Relatable: (adj.) that someone can understand or feel
I’m one of the three or four women in America who has never watched an episode of TV’s “The Bachelor.” But the other night, while randomly thumbing the remote, I landed on the show’s season finale.
With time to spare at the end of the show, the host proposed (pun intended) that the woman chosen as next season’s bachelorette offer a red rose to one of five new bachelors. An “I like you the best at first blush” gesture. By the audience’s gasps and giggles, I guessed it was an unprecedented, slightly scandalous move.
One at a time, the bachelors approached the gorgeous bachelorette, Hannah, and gave her their personal “pitches.”
Then Hannah made her selection: the guy, who in only thirty seconds had captured her eye, sent her heart a-flutter, and piqued her interest, the dapper Cam.
Cam was polished. He had done his homework, personalized his pitch. He’d performed a ten-second rap he’d written for Hannah, tacking a reference to her Alabama alma mater onto the end: “Roll Tide!”
The guy risked making a fool of himself on national TV.
And it worked.
Hannah understood; Hannah sympathized. “How you pumped up your jams,” breathed the giddy bachelorette, “that was awesome.” Cam gave her a glimpse of who he is and left her wanting to know more. He stood out from the pack, and Hannah tucked a rose into his lapel.
Do your homework. Personalize your pitch for each agent you send it to. Make your characters relatable, even if they are post-apocalypse zombie tax accountants. Don’t give away too much plot too soon. Make the agent want to know more.
In 2015 and on the heels of a twenty-year teaching career, I
began writing my first book. I had no experience with creative writing, simply a
passion for evocative women’s fiction. Nine months later, the manuscript was
complete. I emailed query letters and sample chapters to literary agents. While
I received several requests for additional chapters, the manuscript was
ultimately rejected by more agents than I have teeth. I decide to self-publish.
Six months later, the big brown truck unloaded two-hundred books on my front
porch. I threw myself a fancy book launch party and expected to become the next
Anne Rivers Siddons.
I had a lot to learn.
For the next year, I spoke to book clubs, made eight Barnes and
Noble appearances in eight cities and vended the book at countless Saturday
farmers markets. Despite my efforts, IN ROBIN’S NEST never took wing. Too late,
I learned that self-published (vs. traditionally published) authors need
publicists. After paying the publisher, my writing budget was nonexistent. And
publicists cost more than foot surgery.
But I had another story to tell. In 2017, I began writing GEORGIE
GIRL and studying the craft of writing. I hired a young freelance editor, who
affirmed my talent, while teaching me more about the craft than I believe any
MFA program could. A year later, the manuscript was complete. Believing it was “the”
book, I again queried agents. Unfortunately, this was the boom period for
thrillers such as GONE GIRL. A coming-of-age story set in the seventies wasn’t
making agent pulses race. Though I did receive encouragement, another barrage
of rejections (which aren’t personal, but leave you feeling as gutted as
fresh-caught trout) hit my inbox.
I moved on. I read everything I could get my hands on about
the craft and joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Writing can be an
isolating endeavor. Every writer needs a tribe of supporters. Through WFWA I
met my Nashville-based critique partner with whom I’ll be friends to the grave.
I helped others celebrate landing agents, while thinking it would never happen for
me. But I wasn’t giving up.
In March of 2018, I began writing my third novel A CLEFT IN
THE WORLD, the story of an agoraphobic French professor whose raison d’etre is
a women’s college on the skids. Midstream chapter six, my wonder girl editor
took a health-related leave of absence. Scrambling, I was fortunate enough to
find a powerhouse book coach through Author Accelerator and finished the manuscript
in September 2018. Again, I faced the dreaded querying process. With heart in
mouth, I emailed queries. A few rejections hit my inbox. But one month later, I
had received full-manuscript requests from two agents.
The day before Thanksgiving, I received an email from Pamela
Harty of the Knight Agency. She had just finished my book, loved it and wanted
to “chat.” I screamed and prayed and prepared. That afternoon, I had a
delightful conversation with Pamela, and she offered me a contract. Me! I hung up, screamed some more and
cried. I celebrated Thanksgiving with special gratitude. And then dove into the
revisions she suggested.
This week my agent began submitting A CLEFT IN THE WORLD to
publishers. A manuscript can sell in a week. Or a year. Meanwhile, I’m
outlining a new book and deciding what I might do with GEORGIE GIRL.
In today’s market, it can take two or three or ten books to
garner the attention of an agent. If you are pursuing a career in traditional
publishing, learn from rejection. Do your research. Interact with other writers.
Most important, don’t give up! Keep writing and honing your skills.
*Today I serve as Director of Craft/Education Programs for
“I love her because she is the one friend who remembers when we were twelve and figured out that Nancy Drew didn’t have time for a boyfriend because she had business to attend to.” from A CLEFT IN THE WORLD