This post is long overdue, but I figured I’d share this with everyone because, well. It’s been a long path to being agented, I’m sure in large part due to me not believing I could be good enough to write a book until I was 21, then stumbling my way through novel after novel because if I’m being honest, I’m not that skilled. I’m not a ‘got an agent and deal with my first or second book’ level of talent.
So I write this for everyone else who’s been struggling, year after year. Who thinks they’ll never be good enough because there’s always something missing, who feels almost there but not quite because they’re stuck at that seemingly close yet impenetrable barrier of getting an agent. (Spoiler: it happens again when you go on sub and see all the posts about book deals happening for everyone else.)
It’s a bit of a long story but I hope you’ll bear with me.
I finished my first novel back in 2009 (Book 1, a YA fantasy), a NaNo novel that was also, in part, to prove that I could actually write an entire book. And I did! And it was terrible! And I thought it was REALLY GOOD!
It was not.
After getting feedback from a hapless friend who I cannot thank enough for not only ploughing through that manuscript but also giving in-line feedback, baby writer me decided that the best course was to RIP IT ALL APART. Keep the main character and one main conceit. Change everything else, including the plot, the characters, the ending. Oh, and make it the first of a trilogy. Ahahahahaahahahahahahahahahaha…
That was Book 2 (YA fantasy). I edited it extensively, got feedback from another friend or two, then queried it. I got exactly one full request which ended in a rejection, but the agent was kindly willing to read it with changes based on her comments. So that turned into an R&R, where among other things, I changed the POV from third person to first person. It also ended in a rejection. I got two other full requests after that, but nothing panned out.
On to Book 3 (comedic women’s fiction), that was where I finally learned voice. I’d been writing weekly personal blog posts for a now-defunct site for almost a year, and at one point a friend who’d read both Book 2 and the blog said to me that somehow, the writing in the blog posts was more compelling. Between that, and writing in a certain voice week after week, Book 3 was literally voice. And nothing else. Oops.
To no one’s surprise but past me, I queried and got crickets.
On to Book 4, an adult fantasy! I’d been writing seriously for four to five years now, and I was certain this one would be it. I had voice. I had what I thought was a decent plot with a killer mid-point twist. Sadly, I didn’t have much in the way of worldbuilding. It did, however, lead me to a group of amazing critique partners, two of whom were traditionally published (Jason, John, Vic, K, you guys rock my world). I learned so much from all of them – not only what they taught me, but also through giving feedback on their works. I moved from a chapter-by-chapter critique style to a whole-of-book style, too.
I got a lot of partial requests for Book 4, but not many fulls. It did get me into the Pitch Wars alternate showcase a day or two before, when an alternate dropped out last minute. But again, nothing came of it other than one partial request and a rejection. Worldbuilding, folks. It’s important.
Book 5 was a YA contemporary. A dark, nasty thing revolving around cyberbullying from the point of the cyberbully (who gets her comeuppance in the end, don’t worry). It was also when I learned about OwnVoices – this was around 2015/2016 – and for the first time in my life, realised that I didn’t have to write a Western protagonist. I could, in fact, write about someone who looked like me, who had a family who celebrated things like Chinese New Year, who faced similar cultural expectations.
It was a revelation.
I actually got a lot of full requests for this book, but the combination of it being from a villain POV, plus the villain being Asian… let’s say I have some suspicions about why it was too much but that’s a whole ‘nother post. In short, it got a number of requests, two R&Rs, but again, nothing came of it.
Book 6 came about when I was talking to CP (shoutout to ya, Ellie!) and went back to my first ever NaNo novel to grab an example of something for her. Probably a cringe-y moment. I ended up skimming through it and realising how much I still loved the climax scene. And I decided, you know what? I want to redo this. I want to use everything I’ve learned over the past nine years to rewrite this. So I did. In two and a half weeks, I smashed out an entirely new book. Goodbye ‘special only redhead in amongst the nobles’ protagonist, hello diaspora Asian protagonist trying to straddle two cultures. Goodbye ‘I am a girl who fights and better than you other girls who are into make-up and boys’ protagonist, hello ‘We are a group of girls who talk about boys and looks and more and always have each others’ backs’.
Two and a half weeks of writing, another two or three weeks of edits to push up the book from its barebones 42k structure to something resembling a novel at 52k. Then a friend told me I should apply for Author Mentor Match, so I did, with zero expectations. I promptly forgot about it and forgot about the announcement day… till I got an email saying I’d been accepted as a mentee.
Note: This is not saying you should apply to these mentorship programs with your first draft, and in my defence I had nine years of practice at writing, editing, and critiquing novel after novel after novel so I had a pretty decent idea of how things come together.
AMM was amazing. I had an incredible mentor (PHOEBE REPRESENT!) whose edit letter really helped flesh out my book, met so many amazing friends and critique partners (Emma, Kat, Pim, Alex, Aneeqah, Clara, you guys rock!), and I can confidently say I grew as a writer both in the writing sphere, but also in the commercial side of things.
I was so certain this book would be the one. I pitched it in DVPit and got a ton of likes, something that had never, ever happened to me before. Let’s say I was lucky if I got two or three likes in all previous pitch contests I’d participated in. A ton of full requests came in.
Aaaaaaaaand then a ton of rejections came in too.
I put it aside to think about a major overhaul when an older idea I’d had from a year or two back, but put aside because I’d hit a huge plot snag I couldn’t resolve, came bubbling back up. No idea why, but the solution to said plot snag came to me. So I decided to write it. It was an idea for an indie game rom-com, after watching Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and thinking that a) I knew nothing about all these niche indie bands, why couldn’t it be games, and b) What Asian parent would let their school-aged kids roam about all night going from nightclub to nightclub?!
So I wrote it. I called it my therapy book, because a major theme was about trying and trying again, never succeeding, and feeling time slip away as all these younger people find success quickly. It very much came out of my despair from over 10 years of seriously writing and querying, but not being good enough to even get an agent. I wrote it not caring that it would be hard sell, either. Not only does the book have an MC about to graduate from uni (college) and thinking about her future, the pacing is very much like a YA, and it’s all about video games.
And yep, this was the book that got me my agent, the incomparable Andrea Cascardi. I’d been querying for a while with no luck, knowing I probably wouldn’t get far because this was a very personal book written without any care for the market. Put up a pitch for DVPit again not expecting too much. But I got some interest, and Andrea was very quick to ask for a full, along with another agent.
Things moved insanely quickly after that. I say this as someone having queried for ten years and expecting anywhere between three months to a year for a query response! Within a week, I had two offers and sent The Email to other agents with my full to let them know about it. In the end I received one more, but decided to go with Andrea because her passion for my book, the way she got the characters and the story, her vision for edits, and her commercial background in the industry all aligned perfectly.
So here I am, agented at last. Seven books and ten years later. But also many friends richer, and many books wiser. For anyone out there who’s still struggling, who wonders if you’re good enough and ever will be… you are and you will. But everything takes time, and your journey might be the scenic route.
I hated it, and even now I still struggle with wishing I could be better and more compelling and have the talent others do. But all I can say is, keep going.
Keep going, keep going, keep going. The world needs your stories.