The Short Story
I have an agent! (pauses to whirl like a dervish)
His name? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with Alec Shane of Writers House.
As many twists as I put into LUCKY THIRTEEN, the happy ending of finding Alec, or of Alec finding me, turned out to be the biggest twist of all. I’m talkin Titanic Twist, man. (more along the lines of the classical meaning, not the North Atlantic disaster)
The Long Story
15 January 2015
I began querying agents. I didn’t tell anyone. Not my husband, not my critique partner (the latter would have apparated and hit me over the head with a tire iron). In some cases, I didn’t have to wait more than an hour or two for the rejection email. This wasn’t accidental. I cherry-picked a few of the fastest responders in the business because I wanted the instant feedback, even if it was in the form of “No way.” Why? So I’d know if I should revise the query letter.
19 January 2015
With a brand-spanking-new query that even my crit buddy approved of (when I finally got ’round to telling him), the first partial request came in within an hour after my index finger hit the Send button.
Bolstered by this excellent news, I sent out umpteen more queries. I even got really bold and queried agents who don’t generally want to be bugged by unpublished authors. One of them was the amazing guy who effectively launched Stephen King’s career back when I was still straining to reach the post box. (See? I told you good ol’ SK was gonna play a role in all of this.)
23 January 2015
Distinctive email ping told me I had a response. It was from HIM. The Big Guy. I scanned the first few words, expecting them to taste like not-for-me-thanks.
The words were of a different flavour. Think nocciola e crema at Vivoli’s in Florence.
I told my crit partner and he didn’t hit me. That was good.
Sometime later that day, another request for the full hit my inbox. That was good, too. And I sent out
a thousand a few more queries.
2 February 2015
Ten days doesn’t seem like a long time. Unless you’re a five-year-old waiting for Christmas. Even though I left five a while back and Christmas is far, far away, the ten days leading up to what I now refer to as Triple D-Day (Desperation, Despondence, and Demoralisation) passed with all the rapidity of a sloth waking from its nap. An agent who I thought loved my book passed on the full. I didn’t make the cut for the Sun vs. Snow contest. I spent the day staring at my manuscript wondering how the hell I could turn it into something someone wanted. And I cursed myself for trying to pitch a novel I drafted in November. Yeah, man, the truth is out:
I was pitching a National Novel Writing Month animal. Shit.
9 February 2015
Whoo hoo! Two offers of representation and scheduled phone appointments for later in the week.
10 February 2015
Strange happy magic amazing wonder day. I sent out nice notes to Samantha Fountain and Sidney Blake withdrawing my submissions from the #AgentMatch and #AdPit contests. Good things were happening to me, so the ladylike thing to do was to bow out of the game.
My email to Samantha didn’t quite make it in time and the AgentMatch post went live with my picture and pitch on it. It looked like this:
Author: Christina Dalcher
Title: LUCKY THIRTEEN
Genre: Adult Thriller/Mystery
Word Count: 83,000
Jack Reacher meets THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO when a down-on-her-luck linguist must decipher love letters and lies before a madman kills again.
Linguist and former FBI trainee Danny Jones has lost everything – parents, fiancé, job – and now all she wants is to be left the hell alone. Preferably with a nice bottle of bourbon. But when she comes home to a dead girlfriend and a cryptic message from former colleague, Colin, Danny knows she should get involved. When Colin turns up dead and the cops turn to Danny, she doesn’t have a choice.
Danny’s fallen from university professor to waitress, been booted out of the FBI’s Special Agent training program for a one-time screwup, and now – when things can’t get any blacker – she’s the only link between two unexplained deaths in Washington, DC. With the cops looking closely at her knowledge of Arabic and her suspicious circle of academic colleagues, Danny runs to the only person she can trust – linguist and former cryptographer Eddie Brown, AKA Off-the-Grid-Ed. Too bad he’s in love with her. She’s been off men since her fiancé got whacked five years ago.
Danny can count the clues on one lousy hand: a pile of love letters from Colin’s latest fling, a puzzling lead from a renowned child psychologist, and a recording of two men in a bar. Employing every weapon in her language arsenal – from text analysis to voice recognition to dialect studies – Danny turns those clues into assets. As the papers report more deaths, Danny finds out just what happened to her friend Colin. And she discovers the identity of the madman who’s launched a personal war against adulterers, starting with those closest to him. The race has begun. To save herself, Eddie, and two innocent people, Danny Jones needs to place first.
Bright and early that morning, I saw THIS on the #AgentMatch Twitter feed:
— Samantha Fountain (@FountainWriter) February 10, 2015
I took a peek. Some sixty-odd profiles hung out in the ether waiting for agent requests. Not very good odds. Not very good odds at all.
Except they were.
Odd entry #37 with its odd-number title LUCKY THIRTEEN and its odd author and its even odder protagonist, was on Alec’s list.
A few technicalities complicated the birth of our AgentMatch love-child. For one, I had already queried another agent at Writers House (literary agents dislike bigamous relationships and cutting in on dance hall floors). So we waited for things to sort themselves out.
The Happily Ever After Ending
15 February 2015
Alec wrote me and asked those seven little words every writer wants to hear:
When is a good time to chat?
We talked about my book. We talked about Stephen King. And we talked about Bermuda.
A few days later, after email volleys and lengthy phone conversations with several of Alec’s current clients, I made the decision. It didn’t really have much to do with either Stephen King or Bermuda, but, hey, those little bits make for a fun story, don’t they?
The Big Thank-You Round of Applause:
I would not be writing any of this without a whole lovely mess of wonderful people in the background:
My critique partners Bud Jillett and Elizabeth Davies. Bud’s first three words to me back in December ’14 were “Don’t burn it!”. He also slapped me a few times when my POV drifted. Elizabeth, who weaves words as only a Welshwoman can, jumped on board and raced through LUCKY THIRTEEN with eyes as sharp as a hawk’s.
My favourite linguistics professors ever: Charlie Jones, Steven Weinberger, and Elizabeth Zsiga. They taught me how to think.
The rest of the writing community on Scribophile: Chris Drew, William MacBride, Tina Chan, Katia Hart, and every other soul who red-penned my chapters and shouted words of encouragement.
A very cool organisation called National Novel Writing Month. Who knew?
Samantha Fountain, for organising #AgentMatch and setting Alec and me up on a blind date.
All the wonderful, hard-working, fast-reading literary agents I’ve spoken to over the past weeks. I wish I could have married each and every one of you. Honestly. I do.
My five-year-old iThing. It’s kinda like an iPhone without the phone part. Really, it’s a brick. But its brickness prevented me from sending that withdrawal email to Samantha until it became too late for her to revise the #AgentMatch page. Here’s to obsolete IOSs.
Bruce Dalcher, maritime attorney and avid reader of everything from Churchill bios to Lee Child novels to dissertations on consonant weakening in Florentine Italian. He’s my husband, my best friend, and the guy who lends me his mobile phone when I need it. He can’t cook, but he now has the numbers of several take-away restaurants memorised.
And…finally…Daniel Jones. My academic great-great-great grandfather and the name behind my main character.
Queries sent: 59
Rejections based on query alone: 22
Rejections after submission: 7 (1 R&R, several step-asides)
Full requests: 14 (1 after an earlier rejection)
Partial requests: 3 (1 after an earlier rejection)
Withdrawals (by me): 26
Offers of rep: 6