• Jenna Lee Yun

My (bumpy) yellow-brick road to publishing--first stop: signing with an agent.

This path that I'm currently on probably began further back than I can remember (see previous post re. milk and bones), but three significant moments stand out as possible starting points.


The first is from way back in 2005/2006 while I was in grad school. I was pursuing my Master's in Psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. At the time, I was undecided as to whether or not I wanted to continue on to obtain my PhD and if so, where I would do that. It was a major life decision, so naturally, I wrote a novel for the very first time in my life 🤷🏻‍♀️. The story was a sweet middle grade that came to me in a dream almost entirely fleshed out! I didn't take the time to think through whether I should be writing a book at that time. I simply wrote. It felt natural. It was exciting. And it was so much fun.


BUT. I had no experience in writing fiction and had never even picked up a single craft book. I wrote that novel in about six months and then I did nothing about. It had been fun, but I had made the decision to continue with school. I applied to a Clinical Psychology doctorate program back at home in Seattle, Washington. I got into the program and I was committed to research papers and text books from there on out.


That is, until an assistant editor at a Big 5 publishing house reached out to me.


Backing up a bit...When I was living in New York, a friend of mine from Seattle, who was also living in New York at the time, introduced me to her friend who was an assistant editor at a Big 5. She offered to read my novel. It was a scary thought to have someone other than my sister read my book, but it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. So back in Seattle, I sent her my manuscript and she was so very generous in her feedback. I realize now more than ever how generous she was because that book was so poorly crafted in every way imaginable. Yes, I'm super embarrassed now, especially because this editor is a superstar who has edited some of the biggest children's books in the industry (including at least one Caldecott winner). In any case, school started and the book gathered the figurative dust somewhere in my computer files.


I graduated a few years later with my PhD in Clinical Psychology and began working. I had gotten married and had two little ones near the end of my program and really had to hustle to help support my family. I was working as much as possible and was pretty drained every night. In an attempt to escape from the real-life stress of being a new mother and building a career, I began reading books I had never considered before and stumbled across young adult SFF. I don't think I had ever enjoyed reading so much!


Then, in 2015, I received a message through Facebook out of the blue by that generous editor in New York. She knew an agent who was working with an illustrator on a picture book and was seeking a writer to possibly help with the book...and that editor thought of ME. She said she remembered my writing being lovely (what?!?!) and was wondering if she could put the agent in contact with me. She had also told this agent about my middle grade book and the agent was open to seeing it.


😲


I knew next to nothing about publishing, but I guessed that a personal connection with a literary agent was gold. I found out later that this agent is--much like the editor--a ROCKSTAR. Thank GOD I was naïve to all of this because I would have simply frozen in fear. So in my ignorance, I dusted off the old book and sent it off.


LOL.


As you can imagine, the agent was not impressed. But, she was so very kind! She wrote back with a lengthy critique that made me realize that I can't go half-way into writing books. If I wanted to be published, I'd have to go all in. This time, I took the time to think about it and to do some research into what publishing required. Then, I jumped with both feet into the third significant moment in the beginnings of my writing career.


I joined SCBWI and started attending regularly while writing my first YA novel. I found out everything I could about literary agents and publishing. I read and read and read SO many YA novels (both old and recently published) and fell in love with several amazing craft books. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I sought out critique partners and found some amazing people who I dug my claws into and refuse to let go of to this day! I learned enough to know that my middle grade novel was so not right and that I probably will never feel like I actually know what IS right. Yes, it's terrifying.


I entered the first YA into Pitchwars and received two requests but was ultimately not selected. But a few weeks before the official announcements, I got a new YA book idea that took over my entire soul. I shelved the first YA without querying and finished that second book by the fall of 2019.


In November 2019, I began querying the book without a plan or a good understanding of what to expect. In January 2020 I received an offer of representation from one of the agents who had requested my full manuscript. I accepted the offer and we worked together for several months. She left agenting before we had the chance to go out on sub to editors. While I was bummed to have gone from having an agent to not having one, I was excited to seek out new representation. However, early into querying, I realized that my heart wasn't into that novel anymore. After a period of writer's block, I was inspired by some wonderful CPs to consider middle-grade. And while the MG I wrote years ago was certainly not publishable, I knew the heart of the book had merit. So...I rewrote the entire thing, reserving only the heart, main character profiles, and setting.


Then in January 2021, I submitted a middle-grade manuscript into Author Mentor Match Round 8 and was selected in February 2021 by the AMAZING Shana Targosz.


Shana helped me revise the hell out of my MG and prepare for querying. She is honestly SUCH an amazing writing mentor, writer, and human!!! I will never be able to thank her enough. Never ever. She even helped me craft my pitches for #PitMad on June 3, 2021. Here's the one that received the most attention:


#MG SABRINA x KOREAN LORE

12yo Ronnie doesn't believe in ghosts—until she's haunted by a gwishin

She doesn't believe in witches, either—until she learns she IS one

& she REALLY wishes witch-hunting dokkaebi (goblins) weren't real—bc one is hunting HER

#PitMad #CON #P #M #OWN


PitMad was WILD this year! So many people were prepared to retweet each others' pitches that the total number of pitches (including re-tweets) that day reached over 450,000! Over the course of 12 hours!


Regardless, my first pitch did well, and with Shana's help, I created a list of agents from my #PitMad likes who I would like to query. Then, after adding a few more agents, I sent out 10 queries in my first batch. In addition to these 10, I had a full request from an agent from before I was officially querying, so I sent her my full.


Over the first two months of querying I continued to send queries and received some immediate full requests and some fast turnaround form rejections. But the vast majority of my queries were either sitting in a long queue or the never-ending "maybe pile" (this is easy to figure out using querytracker.com).


(Sorry, but I won't be divulging my query statistics. While stats are fascinating and I get the curiosity, I want to avoid the possibility of setting false expectations--good or bad.)


Waiting is agony and each day felt like a week. If it wasn't for my querying buddy, Carey, I would have completely lost it, I'm sure. Everyone should get themselves a querying buddy with whom to discuss/cheer/wail/complain/gush/over-analyze all things querying. Seriously, @careyblankensh is a life-saver!


But FINALLY, on 9/25/2021, 3 months and 2 weeks into querying this book....I received the email--the one from an agent requesting A CALL. I was shocked when she requested the full to begin with, and when I saw her email requesting a call, I swore I had read a rejection. It wasn't until I read it over again (slower) that I realized she was asking for a call. Still, I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I decided to hold on to the mind-set that a call was good, no matter the outcome. We had our call a few days later and she offered representation! The call was amazing. She is amazing! I knew from that call that I would be so incredibly lucky to work with her.


BUT there's protocol and just good business, so I did the thing. I sent out the obligatory nudge email to the agents who had my materials. And as you've probably read from every other "how I got my agent" story, more full requests came in, several kind passes, and responses from agents who had my full letting me know they'd get back to me before the end of two weeks.


During that time, I sought out advice from my wise AMM mentor, incredible CPs, and amazing writer friends. By the end of the two weeks, I was confident in my decision.


I am now represented by the fabulous Emily Forney at BookEnds Literary!


***


At the time of this writing, I'm on submission. Please wish me luck!!!


More soon...