So here is the story of how I got my book deal.
It was a beautiful early Spring day in Wisconsin. I had returned from running a few errands, and I was psyched by these new suede boots I had bought down at the GW. With a few minutes to kill before picking up the munchkins, I made a cup of tea and settled in to do a few revisions on my YA manuscript. After doing the obligatory surf through facebook, twitter, I went to check my email.
For an author querying, there are two relationships she generally has with her email: stalking and ignoring. I was well in the ignoring phase at this point. I had queried THE LAST AISLING to about 40 agents. Not much in the scheme of things, but it had felt like enough to me. I had received a few full requests with some helpful feedback and insight into the problems with my book, and a few agents even took the time to send me really kind “not for me” emails, encouraging me to send them my next projects.
When things started to go south, I locked up THE LAST AISLING for a while, figuring I needed time and distance to understand how to revise it so it would have a wider appeal. I’ve written three other novels since this one, but I love this novel in the special way you might love a first child. You see in that child all your mistakes, your successes, your insecurities and fears. You see the journey you took to become a mother, a grown up. Every time I open up this manuscript, I see every draft, every night I cried over my keyboard not sure how to go on, just knowing I had to. I didn’t have a choice.
But the practical side of me knew that I couldn’t continue to pander my book to every agent in the universe. The rejection of this manuscript was affecting my mental health, and I sank into the twisty dark place, checking my email obsessively, revising compulsively. I didn’t like this person I became, so I shut it down. Took a break. Made a pact to myself that I would put the book on a shelf for a year, and in the meantime I would focus on other books, other projects.
I started a YA SFF that’s sort of like a Star Wars meets Gladiator, and when I let that rest, I wrote a historical romance set on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars. In other words, I had fun. I read a lot, did a lot of crit for my CPs, developed confidence in my storytelling abilities, spent a lot of time on twitter talking with other writers, and I wrote and wrote and wrote.
So when I opened my email in March, the sun pouring through the windows, green tea in hand, I was feeling good. Great, even. I saw the title of my book in all caps and laughed.
“Oh, here we go,” I thought. “Another rejection.”
I looked at the name and vaguely remembered submitting to Suzanne Evans, an editor from Entangled Publishing, on a whim sometime in the darkness of winter. I had been trolling #mswl, which is a twitter hashtag party where agents and editors tweet about what they’re interested in acquiring. I didn’t see much out there for me that day, but then I stumbled on Suzanne’ tweets expressing her interest in acquiring paranormal romance for Entangled, but no vampires or werewolves.
If you know anything about publishing, you’ll know the days of Twilight and Sookie are over. The market is flooded with every kind of vampire, shapeshifter, faerie, witch, demon, angel you can possibly imagine, and the word on the street is para-romance is a hard sell right now. The fact that anyone might want my little fae book made me pause, but I had reservations. For one, I had already resigned myself to shelving the manuscript. Even with all the work I had done since my last rejection, I was scared of blowing it with an editor, especially an editor who worked for Entangled. Secondly, and most importantly, I had a few loose queries out to agents even then, and subbing to agents and editors at the same time is a bit of a no-no in the business. But I shrugged and figured that I had never gotten anywhere in life by playing by other people’s rules. I’ll do what I want. Nothing else was working. so why not this?
The email started out like these emails usually do, “Thank you for sending us your manuscript…”
I looked for the but.
but this isn’t for me…
but I wish you all the best in your writing career…
But the but never came. The email went on to say how much she loves the book and these characters, how she wants to bring it to acquisitions, and would I please provide a synopsis and a brief outline, and…
“Oh, my God,” I whispered.
I read the email again. I read it ten times.
And then I screamed. I jumped up. I ran around the room. I danced. I spilled my tea. I called my husband and asked him to read it again to make sure it was real. It was real. THE LAST AISLING was going to acquisitions.
I ended up doing an R&R (a revise and resubmit) with Suzanne, and through that process, her passion for my novel became clear. She provided me with copious notes, and I could tell from every exchange how far she would go to champion my book, my world, my Elizabeth, my Finn. She told me how she had never been more hooked by two characters before and how badly she wanted to know what happened to them. Her words mirrored my own desire to tell this story, not just with this one book, but beyond into a potential series. Even in our tertiary discussions, I felt she understood my characters on a fundamental level and knew what my writing needed to allow this story to shine.
Querying is so much like dating. You dress up your manuscript, hoping no one will notice those messy plot holes, that story line you never quite resolved. You do what you can with the little hot mess that is your soul and then throw it out into the world, hoping someone will want to buy you dinner, or just pizza and netflix, no big deal. Or hell, I’ll pay for everything just LOVE ME. The desperation creeps into your heart like a cancer, infecting everything, and even though you know it’s not personal, rejection feels awful. It hurts. It physically hurts.
But after working with Suzanne, I realize now what a gift it is to have someone who is 100% team Colleen, who wants to see my story in print, who loves my writing and believes in what it could be. Meeting Suzanne feels so incredibly random. What if I hadn’t been on twitter that day? What if I decided not to sub to her? My instinct told me to do it, but my instinct is also telling me to eat the Costco size bag of Oreos in my pantry.
Oreos be damned, this time I guess I got it right.
But as random as it might seem, the truth is, I was ready to meet Suzanne. I had honed my query, cut thousands of words from my bloated novel. I had trimmed it, polished it, made it the best novel it possibly could be. There is a lot about this business that feels like luck, that it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. But it’s also about being ready for when the moment hits.
I told my hairdresser about my book deal and how ironic it was that I found Suzanne the minute I had made peace with the fact that THE LAST AISLING may not make it, or at least not make it right now.
“You gave it up to God,” she said.
I think she’s right about that. Buddhists call this state Dharmakāya. It literally means “truth body” or “reality body.” It’s the state where you see the world without limitations or lines, when you see it for what it is, not what you want it to be. When I was in Ireland, I hitchhiked out to this Buddhist temple on the Beara Peninsula and spent a few days meditating, hiking, drinking tea and eating cookies. Buddhists love cookies. One afternoon, in lieu of a dharma talk, we watched a short video featuring Sogyal Rinpoche. This funny little man kept repeating how we needed to give up hope and fear, how these things are interchangeable, how these things are the sources of our suffering.
I remember thinking to myself, “Give up hope and fear? I like my hope and fear! Hope and fear brought me to this Buddhist temple. It brought me to Ireland in the first place! Hope and fear drive me!” But now, 10 years later, I feel like I almost understand what Rinpoche was saying. I can keep my hope and fear. Of course I can. I hope I get on the New York Times Bestseller list. I’m afraid that no one but my mom will buy my book. I have these feeling inside me.
But they don’t have to rule me.
The minute I let go of my novel, when I decided to pursue my passion of writing over my desire to be published, the impossible happened. The twisty roller coaster of hope and fear released me, threw me up into the air, allowed me to expand and grow. Instead of the constant cycle of rise and fall, expectations and disappointment, I found love. Love for writing, for words, for story.