• Kristiana Sfirlea

Hope for an Agent


7 years of writing. 3 years of querying. 50+ rejections. 2 offers of publication from small publishers. 1 and 1/2 years of revising...and revising...and revising. (Is there an echo in here?)

If querying were an endurance race, I might've snagged the bronze. Well, maybe not bronze. But definitely a ribbon. Fourth runner up, at least. Possibly fifth. My point is, every writer's path to finding an agent looks a little different. Some are shorter, others longer, some have 30 rejections, others 200 — but each one is designed to build the persistency, consistency, and dedication needed for the next leg of the writing journey: publishing. Because everyone knows that querying agents is by far the longest part of the publishing process, and once you land one, it's all fast progress and instant gratification from there on out.

(Oh, come now, reader, I jest. But let's be honest: if you've made it far enough to have signed with an agent, waiting and rejections are a staple part of your diet. Entering the vast uncertainty of submitting to publishers, you may even call them comfort food.)

I love reading author success stories. It's a wonderful thing to share someone's joy and be inspired by their work. My hope is that through this little blog post I might share my joy and inspire you, too.

So, how did I end up with the lovely Hope Bolinger and mighty Cyle Young of Cyle Young Literary Elite? (If you can picture me rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation, that's what I'm doing.) It's quite the story — one I'm not sure even they know the half of. It all began when I decided to attend the 2018 Michigan Writing Workshop in April...

I was at the tail end of my 18-month-long rewrite. Weeks away from rejoining the cold, rainy query trenches, and I was feeling pretty cozy in my nice, dry revision clothes. All that time away from querying had freshened my perspective, and I realized something about the industry I was trying so hard to become part of: there's a lot of ick here. A lot of yuck. People doing right things for wrong reasons, hypocrisy, insincerity, schmoozing, friendships built solely for taking advantage of connections...all of it made me want to grab my book baby and hide away in a writing cave till the end of my days. Not because I was afraid of being hurt — I was afraid of doing the hurting. My natural, ambitious, self-serving nature is a very real obstacle with very real consequences. How was I going to involve myself in an industry that constantly tempts the worst parts of me?

(That's not a rhetorical question, by the way. I have an answer.)

You all know I love my Jesus, right? Yes sir, I believe God is my Author, writing the chapters of my life from beginning to end. (And whenever I forget it, I got my arm jabbed full of ink just to remind me.) A story won't be its best if the characters don't cooperate, so I pray. A lot. I pray that my Author will tell my story however He likes in whatever way will make people say, "Dude. That's your God? He's incredible!"

But before diving back into the world of querying, I had a new request to make. One that has echoed in the ear of the Almighty for over 2,000 years. "Lead us not into temptation..." I am tempted by this industry. I'm tempted to rub shoulders with people who could further my success. I'm tempted to tackle my dreams with my own power and force my will on them. I'm tempted to claw my way to the top for my own purposes and gain. It's ugly, it's wrong, and I am tempted.

And here I was hopping right back into the hot seat of temptation. What could I do? Think positive thoughts? Retweet motivational phrases on Twitter? Stick a Post-It note to my forehead that says, "Kindness is contagious — spread good germs"?

Don't be silly. I asked for a God story.

God stories are simple equations where someone who loves God does their part, and God, who loves them even more, does His and suddenly — boom! Magic happens. They're unexplainable circumstances, chance meetings, out-of-the-blue connections, amazing, amazing things you could never take credit for yourself, not in a million years.

Heck yeah, baby. This is one of those stories.

Let's set the stage, shall we? Me, attending my second writers conference. Upping the ante by securing my first ever pitching session with an agent. I did my part. I researched the conference, the agents in attendance, how to best pitch in person. I have a terrible memory, particularly when I'm nervous, so I taped my pitch to my bathroom mirror and practiced it 3 or 4 times a day for 2 months! (This is going to come up later.) Day of the conference, I was as packed an ready as a writer can be. My (rather large) briefcase overflowed with every resource imaginable: snacks, water, a meticulous list of the classes I wished to attend and their order, a printed copy of my pitch to reference if my memory failed me, and business cards to pass out generously to anyone I met. They even had a little elevator pitch of my book on the back!

Yes, with that briefcase by my side, I felt like I could take on the world. And win.

Eager beaver that I am, I managed to snag the first pitching slot at 9:20 AM. The agent (spoiler alert: not Cyle) was very nice and made me incredibly comfortable. She requested a sample of my writing, and I left the table feeling elated and ready to face the rest of the conference with gusto. My nerves dissipated. The hard part was out of the way, after all. Now I was free to enjoy the workshops and make new writing buddies. Yay!

Around lunch, my almost-brother-in-law Jake (he's my brother-in-law's brother) and I were taking a break in the cafeteria when a guy came over to our table. He and Jake were friends from earlier, so the guy pulled up a chair, and we got to know each other. His name was Steve, and he was a Storier. The Storiers are a team who interview authors, agents, and editors for the benefit of the writing community — and do so quite humorously. We started talking about writers conferences. This was Jake's first, but I'd been to the whopping, three-day extravaganza that is the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids back in 2016. When I told Steve this, he asked if I wrote from a faith-based perspective, which of course I do, and then he told me I should talk to one of the agents he'd interviewed at the conference: Cyle Young. A nice thought, but I hadn't scheduled a pitching session with Cyle, so clearly that wasn't going to happen. Pity.

Steve left, and Jake and I prepared for our next workshop. I gave him my briefcase — my precious, all-important briefcase — to save my seat while I excused myself to the bathroom. Alone and briefcase-less, I then made my way to the class room and noticed Steve the Storier walking ahead of me. He kept looking over his shoulder, giving me funny glances. Confused, I smiled and promised I wasn't following him. His eyes were on my name tag. "Your name's Kristi...Kristi-AH-na, right?"

Kudos for the correct pronunciation. "That's me."

Breezing past a group of people, he pulled a man from the crowd and said, "Cyle, this is Kristiana, and I think she has a book you'll like."

Um...what?!

Cyle Young is a former football player for the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!) and has the towering charisma to match his stature. I shook his hand, equal parts awed and intimidated. After introductions, Cyle asked if I had a pitching session with him or his junior agent that day. Wincing internally, I edged closer to the classroom and my darling briefcase. "No, I'm afraid not. But it was really nice meeting you!" The last thing I wanted was to look like a cheapskate trying to sneak in a free pitching session!

Cyle glanced down at his watch. "You know what? I've got three minutes. Let's talk."

Nope. Uh-uh. Not for all the tea in China (and I LOVE tea). All my careful preparation was in my briefcase. I had nothing. No water, no printed pitch, no business cards. I was not about to— "Okay," I said.

Enter the three most terrifying minutes of my life. I knew I wouldn't have enough time to give the pitch I'd spent months practicing. An elevator one would have to do. "Pitched as DOCTOR WHO meets FROZEN set in a haunted asylum, my novel SHADOWS OF A STORM is a middle grade fantasy..." And I froze. My elevator pitch was on the back of my business cards. Business cards that were in my briefcase. Briefcase that was sitting next to my almost-brother-in-law who was probably wondering what was taking me so long. Thankfully, Cyle has this wonderful abruptness about him that keeps a conversation going and makes you feel like every answer you give is exactly what he was hoping to hear. Towering charisma, remember? We talked about how long I'd been a writer — pretty sure I answered, "Three years." Oops. That's the number I'd been querying, but that's me, Little Miss Fumble Tongue when I'm nervous. We discussed popular MG books in my genre, and Cyle was familiar with my comp titles. Somehow, by the end of our three minutes, he asked me to submit my proposal to him and one of his junior agents and to make sure I put "the purple-haired girl from the Michigan Writing Workshop" somewhere in my query.

I walked numbly to my next class, clutching his business card like it was made of gold.

A few weeks later, when my rewrite was complete, I sent my submission to Cyle and his junior agent. I heard back from them the same day — they were interested! They made some excellent revision notes and invited me to submit again once I made the changes. I took my manuscript through another month of revisions, sent them, and settled in for the long wait.

By now it was summertime, and you know what that means: TWITTER PITCHING CONTESTS! #FaithPitch and #SFFpit were right around the corner, and I was ready and raring to go! I hadn't participated in a proper Twitter pitching contest in years, though the last few I'd entered landed me two publishing offers from small presses. Exciting stuff, and I couldn't wait to unveil my freshly polished story to the world.

(My infamous pitching-day giant rice krispie tradition!)

Let me tell you, having two Twitter pitching contests on the same day is murder on a poor writer's heart. It was exhausting. And exhilarating! And exhausting. I was thrilled by the interest my pitches were getting and utterly baffled by the one name that cropped up again and again among the requests: C.Y.L.E. Cyle Young Literary Elite. I had 4 separate requests from Cyle's team. Yes, 4. So I sent to them.

Within weeks, I found myself in correspondence with the lovely Hope Bolinger. We clicked. I loved her enthusiasm and sense of humor. (Go check out her parody account Just Hero Thoughts. Trust me.) And the rest was history...and a future I can't wait to meet.

I am proud to be represented by Hope Bolinger and Cyle Young of Cyle Young Literary Elite. THE STORMWATCH DIARIES is in good hands. If there's one thing this experience has taught me, it's that if you let Jesus do the storytelling, you'll have a story to tell — and the love and genuineness to dispel any temptation that comes your way.

#writingconference #agent #FaithPitch #GodStory #michiganwriters

© 2020 Kristiana Sfirlea