Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: getting an agent

Writing: Go slow to go fast


Better to go slow 4

(Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland, taken on our recent vacation)

This quote, or quotes similar, are used all over the place: the corporate world, leadership trainings, education, technology, etc. Apparently the founder of the Roman Empire even said “Festina Lente.”  “Make haste, slowly.” A reminder to himself to perform duties with a balance of diligence and urgency.

Oh, and Aesop’s fables. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Tortoise and the Hare.

(retrieved from

The same philosophy should be applied to writing your novel. Not on the first draft per say, that’s just exploratory, but rather when you get feedback from critique partners, editors, or your agent on your book baby. When you’re working trying to sculpt that probable hot mess of a first draft into something beautiful.

For me personally, I just got some unexpected developmental feedback while in the throes of trying to cut 10,000 words of what I thought was nearly a final draft. By the way, I had cut over 5,000 without even finishing the read-through; pretty much all unnecessary prepositional phrases, dialogue, description. And when I say final draft, I mean I thought for real this time, not like the last four times …


My agent is right. She called out some things my subconscious was quietly nagging me about. But now, I’m not quite back to square one, but I have to take a step back and look at plot … again.

It’s frustrating, but this feedback will push my WIP to be even better. And as much as I want to be done a year ago, I need to take time to breathe, process, think it through, rather than rushing to… Get. It. Done.

I need to free write on her main suggestions, let my brain go crazy processing the ideas, blocking out a scene, writing bits of dialogue, seeing through different characters’ eyes. Then pull the good stuff from that, new potential plot points, and throw them on some sticky notes to make them concrete and, well, movable. Next, I need to toy around with those ideas, expand or change existing scenes or write entirely new scenes.  See what happens. Then I need to consult with trusted crit partners and my agent to see if I’m going in the right direction. Or they might have genius ideas.

As much as I want to just be done, I need to take time and space to make sure I do it right. Because writing in the wrong direction just to get it done, only hurts that beautiful thing you’re trying to sculpt. Been there, done that more than once.

Whether you self-publish or attempt the traditional route, you only get one shot to put that book baby out into the world. Well, in traditional route, you get one shot with each agent (or perhaps, if you’re lucky, a Revise & Resubmit) then if you get an agent, you likely get one shot with each publishing house. So that baby needs to be as sparkly and shiny and perfect as possible.

So grab a coffee or a beer ….

Or both 😛

And go slow to go fast. Take the time to do it right, whether it’s line edits, processing and applying developmental feedback, or even plotting before you embark on your book baby-venture.

Take the time to sculpt your book baby into the most beautiful creation it can be.

Happy writing!

Tackling those overwhelming developmental edits


one foot

(Me on top of Mount Oberon, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia)

I’m about to embark on an epic writing quest. Yet again. I got the second round of developmental edits from my agent Claire. The first round was nine and a half pages single-spaced. After six months of re-writing the first 2/3s of the manuscript, working closely with a cultural consultant, and another trip to Belfast, I sent my agent my manuscript at the end of July. For those of you in the query trenches hoping to get an agent, waiting and waiting to hear anything, once you get an agent…you still do lots of waiting. When you eventually go on submission (agent sends your manuscript to editors at publishing houses), you do even more waiting.


Because you’re not done with that novel most likely. It takes time and lots of support to sculpt a masterpiece; your agent should be your much wiser, more experienced partner-in-crime. Time very well spent for me so far.

Anyway, last week, I got my second edit letter. It was only five and a half pages this time…of more developmental edits.

Fainting-GIFAgents have different styles. This is important information in case you ever do get “the Call,” i.e. an agent wants to offer you representation. Some agents want to get your stuff out on submission as quickly as possible. Their philosophy may be, let’s test the waters and see if we get any bites, tweak as we go. At the same time, you only get one shot to submit to each editor. But there’s always the next book, right?

Some consider themselves “editorial,” such as my agent, Claire. They want your novel to be polished and perfected before it lands on the desks of editors of major publishing houses. For me, this means I still have a lot of work to do. And while part of me just wants to get it out there and see what happens after the two years I’ve spent on it, I want it to be the best it possibly can be. I absolutely trust Claire to guide me there.

Anyway, whether it’s from an amazing critique partner or an agent, getting intense, mentally challenging feedback like this can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you’ve been working on something for awhile. It’s easy to just dismiss it, but my agent has been right about everything so far. Some of it wasn’t a huge shock, because one of my CPs did mention it before. Eek. So I took a few days to let it simmer, and now I’m working on unpacking it.

I’ll be blowing up Hooligans in Shining Armour yet again: digging into character needs and goals, delving into character relationships, unpacking secondary characters’ motivations and feelings, re-plotting both main characters’ story arcs, writing new first chapters (I don’t know how many times I’ve THOUGHT I was done but here’s one time), cutting from the ending because the climax happens at about 75% and should be 90%. Basically re-writing the whole thing most likely.

But as I said in my last post:

Attitude is everything 2

Wherever you are in the writing process, whether prepping for your first NaNoWriMo, in the query trenches, or working through line edits with an editor at a publishing house….

One foot in front of the other.

When it comes to becoming a successful writer…


Attitude is everything 2

So the picture featured in my little inspirational poster above was taken on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand. My husband and I decided to try out for real backpacking through mountain passes for the first time while we were there. We embarked on a three day hike which started on a nice, warm sunny day through some mossy woods.

New Zealand 419

And quickly turned into three days of straight rain and snow and cold. Thank GOD we packed for it.

New Zealand 495

I may or may not have almost fallen off a narrow cliff path and plunged to my death. Our tent may or may not have almost been washed away during a torrential rainstorm that flooded the waterfalls and actually closed the trails just after we finished. I may have also had to climb up a spontaneous waterfall to get out.

New Zealand 619 New Zealand 621

And this was not the worst part of the washed-out trail:

New Zealand 650

But we lived. And it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I learned I’m a bit braver and tougher than I thought. One foot in front of the other, that’s what I kept telling myself. I’d do the whole thing again in a heartbeat.

New Zealand 658

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with writing? In my humble opinion a lot. Attitude, persistence, realistic expectations, and a lot of hard work, that’s what it takes to make it as a writer. A lot of near falls and unexpected twists and dead ends and bitter disappointments that push you to be stronger rather than give up. It is a long journey to be traditionally published.

Landing an agent is such an exciting thing for an author. Like feels miraculous. And kind of is, given the odds of even getting a request for more while drowning in the slush pile. When I was picked by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Hoffman, like, I can’t even….

lambeau leap

(What can I say, I’m a Packer fan and it’s game day)

Here’s that story (and a brief synopsis of the work it took to get me there). Preview: I sent my first query letter for a 200,000 monstrosity like 6 years ago…. I’ve come a long way.

Now for those of us who’ve been in the heart-wrenching, barren wasteland that is the query trenches…..


Okay, that was melodramatic. Though that’s how it felt to me before I sprouted my armor and started looking at the whole thing like the business that it is. If I hadn’t repeatedly picked myself up and dusted myself off, wrote more books and developed my craft–kept putting one foot in front of the other–I would have given up after my first 20 rejections.

When I started working with Claire, it really hit me. I knew TONS about how to query, but nothing about what to expect after getting an agent. I’ve learned since then, but here’s a preview. My journey is just beginning, even after I finished my first round of feedback. I have a lot left to do, a lot of tough feedback to work through, before Hooligans is even ready to go on submission to editors of publishing houses. And then there will be a lot more waiting and rejections.

I have my work cut out for me, but I know Hooligans will be the best it can be thanks to Claire’s wise guidance.

One foot in front of the other.

New Zealand 477 nat

Drumroll please…. I’ve signed with an agent!


The-OfficeIt’s happened. It’s finally happened! I have signed with Claire Anderson-Wheeler at Regal Literary. She’s the perfect fit for Hooligans in Shining Armour and I’m so excited and honored to be working with her.

It’s been an epic saga of a journey. I’ve spent months preparing query materials, writing and re-writing the beginning, fine-tuning my query and synopsis–all while sitting on my hands to stop myself from just putting it out there until everything was absolutely ready. Oh, and then there’s the two other novels I’ve written and queried with absolutely ZERO requests that taught me boatloads both about writing and querying :P. And the three other novels tucked away in a virtual secret vault that will never see the light of day.

So here’s the story leading up to THE CALL…

I started playing around with ideas for Hooligans after a trip to Northern Ireland in July 2011, researching and learning more about the Troubles. I wrote a few scenes here and there, but that was about it because I was feeling a bit disillusioned with writing after aforementioned failed query attempts with previous novels.

bunny-catapultThen my husband was offered a temporary job in Singapore. We made the big, bold decision to move to Singapore in August 2013. We left our house and my job behind and YOLO’d (yeah, I went there). Anyway, since I was the trailing spouse, I decided to dive back into writing. Within my first week of moving to Singapore, I went to my first meet-up for the fabulous, wonderful, inspiring Singapore Writers Group. So many amazing writers from all over the world! I left that meeting and started writing literally that night. Well, actually it was morning by the time I got home. This lead to months of research on dialect, history, culture, and current events in Belfast and countless hours on Google Maps streetview to capture setting. I read a bunch of books by Northern Irish authors. Four months later, I had a draft and my first beta readers…followed by major revisions. And tons more research. Then I worked up the courage to read a bit of it at the Singapore Writers Group meeting in December 2013. Which was terrifying, because there are so many skilled writers, many of whom are from the UK.

scared1I survived, but then decided my next mission needed to be finding readers from Belfast to ensure cultural and linguistic accuracy. And do even more research. I reached out to the Belfast Writers Group and found a reader, who then also got me two teen readers. I also got a Belfast development editor and copy editor from EPANI. All of this completely altered my manuscript. I would be nowhere without all these awesome people.

Tons more beta readers from the Singapore Writers Group. More re-writes. More research. More re-writes. Seriously, I have 26 saved versions of Hooligans in Shining Armour on my hard drive. There were so, so many times where I was like, you know what? Let’s just call this one a draw and shelve it. Or start it on fire.

bunny tiredBut I stuck with it because my beta readers believed in me and I loved my characters. Then I found out about Pitch Wars, a contest where you compete against other writers to get mentors to help you whip your manuscript into shape for an agent round. I did it, if nothing else to test out my query materials. I got my hopes up and sat glued to the twitter feed hoping for clues that I’d been picked. I wasn’t, even though several of the mentors I submitted to were like, you’ll probably get an agent someday. Sadness….

disappointed-oI then entered a few other contests: #PitMad (a few likes, no further requests),Nightmare on Query Street, #PitchSlam. Nothing. I met tons of new writer friends on Twitter (probably added 500 followers), found new critique partners, got into an amazing critique group through SCWBI Belgium, tested out and honed my query materials, but got no requests.

After all that I said, nope, no more contests for a long time. I’ll query traditionally after Christmas. But then one of my fabulous new writer friends (who I met on Twitter), Kate Foster, said–well, tweeted–“Sarah, you need to do #PitchMAS.” I was like, ughhhhh no, no more Twitter contests. But I already had tweets ready to go, so I didn’t really have an excuse. I set up my TweetDeck and let it happen. Nothing for the first several hours and, since I live on the opposite side of the world, I went to bed. When I woke up, I had two favorites. One happened to be Claire. When I looked her up and read her bio, I realized, wait a minute, I recognize this agent. I went to my ridiculous agent spreadsheet that I’d spent months adding to and, sure enough, she was in it. And high on my to-query list because she’s Irish and seeks to represent manuscripts with strong narrative voice and contemporary themes. So I sent her my three chapters along with a, “hey I really wanted to query you anyway!” And then a few days later, my first ever request for a full!

giphyAnd Christmas and New Years came… After that, I started hardcore querying the agents in my ridiculous spreadsheet. Finally. I also stalked Manuscript Wish List. Within a few days, I had some more partial requests. Then last week I got THE EMAIL at 9 pm my time, which basically said I really, really liked Hooligans, let’s talk. I frantically emailed all the agented authors I’d met (you guessed it, mostly through contests) and asked for advice on questions to ask and what to expect. Three hours later….



Tom-and-JerryClaire was very excited to represent me, loved my characters, and totally got everything I was trying to do with Hooligans.

Since it was a Twitter pitching contest called #PitchMAS I feel like this gif is just a must…

ElfI had a week to decide, so I contacted the two agents who had partials and all the agents I’d queried and not heard from. This lead to three more full requests that were looked at by Monday. And lots of very nice responses from other agents. It was a painful weekend. I really felt in my heart of hearts that Claire was the perfect fit, but that I should keep an open mind. The other agents ended up politely passing, so then I shot Claire an extremely excited email that basically said I love you please represent. I wanted to go with Claire because of her enthusiasm and connection to Hooligans and her commitment to client-agent relationships for a career. I also felt that we clicked personally. And now it’s official!!!

I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I’ve been querying agents on various projects for the past six years. There have been so many times I wanted to just give up, especially with Hooligans (seriously, I wanted to print it and start it on fire at many points), but my husband and my writer friends believed in me.

group-hug-oI took breaks from things when I needed to, and I never let myself be defeated by self-doubt. I am constantly working to make myself a better writer.

And now some Sarah stats:

Number of novels I’ve queried: 3 (two with no requests at all)

Contests entered: 5

Queries sent: 27

Partial requests:10

Full requests: 4

Offers: 1

Lessons learned: thousands

And now for some more celebration gifs…

giphy boom

giphy angels

lambeau leap