Once my manuscript about a street artist who escapes an insidious government was done, it was time to see if anyone was interested in publishing it. The hard work is over, I thought, and now it’s time to bask in the glory of publishing!
And right now all my author friends are like
Google told me that the first thing I needed to do was to research literary agents—middle men between authors and publishers. True, this is just one avenue to publication, but I was sure that self-publishing was not for me. So I started researching literary agents and put together a list of people I thought I’d work well with.
I also had to write a query letter, which is basically a sales pitch of the book. I’m a little nervous to share my query with you, world, since I know it’s flawed, but in the name of transparency, here you go:
Dear (Agent’s Name),
I’m pleased to submit the first ten pages of my manuscript, Unregistered, for your consideration. Unregistered is the first of a planned series of new-adult dystopian fiction novels and is about 55,000 words.
Bristol is the second child in a society with a one-child-only mandate, which renders him an unregistered citizen. Under the Metrics Government, he is not entitled to any state-controlled advantages: education, meaningful employment, or a spouse. By day, he’s a cook at a restaurant, and by night, he’s a graffiti artist painting controversial political murals in low-profile parts of town.
The murals catch the attention of Metrics officials. They frame Jude—a quirky eleven-year-old they’ve deemed unsafe—for Bristol’s vandalism and lock him up. Samara, Jude’s prison educator, knows he can’t be to blame because she’s watched graffiti appear on a wall in her neighborhood for years. Jude’s too young to have created the murals she’s admired.
Bristol’s older sister, Denver, pleads with her brother to stop, pointing to the consequences the entire family could face. Denver also frets about her pending arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t know. But when Bristol meets Samara by chance, falls in love with her, and learns that her student has been wrongfully convicted, he must decide between the life he has always known and an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, Metrics enacts their long-debated unregistered solution: publicly, they announce the relocation of all unregistered citizens—including second children and prison inmates—to far-off desert states. But the novel’s four protagonists discover the dark truth behind Metric’s plan, and they must work together to escape the clutches of their Motherland.
Unregistered is fiction, but all of the social policies in the plot’s dystopian society involve recent failures of the real world: the One-Child policy in China, the Caste system in India, and the Eugenics program in the USA and Germany. This story depicts dystopian societies in the tradition of The Hunger Games, Matched, and Divergent. However, the protagonists are entering adulthood, and therefore the novel appeals to the new-adult age range of eighteen to thirty with crossover appeal to the young-adult age range. I worked with Jennifer Chesak, professional editor and founder of Wandering in the Words Press, to polish this manuscript.
I lived and worked in Beijing, China for two years, and am an alumnae of Teach for America, where I taught in a high-performing urban charter school in Nashville, Tennessee. My experiences in these combined four years led to the writing of Unregistered.
Initially, I had a list of about 50 agents I’d query, but once the first few rejections started rolling in, I stopped. I hadn’t built the thick skin or the community I needed to handle it. (Side note: now I’m in a private query support group on twitter, which is what was missing last time! We chat, swap tips, laugh, and comfort each other when a rejection really puts a pin in your ballon. Game-changer!) So I took it slower. Really researched every person hard before I pressed send.
I don’t remember how I found Amanda the Wonder Editor, but I remember seeing that she currently lived in China. I thought that maybe she’d understand what I was trying to say with my story, and I sent it to her.
Not long after that, I got an email from her thanking me for sending her the sample chapters and asking to see more. We went back and forth for a bit after that, musing over potential revisions (which I was open to) and I waited for her to bring it to the senior editors for consideration.
And a few weeks after that, while I was in choir practice listening to the baritones rehearse a piece, my phone buzzed. It was the offer email.
Congratulations! We would like to offer you a publishing contract with City Owl Press.
I wish I could tell you I celebrated afterward, but we had an OsteoStrong meeting after rehearsal that night, so after rehearsal I worked until about 10:30 pm and ate some toast afterward. Ah! The glamour!
We kept talking about extending the book into a series, and I had the second book nearly finished and polished before Unregistered was released later that year. Book two, Unafraid, came out a mere six months after that.
And now, after nearly five years of writing, editing, and publishing this series, this chapter in my life (pun absolutely intended) is about to come to a close. Book three, Undone, is being released on February 5.
Along the way, I have had some pretty amazing opportunities to talk about writing and the art of perseverance: I’ve spoken to readers at bookshops, libraries, schools, and was even invited to participate in the Kentucky Book Fair, where I would wander around as a kid and dream about someday being an author myself.
In the years I’ve been writing the Children of the Uprising series, I’ve had two babies, moved three states away, and started a business with my husband and his parents, and found a brand-new writing community here in Pittsburgh.
And this part may be obvious, I haven’t stopped writing! I’ve also written another book about a GenZ robotics-loving girl who has a eerie spiritual encounter and gets a mission from the Beyond to save her brother. And another one about the American ambassador to Ireland’s daughter, who has to figure out what to do when she finds and plays a haunted violin.
Finding the time for the babies, the business, and the books is not easy. That’s a subject for next time though—stay tuned for another post, How I’m Pressing Forward, next week.