How I Got an Agent in Ten Easy (Ha!) Steps

Step One:

Step Two: I wrote. And I learned about writing. It made me do this:

Step Three: I let my critique group and beta readers tell me what parts they liked, but most importantly, what parts were garbage in my beloved novel. At first, it made me do this:

Step Four: I learned more about writing. 

Step Five: I rewrote or deleted the garbage parts. At first it felt like this:

Now it's more like this:

Step Six: I wrote a query letter. It was harder than writing a novel. Okay, not really, just less fun. I read every query letter ever written on this planet and seven others to try to make mine better. I read agent and writer blog posts to find out what hooked them in a query. I had my query edited and critiqued, I swore at it, I apologized and gave it chocolate, and we came to an understanding. This is Version 43.2 that I finally settled on. It's not even close to perfect, but it did the trick. 

Dear Rachel Marks,

I discovered on the Quick Brown Fox blog that you’re seeking YA fiction. I hope you’ll be interested in my YA time travel novel, TIME WALKER, first in a series and complete at 97,500 words.

For Time Walkers, death is temporary and youth can last forever. But Rachel’s mom never mentions that, and Rachel never tells her mom about the hallucinations. It’s like the universe is trying to vacuum her up. She’s losing her mind, her track career, and her friends. Just when she thinks she’s found the center of the black hole, she lives the worst—and last—two minutes of her life. The paths of time snatch her dead body and rip her to particles, then slam her back together in the Middle Ages. She’s alive, but it’s a rough era. Dead twice in one day, the paths toss her into 1897 Victorian Chicago, a tough place for a six-foot-tall sprinter in stolen, too-small clothes to blend in. 

Members of the Society of Time Walkers nab her before the Chicago police can. They teach her what her mom didn’t—that the hallucinations were her genetically-altered mind’s preparation for time walking. The Time Walkers feel like family, except for agent Adam Patterson. He feels more like a pulled muscle: aggravating and tight. He’d love to arrest Rachel for illegal time walking, but settles for taking her to Society Headquarters for training before her explosive ability kills her, or someone else, permanently. 
Two centuries and a continent away from home, with her former life off limits, Rachel joins the agency fighting rising historical crimes. She’s always wanted to see the world and tracking down stolen Rembrandts and unauthorized Time Walkers is one way to do it. But something worse is lurking under the crime wave and the Society is dividing. Some claim the human world is dying and only Time Walkers can save them. Others, like Adam, believe that given its dark origins, time walking must remain secret to humans, no matter the cost. With a war coming and her first death haunting her in so many ways, the cost could be Rachel's life. That, and her mom still hasn’t apologized.

In the vein of Richard Ungar's TIME SNATCHERS series, but intended for an older teen audience, TIME WALKER will appeal to fans who enjoy the superhero elements of Tahereh Mafi's SHATTER ME series and Shannon Hale’s DANGEROUS. Though I would prefer time travel, I make do with world travel, taking teens on adventures with tour groups. As a registered nurse, I have a handy background in anatomy and physiology. I’m a member of SCBWI and study with New York Times bestselling author David Wolverton. The complete manuscript of TIME WALKER is available upon request. This is a multiple submission. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jessica Lee Parsons

Step Seven: I researched agents and sent them my query letter. I used Query Tracker to, you know, track my queries. This:

Step Eight: Some said this:  
    Some said this:  
   Then one said this:

Step Nine: This:

Step Ten: My agent, Rachel Marks, made suggestions to polish my story. Really, really wise suggestions. (You're never done writing your book. It can always get better.) This:

Step Next: Find a publisher. If you thought finding an agent was hard...sheesh! But it happens, and I hope it happens for a lot of writers, unabashedly including myself. If not, thank goodness for the self-publishing option, which is not necessarily easier, but means the road doesn't have to end at, "This just isn't what we're looking for right now." If this dream goes on a shelf, it will be a real one. Hopefully lots of real ones.

And now, a Word from a Wordsmith:  

"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persisitence."

Octavia E. Butler, Award-Winning Author and Sci-Fi Queen


Something I've Been Waiting to Say

Once upon a time, my husband learned not to bat an eye when I leapt out of bed and ran for my laptop. He let me bounce ideas off his brilliant head, and he read and reread every word I wrote and rewrote, as did my brilliant brother who is also an author.

I packed up the car for two writing workshops with Dave Wolverton, because I wanted to do this right. When it was my turn to have my story critiqued, Dave called it the cherry-chocolate chip ice cream he'd been craving. I was so excited I cried like an idiot in front of adults and broke out in hives the next day. It was an itchy but joyful 14 hour drive home.  I no longer have negative physical reactions to good news, and it's a good thing, because one day, I checked my email.

An agent who had requested my manuscript wanted to talk. When we talked, she offered me representation. Officially, with a contract which I signed in my most professional handwriting, and waved around a little bit. I did not get hives, but I did do a dance all over my house.

Me, happy.

The amazing Rachel Marks of Rebecca Friedman Literary is now officially my agent, and we're getting ready to start the next leg of the journey, which is looking for a publisher. This process could take weeks to years, and that's perfect. I'm all in. I'll keep you posted, and I would love your support. This isn't something you do alone.

It's said a lot that writing is solitary. It's true there are a lot of hours spent tucked away in a world of your own creation. But writing groups, workshops, networks, beta readers, editors, agents, family or friends who help you find the time to write...I don't see how it could ever work without them. At the teary, itchy writing workshop, a writer who had editing expertise pulled me aside and gave me a free hour of editing, advice and encouragement. Several of us formed a writing group to critique each other's work. It's not solitary at all.

Occasionally a beta reader will send me a message, wondering how things are going with Time Walker, and if the next book is ready. Well, it's not the finish line, but we're a big, awesome step closer! Thank you for reading, caring, helping, and encouraging. It's the best thing in the world to feel believed in.

I've wanted to be able to say this for the longest time...I have an agent!


Places on Earth: China

"China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese."  

--Charles de Gaulle

 16 hours of airports and planes, our days and nights completely backwards, very little sleep on rock solid hotel beds--watch out China, here we come! It's a good thing our first stop was a foreign language middle school classroom, full of energy and smiles. Apparently Boomshakalaka was the word of the day. See it? The kids, in their track-suit uniforms, were excited to share a few English words with the American students, along with lots of nervous giggling. We gave them an Idaho map, a book about Sacagawea, and some Idaho potato pins and postcards. They gave us a healthy respect for the multilingual. Learning English is tough.

 ...Our next stop, Tiananmen Square, was much more sober. Not everything that has happened there was bad, but the bad things that have happened made it a hard stop on the trip for me. Our guide didn't talk about the protest, the tanks, the violence. He probably wasn't allowed to. There's no memorial to the hundreds, maybe even thousands who died. The line to see Chairman Mao Zedong's mausoleum had thousands of Chinese tourists, ready to wait hours to see him. I wondered what they feel, what they know, what this place means to them, And I tried to reflect on the future of Tiananmen Square, not just its past. Our guide expressed hope in their new leader, President Xi, that he'll be progressive in good ways. I hope so, too.

...From there were ventured into the Forbidden City. Don't worry, it's not forbidden any more. It housed 24 different emporers from two different dynasties. Built in 1406, it's hundreds of years older than our country. Most things in China are. With 980 buildings and over 8,000 rooms, it makes an impression. Because the Emporer was basically a deity, they had some strict rules. Not even the Emporer's sons were allowed to be there after they turned ten. It was a place full of politically manuvering concubines and eunichs, at times more than 9000 of them. We might picture the concubines as the most physically beautiful women in the country, but that wasn't always the case. They were daughters of important and wealthy leaders, or chosen for their brilliance. Our guide called it a sad place, because few ever saw their families again.

So, day one wasn't completely light-hearted, that's for sure. But it made me deeper, more appreciative, and that's what travel is for.

This lion was a favorite. If I could have hugged her without making a Western fool of myself, I would have. And yes, she's a she. That's a cub under her paw, which makes her a mama. A fierce, fierce mama.
These incense burners stood nearly as tall as me, and dotted the whole Forbidden City. They weren't burning incense, but it was easy to imagine a time when the courtyards were full of scented clouds.

 The crane represents longevity, something the Chinese are really good at. He lives outside the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important and biggest building in the Forbidden City, used for ceremonies.

 ...I had no idea we would be celebrities. This big guy from our group had never-ending patience. Tall, blue-eyed, and built a little like Buddha, people snapped pictures, stared, and even walked up and rubbed his belly for good luck. He very gracefully laughed. Though he got most of it, none of us escaped the curiosity--brown, white, tall, short--we were a walking exhibit. Maybe our variety is partly what made us so interesting. A group of Americans can be any shape, size or color, and we most definitely stuck out. Beijing and Xi'an (pronounced She-on) especially found us fascinating. Shanghai, not so much, but there are tons of foreigners there.

 ...The details on the covered walkways at the Summer Palace were incredible, and everything has meaning. The colors, the shapes, the dragons. Everything has thousands of years of significance. An Emporer had the walkway built in 1750, and it's covered in 14,000 paintings of historical events and folk lore. That's...just...a lot. Also, it was burned, along with most of the Summer Palace, during one of the Opium Wars and entirely rebuilt. So it's amazing twice.

Blossoms last such a short time, so being there to see the apricot, cherry and magnolia trees in their fanciest attire was good fortune.

 ...I had no idea that only a fourth of the Terracotta Warriors have been uncovered. Estimates say there are at least 8,000. The first emporer of China, who united the warring states over 2000 years ago, had them made for his necropolis. His what? you may say. It means 'city of the dead', but does not mean zombies--they're undead. It was his tomb, which he wanted to be a microcosm of his empire. They were all built just to be buried.

According to an ancient historian, there were 100 mercury rivers, and the ceiling and floor were painted like the heavens and the earth. All of the Terracotta warriors were painted, too, and represented all the ranks of a real army. It took 700,000 workers 40 years to finish the tomb, just in time for Emporer Qin Shi Huang to die and be buried there. They haven't uncovered him yet, because they're waiting for better technolgy. The paint and other materials can begin to degrade in a matter of seconds.

What really stopped me in my tracks though, is that each face is unique. They say the artists who made them likely worked in pairs, using one another's faces as models. Knowing that these six-foot tall warriors look like someone who lived 2000 years ago...I don't have words.
The detail and the sheer numbers blow my mind, and there are many, many more to come.

The smog hurt my eyes, my lungs, and my heart. It's a tough battle when there are 1.4 billion people living in your country. (That's 20% of the world!) But they're trying. There were trees planted in every free space, they have regulations about driving, and they've made policies about their industries that will hopefully be carried out. It's the worst smog in the world. On a particularly bad day, most people were wearing face masks. I took a deep breath of clean air when I got home, and wished I could send one to my Chinese friends.

Oh, the Great Wall, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Some parts of the Wall date back to the 7th century BC. At it's greatest, the Great Wall was 5,500 miles long. Humans did that. With their muscles and brains. And you can see it from space. I couldn't just walk, so we tried to run, but it's incredibly steep in parts. It was a thorough workout, making it to the highest watchtower, and I felt for the runners who had to carry messages. Just imagine signal fires being lit from tower to tower, sending military messages across the entire country. Like the Beacons of Gondor! Aw-haw-some! 

 English translations are part of the fun of China travel. It's good advice, to commit no nuisance.
 My favorite day in China was at the Temple of Heaven. They've made the park around the temple into a workout facility for retirees. This man was having a good stretch after doing two finger pull ups and turning flips on the monkey bars. He's 84 years old.
 In the background is the Temple of Heaven, built without nails or glue. In red is our Tai Chi instructor, Mrs. Wong, who really wanted us to know the take-down moves behind the slow, peaceful Tai Chi positions. I scored bonus points when I used them on Josh. She smacked my butt and gave me a thumbs up.

...China is this crazy mix of ancient and modern. This is the second tallest building in the world...

...in the same city as this ancient garden, created by a wealthy man as a peaceful place for his retired father. You can look out over the ancient buildings and blossoming trees and see rows of skyscrapers, and that's so China.

 ...this dragon almost got an entire family killed. The Emporer found out they had made this dragon fence, and he had a monopoly on dragon decorations. They escaped death by pointing out to the the investigators who came that there are only three claws, not the traditional five, and thus this was not a dragon and they should not be executed for displaying a symbol of power, and that no, it was not a metaphor of their desire to take over the government. Phew! That was a close one! What a difference a few toes can make. They really toed the line after that. Ha. Isn't he incredible though? Also, for the geek-hearted, Chinese dragons differ from Western dragons in a few cool ways: No wings--they fly by the magical powers given them by the giant pearls they hold in their mouths, which stop them from breathing fire. At least that's what our guide told us. I have a feeling there are dragon enthusiasts out there who would disagree.

This was my second trip to China, my second time standing on the opposite side of the earth, and both times I've come away having met some of my favorite people, amazed at how long the culture has existed, and reminded that people are people, even 6000 miles away from home. I hope good things for you China, and your billion and half people. And thanks for the bok choy and rice. It was delicious.