MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL #1:
I wrote my second middle grade novel while my toddler napped. This time I was at least smart enough to join my first critique group. This novel was a magical story about a girl who gets turned into a genie for a week. I thought it was brilliant. It wasn’t. But I managed to get ONE REQUEST for the full manuscript. The request came via snail mail, and when I opened my SASE and saw it wasn’t a rejection, I ran all the way from the mail box back to my house screaming like a lunatic. And I also foolishly believed that this meant I was going to become a published author!!! Unfortunately, the manuscript was rejected a few weeks later. I cried. A lot.
This was another historical fiction novel set in the late 1800’s. I researched the heck out of the time period and setting. I revised. I entered contests. I got a lot of great feedback. I revised some more. Although this manuscript was written so much better than the first two, I still didn’t get ANY REQUESTS. This hurt my little writer ego. I started three other middle-grade novels, but gave up on each one before getting half-way through the first drafts. By now my daughter was pre-school aged, and we were bringing home lots of picture books from the library. I decided I just wanted to write poetry and picture books, instead of middle-grade novels, because they were probably easier. (*insert evil laughing here*) So I did. I wrote 40 picture books and over 200 poems. And subsequently racked up dozens and dozens of rejection letters for them. Although I was lucky to win some awards and have several poems published in magazines for children, I had ZERO luck in the agent/book deal department. My spirits were down. Very down. And then a sweet writer friend of mine sent me a link to this video:
How can anyone give up after watching that? With renewed energy, I wrote my fourth middle grade novel, a heartfelt fairy-tale retelling of Hansel and Gretel. I kept going to workshops and conferences. I “knew” this story would be the one that would get me an agent. I “knew” it, because I was NEVER going to give up on it. This time I used Query Tracker to find agents to query. I received ONE FULL REQUEST. I was excited, but didn’t get my hopes up too high, and I was glad, because the rejection came less than 24 hours later. I revised this novel for three more years, determined to make it “the one”. I was not going to stop. I was not going to give up. But this story wasn’t working. And I knew it. I knew it was time to put it away and work on something new. Problem was–I was fresh out of ideas. (Not really. I have ideas coming out the wazoo, but none of them grabbed me by the shirt collar and screamed in my face.) So I didn’t write anything for a few months. I didn’t know where to go next.
MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL #5:
It’s funny how life hands you inspiration in the most unlikely of places. It was around this time that my husband and I learned that our daughter (10 years old at the time) had Tourette syndrome. She was having a rough time in school and with friends. I wanted to support her in any way that I could. Since she’s a huge reader, I hunted for middle-grade novels that involved characters with Tourette syndrome. I only found a couple. And it had been a while since they’d been published. I knew that wasn’t going to be enough for her. And I knew those two books weren’t going to be enough for the thousands of other children with TS.
I had found my “grab-me-by-the-shirt-collar” idea. I had found my new motivation. I began heavy research and drafting the novel immediately. It was during this time of research and drafting that a light bulb went off inside my brain. I wondered if I, too, might have TS. I wondered if those crazy, weird, quirky, embarrassing, painful things I had done my whole life could be attributed to Tourette’s? So I visited a neurologist who gave me a resounding: YES! Suddenly, writing the novel took on a new meaning. I was still writing it for my daughter, mostly, but I was also writing it for me. It became therapeutic as I learned the reasoning behind so many frustrating questions about my brain. The words flowed easily. They were natural and real.
I got big thumbs up from my critique partners. I got rave reviews from my beta readers. I entered contests, most importantly Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars. I was miraculously chosen as an alternate mentee by the lovely and brilliant Joy McCullough-Carranza. We worked together for two months. I performed surgery on my manuscript, namely, cutting out an entire POV. The contest ended with my getting three full requests. I sent out queries in batches of ten and the requests kept rolling in. All in all, I received TWENTY-TWO FULL REQUESTS and FOUR PARTIAL REQUESTS. A big difference from the single requests I was used to getting!
I set-up my email so that it would make a unique sound on my phone–kind of a tinkling sound–whenever I got a response from an agent. Since the majority of my responses for the first couple of months were requests, that sound became known as “the happy sound” in our house. My kids were always like: “Mom! Check your phone . . . I heard the happy sound!” It was all very exciting. But as the months wore on, those full requests turned into a lot of full rejections. There were two that were particularly painful–from agents I wanted with all of my heart–and they came on the same (the same!) day. I wish I could tell you I did NOT sob on the couch for hours like a four-year-old who can’t find her favorite pair of Elsa undies. But I can’t. The “happy sound” turned into “the sound I loathe more than anything in the world” and when I heard it go off, I’d ignore my phone for several hours or open the email as if it were a ticking time bomb.
PHONE CALL, BUT NOT “THE” CALL
Then one morning at 7:00 am, I got an email from agent Steven Chudney. He had the first 75 pages and was sorry he couldn’t offer representation at that time, but wanted to know if I was interested in talking about ways to improve the manuscript. I told him I was. We set up a phone call for a few hours later. Little did he know . . .
1. It was my birthday.
2. I had the stomach flu.
3. I had been up all night with a three-year-old who also had the stomach flu.
It’s a miracle I got through the conversation without puking or saying anything absolutely ridiculous. But I guess I did. Mostly he talked and I listened. He mentioned some of the same issues as another agent had a few months earlier (but I had ignored, which is probably why I was getting all the rejections on the fulls). I took 6 weeks to make the changes, which included rewriting the last 1/4 of the manuscript. I sent it out and waited.
Four days later I was cleaning my kitchen when my phone made the “this could be good news or bad news sound”. My daughter begged me not to look at the email. I asked why. She said, “because you’re always in a bad mood after you look.” She had a point. But I couldn’t help it. I dropped to my knees and curled up close to the couch in case I needed to use it for sobbing purposes. I opened the ticking time bomb. It was from Steven Chudney. He was offering representation.
Folks, I cried. I cried on the couch. But these were happy tears. Eleven years of querying. 200 poems. 40 picture books. 5 middle-grade novels. 326 rejections. I cried. And when my husband got home, we all went out to eat. One of my favorite foods is a smoked salmon/cream cheese/avocado/deep fried sushi with eel sauce from a local restaurant. I had deprived myself of this dish for over a year, because I wanted it to be my celebratory I GOT AN OFFER FROM AN AGENT meal. Well . . . we drove to the restaurant and discovered it had unfortunately gone out of business. *wimper* So I settled for the next best thing:
I was so excited at the thought of working with Steven Chudney, but since I still had a handful of outstanding requests and queries, I nudged the agents I was still waiting to hear from. I ended up with three more offers of representation from three amazing agents. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking on the phone with each of them and hearing their ideas for the manuscript. I barely slept for the next 10 days. My husband left town on a business trip, so I fled to my parents home for food and advice. A lovely writer friend took me out for ice cream. It was all so surreal and a bit perplexing. But after deep soul searching, lots of praying, speaking with the agent’s clients, etc., I felt Steven Chudney was the best fit for me.
I signed the contract on May 1, 2015 and celebrated by taking the kids to get donuts. (I think it’s safe to say that I like celebrating with food.)
STATS FROM ALL QUERYING:
11 years querying
STATS FROM MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL #5:
That’s all folks. If you made it all the way through, I applaud and thank you.