Thursday, July 28, 2016

"An Agent's Inbox" Contest Alert


“An Agent's Inbox” is exactly what it sounds like--next week, I'm turning the blog into an agent's inbox, a public one. We'll get to see 25 queries along with their first pages, and we'll get to hear what a bona fide agent thinks of each one.

The queries and first pages will be yours, of course. I'll accept your entries this Monday, August 1, and then I'll post them next Wednesday, August 3. The entrants and anyone else who wishes to review them may comment until the following Monday or Tuesday, August 8 or 9, when I'll announce the winners.

Those winners will be chosen by The Agent, and this month, The Agent is Patricia Nelson* of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency!

The Rules

1. To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions: First, it must be COMPLETE, POLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the genres The Agent represents (which are listed at the bottom of this post).

2. IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN MARCH'S ROUND OF “AN AGENT’S INBOX,” please DO NOT participate in this one UNLESS YOUR HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT that meets the criteria listed above. If the entry slots don’t fill up by Tuesday, August 2, I may allow previous participants to enter.

3. All entries must include A QUERY and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. You must paste these items IN THE BODY OF YOUR E-MAIL; otherwise, I'll disqualify it.

4. THE ENTRY WINDOW OPENS AT 12:00 NOON EDT (OR 9:00 A.M. PDT). Once the entry window opens, I'll accept the first 25 entries. I won't accept any entries sent before the entry window opens or after the first 25 slots fill up.

5. If your entry makes it in, I'll send you a confirmation e-mail with a post number. If your entry doesn't make it in, I'll still send you an e-mail, but it won't have a post number.

6. If your entry makes it in, YOU MUST COMMENT ON AT LEAST 3 OTHER ENTRIES.

The Prizes The Agent will select both the winners and the prizes. The Agent might pick 25 winners, or she might only pick one. The Agent might offer full requests, or she might only ask to see another page. It all depends on how good the entries are.

Please keep in mind that THIS CONTEST ISN'T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. I've encouraged The Agent to treat the entries exactly as she would a normal batch of queries. Essentially, The Agent will be answering the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?" I think this process will be instructive for all of us, but if you enter, you need to be prepared to hear exactly what The Agent thinks of your query and first page.

So get those queries and first pages polished up, then meet us back here on Monday, August 1, at 12:00 noon EDT! At that time, you may send your entries to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com. Looking forward to it!

The Genres

MG fiction (all genres)
YA fiction (all genres)
Adult Romance
Women's Fiction

And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

*I know this probably goes without saying, but if you’re thinking about entering, you should probably treat this round a little differently than you would if you didn’t already know The Agent’s identity. Feel free to do a little research and include personalization in your queries. Also, if you've already queried Ms. Nelson, PLEASE DON'T ENTER UNLESS YOU HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT THAT MEETS THE CRITERIA LISTED ABOVE. Since I don't have access to Ms. Nelson's inbox, I can't really police this, but you--and she--are going to get a lot more out of this contest if you enter something The Agent hasn’t seen before.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Road I Didn't Want to Take

About six months ago, the husband got a call at work. His employer was pleased with the lessons he'd been writing on the side for their curriculum department. They wanted him to come and write full-time out of their central office, so they wanted to know if we'd be willing to move back to Utah.

Honey Bear works as a religious educator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which runs a coordinated network of seminaries and institutes for teenagers and young adults around the country and the world. When he was hired out of college, the Church assigned him to teach seminary in Mesquite, Nevada, which is where we've lived for the last ten years.

I loved Mesquite. I thought I was a city girl--or at least a suburban girl--until I moved to Mesquite, at which point I realized I would be more than happy to live with my husband and kids in a remote cabin in the woods (with electricity, indoor plumbing, and an Internet connection, of course). I loved the small-town feel, the laid-back lifestyle, and even the heat.

In other words, I didn't want to move.

It didn't seem prudent to move, either. I mean, we'd bought our house in 2006. At the height--or depths--of the recession, our thousand-square-foot house was worth about a third of what we'd paid for it. The market had started to come up again, so it was now worth about two-thirds of what we'd paid for it, and thanks to careful planning (not to mention my book deals), we'd managed to pay down that other third. For the first time since we'd bought it, we were (almost) in the black.

After several intense days of pondering and praying, we decided to move forward (though, admittedly, Honey Bear was more gung-ho than I was). We'd always intended to move back to Utah someday, and who knew when this chance would come around again? Plus, the change of pace really excited Honey Bear. As much as he loved the classroom and his students in Mesquite, he was eager to write full-time. (Ha!) So we started de-junking in anticipation of an advanced appraisal. For a week or two, I converted all my writing time into cleaning, de-cluttering, and reorganizing the whole house. When the appraiser came, I knew I'd done everything I could. I thought I was at peace.

Then we got the appraisal back, and it was almost ten thousand dollars less than what we still owed on the house.

I'd mentally prepared myself for a slightly lower number, but not ten-thousand-dollars lower. And despite my efforts to move forward, all my doubts and reservations bubbled back up to the surface. This wasn't going to work out. We couldn't afford to move. Maybe I just didn't WANT to move. At one point, we were on the phone with an assistant administrator--there are, like, five or six guys who oversee the Church's seminaries and institutes in every corner of the world, and we were actually speaking to one of them--and I just broke down. I pressed my fist into my mouth so he wouldn't be able to hear me sobbing, but when he asked me a question, Honey Bear had to admit I wasn't capable of answering. Fantastic.

For days, I asked myself why I couldn't just have faith. While the emotional side of my brain struggled, the rational side of my brain acknowledged that this was a great opportunity and probably the right thing to do. But I was terrified of losing control of my finances, of getting in over our heads, of having to borrow money from our parents (even though they'd already offered). I had this tidy, safe idea of what I thought my life should look like, and I wanted everything to fit neatly inside it.

And yet we forged ahead. I went through the motions of working with the realtor to put our house on the market, and somehow, our spring break, which we'd already planned to spend in Utah, devolved into a de facto house-hunting trip. The mother-in-law had already scouted the best properties, and when Honey Bear and I walked into her favorite house, we instantly fell in love. After reviewing our finances and praying again, we decided to make an offer--and promptly lost the house in an unexpected bidding war.

The rest of that week was like a bad episode of House Hunters. After having such a similar reaction to the dream home, Honey Bear and I were never on the same page again. Before we'd even heard back on the dream home, he'd been cooling toward the house that was supposed to be our consolation prize, and though we saw several other houses he wanted to make an offer on, I never felt as strongly about any of them.

Then, late Friday night--we were planning to leave on Saturday morning--I happened to be going through the listings I'd gone through a thousand times when I noticed that a house we'd initially had on our list was back on the market. We immediately called our realtor and asked if she could get us in before we left, but our realtor did us one better--since the sellers were still out (and since their realtor happened to live in the same neighborhood), we could see the house that night. We went and took a look, came home and said another prayer, and made an offer on the house, which the sellers immediately accepted.


As we drove home the next day, I almost couldn't believe how everything had come together. It made me wonder if maybe this was going to work out after all.

But we still had to sell our house.

Actually, our house had received an offer in the week that we were gone (and only one day after going on the market). But it was even lower than our appraisal, and when we countered the offer, the prospective buyer never responded. Then we got offer number two, which was higher than the appraisal but still less than what we owed. Still, it seemed stupid to refuse it, so we resigned ourselves to somehow making up the difference between the sale price and our mortgage.

But when our buyer found out that Honey Bear worked for the Church and that they'd be facilitating the sale process, this prospective buyer backed out, too. Less than a week later, we received an identical offer, which also ended up falling through because this prospective buyer also wasn't interested in working with the Church. But before that offer fell through, we heard from a third buyer, who knew about the second buyer and wanted to make a competing offer. Long paragraphs short: we ended up selling our house for a thousand bucks over our asking price, which was already a few thousand bucks over what we owed.

Lots of people would probably chalk this up to good luck or coincidence, but I believe God was doing more with my life than I could do with it on my own. It's hard to let go, but I believe He loves and cares for us as a father loves and cares for his children. And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him. In other words, when we let Him in, He won't ever let us down.