Today we’ll hear from author Celeste Lim, who shares her agent story as part of The Sweet Sixteens’ #SixteensBlogAbout November theme. A Chinese born and raised in Malaysia, Celeste holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and an MA from Manhattanville College. She is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio and her debut middle-grade novel is forthcoming from Scholastic Press in spring 2016.
About Celeste’s book: In Medieval China, a girl is sold by her family to become a nursemaid and wife to a toddler husband. With the help of sentient creatures called jing, she discovers internal strength, and a destiny that is foretold to intertwine with her spirit guardian – a great, golden fox spirit.
With the agenting process shrouded in so much mystery to aspiring writers, I feel my querying journey is crying out for a little step-by-step recount. Of course, everyone’s querying experience will be different, but for those who are thinking of approaching Rosemary Stimola, this might turn out helpful.
After two years of writing and revising the manuscript with the help of professors and critique partners, I began doing agent research in July of 2013. I sent out my emails in batches of ten, and my email to Rosemary went out on 7/7.
According to her website, no response within a week = pass, so I was prepared for silence. But Rosemary sent me a very nice note on 7/12 saying that she’d be happy to look at the manuscript. Until then, hers was only my second request for a full, so the email still got me pretty excited. After sending out the story that very same day, I was prepared for a long wait, and in the meantime received two more full requests.
Rosemary was one of the first to finish reading my manuscript, and I heard back from her assistant, Allison Remcheck on 7/31 – 2 weeks and 5 days. The email was long – too long to be a form rejection (that I was used to receiving by then), so my heart was stuck firmly in my throat as I read her email. There were really wonderful comments about how much they loved the story and what they liked about it, but 80% of the email talked about things that they felt needed more work. In short, they were asking for a non-contractual R&R (a revise and resubmit). I knew this didn’t guarantee an offer at the end, but I agreed to do it, because I could tell from the feedback that they really had a firm grasp of what the story was about, and knew exactly how to further bring out its potential. I figured that, even if they did not offer me representation at the end of the process, I would still come away with a better novel for my next round of queries.
So I slaved away at yet another revision, and on 9/17, emailed them back a novel that I knew at least I was happy with. Allison replied me on the same day telling me how excited she was to read the revision, but reminded me that I needed to keep the manuscript exclusive for them in the meantime. This condition put a damper on things, especially when another agent from an agency I was also excited to hear from had expressed an interest in the story a couple weeks later. But ultimately, I didn’t want to ruin my chances with Rosemary, so held back the urge to send her the revised manuscript and promised to do that when the exclusive period was over. So, during the waiting period, I was counting the days, hours, minutes, manically checking my inbox every chance I had. I was plagued with thoughts like, “They’d probably decide to pass in the end, and where would you be?” and “What if the other agent got tired of waiting?” and “What if they take months to get back to you?”
Well, it turned out I only had to wait a month. On 10/15, Allison got back to me with a very encouraging email – they were utterly enchanted by the revision. And as I continued to read, I was almost expecting a mention of the offer… but it didn’t come. Not in this email. According to Allison, the story still needed a few minor tweaks, and she kindly offered to discuss the details over the phone. I’ll be honest and tell you that I was a little disappointed at first, but told myself that if it wasn’t a rejection, it was definitely a good thing.
One of the main things I had to do in this revision was to cut the 91,000-word novel by about a third. It was a heartbreaking process. I had to kill so many of my darlings – those scenes that I really loved but had to admit didn’t feel as essential to the story as other parts. And on 10/28, I emailed Allison a condensed version of the story. Then it was back to the waiting, and somehow, going through this a second time felt worse than the first. I was impatient, I was restless, I was anxiety-ridden and frustrated. I forced myself to write and barely produced anything worth a second look. But there was nothing else to do besides distracting myself as much as possible. My lovely classmates and professors from The New School and Manhattanville were endlessly encouraging; my friends asked me out as much as possible; my family and church friends prayed fervently for me; it was a dreary period, but that was also when I realized how much support I had around me.
And then, finally, on 11/20, Allison gave me a call. Or should I say, THE call. It wasn’t as magical as I had envisioned a thousand times before (I answered the phone in the middle of a nap, all groggy and stuff), but the news still took my breath away.
“I’m happy to tell you that we’re ready to offer you representation.” was all it took, and I was up in the clouds after letting out an irrepressible squeal. Totally unprofessional. Then, sitting in front of the computer, hours later, I found myself going through the phone conversation over and over again like a sweet dessert you want to re-taste, and also wondering if the agent actually liked me enough to overlook my childish, obviously unprofessional squeal.
When I realized that my quest for an agent had finally come to an end, I couldn’t help pulling up the Excel sheet with my list of queried agents. Out of all the queries I sent, I received 4 requests for my manuscript and 37 rejections over a period of 5 months. I’ve been disappointed so many times, especially when rejected by agents who had requested fulls, but now I realize that in the end, it’s really true what they say: You only need that one agent who’s right for you and your book, and whoever doesn’t connect with it, isn’t right for it.
As a writer who’s never been published, I still can’t help attaching the ideas of fame and glory to getting published… it is especially more difficult when friends and family around you are feeding your imagination. But by now, I’ve met enough professional and solid writers to know that not everyone is going to make it to the Rowling-Peak, and those who write, write because of passion, and money and fame kind of becomes a by-product of that passion.
Looking back, the journey from beginning to end took close to 5 months, not too long at all compared to some other experiences I’ve heard of, so I admit, with a little pinch of salt, I probably could have had an easier time. Nevertheless, I feel the offer came at the best time possible – right before Thanksgiving. Now I have Rosemary, on top of all those wonderful things and people I already have, to be immensely thankful for.
Find Celeste Lim online at CelestePLlim.com