A bit of a self-indulgent double-entendre in that title. I haven’t posted to this blog for a while, unsure really of what to say. It’s been a rather crazy time of year. After turning in edits and diving off the springboard into the shark-infestesd waters of Novel Submission To Editors, the gauntlet of end-of-year children activities hit me like a freight train. Parties, awards ceremonies, piano recitals, ballet performances, and all the practices leading up to them. And on top of it all, the girls of the family have all jetted off to Japan for June, leaving me holding down Fort Brooks with two boys. So, no rest for the weary.
Speaking of families, we’re adding one more child to our collection in September. A boy. My other two boys? Also born in September. You now know far too much about how I spend my Christmas break.
At some point I’ll get back to finishing up that pile of multicultural “stranger in Japan” stories I’ve got lying about in draft form–I’ve got one in particular I’m saving for whenever I have More News to announce, in fact!–but I realized I never finished the story of how I found my wonderful agent, Rosemary Stimola.
After finishing RYOJI AND THE RIDDLE MASTERS, I was hesitant to query. I’d put off writing that book for so long, for so many reasons: it was high fantasy; it was drowning in Japanese lore and mythos; it was Middle Grade, an age range I’d never written for; it was the start of what I always saw as a multiple book series. And on and on. And when I finally finished it, I was scared of what I had. Scared it wasn’t good enough, that all the effort had been for naught.
I sent it out to several beta readers. I started getting some early feedback within the first few days on the opening bits. I debated on tweaking so many fiddly things, but a good friend of mine who’s been published for several years now told me that if I wasn’t making major changes anymore, it was time to let it out into the world. And so I did.
The first queries went out on 2/15/2013. The first full request came on 2/17. I’d only gotten one full and one partial on the two previous novels I wrote combined. Elated, but hesitant. My published friend, upon hearing the news, took a read and enjoyed it so much he offered to forward it on to his agent on 2/18. That evening, I got another full request. Three fulls out. All this activity flipped me Right Out. Another on 2/21. Another on 2/23. I fielded many rejections too–almost a 2:1 ratio. But so many requests was something I’d never seen before.
And then the first rejection on a full request came. Here are some quotes from it, because I always find these windows into this process amazing myself:
I’ve been looking for a while for something set in old Japan, and there are elements of your project that I really like. What gave me trouble, though, was the dialogue — which feels too contemporary for the somewhat fantastical setting — and the pacing, which is slowed by all the “telling” (as opposed to “showing”) in the narrative. There’s so much back-story and explanation loaded into the first few chapters that it overwhelms the action. For these reasons, I’m sorry to say that this isn’t a project that I think I can successfully represent.
Punch right in the gut. And then that afternoon? Another full rejection. This one started out so promising I nearly jumped for joy until, well, you’ll see (redacted some stuff that would identify agency, to protect the innocent, etc.):
I was very delighted [to read] your middle grade novel RYOJI & THE RIDDLE MASTERS. I read with a lot of excitement [...]. This is exactly the type of middle grade stuff I love to see, so it’s with a lot of regret I’m going to pass on offering representation. I thought this a charming premise (and extremely cool world) but the writing felt a bit too stiff for what really grabs me–like the world was easy for you to write but the characters weren’t. I’m so sorry not to have better news for you. It certainly won’t surprise me if other agents feel differently.
I had dinner with my author friend that evening (2/27, a day I shall never forget!), and he suggested I keep up the querying. Said that I must be doing something right, that I must be really close. He was right, though I had a hard time believing it that night, after the double-gut-punch of rejections. I just knew it was over. And when the next rejection came on 3/4, I started to give up. Here’s an excerpt:
Although there is much to recommend RYOJI (a fantastic premise, strong writing, and intriguing characters), I’m afraid that I didn’t quite fall in love with it as I would need to in order to take it on.
So much interest, but everyone passed for a completely different reason. It was impossible to come up with any single coherent thread here. The next rejection I got I won’t bother posting–it was a form rejection. On a full manuscript request. That’s when I decided to move on to another project. And so I did. I fielded one more full on RYOJI on 3/8, but I no longer had any expectations. I started working up a DUNE-inspired (though I hadn’t even read DUNE yet at the time!) YA gladiator princess space opera thing. Even started getting attached to it. But a little voice kept telling me to send more queries. Just a few more, what can it hurt? If it doesn’t find a home, oh well–I’d already decided to move on. And if it did find one? Great! Either way I only had to send a few more emails. So, after quite a bit of encouragement from my friends, I fired off a second round of queries on 3/15.
On 3/17 I got the full request from Rosemary Stimola. And, emotionally, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’d had so many other top-notch agents request the full only to gong it, that I could no longer get attached to a full request. I had, to use a phrase from the gaming world, “leveled up”. Before, a full request was an amazing thing, and was just one step away from Fortune and Glory! But now, after fielding so many that led nowhere, a full request meant little to me.
Three days later I got the offer of representation. I already wrote that story over here. Is there a moral to this story? I dunno. Maybe. Don’t give up? I’ve heard that people are most prone to giving up when they’re on the cusp of success. I believe there’s some truth to that now.
So now, I’ve got an agent, the edits are done, the end-of-year-death-gauntlet has run its course, and it’s time to settle in to RYOJI 2 while RYOJI 1 is out on submissions.
Oh, submissions. We’ll have a nice long chat about that whole process when it’s over with. Oh yes. If you’re still querying, and you think that phase of the Road to Publication is fraught with emotional turmoil, just you wait. Just. You. Wait.