I'm now 37, and I started writing my first book when I was 19. I've completed seven manuscripts. I have received about 500 rejections, 15 full manuscript requests, and 3 extensive R&Rs after which the agent declined to represent. It has been a really long road, but the truth is that my earlier writing was just not ready for publication.
I've recently been agented, and some of my writing friends have asked me to share the story of how that happened. I honestly have a hard time believing anyone is interested in my journey, but I'm being told that this is a thing people do and that it's helpful for other writers. So, all right, here's what happened.
I wrote my first book when I was 19. It was really, really bad. I tried to publish it and was immediately discouraged by the rejection machine that is the path to publication. I quit writing books for awhile.
I had to pick it up again in my late 20s. You know how it is. It pesters you. There was this teenage character named Paloma, a survivor of sexual abuse, and she haunted me. She sat on my shoulder until I agreed to write a book about her. I wrote three YA Suspense books about her, actually, each one longer-winded and more chaotically un-plotted than the last. I sent out a bunch of queries. I got a bunch of rejections.
Back to the drawing board. I thought part of my problem may be that the Paloma books were too long and that it would be too hard to sell a trilogy as a debut author. I wrote a new stand-alone Paloma book, and this time it was kind of structured, but I hadn't done any disciplined research or practice in this area.
I got a lot of interest from agents, a few full manuscript requests, and even a few R&Rs (revise and resubmit). I worked with an agent and his assistant for a while on two different drafts. Ultimately, they didn't think they could sell the book, and they ended up passing.
At this point, I had completed four books, plus the one I wrote ten years earlier. So five books, a few hundred rejections, and no agent.
I launched into a new project, this one an adult Dystopian novel about a suicidal woman who searches for the murderer of her infant son; another cheerful piece. Before drafting it, I did a key thing. I took all the feedback I'd gotten from agents and I put it to work. They'd all said the same thing: I had a great voice, but I needed to work on structure. I got some books (Save the Cat is my Bible) and I used a beat sheet for the outline of the novel.
The book came way faster and was much cleaner. Unfortunately, by the time I finished it, the market was flooded with Dystopian. I bathed myself in the waters of rejection.
I'll be honest. I was frustrated and full of despair. Everyone around me kept telling me to self-publish the work I already had completed. That's a good path for a lot of people, but I'm the shittiest marketer ever. I knew my stuff would just get buried alive in the archives of Amazon. It felt like a waste of my time and energy.
This next project was the darkest yet. I gave myself full license to pull off the gloves and dive into something "extra murdery" (my agent's term). This book was about a young man who, having spent a few years locked in a psychiatric prison, is released and spends all his time haunting the local theme park.
Now I had my flow. I knew just where the beats needed to fall. No rabbit trails. I finished the first draft quickly, revised it, and send it off to beta readers. It went through two beta reads and four drafts, and I entered it into Pitch Wars.
I didn't win. I began sending out queries. I got a few full requests and a lot of crickets.
Then, one day it happened. I got an email. An agent I really liked (she has a great personality, a strong editorial background and is herself a writer) asked for a phone call. She offered representation for this project and we started on a final round of revisions. [I'm actually supposed to be working on those right now...can she see me? Hi Lauren. I'm working on the last chapter! I promise!]
Signing that contract was one of the most surreal moments of my adult life. I took my daughter to McDonald's before school because I wanted her to remember the moment as a happy one, and I sat there and signed the thing. It's not a book deal and certainly isn't a guarantee, but it is forward motion, which is a wonderful feeling. I am so excited for the future and so happy with my new normal. This Saturday morning, I was stuck on a chapter in this final rewrite and my agent called to brainstorm with me. She's just the best! I feel very lucky and undeserving, and I keep waiting to wake up and find that this is somehow not real. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!