Wednesday, July 27, 2011

13 WOW Wednesday: Carol Riggs on the Long and Persistent Road

Today's guest is Carol Riggs, who writes YA novels and lives in southern Oregon with her husband. She has worked as a proofreader-typist for six years for a book info company, and shares her expertise as a great and generous critiquer. She's repped by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Catch her on her blog or on Twitter.

The Long and Winding Persistent Road

by Carol Riggs

Yep, I'm typical
Ever heard how a typical writer must write a million words, or for an average of 10 years, before he or she reaches publication? We can buck the odds--and people certainly have--but my journey has been more "typical."

Close…but not quite
I began seriously writing in the 1990s, trying everything from picture books to novels, and finally found my niche in YA. I joined the SCBWI and went to annual conferences. I wrote 10 novels, amassed over 300 rejection slips in 8 years, and even got editor requests for revisions on 2 different novels. After my revisions, when the novels still weren't strong enough, I ended up rejected again.

I got discouraged. I thought maybe the publishing world wasn't "into" the kind of novels I wrote. I was getting praise for aspects of my writing, but part of the real reason is because my total writing skills weren't quite "there" yet. 

Yes, I gave up for a while
As a single mom in 1999, I quit writing. I threw out all my novels, hard copies as well as computer copies. I got a "real" job, and did artwork in my spare time since I'm also an artist. For 10 long years, I didn't write a blessed thing. When I got remarried again in 2008, I didn't have to work again (don't hate me, hehehee) and in 2009 I starting writing again. I love, love, love it!

The road to agented
I wrote 4 more novels. Back in the 1990s I had a Shiny New Idea I never wrote, called FARRADAY'S FAT FARM, about a girl who has her brain waves downloaded into people who are overweight, in order to help them lose weight. My techy hubby helped me figure out how that could work in a sci-fi way, and EMRT was born and the novel renamed.

I wrote a 62K-word rough draft in 2.5 months, and met with an editor at an SCBWI conference in 2010 for a first-chapter critique. She suggested I change the title, wondering why I didn't just call it SHAPERS, since EMRT was too cryptic. And so I did. *grin*

Five months later, after more revising, I went to an SCBWI retreat where Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency was speaking and offering critiques. Since I'd been agent-searching for a year and a half, I targeted her for a paid critique. Not only is she way cute (I told my roomie that Kelly reminded me of Legolas' sister, elflike with long silky blonde hair), but she gave a talk on revision that blew everyone away. I thought whoa! I don't care if I already have a full out to 2 other agents (which I did), I want HER. She's very easy to talk to; I lucked out and got scheduled last, which meant we sat and talked for an extra 20 minutes about my book and my writing. I did a short revision and sent her the full at her request. The other 2 agents considering fulls sent me rejections. I held my breath.

In April Kelly contacted me about revising it to her specs before she offered representation, and we spent two hour-long phone conversations brainstorming and discussing possible changes. She asked what else I had written, and was excited by the sounds of my WIP. At the end of the second call she said she DID want to represent me--without me having done the revision yet, squeee! After I quit floating around near the ceiling, I worked on a first round revision for 9.5 extremely solid weeks, coming up only for air, food, and sleep. I expanded the novel from 64K to 81K. Kelly is very hands-on editorial, which I really appreciate.

What made the diff
How did I get from aspiring to agented?
1. Having persistence. Getting discouraged but bouncing back. Because I love to write.
2. Reading everything I could find online to improve my skills. In the 1990s, I wrote almost in a vacuum except for SCBWI conferences; there is so much more info available to writers nowadays. Utilize these free resources!
3. Doing contests--like this blog's query contest where I honed my query for SHAPERS. I did a five-page Red Light Green Light entry on Cynthea Liu's blog (yup, got shredded). I also joined the free online conference, WriteOnCon, and got some valuable feedback in the forums.
4. Finding knowledgeable, hard-nosed critique partners who didn't let me get away with sloppy writing.
5. Reading published books and analyzing what worked.
6. Having completed many novels, and having a WIP that sounded intriguing to an agent.
7. Being passionate about the idea for my novel. I've always been fascinated by Before and After photos ever since I was a kid. I've also egotistically thought that if only I could "borrow" someone's body for a few months, I could whip their bodies into shape and they'd be amazed at how they looked afterward. Thus, Morgan Dey was born--as a seed piece of myself. 
8. Having a unique idea. Seriously. With all the books that are out there, we as writers need a new twist in plot or premise that makes a book stand out. Agents and editors are swamped with the same old things. Have a storyline that stands out. Be as unique as you can. 

Good luck, and KEEP ON WRITING!!! 


  1. I've been lucky enough to beta read SHAPERS. Carol, your persistence certainly paid off. It's a great book!!!!

  2. Carol,
    Huge congrats on getting an agent. I know you've been working hard on revisions and it'll totally pay off.

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey!

  3. Hi, Carol, The internets helps writers learn easier and faster their craft. Plus, the "I'm not alone" factor is nice.

    Great post!

  4. Hi Carol! It so great to hear about your personal journey. What a ride and well worth it. I was in the same contest on this site where YOU help hone my pitch. Thanks!

  5. Awesome post, Carol! Couldn't agree more. Having tough CPs, and resources just makes the difference! Best of luck to you!

  6. What a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Good work hun, I'm proud of ya! Keep it up.
    Love ya much.

  8. Congratulations on getting an agent. Your journey is quite encouraging, and you gave some good tips,l

  9. Your concept is truly win and, also having the privilege of being one of your 'hard-nosed' critique partners, I can honestly say your book is brilliant.

  10. Wow, Carol! What an inspiration! Your never give up attitude is one we all should follow. Sounds like you landed the agent perfect for you! Congrats and best of luck in the future!

  11. It's lovely to hear about your journey to publication Carol. Congratulations on finding your agent - I'm so glad to hear all your persistence has paid off! Great tips on what made the difference as well!



  12. Congratulations on finding your agent, Carol! I'll look forward to hearing more good news from you in the near future!!! : )

  13. Yay for Carol AND for persistence!


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