Wednesday, January 5, 2011

7 Rejection and Perseverance: WOW Wednesday by Hilary Wagner

My road to the big "P"!

Number of agent rejections: 175
Number of requests for partials and fulls: 17 and 10
Number of times I rewrote the book while querying: Twice
Number of agents who offered representation: 2
Length of time looking for an agent: 13 months
Length of time it took my agent to sell NIGHTSHADE CITY: 7 weeks

I think everyone has a different story about their road to publishing, but I think almost every author could agree the process was far from easy, sometimes even painful. Sure, there are those anomalies, but still, even those required lots of hard work.

Looking back, I started querying way to early. First, I didn't have my query perfect--big mistake! I was so impatient after finally finishing the book, that my query just didn't make the mark on my first round of subs, so I racked up some serious rejections. Then I perfected my query, getting several requests for partials and fulls, but shortly after that, I realized I needed to rewrite the book, which I did--twice! The first time around it was way too long and just had to many side stories and nice little vignettes that really didn't need to be in the book--massively slowing down the pace. On the second rewrite, I realized my timeline needed an overhaul. My rats had to get from one underground city to another by way of a humans house, which (if you’re a rat) is a long chunk of travel time. The timing didn't make sense in the book and it got confusing. If you're confusing an agent as they read, just imagine how a kid will feel! So, after I completed the second rewrite, things really heated up for NIGHTSHADE CITY.

Craig Virden (Nancy Gallt's husband and former president of Random House Children's Division) was the agent I'd been wanting. I knew he was the one I wanted to represent me. We'd exchanged some funny letters. He'd requested the full and made me laugh out loud, telling me my book had more characters than a Russian novel (far less now) and even though Nancy (who'd I originally queried) is not a rat fan, he wanted to read the rest--how does this book end, he asked? This progression took about 6 months. Finally, I got a letter back from him. As much as I'd wanted good news, I knew before I even opened it; it was a rejection. It was the kindest, most inspiring rejection anyone could ever get, but a rejection even so. He said due to the current market woes (2008 economic meltdown) and competition he just couldn't take it on. You'd think I'd be broken, but I wasn't--not at all. He offered to read anything else I had "moldering" in my desk--that was the word he used. So, instead of self-pitying (which I'd become an expert at), I got to work that day on another MS I'd been waiting to finish. Then, about a month later my phone rang. I didn't recognize the area code, so normally I wouldn't have answered it, but I just had this extraordinary feeling. Yes, it was Craig Virden. He said he just couldn't stop thinking about the book and no matter the market, etc, he wanted to take it on if I was still interested...YES! So, long story short, that's how I landed my agent.

Sadly, a month later, Craig passed on. It was a distressing blow to his family and the children's publishing community at large. He was one of those remarkable men that everyone in the industry knew and loved--a truly singular person. Marietta Zacker called me immediately. She was good friends with Craig and Nancy and had just started working at Nancy Gallt as an agent. She called me right away and let me know everything was all right and most of all do not worry. Shortly thereafter, I officially signed with her. She is one of those inspiring agents that everyone in the industry should be thankful for. She answers all my emails (and I bug her a lot!) and is wonderful at touching base, even if not much is going on at a given time. Oh, and she sold NIGHTSHADE CITY in less than two months and then Book II, THE WHITE ASSASSIN about 6 months later--pretty cool!

My advice:
No one takes rejection well, so don't let anyone ever tell say you shouldn't be in the industry if you take rejection too personally. Who doesn't take rejection personally? We all might say we don't, but we do! At least the people I know!

Don't query too soon. If your query and/or manuscript is not ready, it will show. Agents can pick out problems right away.

Before you sign with an agent do your research. Read everything you can find on them, shoot emails to a couple of their clients and get their take. You'll be surprised how honest clients are and it's not always with hugs and kisses for their agents! Also, make sure the agent is in it for the long haul, not just one book. You never want to think that your representation is only based on one manuscript, but it does happen--so ask before you sign!

Last but not least, don't take yourself too seriously OR the agents you're querying. In other words, don't be something you're not. If you get on the phone with an agent, just be yourself, no need to try and act clever, etc. Be professional of course, but agents are just people and from what I can tell, pretty good ones, so never be afraid to be you. When you do sign with an agent, never feel like you're bothering them if there are things you need, as in questions answered, updates, sub lists, etc. They signed you after all. You're the talent! Too many writers are scared of their agent, especially if they haven't sold anything yet. If you feel intimidated or neglected by your agent, then you need clear the air and really figure out where you stand.

Other than that, take a nice deep breath, smile and have fun! You've earned it!


Today's guest is Hilary Wagner, who lives in Chicago with her husband, Eric, two crazy kids and her dog Louie, who sometimes thinks he's human. Her debut novel, Nightshade City (Holiday House) released October of 2010 and Book II of the Nightshade Chronicles releasing this year. She loves classically written stories with a creepy slant and knows she's read a good book when she's sad she has no more left to read! Her guilty pleasures are bad reality TV, candy corn and Cheetos!


  1. I hope you fix this so Hilary's post is here. I'd love to read it.

  2. Yea! I got to read the post. Thanks Hilary for sharing your story. It inspires me not to give up as I near the time to query. But I'm going to do the last revision before I do that you recommend.

    I didn't know that some agents might sign you for only one project. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Hilary is such a class act! So happy for her and it was inspiring to read her path to publication :)

  4. I'm about to start querying. Perfect timing for this inspiring post. :D

  5. I LOVED this article! Congrats, Hilary. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Hey, this is great advice, and I loved reading the story. Wow, one-shot agents? Like Natalie, I didn't know that either. Also a good reminder that agents are people too...have health problems and pass on, change their minds and are willing to take chances, and see writers as the "talent" who are people just like them. :)

  7. Thanks so much for having me guys! Hopefully learning about my early mistakes will save some others a little agent pain! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)