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).
First of all, congratulations on the sale!
Thank you for this post. It's refreshing to know I'm not the only one who made excuses for an agent, passed along names of editors, played the waiting game, etc. I recently split with mine and am now armed with the knowledge that this is a relationship and should be treated as such.
How very brave of you to leave an agent who wasn't right for you.
I'm glad it was the right decision and it all worked out so well.
This is a fantastic post. I enjoy learning about writers processes.
Particularly, I'd like to know how many years of writing novels it took (or how many novels) before knowing you had the "one" that would even compell you to seek an agent.
Is it ever too late? Is it ever too late to have hope when you are older, anchored by a disliked job, and only starting and sifting through writing pieces/ideas?
Brodi Ashton says
Anon @10:20- I don't think it's ever too late. The book I sold was nowhere near my first book. That fist book is shoved in a drawer somewhere.
I didn't have very many more novels before I found "The One" (Which itself is sort of a crap shoot), mostly because I found it so difficult just to finish a darn book!
I do have plenty of false starts…
Wow! I never thought about what happens AFTER one gets an agent and writes the second book. Your story inspires me, especially being a former broadcast journalist myself. Way to find the right home for your book and CONGRATS on the publishing contract!!
Great post! I was hoping that this would be one of the winners.
Catherine Stine says
Good for you, girl!!!
Don't stick around if it doesn't feel right. And congrats on your sale!
Thank you, I needed this encouragement so much. I just parted ways with my agent and am on the hunt again. Admitting things aren't working out between you and an agent is not an easy thing to do.
Nicki Elson says
No way! I JUST finished up this conversation with a friend – except he and I were talking about romantic relationships (ala "If You're Gone" by Matchbox 20). I never thought about how that could apply to the agent/writer relationship, but it totally does! Gotta let 'em go when they're just not feeling it. You'll both be better off. And I'm so happy for you, Brodi, that it all worked out so well for you. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, Nathan.
Brodi – congratulations on your sale! That's wonderful. 🙂
I'm glad you parted ways with your first agent. He was sending you signals that he didn't want to work with you (I think once your first book didn't sell), and I think it's impressive that you had enough confidence in yourself to move quickly. Good for you!
Good luck with your debut!
I don't understand. Is this a relationship story, or a business story? An agent's job, as I've come to understand, is to help sell the book and get the best possible deal out of it. It sounds to me that he didn't want to do his job.
Kelly Bryson says
Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds really easy, painless, but I'm willing to bet it was a little harder than that in real life. Good job staring the problem down and getting on with your life. Congrats on your book deal!
Michelle Moran says
What a great (and inspiring) post 🙂
Thank you for this post. This sounds crazy, but it's actually encouraging to know that you had to go through 100 rejections and two agents before you could get a book published. But you preservered and you made it!!
Congratulations, you are an inspiration to us all and I can't wait to read your book.
BTW, do you have a blog by which we could follow your experiences and thoughts as you progress through this crazy process?
Terri Tiffany says
What a refreshing and inspiring post! I really enjoyed reading it and did wonder what would happen if the agent didn't like the following books. I am no where near 100 so I better get sending!
Jeannie Moon says
Wow, this happened to me. Almost exactly. (Meaning I haven't sold…yet.)
Good for you,for not giving up on yourself and jumping right back into the fray. It 's a great story.
Brodi Ashton says
Kelly- you're right- it most definitely wasn't easy or painless. Quite the opposite, especially when you have no idea how it's going to possibly be okay that you're agentless again.
But if I expanded on just how painful it was, this would be a very long post.
Layla- I do have a blog, where I post regularly: http://www.brodiashton.blogspot.com
This SPOKE to me. Except for the fact that I'm still clinging to my agent (like a desperate writer hanging from a crumbling cliff) and I don't have your happy ending (new agent, offer of publication), I could have written this post. My agent loved my "first" book (I have several manuscripts gathering virtual dust, too), but after she couldn't sell it, took forever "still reading" my second one. Then she unenthusiastically wondered if I might completely rewrite it? I said no, but I've got a great idea for another one! To which she replied, "send me chapters and an outline in case I'm not interested." The love is gone! :o(
Congrats on your sale. It sounds like a crazy ride, but you made the right decision to believe in your book. While I'm not where you are yet, I will certainly keep your story in mind — that passion from your agent is a must.
Thanks so much for sharing!
T. Anne says
Congrats Brodi! That had a much better ending than I anticipated. I'm thrilled things worked out so great for you! Sometimes the hard decision is the right one. Good for you for following your gut.
Julie Musil says
Brodi, breaking up with your agent took a lot of guts and I'm impressed. I'm so glad you found "the one," and that you're still friendly with your ex. Congratulations on the sale!
Stephanie Garber says
I just wanted to say thanks for that post! I always think that finding an agent is a lot like dating, but I had never thought about 'breaking up with an agent.'
I also loved the 100 rejections part! That was so encouraging to read, because it's easy to think that if you get that many no's you will never get a yes, but you did!
Great post and good luck with your book that just got picked up!
J. T. Shea says
Anonymous 11.05 AM, it's both, a relationship story AND a business story. They are inseparable in all businesses. The romance metaphor is much used by publishing commenters, and it seems appropriate. If I were an agent I would be more upfront in such situations, but I'm not an agent.
If your book is anything like this post (and I'd be willing to bet that it is…), I am SO pre-ordering! LOL You have a very refreshing and youthful voice that automatically drew my attention. Congrats on the sale!
Sorry, had some technical difficulties
What I had said was that I could have written this blog. I had a very similar experience. I got an agent, who submitted my book to about twelve publishers. All of them turned us down, though most of them were "good" rejections, saying that it had more to do with the market than the book. One even said she'd like to see more work.
My agent asked for book 2, which I'd been working on. I sent it to her when I finished it. And waited. After a few months, I e-mailed her and she told me to hang in there, she hadn't finished reading yet. I waited a few more months, e-mailed again and she said, "well, I'm having a hard time finishing it" Yikes! I e-mailed back and suggested that maybe I should look for someone else to represent the book. And she said "Yes, that's a good idea" Yikes again.
It's heartening to know that your story has a happy ending. I'm still looking for Mr/Ms right who will love my work and be near as passionate about it as I am.
Wow… and here I am feeling like all my confidence is drained after 18 rejections. I haven't queried since the last one, about two months ago. I'm thinking I should suck it up and get back on the horse… because I happen to think my book rocks, and this story makes think someone out there might eventually feel the same!
ryan field says
Taryn Tyler says
I think saying the writing business is subjective is just saying there's a lot of "intuition" or gut decisions involved in making things work. I'm glad you were brave enough to follow yours. 😀
Brodi – wow, I read some of your blog and how interesting. I wish I could "chat" with you. I'm struggling with even beginning. I have no background in writing at all, just a hope that some effort + faith + persistence will lead the way.
My trouble is that I have never fully completed anything. And I have no idea what my true voice is. I find outlines impossible. But when the words strike, I can write pages (or even 30,000+ words) and then it dies. Nothing. I'm trying to find key "organization" tips and ways to bring out my ideas so I don't spend my time in from the blank screen staring at a speck on the wall. You are very inspiring.
Brodi Ashton says
Anon 12:33- 18 rejections is nothing!
And in case anyone was wondering if I was rounding up, I wasn't. I reached just over 100 rejections.
It was sort of like a game. A masochistic game.
Rachel Fenton says
Congratulations, Brodi – your post alone had enough edge of the seat action to keep me reading; your book must be ace! What a decision to have to make – but make it you did. A very empowering post. Thanks.
Good story. I cried, I cried, I laughed, I cried. . .
Congratulations on finding that light at the end of the tunnel! I wish you the best of success!
Great post. Looking back, are you glad you never sold the other book because you feel like this will be a stronger debut? Do you still hope to eventually publish it?
Wow, way to persevere, and, a success story to top it off! But, you hit the nail on the head – the subjective nature of the art implies that not everybody is going to be jazzed by a work.
Brodi Ashton says
Alyosha- I definitely feel like this was the stronger debut, but that might be because the first one was rejected!
Hopefully someday, we'll be able to submit it again. For now, it's off even the backburner, and marinating in the fridge.
Fawn Neun says
You just can't feel bad about it. I walked into an agent with a novel with four publishing offers but she just wasn't in love.
What can you do? Move on.
Congrats on your sale. 🙂
Bartle 001 says
I find myself furious about this, and it's got nothing to do with me!
As he had already entered into contract to represent you, he should have told you in a timely fashion if he wasn't interested in your latest work. He had an obligation to give you his best efforts, and he didn't even try.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
Brodi, you sought passion in your agent, and you demonstrated courage in stepping out to find it. Your story is well-told, and I've placed a link to it in my free resources. Thanks.
Anonymous at 10:20 am: I sold the fourth novel I wrote; the average seems to be to sell the third or fourth novel that one writes. However, some people write many more than that before making a first sale. As for is it ever too late: that depends on whether you're still enjoying the writing. There's never a time when the publishers send goons to come and take your computer away from you :).
Brodi, Congrats on the sale, and on getting a new agent.
Your first guy may not've been that into you, but he doesn't sound like that great an agent. My last book got rejected by everyone, but my agent certainly got responses from everyone. If they didn't respond on their own, she nagged 'em till they did. That's what agents are for, on account us writers are too shy to follow editors down the street and tackle them.
Form rejections and no-responses, hell, we can get those on our own :).
Karen Schwabach says
Anonymous at 1:06 pm– google the Ingermanson Snowflake. I think you may find it helpful.
Thank you for this awesome post, Brodi. It's such a great description of reality: even when things go wrong, it often opens up the opportunity for something new to go right. Best of luck with your series and congrats on the sale!!
Br-r-r-rilliant post! Thank you, Brodi! Still chuckling. And thanks for the great insights on agents. I'm glad you've met your soul agent now. Inspired by your post, could a new reality TV show spring forth with shades of The Bachelor and overtones of The Rejectionist?
Kathy Bennett says
As someone who is currently searching for an agent, I found your story bittersweet and a little frightening.
I commend you for your bravery to take such a big step – some might say backwards. Obviously, it was the right choice.
Congrats on the sale and a very insightful post.
Marian Pearson Stevens says
Great post Brodi!
How brave of you to follow your gut instinct and part ways when you'd worked so hard to get there. And you're right . . . if they don't love it . . . Very happy it worked out for you. Congrats on the sale!
Brodi Ashton says
Thanks for the comments y'all.
Wendy- I think that's a great idea. Now, who do we know in Hollywood? And will it involve mud-wrestling? (Don't all the good reality shows involve mud-wrestling?)
Congratulations, Brodi! What a wonderful post.
Anita Saxena says
Thank you for sharing your journey. That took some guts to leave your first agent. Your post sheds light not only about the importance of passion for a project (for the agent and writer) but also the subjectivity of the business. I won't take those rejections to heart.
sue harrison says
I appreciate this post so much, although it made me a little sick to my stomach, because I think I'm in the same situation – an agent who really doesn't want to read the "revised version." At least I'm going to be a little better prepared for bad news, and hopeful for some good news someday.
Martha Ramirez says
This was an awesome post! And I am so happy to hear you sold it!! Congrats!! Yay.
Awesome post – thanks for the inspiration and the chuckle.