Jake Fleukiger is a graduate of Ready Chapter 1’s Novel Academy who recently acquired representation by Ann Rose at The Tobias Agency. Additionally, Jake is the co-host of The Writer’s Block, a weekly discussion for writers hosted on Twitter SPACES. We had a chance to ask Jake some questions about his journey to find an agent, and he shared some tips and tricks for writers who might be on the same path.
Landing an agent is a GIANT milestone for writers. When did this journey start and how long has it taken?
I loved to write when I was in school (K-12) and always kind of had in my head that I would like to write a book, but as it often does, life had other ideas. Another one of my dream jobs came along and instead of writing I spent 16 years as a professional horse trainer. It wasn’t until 2018 that I really jumped back into the idea of writing when one of my nephews asked for a story about a nice pink dragon. I didn’t know of one, so I wrote it, and I didn’t stop. My writing stalled out for about a year and a half while I dealt with some medical issues but as soon as I could, I dove back in. If you count the serious, goal driven writing, I’ve been working toward getting an agent for about four years.
What unexpected challenges did you meet along the way?
Let’s just say that I got in my own way plenty! Aside from the medical issues which prevented me from writing, I also had to deal with family, kids, work, the crazy schedule of running my own business. I think my hardest challenge was the crippling sense of imposter syndrome I faced once I acknowledged that I wasn’t the most naturally gifted, stupendous, prodigy writer in the world.
What (if anything) about your writing needed to evolve, and what parts were important for you to hold sacred?
From the beginning I knew that I could come up with intriguing and heartfelt story ideas, but that was about it… I have always struggled with punctuation, and it was disheartening to realize that my skill set was limited (despite doing well in school and English classes). I don’t think there has been a single area in my writing that hasn’t gone through massive changes as I’ve searched for what works for me. Conferences, peers, time, mentors, and workshops like READY CHAPTER 1 have all played a role in my evolving writing style. And the cool part to me is that the metamorphosis isn’t complete yet. I know my process and voice will continue to grow and change. The one thing that I do hold sacred is my passion. My passion for writing and creativity. My passion for helping readers to be seen in the pages of a book. My passion for improvement in this discipline.
What was it like when you got the call or the email? (Did you drop everything and run in circles screaming?)
Honestly, I was in shock when we first talked on the phone, and I was offered representation. It felt completely unreal and the hyperventilating wasn’t helping anything. It wasn’t until I got the official contracts in my email that I started to cry. Getting an agent is huge, but I don’t think I could have ever guessed the emotional and mental toll it would take on me. I know there’s still a long way to go to publication but I am definitely basking in the achievement of this goal.
What role did other people play in your success, and how did they support you?
I have had a strong, albeit clueless, support system in my family and I couldn’t have done it without them, despite the fact that they have not read any of my stuff yet lol. My biggest support has come from the wonderful connections that I have made through the writing community and it’s a support system that I really want to expand and extend to other writers. I think writing can be very lonely, but when you realize there are other people climbing the same mountain you are, it really helps you feel seen and heard.
What advice would you give to other writers who are in this phase of trying to attract an agent?
My advice would be this-
1- Keep learning, don’t get comfortable or stagnant, improve every chance you get.
2- Understand that the first manuscript you write may not be the one that gets you an agent.
3- Find your place in the community, which will help you find your people, which will help you find the specific individuals that will help make your manuscript shine. You don’t have to do this alone.
4- At the end of the day, you have to realize that a ‘No thanks’ isn’t a ‘You suck and your manuscript sucks and you’ll never be anything but sucky.’ It’s not personal. (P.S. I really suck at this one- which brings up another good point- stop the self-deprecating thoughts and words)
5- Don’t give up. Your goals can change, maybe you decide to just write for fun or pursue self-publishing, but as long as the goal is to get an agent DO NOT STOP.
Can you give us a quick pitch of the story that got the ‘yes’? (If not, no worries. Maybe tell us more generally about the types of stories you love to write.)
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell everything, but I’ll post one of the tweets from a pitch contest. It’s a middle grade fantasy novel- but I made sure to tell my agent on our call that I also had more middle grade books, a YA, a couple of picture books, and an adult novel (the serial killer one from class).
Alex’s life is ruined. Starting a new school mid-year with no friends and a bully teasing him about being gay wasn’t his idea. But when his outlandish teacher assigns him a dragon as a pen pal it begins an adventure that just might turn Alex’s life around.
How do you hope your stories might change the world for the better?
This is one of the biggest reasons I write and have worked so hard to get an agent. I really want kids from marginalized communities (especially LGBT+ communities) to see themselves in books. I didn’t get that as a kid and I look back and think how much that would have meant to me to have that moment of being seen. I hope my books make people think and question things. I hope my books help change become a possibility even if it’s just for one person.
Finally, how did you celebrate?
This one is easy! I went out for sushi… I’m not sure there’s another right answer to this question.