I dreamed of being a writer for most of my life and, although I had undertaken efforts in screenwriting, it wasn’t until 2009 that I decided to commit and try my hand at being a professional author. Always on the hunt for excellent ideas, I kept a journal near my bed so I could write down particularly vivid dreams. One morning, I woke with a doozy. I didn’t remember the dream as a whole, just the overall concept and one line: “I used to hunt vampires for the NSA, now I work vice.”
This was it. This was the one.
This guest post is by Michael Haspil. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as lon gas he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, science fiction, fantasy, and horror have whispered directly to his soul. When he isn’t writing, you can find him sharing stories with his role-playing group, cosplaying, computer gaming, or collecting and creating replica movie props. Lately, he devotes the bulk of his hobby time to assembling and painting miniatures for his tabletop wargaming addiction. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the KT Literary Agency and Adrian Garcia of the Paradigm Talent Agency.
In high school, I was editor of our literary magazine and a theater nerd. No one expected me to pursue a career in the military. They all thought I would be an author. I’ve been a play-it-safe adult, but in this case I was so inspired and excited I had to make a change. I was so sure I could succeed that I actually quit my day job.
To say I was naïve is a massive understatement. I undertook the task of turning that one line into the novel that would become GRAVEYARD SHIFT. As I reworked the novel through subsequent drafts, I achieved a point where I thought it was good enough to send out and began a long query process. I lost count of how many agencies I queried. To my excitement, I received requests for pages from many of them. However, the rejections came later. I estimated that my concept was sound, or at least intriguing enough to get me through the door. Since that’s always as far as I got, I rightly assumed I needed work on my craft.
In the fall of 2009, I attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference. I remember now, with an ironic smile on my face, that I brought miniature business card-sized CDs of my novel, just in case an agent or editor wanted it right then and there. As you might expect, my experience was somewhat different.
I went to a standing-room-only presentation called, “How to Avoid the Slushpile.” The industry information presented was eye opening and disheartening. At day’s end, I drove home in a funk, aware of the colossal dragon that guarded my path to being a professional author.
I stood at the kitchen trashcan and threw away all the little CDs I’d been so proud of a day before and contemplated not returning to the conference. In the morning, I made the best decision I could. I made myself a strong cup of coffee and drove back. That dragon wasn’t going to slay itself. And, if I didn’t know how to do it, then I was damn sure going to learn.
Over the course of the next year, I joined the Pikes Peak Writers, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and attended every single workshop they offered. I became active with three critique groups and entered as many contests as I could. I even placed in some of them. All the while, I reworked my novel.
It paid off in 2011 at the Colorado Gold conference.
I signed up for a workshop with an editor from TOR, Moshe Feder. We worked through our pages and he responded extremely well to my work. The next day, I had a scheduled pitch session with him and it was one of the strangest in my experience. I hardly pitched at all! Since he was already familiar with my concept, I answered questions about my world building and further elaborated on the story. When he requested the full manuscript, I emailed it to him moments after the pitch session. (Pro-tip: It pays to have a completed manuscript when you’re pitching.)
Elated, I regaled my critique partners, all of whom were also attending the conference, with tales of my achievement. Laura Main and Anita Romero, from separate critique groups, both said the same thing, “You need an agent right now.”
Sara Megibow of KT Literary, who I had already researched, was at the conference. She had the passion and drive I was looking for. Though her agency rejected an earlier draft, this time would be different. Not only had I significantly reworked the novel since submitting it, I was coming at it from a different angle and with editorial attention. I made plans to attend her presentation “Bang, Zoom, Pow! The First Thirty Pages” and since I pitch much better in person than on the page, I thought I would try to speak to her after her talk.
During the presentation, Sara made numerous gaming, science fiction, and fantasy references and jokes. Long before she’d finished, I knew she was the agent for me. However, I wasn’t the only one with the idea of conducting impromptu pitches after her talk. Quite the line assembled. I exercised my patience and waited. I told her Moshe was interested and asked if she would consider representing me. Sara requested that I also send her the full manuscript.
When I got home, I fired it off to her, clapped my hands, and contemplated my next novel. I’d finished this one, and it was well on its way to publication, or so I believed. (You’d think somewhere along the line I would stop being naïve. You’d be wrong.)
Alas, Sara passed on the story. She wasn’t sure it was the right story for her in that iteration, which is agent-speak for she didn’t love it as it was and it still needed editing. Nevertheless, she left a sliver of a window open. Months passed as I waited for the fateful response from TOR. Nothing came. Ever the optimist, I did a major re-edit of the novel and incorporated Moshe’s notes from the workshop. My inbox mocked me with its lack of emails from TOR.
Then, early in 2012, I got the email. It certainly looked like an offer. I forwarded it to Sara and asked again whether she would consider being my agent. It is very important to Sara that she represent the author and not just a single work and that she meshes well with her clients. We had several conference calls to discuss my vision for the series, other works, and to make sure we were the right fit for one another. About a week later, after Sara had checked out my reworked iteration of the novel, I signed with her. It has been the best decision I’ve made in my writing career.
We’ve battled many lesser wyverns and drakes since, but this summer, that big original dragon is going down. In July, my debut novel, GRAVEYARD SHIFT, about an immortal pharaoh and his vampire partner who must ally with an unsavory cast to thwart an ancient conspiracy, will hit bookstores everywhere.
My advice to aspiring authors: Attend conferences. Not only will you get to meet people in person, but you will open yourself up to a wealth of information in a relatively short amount of time. In just a weekend you can download the type of information it would take you months to accumulate on your own. Most importantly, a conference lets you feel out different agents for one who might be a good fit, sit at their tables for a meal, or schmooze at the bar, and interact outside of a formal presentation. The publishing process is a lot lengthier than many of us would like; a good agent and partner will have to be there every step of the way. You must have the same goals and personalities that mesh well with each other.
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