I’m just about to head to NYC for a week and I’m very excited to go back. I’m meeting with some editors, my wonderful agent Michelle Andelman, interviewing the amazing Shelby Knox, seeing friends and family, and stuffing myself silly with great New York food (pizza, bagels, black-and-white cookies).
As a writer, I’ve handled my fair share of rejections. I even kept a folder with rejection letters. Then one day I decided to throw the folder out because it was not a good idea to hold onto that much rejection. What was I going to do with them? Make wallpaper out of them? No. So I tossed them.
A few months ago I wrote about rejections and writing (see here). I wrote about how I had been pitching Bust magazine since 2007 and had not yet sold another story to them. Well, the streak is broken, three years later! I just sold them a short article on Shelby Knox (read more about her on her blog), a young feminist who at 15 years old was advocating for sex education in her hometown of Lubbock, Texas. I’ve been fascinated by Shelby ever since I saw her in the documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox. I’m honored to interview her and write again for Bust magazine.
So tenacity is my best friend whether it takes three years, or ten years. It gets me through a stack of rejection letters. It pushes me to keep writing even when it seems like the odds are against me. Thanks to my Twitter friend, @taradublinrocks, for reminding me of that great word that keeps all great writers going: tenacity.
Last night I saw Avatar. I went in thinking this could be interesting and walked out thinking, AMAZING. James Cameron spent 15 years writing and working on Avatar and waiting for technology to catch up with what he really wanted to achieve with a movie of this magnitude.
I’ve spent the past 10 years working on Sissy. By no means am I comparing myself to James Cameron. That would be ridiculous. Terminator 2 still boggles my mind. But his 15 year endeavor makes my 10 year project not so foolish anymore. There were definitely times I wanted to never look at this manuscript ever again.
But Avatar has inspired me to remember the road I took to get here with Sissy so that whenever I think, “This book is taking forever,” I can instead think how an amazing movie like Avatar took the length of a teenager’s life to create. I hope this helps other writers to understand that some projects stay with you, even when you want them to go away. It’s your story to tell, no matter how long it takes.
- 1998. My sophomore year at NYU, living in University Hall, one of my roommates gets prank phone calls where the caller just says, “She used to call me sissy.” Then hangs up.
- I take one NYU short story class at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I wrote a 10-page short story using that quote, “She used to call me sissy,” as my opening line. It was about a younger brother who gets rough housed by his older sister who eventually runs away to New York City. He goes to find her.
- As an intern at the Flea Theater, my supervisor Lizzie Simon (a true genius) asked me to bring some writing and I gave her Sissy. She organized a radio reading on a Columbia radio station she hosted with actors from the Flea. I was 19 at the time. Still have the radio recording on a cassette tape.
- In my fifth year at NYU to get my MFA (2001), I read about Random House Delacorte Press’ Young Adult Novel Contest. I decided to finish my then 20-page short story and submit the book.
- I get a phone message from an associate editor at Random House. She is interested in talking to me about Sissy. I am 23.
- The associate editor tells me they are interested in possibly publishing Sissy after rewrites based on her notes. She tells me to spend 3-4 months working on rewrites, specifically making my 3 narrative voices more distinct. I take 2 weeks to rewrite. The manuscript is ultimately rejected. I cry my eyes out.
- My then-boyfriend, now husband’s manager is looking for a young adult novel to adapt into a movie. I email her Sissy. She calls me with notes like, “You have to think what would Hilary Duff do,” and “No one will ever buy this book.” I was 25, naive, and believed her. I cried so much I had to call in sick to work.
- Sissy sits in my desk drawer untouched. Forgotten about for several years. Like a relationship that went south, I blame myself.
- 2009. Living in LA instead of New York. I organize my best friend’s bridal shower book. Email her group of friends, one of whom is a literary agent and graduated from NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing as well. She emails me that she started at a new agency and is looking for new clients. She remembers I had a YA novel. Could she read it? I warn her that it’s not that great and that it had a remote possibility of getting published but ultimately had gotten turned down.
- I send her the manuscript. She sets up a phone call to discuss. She loves the book and wants to sign me. I say YES.
- April 2009, weeks before my 30th birthday, I sign a contract with the Lynn C. Franklin agency and Michelle Andelman is officially my agent.
- April-December 2009: rewrites and phone calls with Michelle. Lots of great notes, encouragement, difficult decisions, many nights writing after work and on the weekends, and tons of new pages.
- 2010… hope to finish a polished draft and submit to publishing houses. Michelle is positive.
Fellow agent sisters of mine (all repped by Michelle Andelman) had contacted me about Agent Appreciation Day — a whole slew of authors blogging about how great their agents are. Lisa & Laura compiled the list of participating authors and we all blogged and tweeted our hearts out. The best is one of my favorite blogs, GalleyCat, posted a nice write up about it all!
From The GalleyCat post, Happy Unofficial Agent Appreciation Day:
Eighteen-year-old novelist Kody Keplingerdeclared today Unofficial Agent Appreciation Day, and GalleyCat thought her loving tribute to her agent–along with the online mobilization of other authors–deserved a Friday afternoon post.
I was so excited to be part of a huge list of women authors with great agents. Thanks to Lisa & Laura for compiling everything together!
There has been a flurry of discussion about if literary agents are really necessary in the digital publishing revolution. About a month ago, one of my favorite blogs, GalleyCat posted a blog entry titled, Literary Agents, bah! Who needs them?. The post went on to quote one published unnamed author who said:
”What do you need an agent for anymore, really? Why? To negotiate a meager advance? You can’t get them on the phone anyway. You’re stuck promoting the book yourself because publishers don’t put any marketing dollars into your book unless you’re John Grisham. I don’t see the whole point when I can hire an attorney to negotiate my publishing contract for a flat fee or just upload the book to Kindle myself.”
Quick to respond, Miriam Goderich of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management responded in their blog to the GalleyCat post by stating: “Who needs an agent? You do.” In her well-respected blog she also mentioned: “every serious author needs an agent. Not just any agent, of course. You need a good agent. One who is an advocate, who is willing to fight for you and who is able to tell you when you’re being unreasonable and doing your career more harm than good.”
For many years I never had an agent. I never tried to get an agent. I didn’t think I needed an agent. I wrote plays, short stories, and one young adult novel. Currently I write magazine articles—and no, I don’t have an agent for that. Back in March 2009, I emailed my agent Michelle Andelman, who is a friend of a friend, about my friend Celena’s bridal shower. She wrote back that she was looking for new clients at her new agency, Lynn C. Franklin Associates, Ltd. and knew that I had written a YA novel and could she see it. I sent her the manuscript and lo and behold she was interested. And since I signed with her in April 2009, I’ve been steadily working on revisions of my YA novel, Sissy, that I wrote 10 years back.
Here’s what I’ve learned while working with Michelle:
- When she sent me her sales list, the books she sold were books I wanted to read. That’s when I knew it was a good match.
- She knows her market. She knows what’s selling and what audience my book is geared towards. I’m not privvy to the YA world (not yet anyway) and she knows what’s out there, what’s hot, and what publishing houses are looking for.
- She already has editors in mind for my book. I’m not even done yet with the book.
- Her notes are the best. My book originally had 3 narrators. She told me upfront that one of the narrators was not working. I didn’t want to cut it but I decided to try it. It was the best decision for the book. The other narrators’ voices took off and the narrator I cut — he got way more interesting!
- She gets my book. There’s no fake, “It’s the best book ever.” It’s real. ”This is what’s really working and what I love and here’s what’s not.” As a working writer, I need someone to be honest, supportive, but real. And thanks to Michelle’s insight, this book has grown leaps and bounds.
Thank you Michelle for making my book rock. This is a true team effort!
I’m sure there are authors out there without an agent and who are doing just fine, but I have to say, in the discussion of agent or no agent, I am damn happy I have one of the best ones out there.
On Friday, I had a good conversation with my agent Michelle Andelman about my rough draft of my YA novel, Sissy. I had finished the rewrites and had written an ending. But as most writers know, that doesn’t mean it’s over quite yet. Michelle was right to point out that the ending needed more “ugly things to happen to my characters.” It’s true. I wrote a completely happy ending. And truthfully, being a teenager in love with the wrong guy usually doesn’t have a happy ending. Michelle always gives me her honest opinion and most of the time she’s right. I have to disappoint my characters and let them mess up.
I’m spending November and December in Rewrite Land, working on the end, the beginning and everything in between. My hope is to finish a nice polished version by mid-January for Michelle’s feedback.
Here’s to rewriting!