(This blog post ended up being pretty long, so I decided to separate it into two parts. You can find Part One here).
It’s kind of amazing to me, looking back, that I didn’t give up after those first three manuscripts. Baby author me was, apparently, very resilient. That resilience would be tested with my fourth manuscript, a young adult steampunk romance. I absolutely loved my fourth manuscript when I started querying it in 2012. For the first time, I felt like this was it. This was the one. For the first time, I had truly discovered my voice, and my writing had gotten strong enough to support it.
I don’t remember how many agents I queried with my fourth manuscript, or how many requests I received, but it was a lot more than I had received in the past. I also made it into two contests: Baker’s Dozen, hosted by Miss Snark’s First Victim, and the very first Pitch Wars, hosted by Brenda Drake. I believe the number of total requests (from contests and querying) was somewhere near twenty, and all of them were from dream agents, including the incredible Andrea Somberg, who would eventually become my agent, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. 😉
I got really close with this manuscript. Like, really, really close. But when, about a year and a half after I had originally started querying the manuscript (which had gone through so many revisions for so many different agents I lost count), I was asked to do yet another revision that was really more of a complete rewrite with completely different character motivations, I realized I no longer loved my manuscript. In fact, I hated it. Not because it wasn’t good (my CPs still ask me when I’m going to go back to this project, they believed in it so much), but because I was burnt out. I’d lost all perspective regarding the manuscript and, even worse, I lost my voice.
This was a low point in my writing career. To get so close and still feel so far away was a special kind of torture. If it wasn’t for my husband and my CPs telling me I couldn’t give up on my dream, I probably would have thrown in the writing towel. I went to a dark place for a while. I felt like I had wasted four years of my life on this dream when it was so obvious I’d chosen the wrong career. I should have done something more practical with my life, like getting my Masters in Education or going to law school. But here’s how I knew I was meant to be a writer:
Even when I felt like I was wasting my life chasing an impossible dream, and even as I was making plans to go back to school and forget about this ridiculous chapter of my life, I kept getting story ideas, and I kept sitting down at my computer to write. One idea in particular kept bugging me, to the point where I couldn’t not write it. But I wasn’t a writer anymore—I was going back to school, if I could just figure out what exactly I was supposed to study—so I didn’t plot anything out. I didn’t do character sketches, or try to figure out motivations or backstory or anything. Every day, just to satisfy this beast of an idea, I would sit at my computer with my fingers hovered over the keyboard, and write whatever came to mind.
Fifty pages later, the beast hadn’t been silenced. Instead, it had grown, taking hold of my heart and my head until I could hardly think straight. I knew I was going to finish this story, and I also knew I should probably sit down and plot it out before things got too confusing. I fell in love with writing again as I worked on this new project, and after I had sent the finished manuscript to my CPs and revised it to a high-polished shine, I was ready to enter the query trenches once more. But this time I had something I didn’t have before: agents who had loved my fourth manuscript and specifically asked me to query again with any future work.
I only sent out five queries for THE WOOD, to the five agents who had been the most enthusiastic about my work in the past. As all writers know, or will discover upon their first round of querying, everyone has their list of dream agents. These are the agents who you feel would totally get you and your writing based on their current client list, or their mutual love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or through your interactions with them on social media. This list is different for everyone based on your specific career goals and personality and what you’re looking for in an agent, and let me tell you, there are some amazing agents out there, but through my five years of writing and querying and rejections, I had a number one, tippy-top dream agent, and it was the query I sent to her that made me the most excited (and the most nervous).
When my dream agent requested the full manuscript, I sent it off telling myself not to get my hopes up. This part of my life was pretty much over and done with. I didn’t even know why I was querying when I should have been figuring out if I’d make a better teacher or a better lawyer. But then, a week later, my tippy-top dream agent, Andrea Somberg, sent me an email saying she absolutely loved the manuscript.
After five years and five manuscripts, my dream came true. Andrea sold my debut novel, THE WOOD, to Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, with a Spring 2017 release. I wish I could properly explain just how many times I almost gave up, how many times I let the doubt monsters take me to a really dark place and make me think I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t good enough, that just because I loved writing didn’t mean I was meant to be a writer, but that would make this already too-long blog post cross over into novel-length territory. Throughout those five years, I read countless blog posts telling me the same thing I’m telling you today: Never Give Up. It was a really hard thing to hear sometimes, especially when I was at my lowest, but what I want you to take away from my journey is that it really does work. Whether you’re just starting your own publishing journey, or whether you’ve been querying for years and feel like there’s no hope in sight, if you love to write, and if telling stories is what you feel called to do,
Don’t. Give. Up.
Learn from your mistakes. Recognize the areas of your craft that can improve, and then work on those areas, and recognize that, as writers, we are always improving. No trunked novel or abandoned half-manuscript or one-paragraph writing prompt is a waste of time as long as you’re learning and working on getting better. And just remember when you’re feeling down that The Help by Kathrynn Stockett was rejected 60 times, and we all know how that turned out. Remember that for every “overnight” success story, there are a hundred stories like Stockett’s. If she had given up, the world would be without one truly amazing book. If I had given up, my dream would have never come true.
Don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t deprive the world of your unique voice.
Don’t Give Up.