Express and Banana Republic promoting fall clothes, LinkedIn updates, Twitter notifications (ooh, grabby hands), Disney Orlando telling me to go back (all right, Disneyland, you win — maybe I’ll consider dragging my boyfriend back) …
And an email. From the same dream agent who had requested my full just two days ago.
Where do I begin? I finished BLOOD HEIR this morning and am absolutely in love with this novel and with your writing. …
I don’t remember what I was thinking, because my brain was pretty much blank at the time. All I recall is that I kept skimming, down, down, down, looking for the “HOWEVER,” the “UNFORTUNATELY,” the “BUT.” There had to be the “BUT.”
Where. Was. The. “BUT”?
There was no “but.” Agent #1 sent me the most romantic letter about my book, and told me he wanted to work with me on this project, and on many more books to come.
I melted. I read the email again to make sure I wasn’t dreaming (I have had nightmares about agents before, but that’s for another blog post), and then burst into my parents’ room. I was surprised they understood me over my gasping and near-incoherent babbling. They were ecstatic. And I sent this amazingly coherent text to my boyfriend:
Here was proof — solid, irrefutable evidence clutched tightly in my fingers — that I had made something of my writing after all these long years beneath the quiet, watchful gaze of the night sky and the dim glow of my laptop screen. Proof, real and warm and written out in black-and-white letters before my eyes, that my writing was something worth vouching for.
Agent #1 advised me that I should nudge the other agents on my list to let them know of my offer, and to set a one-week deadline for them to respond. By the end of the day, I had received full requests from all of the other agents at the top of my wishlist, and congratulations from the ones already considering with the promise that they would respond by my deadline. I spend the rest of the day in a happy daze.
It’s said that the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace (especially compared to my current industry, finance); things take weeks and months to slug through, and publishing a book takes at least a year from sale to publication. But, let me tell you guys, agents can really move when they know there’s competition.
By the end of my trip in China, I had a number of agent conversations to anticipate upon my return. Normally, I viewed returning to the United States with a feeling of dread (ugh, I need to go back to work and I can’t laze around in my beautiful Beijing house anymore). This time, I couldn’t wait.
I landed on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, I was at my first coffee chat with Agent #1 (I live in New York City — a perk in the publishing world, I’ve heard!). And, let me tell you, I usually love meeting new people, but this time I was so nervous that I wanted to run away and disappear (I’m not even exaggerating). I have no idea why. I can entertain my clients for business for hours, but when it comes to an entire book that I’ve written and poured my heart into… and I have to talk about it with a stranger… who has read it and loves a part of me I’ve kept tucked away for my entire life… eurgh, I actually felt a bit queasy before what was one of my most anticipated meetings of the year. Wow, I hope Agent #1 isn’t reading this. (He probably is. He’s very thorough in his research.)
The week went by. Calls, coffees, calls. By my deadline, I had chatted with all of the lovely, amazing, superstar agents at dreamy agencies who had offered me representation. And I wanted to crawl into a hole and never have to choose. “Can I just sign with all of them?” I texted one of my writer friends, who gave me the lovely answer “no.”
Throughout all of this, though… I kept going back to Agent #1’s first email to me. How he sounded so genuine and warm and in love with my book. And the fact that he mentioned he connected to the themes in my book on a personal level. And the fact that he blew me away during our meeting and consistently followed up with my pesky questions throughout the process. And I knew that, despite how impressed I was by all of the other agents, Agent #1 had already firmly planted a little flag in my heart and claimed it on that dreary Beijing morning.
In the end, that’s how I knew that, all along, Agent #1 was the direction to my compass (a little wink for him here). And he is…
Peter Knapp from Park Literary & Media!!!!
So now, I can happily say that I have joined the PLM family, and I look forward to the future it brings.
A little aside…
It’s so funny that, when you look back at your life, it seems like a series of dots that just happen to connect, and bring you to the inevitable conclusion that is today. Thinking back on my own journey now, it all reads so smoothly, each chapter flowing into the next with seemingly simple, logical order. I worked hard and wrote a book. I entered a Twitter pitch. I found my agent a month later. But when I was actually doing all of those things — all those late, lonely winter nights, all those words on white pages that nobody might ever read, all of that self-doubt and stress over my future career path, even joining Twitter and figuring out how to immerse myself in the YA writing community — I had no bloody idea where my hard work would take me, and where I would end up.
We’re all moving forward on our own paths. Sometimes, it can feel as if you’re walking blind — you have have no idea what’s going to happen. You can only keep going, and give this long walk we call life your best shot. And, looking back, I know I gave it all I had. So, today, I am one step closer to achieving my dream.
The path ahead is uncertain. The publishing business is subjective; there are no guarantees that my writing will see the light of day. But no matter what, I will never regret putting in all that time and sweat and tears to work towards something that I love. It’s life; you only live once. This short life is for you to play with.
So make it count.