In December, I did reruns on my personal blog (http://lisa-schroeder.blogspot.com/) and took a look back at those days before I had an agent and before I had published any novels.
I think it's good to take a look back now and then. Sometimes we feel stuck, like we're not going anywhere, but often, if we look back, we realize we've actually come a long way. It can give us a new appreciation for the road we're currently on, and perhaps allow us to feel more hopeful about where we're going.
So I went back to the year 2006, and pulled up some of the posts from when I was looking for an agent, including some of the posts I had locked at that time (a handy livejournal feature), so only select individuals could see me talking about my frustration around rejections.
It was a bit strange to look back to that time – that time when I wondered if I would ever land a good agent and if I would ever have a novel on the shelves of bookstores. And now, three years later, I think about what I would have told myself if I knew what I know now. I certainly did some things right, but I think there are some things I could have done differently, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here.
What I’d do differently:
1) I would have understood better that so much of this business simply comes down to personal tastes and timing. I had a couple of particularly harsh rejections from good agents, but now I understand my book JUST WASN’T THEIR THING. I almost gave up because of one of those rejections, and what if I’d done that? Horrors!!
2) I would have spent more time working on my query letters and more specifically, the crucial paragraph that describes the book. I now understand just how important this is. All the other stuff we sweat – what font to use, how much to include about us personally, etc. – none of it really matters that much. But the paragraph that describes your book? It matters. A lot!
3) I would have invested more time and money on the craft of writing. We get so caught up sometimes in the goal of being published, we forget that it all comes down to the one thing we DO have in our control, and that’s writing the best book we can. I sort of learned the hard way, through trial and error, by writing book after book after book. A writing course or two probably would have helped me a lot.
4) When I came up with ideas for stories, I would have made sure I could describe it REALLY well in one sentence before I ever started writing the thing. I firmly believe now that a book needs to easily be described in a sentence or two and it should make someone’s eyes go big and wide and say, “Wow, that sounds awesome!”
What I think I did right:
1) I kept writing. As soon as I started to query and submit, I began working on something new. You can drive yourself crazy waiting for responses. Continuing to write helps with the waiting!
2) I did my research. I knew what agents might be a good fit for me, for the most part. I made the most of resources on-line like www.agentquery.net and www.publishersmarketplace.com. The first is a free resource, the second has a monthly fee, BUT, I’d subscribe once every six months for just a month, and do the necessary research on what’s selling and what agent names came up a lot, and then I’d unsubscribe when the month was over.
3) I networked with other authors on-line, via blogs, writing communities like verlakay.com/boards, SCBWI, etc.
4) I didn’t whine publicly about the rejections. You never know who might be reading, so it’s important to keep that frustration under control and ALWAYS be professional. Have writer friends you can vent to, or set up a special locked livejournal account for friends to read only.
5) I didn’t give up, even though there were days I wanted to. Sure, there were times when I took a few days off and stepped away for awhile. We all need breaks from time to time! Still, I always came back. Some projects where shelved, which was definitely the right thing. But I’d work hard on getting a new project polished and then I’d begin the agent hunt again.
I still remember the day Sara contacted me via e-mail letting me know she liked my book, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. I’d been searching for an agent on and off for two years, on various projects. When I got the e-mail, wanting to set up a time to talk, I stood up and got out of my chair, clutching my hands to my chest. The receptionist in the cube next to me thought I was ill or having a heart attack. I said, “No, but I think I might have finally found an agent!”
As I celebrate the release of my third young adult novel, CHASING BROOKLYN, this month, I can truthfully say I’m now thankful for all those previous rejections. They all lead me here, right where I belong.
Wishing you all a happy and successful 2010!