This story has a happy ending; I promise (spoiler alert! a BOOK DEAL). First, though, the inevitable backstory.
In February of 2015 I got my agent. I wrote my post about “The Call” and secretly planned my imminent book launch party. My agent offered on the second book I’d written. I already had a third ready to go. I was ON MY WAY.
I was on my way until I wasn’t. That second book went on sub and I kept writing. I always kept writing; at the rate of about two fully-edited manuscripts a year. I’d have a huge backlist to offer my publisher when—back then it was always “when”—they offered me a contract.
Within days after I went on sub, the rejections started to roll in. My writing was beautiful, they said. The characters were well-developed. The dialogue was snappy. The concepts were intriguing. Most of the rejections were downright mushy, until I reached the “unfortunately” that heralded the thing they all tended to say: We can’t figure out where to shelve this. We don’t know how to market this. We don’t have a vision for a book in this space.
In other words, my genre is fuzzy.
Genre—science fiction, historical romance, fantasy, true crime—helps booksellers to know which shelf to put a book on. It helps publishers know what type of cover to put on it. It helps readers to make quick decisions in bookstores based on other books they’ve enjoyed.
My genre is fuzzy. In theory, I write women’s fiction and young adult books, always with romance and kissing (at least). Easy, right? Nope. My young adult books venture a little outside straightforward romance and into topical. My women’s fiction books veer sharply into domestic suspense, mystery, and contemporary romance, and sometimes all three. They don’t go neatly into a box.
I kept writing and my agent, the brilliant Sarah Younger, kept submitting my manuscripts to editors. The rejections kept rolling in — almost all with the same complaints. In all, we submitted six different manuscripts to editors at publishing houses large and small. I came close, a number of times. Several editors advised they’d asked other editors to read, before they got to the “unfortunately.” Twice an editor offered to edit the manuscript and allow me to resubmit the revised version in the hopes it would pass a marketing team the second time. It never worked. At least three times I was told my manuscript had made it all the way to the Super Important Person Called The Publisher. Nothing.
My genre was still fuzzy.
Three years passed this way. With every rejection, I died inside a little bit more. My writing slowed to a crawl. "When" became a very decided "If." I thought about quitting. I made plans to quit. I’d been happy before I started writing. Every time I got serious about walking away, my husband and my friends—ones I met on this journey—begged me to keep trying a little longer. Sarah told me she would never give up on me. I kept writing. I kept reading rejections — over seventy-five in all, over a period of three years.
It’s hard to believe in yourself when the evidence is pointing the wrong direction. I knew I could write. I knew I had the ability to put sentences together, to create memorable characters, to place it all in a world that felt real. All my life I’d been a voracious reader, and I started off with the idea that I could add one book back to the feast I’d been gorging on for so many years.
In January 2018, Sarah sent my sixth manuscript (out of eight in total I’d written) to Bella Rosa Books, and within a day, the editor contacted Sarah to let her know more about their publishing model. They might be interested. It would take two more months to hear the words I’d been waiting for.
They, unlike the bigger publishing names you might have heard more about, were willing to take a chance on my book. LYING BENEATH THE OAKS, a Southern-set women’s fiction story with elements of romance, suspense, and mystery, bled over the genre boundaries as much or even more than any of the others, but BR saw a market for a story like that.
This is all to say that if you have been struggling, wondering whether your two years on sub or your three unsold books mean that you should quit, you shouldn’t. I’m delighted to answer any questions, but the stats don’t lie:
Hang in there. Reach out to me for support. I’ve been there. I’ve been there for a long, long time. I know the temptation of closing that laptop cover for the last time.
HANG IN THERE.