in which I share the best news in a while

I have been sitting on this news for a while, but I kept holding off posting it because somehow putting it on the blog makes it real, and I didn’t want to jinx it. But the papers have been signed, revisions undertaken, and lots of happy dancing performed, so I guess it’s pretty official, and I should tell the story.

This is a story I didn’t think I’d be telling for a long time. Someday, yes, but not this summer, or even this year, and certainly not today.

But here I am, telling it.

This is the story of how I signed with a literary agent.

A note for the non-publishing crowd:
An agent is an author’s representative to the publisher. It is really, really tricky to get traditionally published without an agent these days. Unfortunately, it can also be really, really tricky to sign with an agent. It takes time, patience, and a lot of anxiety. Having an agent does not guarantee you publication, and signing with an agent does not mean I am getting published. But it does mean that, in the words of the great Neil Gaiman, I am walking towards the mountain. Getting closer.

In order to tell this story, I have to tell the story of me as a writer. It begins not so long ago, in the year 2005…

I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, because I have always been a precocious overachiever. It was written in mad frenzies of writing throughout my ninth grade year, mostly on our Windows 95 computer with the screechy dial up internet. When I finished, I read it over only once to move around a few commas and revel in my own genius. I knew nothing about getting published, but I read somewhere that you need an agent first. Since this was the days before the internet was really a thing, I checked out the ninety-pound Writer’s Market book from the library, wrote down a lot of addresses in my composition book, and then I snail mailed out my query letters1 to publishers and agents. For good reasons, no one was interested.  Shortly after that, I discovered the theater, and writing fell of the radar in favor of a different artistic outlet. I spent a few years writing nothing but terrible poetry that mostly stemmed from unrequited crushes and break ups.

a photo I took in Riga, Latvia, where book #2 was set

Fast forward to my freshman year of college. I wrote my second novel2 on the upper floors of the Utah State University library with raspberry Italian soda and snow beating down the windows. When I finished, I did no revision and gave almost no thought to genre, though I recognize now I was essentially writing a young adult novel with adult characters. I wrote my query and sent it out as a romance novel with no understanding of what that meant3. No agent wanted anything to do with it, and I retired the manuscript after only twenty-five rejections.

Hamlet played a large part in book #3

Two years later, I found myself in the same library, but this time four floors below in the coffee shop, and it was fall. I had just returned from my study abroad in England and I was wildly unhappy in small-town Utah after the excitement of Europe. So in spite of being in possession of a schedule that was essentially suicidal, I used every free moment I had to write a middle grade novel. When I finished, I did some light revision for about a month and then blitzqueried. I got one partial request, which quickly turned into a rejection. That was it. Fifty rejections without a bite later, I abandoned it4.

I know my rejection is nothing compared to some people’s, but it wore me down, especially when all I seemed to read was stories about writers who sent ten queries and ended up with nine offers of representation. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew I was getting better. Every project was better than the last, and I felt like I was getting closer to something publishable.

I learned a lot about the publishing industry that year. I did a lot of reading. I read about revising, and about how some authors throw out almost the entire first draft. I started reading other writer’s blogs, and saturated myself with young adult literature. I wrote a lot, most of it terrible and unusable. I read more books. I applied for my MFA, and committed myself to the world of children’s literature and the decision to be a writer. I realized that even though it felt like I had done a lot of work on the other projects, it wasn’t the sort of work I needed to be doing. I had gotten better, but I wasn’t there yet.

Then, in January, I started what I knew in my gut was the best thing I had ever written. I wrote it in the USU library coffee shop between classes with snow howling outside the windows. Sometimes I kept writing just to postpone the cold walk home. I shortened my work hours so I could write more. I drank a lot of diet coke, and spent a lot of late nights staring at my computer screen, gave up the few social activities I had in favor of writing. And then I finished it, and I wrote it all over again. I rewrote this book for over a year5. I revised and revised and revised. I deleted about eighty percent of the first draft6 and rewrote it. Then I revamped the plot, deleted all that I had revised, and revised again. I did research. I workshopped it with my Simmons class. I wrote and I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote7.

my lovely Venice! Home of book #4.

And then, in March, I decided the manuscript was as finished as I could make it. And like the Scottish king of old, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and I queried.

This time, I had very different results. I sent about thirty queries, and ended up with fifteen agents interested in reading the manuscript.

And then a few weeks ago, I got an offer.

Which leads me to my big announcement: I am officially an agented writer! As of very shortly ago, I am signed with Rebecca Podos at the Rees Literary Agency, and I could not be happier.

Really. I’ve read all this stuff about when you find an agent, it should be like falling in love—you just know when it’s right. And with Rebecca, I just knew. We had an amazing phone call where she started listing things she loved about my manuscript and I started writing “OMG” in bold letters all over my note-taking paper because she was pulling lines and thoughts and ideas out of my manuscript that I couldn’t believe she picked up on after one reading. She just got my book.

I could not be more excited to be working with her. I could not feel luckier. I still smile every time I think about it, and I’m so excited for whatever is coming next. Who knows what that will be. There’s probably more heartbreak and more rejection down the road, but for now, I am just holding on to this feeling. This awesome.

 

  1. Pitch letters, if you don’t speak publishing.
  2. Which also stemmed from an unrequited crush and a break up, ironically.
  3. This would have been the most chaste romance novel in the history of romance novels. There was like one kiss and a lot of unrequited pining. Which also summarizes my high school years pretty well.
  4. I still love this project dearly, though I recognize it needs an absurd amount of work. Someday I would like to revive it.
  5. With a brief two-month hiatus while I was in Chicago.
  6. Not all at the same time, thank goodness.
  7. It should be noted that each of these different stages was accompanied by intense periods of self-doubt and crippling anxiety.
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13 thoughts on “in which I share the best news in a while

  1. Carson Center says:

    YAY!!!!!!! SO exciting! Congrats!!!!!!!!! (The exclamation marks almost represent my excitement) :-)

  2. Magna says:

    WOW………….CONGRATULATIONS. Whatever the genre, I want an autographed copy of the first published novel.

    • MackenziLee says:

      But of course! I’m working on a novel for my thesis right now, and it’s set in France/Germany, and there’s a scene set in the Christmas market! So glad I got to go do first hand research :)

  3. katyupperman says:

    Congratulations, Mackenzi! That’s amazing news, and your story is so inspirational. Can’t wait to see what’s next for you!

  4. SO excited for you, Mackenzi. I can’t wait to watch the rest of your career develop!

  5. OH MY GOSH I’M SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!!! HOORAY!!!! I clapped out loud as I read this. I am so freaking excited!! And I feel bad that I never actually finished reading it lol – sorry about that. If you still want some help, I can recommit. ;) Especially now that I have no job and will shortly be swimming in time. Oh my goodness this is just the best. I can’t wait to buy your book. So encouraging too. I think I’ll be ready to query by the end of the summer and I’m feeling pretty good about my work these days. Oh man. I’m so freaking proud of you Mackenzi! Way to freaking go!

  6. heidikins says:

    Yay! Yay! Yaaaay! Congrats!!!

    xox

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