When a character takes a journey, they should always have a best friend to be on the journey with them. Writing is a journey, and today, it’s my great pleasure to host my best friend on the writing journey, Rhay Christou. Rhay has recently signed with an agent for her young adult novel, and she agreed to share her incredible journey with us.
I met Rhay in the Vermont College MFA Writing for Children Program. We were in the same class and both of us absolutely adored and lived by the words and advice of Norma Fox Mazer. After we graduated, Rhay and I started an e-mail correspondence, and seven years later, I don’t know what I would do without those morning, cup of coffee e-mails from Rhay to start my day. We read and critique each other’s work and we share our rants and raves about writing and life.
Rhay lives on the Island of Cyprus with her husband and two sons. Yes, you read that right! Lucky—yes. But, this also means Rhay does not have many opportunities to attend writing conferences or workshops to meet agents face-to-face or pitch her work or hear about the industry. She relies on her own ability to seek out this information and continue her learning in writing.
Rhay impresses and inspires me with her hard work, dedication, and persistence to never give up on this writing journey. It is my great pleasure to share her agent journey with you!
You’ve recently signed with an agent for your young adult novel. Congratulations! Can you tell us about how it felt to get The Call?
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. The first contact wasn’t a call. It was an email, saying I devoured your novel. I honestly don’t think there are four words more beautiful in the world. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. The phone calls started coming next. Not only one but three. Three people loved my novel. It was overwhelming, but in a great way.
How did you select your agent? How did you decide to query this agent?
I’m pretty particular about the agents that I query. I do a lot of research and chose to query based on the information I find. I look at the company profile and the types of books sold. I read every interview that an agent has done. Recently, I also made the choice to try a newer agent, an agent who works for a good company, but are building their careers. My thought here was that newer agents might not only have more time to read and consider a query but if they ultimately signed me, they would have more time to help develop my career. I wouldn’t be one of the many, but one of the few.
There was a little bit of a flurry around your novel with more than one agent wanting to represent you. Can you tell us how you narrowed down your choice?
The flurry was amazing as it was unexpected. It was the hardest choice I ever had to make. Fortunately, I have a great support group and people were more than willing to do a bit of undercover work to get me more and more information. Most people told me to go with the agent who had the best track record, who’d sold the most, but in the end, though, I had to go with my gut. I had been the one to speak with the agents, and get emails from the agents. It was a hard choice, but I remember always saying, I wish someone would just take a chance on me. I’ll make it happen. In the end, I took a chance on my agent. She’s new, but determined and has the weight of her agency behind her. More importantly, I feel like she is someone who will really work for me and someone I can work with.
What is your writing process for your young adult novel? How long have you been working on it?
I’m an obsessive writer. I put my butt in the chair seven hours a day, five days a week. That is my writing time, the time I just let the creativity flow. The evenings, the weekends and waiting in the car for kids is my reading and planning time. I make copious amounts of notes, character cards, rough plot outlines, during these times. Once a draft is done, I put it aside for a few weeks and spend the time reading craft books on writing elements. I also get feedback from trusted writers. I use this feedback to do revisions and revisions and revisions. I am big on revisions. I am big on the idea of trying a suggestion even if I don’t eventually make the change.
You have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. Have you taken other coursework since graduating? Why do you think it’s important for writers to keep learning?
I loved Vermont College. I had such great advisers and learned so much during my time there. The number one lesson I learned while there was that I had a ton more to learn. If you sit back and think you know it all just because you have a piece of paper in hand, that’s a real recipe for failure. I’m also trying to take courses and evaluate books and learn more.
Was there a give-up moment for you in your agent search? A time when you wanted to throw in the towel? How did you keep going?
The give up moment came recently. In August of 2011, I had an agent very excited about reading a full. Eventually, she came back with a rejection, but gave me a couple sentences of good advice. I spent the next four-month tearing apart my novel and doing a complete rewrite based on those two sentence. I took two courses and a line-editing course. I worked and worked and worked and in March of 2012 I was rewarded with another agent very excited to read my novel. She came back with wonderful things to say. It was very exciting reading. She really liked it. She was really on the fence with this one. Ultimately, she decided to pass and to be honest I went into a real downward spiral. I started feeling that no matter what I did this writing thing was just not going to happen for me. It was a very dark time. But I forced myself into my chair every day. Sometimes I’d manage a sentence or a paragraph. The what’s the point question kept ringing in my head. But I sent out a couple of more queries and then the planets aligned and the stars shined.
What do you think helped you in your process to landing an agent? Any tips you want to share with other writers?
For me I think the key was three factors. I have never blanket queried. I do a lot of research and I’m very particular about who I send out to. I think that was a big factor.
Secondly, when I did get a rejection with some thoughts on it, I would use those thoughts to make my work better. I was always finding ways to get back into the novel and make it better.
Lastly, I think the choice to try a newer agent in my query process was a great idea. Not only did she have time to give my query attention but also because she really is a determined and intelligent person. Her ideas for revision are just stellar and her vision for how to proceed from here just makes sense.
Where can we find you to follow the rest of this exciting journey?
Website: www. rhaychristou.com