The Call

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The email came on a Tuesday: a literary agent wanted to talk to me. And not just any agent - Andrea Somberg, who’d repped Dana Mele’s People Like Us, was into 20th century fiction and YA historical fiction in general, and worked for the super-esteemed Harvey Klinger Agency.

First, I screamed. Next, I went to my office bathroom and jumped up and down for about two minutes straight. Third, I tried to talk myself down: it could be a Revise & Resubmit call. Or, I’d even read horror stories about agents scheduling a call with writers just to decline them gently! It was dangerous to get my hopes up too much.

You see, I had a lot of energy invested in this book. I started writing it in May 2014 after spending a year obsessed with and immersed in Russian Revolutionary history. After two years I had a 500-page, incredibly messy first draft. I spent another year revising it, and then started querying.

17 queries sent. 1 partial request, ultimately ghosted.

Concerned with my lack of success, I turned to the YA Writers subreddit for help. I shared my query for critique. And on that thread, a moderator named Alexa Donne messaged me to encourage me to apply for Author Mentor Match, a mentorship program for unpublished writers. They were short on YA historical fiction entries, and she thought my book sounded fun.

So I applied, and was accepted! In December 2017 I was matched with J. Albert Mann, a smart and sharp-eyed historical fiction author, and beautiful human being. Jen read my book. She got it. She even liked it. She also flagged big character issues for me, and talked me through my angst over plot holes. Above all, she believed in me.

Jen gave me the courage to rewrite the whole book in dual-POV. My initial 500-page draft had been split into part 1: Evgenia, part 2: Anna. But in revising down to one story, I’d cut out one of the POVs. With Jen’s help I went back and rewrote the now 275-page book in alternating POV chapters.

The book needed that change. Desperately.

I started querying again in September 2018. My query letter wasn’t all that different, but the book was. This time around I ended up querying 50 agents (including a few re-queries from the first round), had seventeen full requests, and two offers of representation.

Oh, that’s right — because that call with Andrea? It wasn’t a Revise & Resubmit, and it wasn’t a gentle rejection. It was The Call.

Andrea was enthusiastic about the story and the characters. She had a ton of editors in mind who might be interested, and a methodical approach for the submissions process. She connected me to two of her clients who raved about her, and she was incredibly patient in giving me time to talk to them, ask her questions, and dig into the business side of her rates, contract details and agency practices.

We met for lunch to celebrate signing with each other, at a quiet restaurant overlooking Central Park. Andrea was even warmer and more adorable in person. She clearly knew everything there was to know about agenting. She was even encouraging about my other book ideas, even though we talked about how they might be challenging to market.

I wish I’d taken a picture at that lunch, or recorded my first phone call with her. They are now dear memories to me. Not only did I meet my new business partner, but it was the first time my writing was recognized as something more than a hobby. The first time my lifelong dream of being published actually touched my reality.

Someone whose job it was to know good writing thought my writing was good. That call changed my life.