For a while now I’ve been promising to share the wild ride that lead me to publication. I’ll admit I’ve been a bit tentative about writing this post. While I love all the recent transparency in publishing, it can feel a lot like pulling off a Band-aid when you have to share your own story.
What has pushed me to write this post is that I know people are languishing out in the query trenches feeling hopeless. I understand that people are grappling with the question if whether or not they should leave their agent. Questioning if the book they love will ever see the light of day.
I have been in every single one of those situations and I am here to tell you there is HOPE!
I started my writing journey in 2010. Writing a book was a gift to myself as I approached a very momentous birthday. My idea was that I would give myself a year to write that book. I finished it in eight months. IT WAS TERRIBLE. Every single thing I know now as being bad form in writing I did in that book. I opened with a dream. My character described herself as she looked in a mirror. I even went so far as to send that very bad book to a freelance editor. It was single spaced. Written in Courier. When the editor returned it, he schooled me in what was proper manuscript formatting. I was beyond embarrassed, but it was a lesson learned.
Knowing that book was hopeless, I wrote another manuscript. This one was just as troubling, but I thought for sure it was a winner. I even went as far as to travel to New York to go to an agent/editor pitch conference. I did get requests, but those eventually turned into rejections. At this point I was three years into my writing journey. I went on to write two more manuscripts and have each one rejected. Just to give you insight, I was well past 200 rejections now.
By this time I’d been lucky enough to make friends in the writing community. They were all in the same place I was: writing, querying, being rejected, until they weren’t anymore. One by one they all signed with agents and then got deals. I vividly remember sitting at a happy hour during a conference with all of them toasting their successes, and while I was so happy for them, I thought “I am a fraud. I have no right to be at this table.” On the plane ride home I cried because I was ready to give up on my dream.
But then a funny thing happened, I took a trip to Chicago and that writing bug came back to bite me. Wandering through a museum I happened upon an exhibit with a mannequin hanging upside down from a plane and the idea for NOTHING BUT SKY was born. Here is the truth though…It would be a long journey to see that book on the shelves.
Here are the stats:
Started writing NOTHING BUT SKY: 2013
Began querying: 2014
Queries sent: 100+
Fulls requested: At one time I had 12 FULLS OUT – all but one was rejected
Offers of representation: 1
I went on to sign with that agent and we revised for close to three months before it went out at the end of 2014.
The submission journey was BRUTAL. I was on sub for over a year, and while we had a few nibbles, every single one of the editors who requested NOTHING BUT SKY (33 in total) rejected it save for one. I did get a request for an R&R, but in the end I turned it down because the notes did not align with my vision of the book.
I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I just try, especially since it was from a Big 5 imprint? It was a really DIFFICULT decision, but sometimes you know when a direction is wrong for your book and I knew the notes weren’t right for NBS.
At this point, I was in a very dark place. My next manuscript was having issues and I knew I needed to make a change. Take a break. Step back and figure out what was next. I parted ways with my agent, who was very kind about my decision, and then took a break from writing.
Here is the honest truth though, when a story gets hold of you it is very hard to let go. A few months after leaving my agent, I went back to NOTHING BUT SKY and read it again. I felt that same early elation about this book and knew I couldn’t give up on it. My choices at this point were very limited. I emailed a friend who was an editor and asked her to read. If she told me the book was fraught with problems, then I was going to put away NBS for good. Her notes came back and they were filled with inspiring comments and great direction on what needed to change. I knew that if I made those revisions, I’d be ready to give it one last chance.
So after revising NOTHING BUT SKY for what was the tenth time (including three full re-writes), I sent to three publishers who took unsolicited manuscripts. This was in March of 2017. I received two more rejections. Then a month later, April 19, 2017 to be exact, I got the email I’d been waiting on for seven years. Flux wanted to publish my book. Full disclosure, I was standing in the produce section at COSTCO (freezing my butt off!) and I started to cry. An older man next to me was so startled he approached and asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine and then ran off the wine aisle to call my husband.
In March of 2018, my dream came true. NOTHING BUT SKY was published, but my journey did not end there.
This is the hard part of the post that I’ve been terrified to share. I’m going to be brave though because I think it might help someone who is struggling right now.
Here it is. My rejection did not end once my book was released.
My wonderful publisher, Flux offered on my next book. It just so happened that I was querying another book at the time. Now for honesty’s sake, I will tell you that the book I was querying was way outside my YA Historical brand. It was Adult Contemporary Romance. I had a ton of people tell me I should go back and tell the agents them I had another offer on a different book because, of course, they’d want to sign me. I was handing them a deal on a silver platter. All ten agents ended up rejecting that manuscript-even with the offer.
My pride is taking a huge hit by sharing this but it’s important I be honest about the rough tides of this business. Publishing is full of exhilarating highs and soul-crushing lows. One day you feel like you are queen of the business, and the next you literally feel like the world’s worst hack. I am here to tell you that life goes on. You feel sorry for yourself, curse A LOT, lick your wounds, and then get back to work.
I am so lucky to have made a real partnership with Flux. They continue to believe in me and my writing and are publishing my next book in Fall 2019.
Do I still want an agent? Yes. Will I begrudgingly go back into the query trenches with another book? Absolutely. I’ve been knocked down a lot, but every single time I come back stronger. I’m in this publishing game for the long haul. I want to make this a career, and I want a partner who will help make that happen.
For the time being, I remain optimistic about the future. I love my new book and can’t wait for it to be in readers’ hands. I hold onto that fact during the rough times.
I am a storyteller. Even as this business spins me in circles, I refuse to give up because I know deep within my bones that this is what I was meant to do.