Alternate title: On Never Giving Up, But Maybe Moving On.
Alternate alternate title: Why You Should Write The Book Of Your Heart.
Four years ago, I started writing a book. I’d been writing fiction regularly for a decade at that point, though only actually finished one (never to be read) MS before. So I started something new, and it took me two years, but I plowed through and finished the first draft. After that I spent a year on revisions. I did everything right–I found other writers to swap work with, I work-shopped my first chapter, I learned to write and rewrite (and rewrite again) a query letter. When I’d finished and had something I was really proud of, I entered Pitch Wars 2015.
The experience of entering Pitch Wars was amazing. I got connected with so many incredible writers who I remain in contact with today. I found my incomparably fantastic CPs (hi Jen! hi Joanna!), one directly and one indirectly, through Pitch Wars. And waiting to hear back from the mentors I’d submitted to was great practice for querying.
I didn’t have long to wait. Soon, I had three mentor requests come in. One mentor in particular read my full and let me know she was deliberating between my book and only one other. I waited until Reveal Day and…
Didn’t make it into Pitch Wars 2015.
However, Sarah Marsh, the brilliant mentor who’d been considering my work, sent me an email letting me know that while she loved my story, the changes she thought it needed would likely take longer than the Pitch Wars window to implement. The thing is, she saw so much potential in my story, and is so generous and awesome (you can buy her debut novel here or follow her on Twitter here) that while I wasn’t chosen as her mentee, she still sent me a full set of revision notes, and helped me with the entire revision process, for both my MS and my query.
Sarah, you are my significantly more attractive Yoda.
By the beginning of 2016, I’d torn my book apart and almost completely rewritten it. The story was faster-paced, the characters were better developed, and I was ready to query. So I sent out those first tentative queries.
And I got requests.
I had a pretty reasonable request rate, and received a lot of kind feedback from agents, but they all told me the same thing. They loved the actual writing, and my characters, but didn’t think my story line was original enough to compete in such a competitive market. Business is booming in YA Fantasy, after all.
I kept doggedly querying, but because I’ve always been the kid who does all her homework, I started a new MS. That is, after all, what you’re supposed to do. I had an idea, sparked by an editor’s MSWL post, and it took hold of my heart. I didn’t know if it was saleable, didn’t know if anyone would love it but me, and thought the format I was using might be a little too Out There. However, Sarah, the aforementioned attractive Yoda, advised me to write what I want to write and not worry about the end result. I took her advice, and I wrote the Book of My Heart.
I’d nearly finished the first draft when I got an R&R on the other MS I was querying.
So, I set Book of My Heart aside, and went back to work on MS1. I tore it apart again, and put it back together. Then I returned it to the agent who’d made the suggestions, and sent a few new queries to others. I got requests, again. I got the same feedback, again. “We love it, but it doesn’t stand out.” As a last ditch effort, I entered that MS in Pitch Wars again.
Second verse, same as the first. I had lots of mentor interest, just not quite enough.
While that feedback was coming in, I finished Book of My Heart. It poured out of me in a matter of months, and revisions went equally quickly. I sent it to CPs, who adored it. And finally, I decided it was time.
By this point, I’d been working on MS1 for four years. It had gone through 18 drafts, including all the minor tweaks, and two MAJOR revisions. It had been through Pitch Wars twice, and been seen by all kinds of wonderful agents. The feedback it had garnered wasn’t completely negative, but it just wasn’t there yet, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how to change it in such a way that it would stand out more amongst its competitors.
Reluctantly, I withdrew outstanding queries on MS1, which I’d spent years, time, and so much energy on. I did so to clear the slate before I started querying weird, wistful, maybe unsaleable Book of My Heart instead.
With a fair bit of trepidation, I sent out my first round of queries for Book of My Heart. When I received requests, I tried not to get my hopes up. I’d had requests come in before, only to be disappointed.
Ten days after sending out my initial batch of queries, I received an offer.
I ended up fielding multiple offers on that book I love so fiercely but had been so unsure about, and in the end, I signed with Lauren Spieller from Triada US, who is smart, determined, energetic, and also loves my odd little book. I’ve never heard of an agent working quite as hard as Lauren did to convince me to choose her, and I’m over the moon that we’re now working together!
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t decided it was time to set aside that first MS and focus on something new. It can be a wrench to take a break from something you love and have worked so hard on, but there’s more than one story in you. There’s a vast well of them, and each one will only be stronger for the experience you had writing the one before. Never stop telling yourself “if not this book, then another.”
PS: Book of My Heart, which I queried with such uncertainty, spent less than 24 hours on submission before going to auction. In Fall 2018, you’ll be able to read it under the title The Vanishing Kingdom, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you all.