I’ve always wanted to write a how-I-got-my-agent post– one, because it would imply that I had an agent (woo!), and two, because I liked reading them as a querying writer. They helped prepare me or at least give me ideas about what was normal and what to expect.
Now it’s official: I’m so happy to have signed with Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, and I can’t wait to see where our partnership goes. And now I get to tell you how it happened, though my post’s probably a little different than the ones you’re used to seeing.
My goal as a writer is to produce a body of work.
Securing representation took me a year and a half, from first query to first call. The process can be long, and I even had a friend wish me a happy “query-a-versary.”
And here’s a dose of real talk, behind the scenes: of course that can be discouraging. If this project hadn’t panned out, I would have switched to querying my adult fantasy later in the fall. Persistence doesn’t mean an unwavering belief this and only this manuscript going to succeed in full NYT bestseller style, #1 or death. It means being persistent with respect to your career. If this isn’t the one, then so be it– finish the next book, dust off your knuckles, and try again.
Probably the biggest thing I learned querying is that there’s honestly not a lot that you can control beyond the quality of your work–agents are busy, editors are busy, sometimes it’s a bad day, sometimes things don’t click. So for this post, I’m not going to share how many queries I sent or the number of fulls requested or offers I received. That’s between QueryTracker and God. (And me too, I guess.)
So what am I going to share?
I’m going to tell you is how much I had to write to get an agent.
As a ~Millennial~ who grew up on Word docs, LJ, and fanfiction, teenage and undergrad me has an ungodly amount of her writing floating around. I’ve always kind of wondered how much exactly I’d written because I’d heard–a la Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours– it takes about one million words to achieve mastery. So I’m going tally that up, the sum total of everything I wrote beginning when I started taking writing seriously up until I got an agent.
A few caveats:
I’m not counting revisions here– only total, threw-out-the-previous-draft-ugh-started-over rewrites. It’s too hard (at least hard in that I cannot find a good solution as quickly as I want to post this) to figure out how to count revised wordcounts, so I’m just going with final draft counts (underestimates since I tend to overwrite, as you will no doubt soon see).
Your experience may be different in part or completely, because this is 100% not a benchmark you have to hit as a querier. It’s just something that I liked knowing about because it made me feel more in control. I couldn’t guarantee any agents would request or offer, but I could always write more words and get better.
And so that’s just what this is: How Many Words Alex Yuschik Had to Write Before Getting Signed, nothing more, nothing less.
Oh yeah. I wrote a ton of fanfic in high school and early college, and this is spread out over several accounts (because my tastes were still evolving and I grew out of the usernames or got too embarrassed by the old stuff).
Fanfic irrevocably shaped my writing and revision style: when I draft, I tend to finish small chunks and revise on a chapter-wide basis as I go. You can’t be boring or waffle too long in fic because your audience has like, ten zillion other options out there getting to the good stuff faster and better. Sometimes you get terrible flames, but mostly your reviewers are incredible cheerleaders who wait on your next chapters and write all-caps squee-reviews or (and this always hits me right in the kokoro) quote their favorite lines back at you.
So it’s probably not surprising that the very first full-length project I completed was a fanfic (I think around 60k), or that it remains one of the proudest achievements of my teens. (not-humble-at-all brag: I actually won second place for it at my local indie bookstore’s fanfic contest. #preen)
It was the first time I set myself a huge writing goal and met it, and that gave me the confidence to produce and finish my longer original work.
Longhand notebooks: (230 words/page * 3346 pages) = 769,580
I know someone’s going to look at that number and think I goofed on the math there (ha), so I’m also posting a picture of the notebooks involved in this undertaking. 196 pages/notebook, except top three which are 202. There’s also an unpictured/unfinished notebook that I’m currently working in that picks up a few pages.
After years of doing NaNo and developing a harsh stream-of-consciousness bent to my style I was eager to remove, I started drafting longhand in January 2011 during my senior year of college, after my parents got me my first fountain pen for Christmas. I wanted to shift away from the instant transmission of brain to keyboard for zero-drafting (the draft before the first draft, the exploratory one), and handwriting forced me to go slow.
I also use longhand writing to solve drafting problems. Don’t know what the characters are going to do next? Go through all the options! See what works! Pick the best one and then type it up and go from there.
Plus, I get this huge surge of accomplishment when I finish an inkwell. It’s so great. Strong affinity with ink in casa de Alex. Added bonus: those notebooks made the most satisfying sound when I plopped them all on the floor for this picture.
Drafts on laptop: 634,983
Cal I: 152,916
Cal II: 115,171
Cal III (wip): 47,798
Hazard I: 50,000
Hazard II: 70,403
Okay, the final arena. Again, the ones with Roman numerals are all rewrites, not revisions. I figure out where the story’s going in the longhand zero draft, and then I rewrite when I digitize.
This is not counting all the poetry, essays, blogs, or the newspaper articles I wrote in college. Weird fact: I wrote over 40 diaries across high school and middle school (my parents were very hopeful I’d metamorphose into Anais Nin but equally relieved when they no longer had to figure out how to store more of those suckers, bless them); they also do not appear here.
Here’s the final breakdown:
Grand total: 1,666,834
And there you go.
So many things are out of your hands as a writer. You can’t force people to have a faster turnaround time reading your work, even if you’re the greatest writer ever. You can’t make people request or offer on things that may not resonate with them. The one thing you can do is get consistently, relentlessly, ruthlessly better at writing.
So go ahead and do that! Don’t make yourself nervous because you’re at x queries and haven’t received y number of fulls, or that you just always get R&Rs and never an offer. That stuff’s out of your control and–spoiler alert– in the big picture, it doesn’t matter. No one’s going to ask you how many fulls agents and editors requested when your book’s in a store. What matters is that your writing is good.
And maybe it takes a while. That’s fine. I mean, hey, it took me over 1.6 million words to write the 83k that attracted my agent. Learning to do something well is a long process, and that’s totally okay because the goal has never been to get there the fastest.
The goal is to produce a body of work.