Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Wendy Toliver’s Experience

From Flip Flops to Stilettos and Beyond

Wendy Toliver, author of YA novels Lifted, Miss Match, and The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, visits the Chick Lit blog today to reveal the role the Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest played in her road-to-publication success story.

When I first joined RWA and wrote my first manuscript, Strappy Sandals, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. Sure, I’ve always been a decent writer and yes, I could be funny. But I had a lot to learn before I could produce a publishable book. That said, it was good enough to final in a few RWA chapter contests in Chick Lit, Single Title and Women’s Fiction categories and eventually earned the attention of my first literary agent.

While it was being shopped, I wrote a stand-alone sequel, Flip Flops (classified as Lady Lit as the heroine was a little older) and it became a finalist in the 2004 Stiletto. I was over the moon at this accomplishment, and it went on to final in other RWA contests. These contests didn’t put my work into the hands of hungry editors per se, but they did give me the much needed confidence to keep writing.

Do you want to know how I ultimately became a YA author? Well, my agent shared the rejections Strappy Sandals garnered (Flip Flops was never shopped) and several editors mentioned that my voice was lively and youthful and could work well in the suddenly thriving YA genre. (This was back in 2005 I think.) An avid YA reader myself, I was eager to try my hand at writing for a younger audience.

I’d been toying with the idea of writing about a modern day Siren (from Greek mythology) and gradually morphed that idea into a YA story. With the help of my CPs: Aryn Kennedy, Nadine Dajani, and Jennifer Evans, all of whom I met through this chapter, we whipped it into shape.

None of my CPs were YA writers. I didn’t take any classes or study how to write YA. Come to think of it, it’s pretty amazing my first attempt at writing YA worked out and was relatively painless. I attribute it to my affinity for teenagers and how exciting and fresh their lives are and my desire to recreate that in my stories.

I also hired a member of our chapter who had a professional editing service, Bev Katz Rosenbaum, to take a look at it. This is a completely optional step, by the way, but I’m glad I did it because she helped me with the title, figuring out the age of the heroine, etc. I was pretty happy with my manuscript at that point and ready for the next big step.

However, my agent at the time was not interested in representing YA (along with other things that showed me we were not a good match) and so we parted ways. Luckily, another CLW member (and founder) Marley Gibson had just met Christina Hogrebe of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, and she was looking for YA writers. Because of Marley’s introduction, Christina invited me to call her (bypassing the query process). She requested my manuscript, The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren. A couple of weeks later, Christina called with “very good news!” She loved it … and so did Simon Pulse (a teen imprint of Simon & Schuster). The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren was published December 2007, followed by Miss Match (which was a finalist in the RWA Golden Heart under the title Cupid Girl) and most recently, Lifted.

Today, the 2004 Stiletto Lady Lit finalist manuscript FLIP FLOPS is “under the bed,” so to speak. My current agent did take a peek at it when I first signed with her, and perhaps some parts of it can be used in a future MSS, but for now my career is pointed in a different direction.

What my first two chick lit manuscripts taught me is that I can write–and finish–a whole manuscript. So many people want to write a book but never get the words down. I choose to look at finishing my manuscripts as an important milestone rather than wallowing in depression that neither of them ever went on to be published.

As you can see, the Chick Lit Writers of the World was very instrumental in my publishing story. I am so grateful for the expertise, support, encouragement, and networking this group provided and continues to provide.

To make the most of your networking opportunities, be involved. Join writing organizations, participate in critique groups, attend writing conferences, and volunteer in the industry. You never know when you’ll meet someone who might make a difference in your career or have the opportunity to “pay it forward” for somebody else.

Wendy Toliver lives in the Utah mountains with her husband, three boys, and other various wildlife. In addition to writing YA novels, she runs a writing camp for kids, is a writer in residence at an alternative high school, and is a freelance copy writer and editor. She also coaches soccer and basketball and somehow finds time to wakeboard, hike and snowboard. Visit her online at wendytoliver.com.

Wish you were in YA author Wendy Toliverโ€™s fabulous shoes? Enter the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest for unpublished manuscripts. Deadline for electronic entries is Sept. 6.

6 thoughts on “Get Your Stiletto in the Door: Wendy Toliver’s Experience”

  1. Good question, Jeff! I will answer this more thoroughly on our loop if you’d like (let me know) but for here, even if you do your homework on an agent (preferably before you query him) and are delighted that he wants to sign you, it’s hard to know if you two really are a good business match early on. Sometimes your or his expectations shift in time, or perhaps they’ve never meshed and one or both of you sense that it simply isn’t meant to be any longer. Someone once told me that a bad agent is worse than no agent, and I’m by no means saying my first agent was “bad,” but I will say we had different visions for my career and felt that I needed to find an agent who shared my vision. Namely, the venture into YA. Lucky for me, it was relatively painless as I’d been with Agent 1 for a year, which was the extent of our contract, and it was a clean break. Though it’s ideal to imagine staying with an agent for the majority of one’s career, many of my author friends have had two or more agents. The important thing to keep in mind is, it’s a business relationship and if your career isn’t heading in the way you’d envisioned, it’s probably time to move on. Hope that helps!

    Deborah, you bet! I’m glad you found it inspiring! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Sorry I missed this yesterday … enjoyed learning about your writing journey so far. It sounds like you have terrific optimism, coupled with great work ethic, and (obviously) a lot of talent. Wonderful combo.
    This may not be the place to ask, but I keep seeing authors who indicate they ‘parted ways’ with their first agents.
    I used to think that a contract with an agent was the golden ring. Now I’m becoming aware it’s just a step in the process … and sometimes that step can falter. Can you share anything (just general info) about WHAT it was which ‘parted’ that contract?

  3. And all this time I’ve been hoping that a contest final was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! Strangely, I feel encouraged that every writer–even Wendy Toliver–has to write, revise and learn. Thanks for sharing your story, Wendy.

Comments are closed.