Jennifer Hillier

A Major Award and the Déjà Vu Blogfest

Dec 16, 2011 | Uncategorized

My friend Karen Peterson hosted the coolest awards show on her blog earlier this week, and The Serial Killer Files tied with Alex J. Cavanaugh‘s blog for Favorite Blog About Writing for 2011! I mean, HELLO. That’s a MAJOR AWARD. People voted and everything. And to receive a Major Award from Karen Peterson, which I get to share with Alex Cavanaugh… dudes. Doesn’t get better than that. Read all about the awards HERE.

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And now, I am happy to be participating in the Déjà Vu Blogfest, hosted by the amazing Lydia Kang, DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, and Nicole Ducleroir. The idea is to repost a favorite blog from the past, one that maybe deserves a second chance at the spotlight.

The day I signed with my literary agent was easily one of the greatest days in my publishing journey. It was the only time in my life I’ve burst into tears out of pure happiness (and if you tell anyone I cried, I’ll deny it and then stalk you). Why the waterworks? Because the day Victoria Skurnick called to offer me representation was the very first day I let myself believe that I could really write.

And you never forget the first time you believe.

The Call 
Originally posted Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So here’s how it happened… and this is a long post, so you might want to go get a coffee before settling in. I don’t tell good stories quickly! 😉

I queried Victoria via email in the wee hours of the morning on January 15th (I was up very, very late). She responded a few hours later with a request for a full. You might recall this post. A very good day it was, indeed. That full request was from Victoria!

(I need to interject here to say that this was the second time I’d queried her. The first time was back in November, but I never received a response. I’m pretty sure Levine Greenberg‘s server ate it. Normally I would never re-query an agent – and up till this point I hadn’t even considered querying someone twice, because a non-response normally means NO – but I felt compelled to re-query Victoria. I’m glad I trusted my instincts!)

But I digress. Where was I… oh yes. The full request.

As awesome as it was to get a full request, I couldn’t allow myself to get too happy about it, because I’d sent the query out naked (meaning no excerpt pasted in) and knew it was Victoria’s policy to always request a full right off the bat. All I knew at this point was that she liked my query. But there was no way to know whether she’d like my work, and that’s all that matters. For all I knew she would read the first ten pages, hate my writing, and delete the entire thing.

But hey, this was a chance to get my entire novel in front of an agent for the first time. This was not the time to second guess myself. Immediately I emailed her back, attaching my manuscript as she requested. I happily logged it all into my spreadsheet.

A few days later, I sent out more queries. Got more partial requests. Got more rejections along with them, but that was all right, because all told, things were going fine. Since I’d had a good run with requests with my last two query batches, I figured I could relax for a while. Certainly, it would be months before I heard back from anyone. Things work slowly in publishing.

I was in a great mood.

The great mood didn’t last.

The weekend of January 23rd, I got two manuscript rejections. Back to back. And just like that, my optimism was gone. Rejections based on your actual work are so much worse than query rejections! It means something about your work – the writing, the story, the characters – didn’t resonate with those agents. And that is beyond disappointing.

Remember, as hard as we work on our queries, they’re just marketing tools. Their only purpose is to get an agent’s attention. It’s your work that matters. And when an agent decides they don’t like your work, it hurts like hell.

But okay. I had to suck it up. I still had several submissions out. Including the one with Victoria.

I shook the rejections off and moved on. I started writing Beautiful Disaster [the book now known as FREAK]. And for the first time since this whole process began, I totally forgot about querying. I completely lost myself in my new WIP… which, by the way, is the BEST and ONLY way to survive Query Hell. (I wish I’d listened to my writer friends when they tried to tell me this months ago.)

Fast forward to the morning of Thursday, February 4th.

I woke up early and in a good mood, eager to get going on another installment of the new WIP. First drafts are the most fun and most inspiring! Then I checked my email, as I always do first thing in the morning.

Saw an email from Victoria in my inbox.

My heart SANK.

Of course it was a rejection. Of course it was. It had to be. She’d only had my full for two weeks. No agent reads an entire manuscript that fast. Obviously she’d read the first few chapters and hated it. If she even got that far.

A rejection on a full. Oh man, this was sooooo gonna hurt.

It took me a full minute to bring myself to open the email. And this is what it said:

Jennifer – I just wanted you to know that I’m in the middle of the manuscript, and enjoying it a lot.  I’ll be back to you by next week.

I stared at the email in disbelief.

OMG! It’s not a rejection!

OMG! She likes it!

OMG! She’s made it to the halfway point! Halfway! That’s like, page 190!

OMG! What does it mean?

I was so tortured by this one-sentence email that I nearly gave myself an aneurysm analyzing it to death.

She wouldn’t bother to tell me she likes it if she was only going to reject it in the end, right? Because that would be cruel beyond words. Nobody’s that mean.

But she’s only read half of it! What if she hates the ending? Will she give me the chance to revise and resubmit?

OMG, is the last half of the book as strong as the first half? I’ve been so focused on the first half… what if the last half sucks?

She’s reading it. She’s enjoying it. Holy moly.

Poor Steve. I made him analyze this email with me for an hour over dinner that night. But he’s a lovely, understanding man, and instead of telling to me just shut up about it and wait and see what she says, he listened patiently and even participated in my debate with myself over the deeper meaning behind this One-Sentence Email.

I went to bed that night knowing there was a very long weekend – and week – ahead of me. Would she email me on Wednesday? Would she email me on Friday? What if she forgot? Got sidetracked? Decided she hated it?

What if she didn’t get back to me at all?

Oh the torture.

I woke up on Friday morning determined to get back to work as usual. After all, I was still basking in the glow of the Inspired First Draft of the New Work in Progress. Somehow, between hitting my quota for the new book and paying some bills, I managed to put the One-Sentence Email out of my mind and was piddling around on Facebook.

At 1 pm, the phone rang.

I looked at the call display.

212 area code. That’s Manhattan.

Victoria’s name flashing on the little screen.

She was calling me. From New York. She was actually calling.

I stopped breathing. Shaking, I managed to pick up the phone without dropping it.


Yes. All in caps. Because my voice was that shrill.

She introduced herself. Raspy voice. New York accent. Apologized for not letting me know in advance that she’d be calling. I asked, very shrilly, how she was doing. She said she was doing great. Was loving my book.  Would like to represent it. Did I have a few minutes to talk?

“Of course I do!” I shrieked at her. I shooed poor Steve away, who’d been creeping up the stairs towards me with wide eyes. I couldn’t do this with him looking at me. I tried to breathe. I wanted to sound normal and professional and creative, not insane and shrilly and out of breath.

I was on the phone with a New York literary agent. I needed to get it together.

I needed to stop shouting at her.

We had a thirty-minute conversation. She told me what she liked about the book and was very complimentary. Then she asked how flexible I was about making changes to make it more marketable.

I assured her I was very flexible. Hell, I could be Mary Lou Retton if that’s what she wanted!

She ran through a list of the things she thought I could work on. I made notes in handwriting I can barely decipher now. Yes, some of the changes seemed alarming at first because it’s hard not to feel married to the story the way I wrote it. But I will do whatever it takes to get it sold. I am no prima donna.

I asked her a few questions about the submission process, and the contract she was going to send, and maybe one or two other things. I can’t remember exactly. She answered everything succinctly and satisfactorily.

Then she asked me what I do for a living.

I said, “Well… this.” I launched into a rambly explanation of how we’d moved from Toronto to the Northwest and how I thought it was time to give this writing thing a shot. I said, “I have no plan B. I write full-time.”

She said, “It shows. You’re talented. Your book’s very good. I really think I can sell it.”

Compliments! Praise! From a literary agent! OMG OMG OMG!

Somehow the conversation ended. The contract arrived via email an hour later, and Steve and I read it over together.

The contract is fine.

I have an agent.

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