A Little Thing Called Perseverance
Today I want to talk a little bit about writing contests, expectations, agents, and long-term goals. Last year, I was so jazzed when I got into Pitch Wars, I had stars in my eyes for weeks. Months, if I'm being honest. And there's nothing wrong with starry eyes! But this year, when I found out I got into Pitch Wars again (yep, folks, I got in this year!!!) I had a way different attitude. At first, my lack of jumping around glee confused me. I was happy, of course, but I wasn't high on the accomplishment. And I want to talk about why.
Last year, I entered Pitch Wars with a heavily queried manuscript that was so close to my heart it was practically the plaque in my arteries. A manuscript I queried way too early and made every single mistake in the book with. No. Joke. But after all those mistakes and revisions? The end result was decent. After Pitch Wars, that manuscript was even better. Hey, it even snagged me an agent, which was my singular goal. But, in my heart, I now truly believe that manuscript (as it was) shouldn't have gotten me an agent. You're probably scratching your head right about now. Let me explain.
I got eight requests in the Pitch Wars Agent Round in 2016 for LOOK NO FURTHER, which was decent for a contemporary YA. Some mentees got zero or 2-3 requests, while the splashy SFF racked up to 15-30. But I was happy with my eight requests, sent the fulls and partials off in November, and a handful of queries to my top agents. When my offer came in by mid-November, I was bamboozled. Literally no other word to describe the emotional rollercoaster of the following two weeks. I figured my nerves were talking because I was finally taking the step towards becoming a published author. After all, once you get an agent, everything is golden, right? Er. Not always.
Even though I had this nugget of unease in my heart, I sent off my Offer of Rep emails, and the rejections were swift. Too swift. After an almost R&R (revise and resubmit) phone call with another agent who I greatly admired, I began to worry. See, that agent didn’t think the book was sellable as-is. Not without some serious revisions. This was right after Pitch Wars, after two months of condensed revisions. So naturally, I was flummoxed.
After that exchange, I will filled with doubt over my manuscripts marketability. But, then again, I had an agent who thought they could sell it! That meant it had to sell, right? The agent I had the phone call with, plus a few other agents I'd been in correspondence with over various months and various revisions, had all told me something similiar: strong writing, strong voice, but they weren't sure they could sell it. Of course, I ignored all of this and signed with the only offering agent. And you know, if you read this blog, how that turned out. (Or if not, read about it here.) Guess what? The minimal feedback I received from editors during my six months on submission was eerily similar to what I heard from agents. The voice was great! The writing was so strong! But sorry, not for me/my list/the imprint.
Whomp whomp. *cue my heart breaking*
Looking back at the pattern of feedback I received since I started querying LNF in January of 2016, the writing was on the proverbial wall. But because I was so tired of rejection, I went with the only agent who thought they could sell my book. Here's the categorical truth that I knew (and ignored) going into that agent contract: that nugget of unease I mentioned earlier? I think I knew, deep down, that book wasn't THE book. That agent wasn't THE agent. Those six months and those rejections were painful as hell. Making the decision to split from my agent was painful as hell. And I like to think I could've avoided it. You should avoid pain whenever possible, right? Maybe not, because it was a learning experience. In my daydreamer-mind, I thought I'd be that unicorn, the person whose first book sells, who, despite garnering hundreds of rejections, gets their damn book published. Maybe that happens. But those rejections? They were foreshadowing.
Now you're probably wondering what this has to do with Pitch Wars 2017. Okay, so, tying it all back together. When I read my name on that list (paired with the hilarious and talented Jeanmarie Anaya as my mentor!) with my manuscript, BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN, yes I was happy, but I was also guarded. This time around, I know the agent round isn't a golden ticket to success. I know getting an agent does not, in any way, mean your book will sell. That's just the truth. The sad, honest truth. However, as hard as it is to stay positive in this business, I'm happy! More importantly, I'm feeling ruthless. I've been kicking butt with my revisions and I'm using my free time to get the bare bones of a new WIP in place before the stress of the agent round and querying kicks in. I have this gut-good feeling about BIGMOUTH, and Jeanmarie's revisions are making the manuscript shine shine shine.
There are lulls and periods of time where I definitely forget why I love to write. In this blog, I did express that depression I went through during the beginning of the year, but even when I'm drafting a book, I can lose sight of the Why. The revision process is what really lights my fire. I love implementing changes and fine-tuning a manuscript down to each and every word. I love listening to my manuscript using speech-to-text to get the rhythm down (and check for those stray typos!). I love the fun junk I do between revisions--novel aesthetics, Pinterest boards, scene-by-scene Spotify playlists soundtracks. I love envisioning a future for my books. Despite the rejection I've swallowed this year, I still have hope that one day, hopefully with this book, but hey, maybe not, I'll get to hold a hard copy of my words and share them with the world.
So, to my fellow 2017 mentees (and querying writers) I truly hope you realize how special your words are. Vet agents carefully. Fork over that monthly payment for Publishers Marketplace and look at agent sales. Are they making sales in your age group/genre? At imprints you admire? These might seem like silly things to do before you query, but treat each agent you query (or send material to during the agent round, if applicable) as someone you'd be jazzed to sign with. Also, just because an agent doesn't sell your book does NOT mean they aren't a good agent. (I cannot stress this enough.) I had multiple reasons for leaving, so don't jump ship just because your book doesn't sell. Find a symbiotic relationship and weather the publishing storm together. And always, always, trust your gut instinct. It rarely leads you astray.
Quote of the Day:
Music Video of the Day: