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Amy Zhang


I’m Feeling Lucky

Last year at this time, I was waiting to announce my book deal. FALLING INTO PLACE was in between titles. I was euphoric every time I thought about the fact that my baby book was going to be a real book, a book that sat on bookshelves, a book that people would hold and read and maybe even love. I was working off the sleep deck that resulted from getting up at ungodly hours every morning to write. My hair was twenty-four inches long. I was getting ready to take what would hopefully be my last SAT (it wasn’t).

Two years ago at this time, my agent and I were just getting ready to submit my YA fantasy, WILDFLOWER. Remember WILDFLOWER? I was halfway through high school. I was just starting to get to know my critique group. I was working on another fantasy about a nameless girl and a lost boy and wolves. Somewhere, jotted down in one of my idea folders, was a line about a girl who explained her suicide in terms of Newton’s laws of motion.

Three years ago at this time, I had just finished drafting my query. I was going to send my first one on the last day that I was fourteen. I had just finished freshman year, and it hadn’t been as horrible as everyone made it out to be. I still didn’t like Wisconsin. It was getting too hot too quickly, and the world smelled like cow manure. I closed myself in my closet every day to write. Maybe because I wasn’t distracted there. Maybe because in the dark, I could pretend I was somewhere else.

Four years ago at this time, I had just finished my first manuscript. It was about five kids who saved the world from villains based off of kids in school I didn’t like. It was bad. More importantly, I had learned to acknowledge that it was bad. And more important still—I had decided not to give up. I was going to keep writing.

Five years ago at this time, I was clueless. I didn’t know that I was about to move to Wisconsin, didn’t know that the move would make me so determined to be miserable. I thought I would grow up and go into the math or science field. Maybe both. All I knew about writing was that I wasn’t good at it. When we got our final report cards that year, one of my friends looked over and was surprised. “I can’t believe you scored higher than me in English,” she said. “I’m better at the, you know, creative stuff. And you’re better at math and stuff.”

I’ve been reflecting on all of that a lot this week. I’ve seen a few reviews of FALLING already. I’ve seen Waiting on Wednesdays. I’ve seen that people are looking forward to reading it, and it blows me away. It doesn’t seem real—ever. I say I can’t even a lot, too much, because I. Cannot. Even. I can’t wrap my mind around how freaking lucky I feel. I can’t comprehend any of it—I see those snapshots of my life above and I can’t entirely connect them. Like. What happened? How?

This year, right now, I’m packing for BEA. I’m getting ready for my panel. I have pens for my signing. I’m filling out my housing information for college. I’m graduating on Sunday. I’m terrified to leave. I miss my friends already. Sometimes I hold my ARC while I watch a movie or sit around, and I flip through it and look at my name and think, holy. Freaking. Crap. I still have doubts, I still have secrets, I am still incoherent on a regular basis.

I am very happy. I like who I am. They say that doesn’t happen a lot in high school—maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t, but either way, I’m lucky.

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2012 Recap

Here’s a secret: I hate New Year’s Eve, for three reasons: 1) For the first six months, my dates are always wrong, 2) January always feels like an enormously long Monday, and 3) I always look back and feel all down because I hadn’t accomplished all of the things I’d wanted to accomplish that year. So…I wrote this to prove to myself that I didn’t spend the entire year lying on the couch watching Big Bang Theory.
January: Made a New Year’s resolution to sign with an agent this year. Began re-querying my YA fantasy, WILDFLOWER. Sent nine queries, received four full requests. Fell out of my chair during Global Studies upon receiving a request from an awesome agent just ten days later.
February: Officially signed with the wonderful Emily Keyes of the L. Perkins Agency on the 23rd. Started revising WILDFLOWER for subs.
March: Made a twitter and this blog. Tried to balance revising, school, and extracurriculars with arguable success.
April: Finished revising WILDFLOWER…but it came in at almost 125K. Started working on another round of revisions with the sole purpose of cutting words.
May: Struck up a conversation regarding BEA, fake boobs, and man purses on Twitter, and irrevocably became writing friends with John, Ari, Olivia, and Mark. Started the For Love of YA blog with my wonderful critique partner/soulmate/brother-from-another-mother, Mark.
June: Took exams, finished up sophomore year, went to a few graduation parties, did some other generally stupid things to celebrate the start of summer vacation, like getting kicked out of Walmart for pushing my friend Noah down the isles at four in the morning, which, apparently, is frowned upon. Finished another round of revisions for WILDFLOWER and managed to cut 20,000 words. Started discussing subs, which was super exciting. Turned sixteen. Realized that I really, really needed to find the time to take Driver’s Ed, because all evidence suggested that I would be the last person in my grade to get my license. Ended up become very apathetic towards the subject as the month went on. Continued mooching rides off friends.
July: Got a marketing internship with Entangled Publishing, which I was truly terrible at. Wrote a novel about wolves and stars and hot chocolate. Officially sent WILDFLOWER out on subs. A few houses requested the manuscript. Then, on the 25th, I got an email while wandering through Walmart titled “Don’t Freak Out,” saying that a senior editor at Harlequin wanted to take it to acquisitions. Naturally, I freaked out. Actually, I almost fell over. A Walmart employee caught me and asked me if I was okay in a very Oh-crap-this-child-is-insane kind of way. I hugged her. And then ran away.
August: Became an intern for Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larsen Pomada. Read some full requests, loved being on the other side of the querying process. Waited for the acquisitions meeting. Made the varsity team for tennis. Realized that real-life-summer-vacation wasn’t nearly as long as Phineas and Ferb’s summer vacation, frantically tried to finish AP homework.
September: Got kicked off the varsity team for tennis, which was…sad (meh. I still lettered, so I’m still putting it on college applications). Started junior year with a totally screwed up schedule, tried taking Pre-Calc as an independent study (which was a total fail), ended up having to take it as an online course. Assumed the editor-in-chief position for our school newspaper, published our first issue (which was so awfully awful it was just awful…but we figured out what to do by the second issue). Realized that taking AP Chemistry was probably one of the worst decisions that I had ever made. WILDFLOWER received its first rejection. I moped. Found out that the editor at Harlequin got called to jury duty, so the acquisitions meeting had been moved back yet again.
October: Found out that another senior editor at Harlequin had expressed interest in WILDFLOWER, and that both would take it to the board. Got an official date for the acquisitions meeting, which was later cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. Signed up and outlined for NaNo. Got a phone call at six in the morning saying that a boy in my grade had died in a car accident, almost quit NaNo because the novel I’d planned to write was about a car crash, and I didn’t think I could handle it emotionally.
November: Received the news that the board at Harlequin ultimately decided to pass on WILDFLOWER. Could not find enough chocolate to smother the sobby feels. Decided to participate in NaNoWriMo because I was tired of moping. Didn’t sleep very much. Was bribed into going Black Friday shopping, which was…terrifying. Finished my YA contemp, FOR EVERY LIFE, on November 30th.
December: Sent FOR EVERY LIFE off to my agent and critique partners, who all seemed to really like it. Started talking about subbing it. Had a mild life crisis regarding what to do with my life. Spent winter break studying for the SATs, revising FOR EVERY LIFE, and trying to watch all ten seasons of Friends. Wrote this blog post. Am currently realizing that I have not, in fact, wasted an entire year of my life doing nothing of importance.
In all seriousness, this was a great year. I wrote, I read, I made friends, and honestly, I’m so, so thankful for all of you. So…happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

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Querying! (Part I)

It’s almost the one-year anniversary of the day I started querying! And since summer is a popular time to query agents (and to mark the occasion), I thought I’d put my meager opinions out there for all of you who will be sending out your queries soon.

When I started out, I had literally no idea of what I was doing. I wasn’t clear on what an agent did, or why I needed one besides the fact most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore. I didn’t know what websites to use or how to connect with people who were on the same step of the process as I was (or that I needed to connect with other people). I didn’t know what a query letter was, much less how to write one. (If this describes you, go peruse around or Or even if it doesn’t describe you. Those two websites are freaking amazing).

So. I kind of just…did it. Trial and error. Which was very, very stupid. Because my query letter sucked. And I queried all of my top agents first. And I got rejected, again and again and again…

So how do you write a query letter? Well, they usually consist of a hook, a paragraph with the premise and conflict of your manuscript, and a bio of yourself. The one that follows got me four full requests and an offer in two weeks, after querying nine agencies.

Dear <agent>, 
Faye defines her life in numbers.

Nine hundred children who are trapped together in a circle of mountains every year to fight a War that keeps the rest of the land at peace. Eight years since she watched a man with golden eyes murder her parents and swore to avenge them. Three faces she sees in her nightmares every night. Two ways she can die: by the betrayal of the Fate which should gift her with powers beyond all reckoning, or by being drained of every drop of the peculiarly colored blood that marks her as one of the Fated.

One boy that appears in her life without warning and undermines everything she believed in.

Arrogant and unreachable, Aro is one of the enemy king’s most prized soldiers. A cynic who knows the price of trust, he keeps a long list of things he doesn’t believe in: second chances, because people never change, regret, because it only comes when it’s too late to do anything but wallow, innocence, goodness, sanity…

And since he doesn’t believe that opinions are worth anything, he ignores his own when his king orders him to capture Faye during a War. He never expected to save Faye’s life. Faye, for her part, never expected to give him the chance to do so. And neither of them ever expected feel anything more than animosity for each other. But when a number of looming threats force them on an unprecedented attempt to cross the mountains, battling avalanches and seemingly insurmountable odds, neither can continue to ignore the similarities that are binding them together.

Wildflower (100,000) is the story of a girl who has learned to keep her heart locked away, a boy who knows that love is a weakness, and emotions that can be defined by neither numbers nor lists. Also, I thought you might like to know that the Lowenstein Agency and the L. Perkins Agency currently have the full manuscript, the Kristin Nelson Agency has a partial. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

I pasted this here mostly for those of you who’d like to see an example query. Keep in mind, though, that I chose to break a number of rules with this. It’s rather lengthy for a query , and it’s written from two different POVs, and looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done better. This week’s post was supposed to be something of an intro to this blog series, and next week I plan to dissect the above query a bit more and list a few things I wish I’d known before I started querying.

Um. So it’s probably pretty obvious that I’ve never done a blog series, either. Or really given querying advice. So…maybe you guys could put questions in the comments or something? Suggestions?

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