The Long Winding Road to Not Getting Published (yet.)
On my 23rd birthday, I woke up in California--only a month and a half into my stint living across the country from all my family and friends--to an email and a voicemail from an agent at Don Congdon Associates.
They wanted to offer me representation for my YA novel--my first novel. This is it, I thought, absolutely ecstatic. I wrote the novel, I got the agent, and soon I’d have a publisher and then I’ll be the famous, full-time novelist I’d always dreamed of being. All before the age of 25!
Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.
I’d spent the months leading up to my move to California watching She’s the Man--the best of Amanda Bynes, co-starring a deliciously toned Channing Tatum--and eating instant pudding while diligently highlighting the agents who sounded best for me based off of a few short words in Writer’s Market: Agents & Editors. I snail-mailed (because that’s what you had to do back then in the dark ages. So much more work then email) copies of my query, synopsis, and sample chapters, once I had my newly-minted California return address.
And then I waited, and I got some rejections--even a few blatantly rude ones--but shortly thereafter I heard from my agent and she requested the full and said she loved it and that was that.
We met for dinner in San Diego one night over Thai and I thought we’re even going to be friends like you read about in certain author acknowledgement pages! because we got along so well. We spent the next two months working through some edits together until the novel was in tip-top shape and ready to be sent out to publishers--she already had a friend who worked at the teen imprint of HarperCollins who was interested. Perfect, I thought. All going according to plan.
Until she called me the week after we finished the edits to say she was leaving the company--offered a job as an editor at a magazine--so she could no longer be my agent. And she sent my manuscript around to two other agents at her agency, but they either weren’t interested or didn’t have room in their client list to take on a new author. And then that was that.
I remember sitting at my desk at work that morning trying to see the words on my computer screen through the haze of tears that I couldn’t seem to shake.
I felt hollowed. Crushed. I had wanted this since I was five. I thought then that wanting something bad enough was enough to make it happen because things were supposed to work out, weren’t they? I was on the right path and everything was working according to plan until it wasn’t anymore and I felt unmoored, unsure of what to do next.
I learned later that this is not an uncommon story. Or I've heard from other authors where things fall through later down the line. And other times, it does work out perfectly. There's no way to know, just as in any other area of life, but it was my first experience really learning that. I realized I had to be okay with any outcome--expected or not, perfect or not--and continue from wherever I left off.
I haven't looked at that first novel in about a decade. I shelved it and didn’t try to get another agent for that novel because I realized I had a lot more to learn about being a writer. I had a lot more to learn about failure. And perseverance. So I moved to another new city and got an MFA and wrote three new manuscripts and moved back home to Boston. I knew writing was still important enough just because I’d derailed from my original imagined shiny, smooth path to publication.
Despite the setback all those years ago, I haven’t stopped writing or querying agents. I have received varying degrees of interest from agents over the years and attended conferences and started writing groups, but still, nothing has panned out on the novel publication front.
And yet still I write. Because I know one day it will.