CONTENT WARNING: This post contains query stats at the very end.
It ended with Jason Momoa GIFs, but that's not how it began...
It began with depression.
I often call myself a recovering academic, and the "recovering" part was the source of my depression: I had to leave my job as a university professor when I became too disabled to work.
Rewinding a few years, I thought my life was finally clicking into place—I was a newly minted Harvard PhD with a book deal and a tenure-track job teaching classes I loved at a major research university.
And then I was slammed by several life-changing diagnoses in the space of a few years: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, POTS, small fiber neuropathy; I could go on, but I won't. I became a part-time wheelchair user and an almost-always-cane-user. My neck became unstable without a soft collar, which I wear ~ 10 hours a day now. Eventually, the pain and fatigue and mobility issues (and the brain fog!) left me no choice but to leave teaching and research behind.
But here's the thing: years before I discovered Futurama, I called myself a "brain in a jar" in a joking-but-serious-way because I live in my head.
Thinking is my hobby (unsurprisingly, I've never been athletic). I'd been attached to a university either as a student or as a professor my entire adult life, and who was I without that intellectual community? Instead of a life of the mind, I was leading a life of... doctor visits, sitting in my recliner, and watching trashy reality TV (but no shade on reality shows; I will always love them!).
Special shoutout to the beautiful drama of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Sorry, this is taking a detour to a dark place, but that's exactly where I found myself.
I opened my laptop one day, a dusty relic no longer used for grading and research notes, and began to write.
And disappear into a created world of psychic fugitives fleeing a biotech genius with a sinister plan to unlock immortality (read about that book here). I don't know where the idea came from, other than a lifetime of consuming SFF.
Storytelling presented a form of problem-solving unlike anything academia had prepared me for—I was a novice again, happily absorbing everything I could about craft.
And? Turns out, my physics and biology degrees weren't going to waste after all; everything I write is saturated with my love of science.
The enveloping darkness gradually receded; it mattered less and less that the career I'd worked so hard for was short-circuited by chronic pain and limited mobility. I started to think of myself as... a writer?
So I wrote.
Three years. Three twisty sci-fi books. I found critique partners who convinced me my words mattered, and I made my way to Writing Twitter in October 2021. Before long, I made friends with kind and generous writers who shared their querying knowledge with me—especially Team Pitch n' Bitch, my first groupchat, my ride-or-die support circle (I've written a whole post on the necessity of community here).
I wrote my first query letter—and got my first rejection. My second query landed a full request... and a second rejection.
Around the same time, I heard of Author Mentor Match, a mentorship program that paired un-agented writers with more established authors. I decided to apply to AMM Round 9, and I won the lottery when sci-fi author and wonderful human Ren Hutchings selected my book.
The book I successfully queried and signed with my agent for?
Nope. In my AMM post (aka Ren appreciation post), I've written about why I love that book, but decided to shelve it after only two queries so I could work on... a YA rom-com.
That's where my friend Belinda comes in. She co-founded RomComMarch on Twitter and convinced me to give it a try because I wanted—no, needed—to write something joyful in 2022. All my other books are grounded speculative with truly evil villains and life-or-death stakes. And I mean, I love sci-fi with a streak of darkness, but I was in a major slump, and Ren encouraged me to write anything that brought me joy.
Around the same time as RomComMarch, I had a lowkey paradigm-shifting chat with my friend SJ Whitby, the hugely talented indie author of the queer superhero Cute Mutants series. When they casually mentioned that Deep Space Nine is their favorite Trek show ever, it sparked this fluffy idea to write about two characters who disagree on the best Star Trek show. Ooh, and what if it was (you see where this is going) ... a YA rom-com?
I'd only ever written close third person, past tense, multi-POV books, and this new WIP was a writing challenge I couldn't resist: entering the headspace of my characters through first person, present tense, dual POV.
I loved it.
I wrote that book in four months (super fast for me!). And strangely, it came out more like a second draft instead of a garbagey zero draft. How?
I think it's because my venture into YA rom-coms was a pretty self-indulgent joy project. I took Ren's advice seriously and crammed so many things I love into this book: baking, STEM, fandoms, stargazing, science puns, redwood forests, comic books, queer and disabled rep, K-pop.
I like to think of MIRA AND JAYA BOLDLY GO as a marshmallowy soft celebration of neurodiversity, of joyful, normalized queerness, and the sweet awkwardness of clueless nerds in love (nerdmance!). It's also about repressed grief, anxiety, and complicated family dynamics. Plus Star Trek!
I wasn't supposed to fall in love with a new genre, and I certainly wasn't supposed to let anyone else read it. I was only doing that 'write the book you'd want to read' thing, except... other people wanted to read it, what?
After I started sharing snippets of my WIP in my groupchats and the AMM Slack, I ended up with a whole team of enthusiastic betas, to my huge surprise. Ren, my wonderful mentor and friend, kept reading every chapter I sent along, providing feedback and encouragement. I began to let myself wonder if this ultra nerdy, hyper geeky sapphic rom-com had a chance in the query trenches.
Still unsure, I participated in the inaugural PitBLK pitch event a couple months after I finished the book, just to test the waters. Agents and editors expressed interest, and then my Anxiety Brain took over. Was I really going to send my little book into the world to be judged, and ultimately, rejected?
It's a tangled act of hope and bravery every time you hit 'submit' on a query, and every rejection whispers
maybe you're not good enough.
maybe your betas were just trying to be nice.
maybe you should give up.
Why do we push onward, then? Invite the pain? Because there's a competing whisper, and it's also saying
maybe you're good enough.
maybe your betas were right.
maybe this is going to be my 'yes'. it only takes one...
Ren helped me develop an initial list of agents to query (in a color-coded spreadsheet! omg the amazingness), and along with other writing friends, provided feedback on my query package until I felt prepared to venture into the trenches at the beginning of October 2022.
I queried Savannah Brooks of KT Literary on 10/13. She requested the full almost exactly three months later on 1/12, and sent the email that lifted me out of the trenches eight days after that on 1/20.
Did I want to talk about the possibility of representation? um, YES.
But Anxiety Brain told me not to get too excited, she's probably not offering, maybe it's only an R&R...
Due to scheduling constraints, we didn't video chat until 1/31, and by then, I had four new full requests (again, my complete query stats are tucked away at the end of this post so you don't get slammed with them if you're not in a good querying headspace!).
Our 90-minute conversation flew by, and it was immediately clear that she got my book. At the end, I said something like, "It's my understanding that I have a two-week period to notify the other agents who—oh, I mean, if this is an offer?" And she laughed and said yes, she'd love to represent me.
After our video chat, I told my inner circle—Ren, Pitch n' Bitch, the Chaos Bakery, my AMMR9 family—and this happened: the Momoa-thon.
Which included this work of art.
Another five full requests came in during the two-week period after the offer nudge, and I ultimately ended up with two offers from two amazing agents.
I'm thrilled to say I've chosen the agent who is the absolute best champion of MIRA AND JAYA BOLDLY GO and my future projects! I'm so excited to work with Savannah Brooks of KT Literary on making my book as polished as it can be before going on sub, a phrase that's going to be in my working vocabulary soon, I guess?
Finally, a note to folks still in the trenches. I won't offer advice or toxic positivity. My brand of neurodiversity finds comfort in logic, and I love astronomy. So here's a logical analogy: in the vastness of space, we recognize intelligent life resides in exactly one place so far—our "pale blue dot," Earth.
But even before I learned about the Drake Equation, before extrasolar planets were discovered, before I was moved to tears by the Hubble Deep Field, I looked up at the night sky as a little girl and knew we couldn't be alone in the cosmos.
Highly illogical to assume the conditions for organic life could only evolve on this tiny pebble embedded in one spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy.
Stay with me, I promise I'm getting to the point.
We know for certain life exists on Earth because we live here. Does that mean life doesn't exist anywhere else in the galaxy? The universe? No. It just means despite trying our hardest, we haven't discovered it yet. Logically, our current absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.
If you've been trying your hardest to find an agent in the vastness of the query trenches, it doesn't mean anything's wrong with your book. The world you've created just hasn't been discovered yet.
As promised, my final query stats (Oct '22 - Jan '23):
Total queries sent
20 (15 before offer nudge)