By Brodi Ashton
In 2008, with my first finished manuscript in hand, I was ready to query. To find that special someone who would take my story to the top. You know, to find THE ONE.
My sister-in-law (also a writer) devised a contest: first person to reach 100 rejections wins. We crafted our queries, did our research, and by the end of four months I won the race. I’d received 100 rejections. But I also won an agent. Everything’s downhill from there, right?
The agent submitted my book and after three months, we had 2 positive rejections (you know, the kind where they’re all, “I like it, but how would I sell it?”) and about 7 no-responses. Not the reaction we had expected.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t going to be one of those writers who put all of her flowers in one bouquet. I decided to write another book, so that when we had exhausted all possible avenues for book #1, I’d have something ready to go. My 13-year old niece read Book #2 in 24 hours; that had to be a good sign, right? (side note: warranted use of semi-colon, check.)
With your first book, you’re guaranteed the agent loves it, because he/she offered representation on it. But with your second, you never know. I gave my agent book #2 in January 2010. Three and a half months later, he was “still reading.”
Just like a clueless girlfriend, I made excuses for him. So what if my niece had taken 24 hours to read it? She’s really fast. So what if this second book was 20,000 words shorter than my first? I probably used bigger words. The story makes the reader want to savor it, not finish it. He probably doesn’t want it to end. (Agreed, that was the stupidest excuse.)
Determined to be proactive, I sent him a list of editors who had mentioned on blogs that they were looking for my type of book.
He responded with a resounding, “Um, let’s talk on the phone.”
That did not sound good. I’m sure you all know how frakkin’ hard it is to get an agent in the first place. My family and friends knew. Their advice before the dreaded phone call was, “Say what you have to say to keep him.”
But here’s what only a phone call could show: the passion was gone. He liked book #2 okay, but he didn’t love it. It was polished, but it wouldn’t make a splash. It didn’t need that much work as far as revisions went, but he probably couldn’t get to it for a few months. Maybe after the holidays. (That would’ve been 9 months later).
So, he wasn’t going to dump me. I could’ve kept him. But one thing was perfectly clear: there was no way he would be able to muster the passion necessary to make a sale, especially a debut sale, especially in today’s tight market. It wasn’t his fault. This business is subjective.
I knew we couldn’t go on like that. But was I really ready to dive into the query pool again? Could I face a hundred new rejections? Would I really be stupid enough to leave an agent? LEAVE an agent?
But the passion was gone. There was no way around it. He just wasn’t that into me anymore. As our phone conversation started wrapping up, I blurted out that this wasn’t going to work. He didn’t put up a fight, and we parted ways amicably.
I started querying the next day. (Yeah, I had a query written. I’m sort of a cup-half-empty type person.) Within a month, I had nine offers from wonderful agents who were passionate about book #2. And three weeks ago, I sold my debut trilogy to Balzer and Bray, Harper Collins in a pre-empt, after 48 hours on submission. All of this happened five months before my first agent would’ve even submitted it.
I don’t blame agent #1 for not loving my book, just as I don’t blame my high school boyfriend, who fell in love with someone else right before the Christmas Dance. (I totally blame the other girl, though, but I digress).
Point is, even though it hurts, you can’t help who you fall in love with. A book (or boy) can look great on paper, but if the passion isn’t there, or the passion is one-sided, the relationship won’t work. I’m still friends with my first agent, and I admit I learned so much from him. But I would rather be in the query pool, collecting a thousand rejections, than be with an agent whose reaction to my book was, “Meh.”
Unrequited love. Sometimes it hurts so good.
p.s. I’m still getting rejections from agents I queried. I might reach 100 again.
Brodi Ashton’s time as a television reporter in a small Idaho town inspired her to write her first Young Adult novel. Since then, she has traded a career behind the camera for her dream of living in sweats and inhaling caffeine while creating stories for teens. Her first book EVERNEATH comes out 2012 from Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins).