How I met Jill: I wasn't looking for a literary agent when I started following Jill on Twitter. I just liked what she had to say, and I liked her friendly style. A few months later, she tweeted about a LA Writers Roundup that would feature Arthur Levine as faculty, and I resolved to travel down to California to be part of the fun.
Jill and I hit it off at the retreat, and over time, exchanged lots of email and fellow-writer encouragement. Jill, as you might not know, is a writer and editor as well as an agent. Her first anthology of poetry, DARE TO DREAM ... CHANGE THE WORLD is just out from Kane Miller/Usborne (and it's already sold out on their site!). It features poetry from Jill, Jane Yolen, Bruce Coville and more.
After a particularly frustrating writing setback, I reached out to Jill for encouragement. Within a few hours, she’d brought me out of my funk AND offered to represent me. This, in a nutshell, is Jill. She knows what she likes and is unstinting in her support and encouragement.
I am really excited she'll be on the faculty of the SCBWI-LA conference. To get you ready to make the most of her sessions, I asked her a few questions:
You've been on the faculty of a bunch of conferences. What are some ways writers can make connections with agents without coming across as being too pushy or clueless? Do you have a short list of dos and don’ts?
I’m feeling a little overwhelmed today with feelings of gratefulness (and shock) as I look back on how I got to this day. I’ll recap for you, in a somewhat (not really) shortened version, my path to publication…
In 2002, my son was born and a few months later (once I got him into some sort of a napping schedule) I started writing fiction for children in my “spare” time. Within a few months, I had the beginnings of a story about two kids named Trevor and Libby who try to make it through their first day of middle school. It was a wonky little story with quizzes and interviews and diagrams. (I mention this first story of Trevor and Libby because it will come back around much later, I promise.)
I took it to my first writers’ meeting at the beginning of 2003 and there I met other children’s book writers. They invited my to join their critique group and I met with them every other week. I also met with another children’s writing group on opposite weeks, which met on the top floor of Barnes & Noble on Friday nights. Since my husband worked nights, I took the baby with me and rocked him in his stroller while I read my Trevor & Libby story out loud hoping he’d sleep long enough for me to get some feedback from these oh-so-helpful people.
I’ll stop for a moment here and say, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for those critique groups. They studied their craft and loved sharing their knowledge—I am so incredibly thankful for them.
Once I had a story, I submitted my Trevor/Libby book to editors and received great response, even worked on a major re-write of the manuscript with an editor, but in the end…no contract.
Eventually, I went on to get an agent and while we were subbing, I wrote another middle grade book. We submitted both books over the course of two years, getting “close” a few times. Again, I worked with an editor on re-writes for Trevor/Libby (two rounds) for about ten months. When it was in great shape and the editor was happy with it, she took it to the meeting. Woohoo! But found out the publisher wanted to focus on YA now, not middle grade.
I’ll be honest. Even though I’d gotten many rejections over the years, I’d finally come to the moment where I was devastated—totally, utterly devastated. I cried. For days. I ate so much fried chicken I didn’t think I’d ever eat it again. (I have, but it still just isn’t the same.) I thought for sure my opportunity to get published had passed. I was ready to give up.
But my writing friends encouraged me. They told me to keep knocking at the door. And to be patient.
So I got back to work and started writing again. I can’t really explain why, but I started writing…and kept writing…like Forrest Gump running across the country.
I wrote a serious teen book.
I wrote a middle grade science fiction book.
I wrote a funny girl chapter book.
Run, Forrest, run!!
Again, we got close several times, but still…no contract.
But even after all those years, everyone along the way was so encouraging. One editor even contacted my agent to say she loved my writing and she felt it was going to happen for mesomeday…but I just hadn’t found my project yet.
Well…one day my agent said she’d heard from an editor that they were looking for funny teen fiction.
“That’s you. I think you can write funny teen. Try it.” I vividly remember my agent saying that to me. She had so much belief in me, I wanted to do it just so I wouldn’t let her down!
So I started writing my sixth book, DITCHED. I wrote like crazy, and that book came out of my brain in about five months. It was an absolute blast to write. After submitting it, we had interest within a few weeks (to my shock) from three different publishers.
And within the month, I had a two-book deal from Disney-Hyperion.
[insert heaving and sobbing]
But it all came full circle. (Like, massively full circle.) After I got my book deal, I drove down to Comic-Con in San Diego to have lunch with my agent and meet my editor in person. He’s a super polite (and Oh My God incredibly wonderful) person and during the conversation he happened to say, “So tell me about the first thing you ever wrote.” I mentioned the wonky Trevor & Libby story—about the weirdness of the quizzes and interviews and diagrams. He about fell out of his seat. He said they’d always wanted to do a “mockumentary” for middle grade. I was like… “I can totally do that.”
And in June, Trevor & Libby will get their own book: THE CLASSROOM, the first book in a 4-book series.
So today is about ten years in the making and many people helped me along the way. If it weren’t for the encouragement of this kidlit community (writers, editors, agents) I’m convinced I wouldn’t have kept going and this wouldn’t be happening to me right now. So, if it’s possible, I’d like to hug the entire children’s book world and give y’all a big smoochie kiss. Lean in a little closer to your computer screen…Muah! Xoxo THANK YOU!
I hope you love DITCHED. It took a while for this story to come out of me and I wanted you to know why.
More about Jill Corcoran
Follow her on Twitter: @jillcorcoran