Thursday, July 28, 2011

I don't believe in fairy tales

At least, not where publishing is concerned. True, some people have those fairy tale-esque success stories, but those stories have a lot of hard work behind them. Those people wrote, completed, and edited a novel. It's not something that just happens to you.

As for me, I've had just about as many failures as successes. One of those successes even involves a failure. I chose the college I attended partially because they had a creative writing thesis program that focused on writing a novel - I had a trunk manuscript under my belt at that point, but I couldn't wait to work with someone who really knew what they were doing. I started gathering up my required workshop credits right away, but when I tried to get into the fiction workshop during the second semester of my freshman year, there were 40 applicants and 12 slots. After the "audition class," I found out that I didn't make the cut.

I sent a thank you e-mail to the teacher for the fun class, and he told me that with all the upperclassmen applying, it wouldn't have been fair to pick a freshman. "Try again next year," he said. "I won't say no again."

I did. And he didn't. And it was a little bit sweeter because I knew I'd worked for it.

I didn't have a lot of other successes in that program. I was turned down for the thesis program, and their reasons were as follows: because I chose to study abroad for a semester in junior year rather than take another workshop, and because my work was too 'plot-driven.' Once I finally picked myself up off the floor, I discussed it with my (awesome) fiction teacher. He told me, very gently, as if he was trying not to offend me: "I really think you're more of a commercial fiction writer."

I count that as a success, since I took it as a compliment.

In any case, I didn't want to stall just because the program wouldn't take me. I went to Tokyo, and I wrote another manuscript. I finished it a few months after returning to America, and started sending out the query with dreams of those fairy tale success stories I'd always heard about...

... and was promptly smacked in the face by five back-to-back form rejections.

Thankfully, I was at least smart enough that it only took five. I took my query to my awesome fiction teacher to tear apart. It was a fabulously helpful and torturous experience; he's not a fan of fantasy, so to even explain the book to him made me very self-conscious. But it worked. I sent another round of queries, and I got my first full request from one of the top agents on my list.

I knew it wouldn't work out from the beginning. This agent was so far out of my league, he was in the stratosphere. But again, I remembered those fairy tale success stories and dared to hope.

He decided to pass, but with some of the most dizzying compliments I'd ever received. I sent a thank you e-mail. He didn't say "I won't say no again," but somewhere in the back of my mind, it echoed.

That was the highest point of the submission process. On some level, after his rejection, I knew this wouldn't be the one, but it took me five months and many more rejections to accept it. I had other requests, but his comments were still the nicest and most enthusiastic. I wanted that first agent to see my next MS. I wrote another novel, one that I really loved. I sent it out. I got many more requests within 20 queries that I'd gotten within 70 last time. But I was very careful not to get carried away. I took a much more philosophical approach: I was going to go with whatever happened, and keep working at it regardless.

Two weeks ago, things finally started to move - but not in that fairy tale, "seven offers within a week" way. I actually got an offer for revisions. Since I couldn't find many accounts of what to do in that case, I didn't have many guidelines. Afterward, I saw a post saying you shouldn't nudge other agents if you get a request for revisions, but I did, and I don't regret it at all. Even if they rejected me, I would feel more comfortable with that than yanking the manuscript out from under them if they were still interested. And as it turned out, none of them did - they all wanted to revise with me. And at the same time all of this was going on, I ended up with another request for material, so it ended up turning into chaos. Very flattering chaos.

I don't want to name names, but everyone I spoke to that week was amazing. Absolutely amazing, professional, and utterly made of class. It was such a hard decision, I can't imagine how people sort through multiple offers. But there was one agent in particular who was the most enthusiastic, not only to work with the project, but to work with me. It was that first agent, who requested my first MS over a year ago.

I may still believe in fairy tales a little after all.

I've been given such a wonderful opportunity. I can't wait to see where it leads!

(And by the way - those of you who know who I'm working with - I'm keeping it quiet on here for now. Superstitious, I know, but it would feel like pushing my luck!)


  1. Congratulations! And thank you for reminding us that hard work is what gets us to where we want to be.

  2. Thank you, Shallee! I really wanted to write up my story because I see so many writers on QueryTracker and AbsoluteWrite thinking that their submission is doomed because they didn't get an offer overnight. I wanted to remind people that the long way around can bring rewards, too. :)

  3. How exciting! Good luck!

    We know better than to expect a fairy tale path to publication, but we can't completely squish that quiet "What if?" hope in our hearts. What a roller-coaster ride.

  4. I followed your blog link from AW and just wanted to say, "Congratulations!"