The road to signing with the agent is filled with rejection. That’s no surprise though, is it?
The dream is that we’re Mozart, or the writing equivalent of Mozart. The manuscript is perfectly perfect after the first draft. It’s sent out to a small list of agents. And right away you hit it gold with the agent.
I imagine that it happens to some crazy species of writers. But not me.
My story starts in 2006. I was a freshman in high school. A senior at my school overdosed. He was popular. He was an athlete. He wasn’t supposed to die. Kids aren’t supposed to die. But he did.
On Facebook of all places, the whole community came together to pay their respects and share memories of the teen. Post after post on his personal page and on group pages that were created to remember him.
In the months after his death I started playing with the idea of writing a manuscript solely through Facebook posts. It was about a girl. A junior in high school. Star basketball player. Who died of an overdose. I sculpted her whole back story slowly, each Facebook post and entry revealing more about her life, her death, and what happened in between.
And I thought it was good. I mean, not just good, but best thing since sliced bread good. It reminded me of Give A Boy A Gun by Todd Strasser. Except where the amazing Mr. Strasser was able to make his book a page turner, mine was boring. Not to me. To me it was a work of literary genius. But to everyone else, boring.
It was sent out to agents. A lot of agents. A lot of form rejections.
Fast forward to sophomore year of college. It was winter break. I, being an exceptional nerd, had purchased a bunch of YA books to read as “market research.” One of which was But I Love Him by Mandy Hubbard. And it spoke to me. The voice and the tone would not leave my head. So over the next 5 days I stole the characters from my Facebook-esque manuscript, and I rewrote it in a normal narrative. 30,000 words written in 5 days. Another 50,000 words were added slowly, as I juggled spring semester with my writing.
It all happened so fast. And being the naive, cocky, unexperienced writer that I was, as soon as the first draft was completed I sent it out to agent after agent. Not a small, controlled group of agents, where I could take their feedback and revise if necessary. But every YA agent I could find.
I thought I was Mozart. I thought that I wrote it down perfect the first time. I thought what I wrote was my gift to the YA world. I thought that what I wrote would be picked apart in high school English classes as if I were F. Scott Fitzgerald.
And as is easily inferred, I failed. Sure, I got some requests. But with each rejection I grew numb. I would see a reply from an agent, and automatically start to cross them out on my spreadsheet, without even reading their reply.
By a stroke of luck, a few months later one of those emails turned out to be the email. An agent wanted to represent my story. I said yes as soon as I could, scared that she would reread the manuscript and revoke the offer.
It was good, for a while. Almost every editor she sent it to requested the full. And 100% of them also rejected it. The manuscript never sold, and my agent and I eventually parted ways.
I started querying a new manuscript. I already had the hard work done. I had the contact information of 75+ agents saved on an excel spreadsheet. I knew what they wanted submitted, whether they replied to every query, and what their response time was.
The years passed. As I started my first year teaching, I also went back to that first manuscript. I cleaned it up and started submitting it again. I dipped my toes into the world of twitter pitch parties. I found some critique partners. And I waited for someone new to fall in love with my work. I got even crazier and started querying other manuscripts simultaneously. Don’t do this friends. Don’t.
Rejections piled up. It got to a point where I created a “rejections” folder in my gmail. And I got frustrated. It didn’t seem fair that someone could score a huge agent with a YA fantasy about a girl obsessed with a vampire boy in her high school and my work would be forever collecting dust on my laptop.
Remember Mandy Hubbard and her book that sparked my first manuscript? Well, it all came around full circle. She was auctioning off a manuscript critique, query critique, and phone call for charity. I told myself that I would bid, no more than $400. That was all thrown out the window though, as I ended up bidding more than I paid for 1 month’s rent. But I won!
I sent her my most recent manuscript I had written about a school shooting, and she tore it apart. In a great way. I didn’t major in creative writing. I never had any writing professors. My only talent came from studying YA books and the techniques different writers used. But clearly, something was always missing, and Mandy pointed out what that was right away. And she showed me how to fix it.
While talking with her, I knew that I could throw myself into rewriting the work she had critiqued. But the more I studied her comments, I couldn’t let go of my first manuscript. The one that had been waiting since my freshman year of high school.
I stole two characters from that story and threw them in to a different manuscript. A whole new world. Whole new circumstances. Whole new plot. Whole new manuscript. I was cautiously optimistic, querying only a few agents at a time, constantly rereading and improving where necessary.
Enter the amazing Stacey Donaghy from Donaghy Literary Group. She fell in love with my manuscript just as much as me, maybe even a little more. It’s been over 10 years since the first inkling of this story rooted itself in my head. And it has totally been worth the wait.
I know we all want the dream. We all want to be Mozart’s of the literary world. But if we get it “right” the first time, there is no room for growth. Our writing, our stories, our world building, our voice — it never gets better. We need rejections. We need critique partners. We need teachers. We need to spend time failing.
So keep writing, friends. Keep stacking up those rejections. Keep improving. And maybe if the right stars align you’ll find yourself writing your own blog post about signing with the one.
In other news, on this beautiful, rainy Saturday my fur babies achieved their own accomplishments.
- Fitz, my scrappy rescue dog, who is 99% of the time still leash reactive, did not bark at anyone on our walk today.
- Winston Tate, our new cavapoo puppy, didn’t have any potty accidents in the house today and has been enthusiastically scratching at the potty bells to go outside.