You write the book. Then you rewrite the book. Then you change the ending—I did, twice. You get small wins along the way—enthusiastic agent and editor feedback at conferences and requests for more. A first chapter contest win. An exclusive read.
Then everything stalls. The rejections sting. You retreat into a little hole and wallow in the fact that your premise isn’t hooky enough. That you wrote the right book at the wrong time. That your first fifty pages must be flawed. And your inner critic (I’ve named mine Roz), whispers I told you so.
For all of that, thank you.
Because… you’re more determined. You have to unravel the mystery of what the industry wants. So you find more beta readers (if you write historical, find living subjects. I befriended one of the first female marines in World War II. She and her friends beta read for me, invited me to speak to their book club, hired me to teach memoir writing in their caretaker’s cottage-turned-library.) I sent Roz packing.
But what do you have to show for all of this? Nicer rejections, but passes all the same. To all those agents, thank you.
You bully your way into meeting with more industry people. (Way back when, I managed to get a meeting with an editor who had my full. I was in NY on vacation with my family and asked if he’d meet with me for a quick coffee. It never hurts to ask. Even if you think you know the answer, ask. Our coffee spanned into lunch. He wasn’t ready to take on my book, but said something along the lines of, “what you’ve got here could make a grown man cry if you make these changes. Oh, and change the ending. Rewrite the second half.”)
It took me six months.
I sent emails to my sister—scene by scene—and she hid in her car to read them on her phone. Thank you! I crawled back to my incredibly patient ever-present critique partners asking them to read. Again.
I entered Miss Snark’s Baker Dozen contest and my manuscript was on auction with agents. Three small publishers I had queried sent me offers. Roz was kicked to the curb.
A certain agent caught my eye. That agent was Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch. I’d been following her, read her interviews, and was impressed with the talented authors she represented. I was looking for someone exactly like her to stretch me as a writer, and champion my work. I had a strong feeling Rachael was it. But I’d been burned before. Roz was creeping back into my head.
I got the email from Rachael that she’d like to set up a time to talk. I’d fantasized about getting signed, but let me tell you, nothing prepares you for when it happens. I was actually out for tacos with my critique partners when I got the email, and Cara Reinard turned to me—I’ll never forget it—and said, “Carolyn, that’s The Call!”
Right! I prepared for it. My dining room table was covered with colorful post-its (poor Rachael—I’m a sharer). Not that I needed a single one of those post-its to remind me of anything because once I heard her enthusiastic voice fill the line…I felt like I was talking to a friend. I forgot all about why I needed to be nervous. I kept picturing Rachael on the other end of the line looking just as approachable as she does in her agency profile picture—wearing that cute crochet beanie and holding an umbrella in the middle of a farmer’s market.
She wanted to take me on. She was excited about my cast of characters and Sadie’s story—saying it reminded her of the old romantic black and white movies. Then the real work began. I was so grateful for Rachael’s thorough and extensive suggestions. I buckled down and worked nonstop—adding new scenes, adding more physical and emotional character reactions, changing anything telly.
During this time I barely came up for air. I will always be grateful for that pivotal writer emergency over a bottle of wine with one Dana Faletti, plot talk ad nauseam with critique partners Lori Jones, Kim Pierson, and Nancy Hammer, who were with me every word of the way (hugs all around), help from my action thriller friend while I worked on a Nazi torture scene (thank you, Janet McClintock!). Most of all, thank you to my husband, Steve, my daughters, and the rest of my family—for being okay with me stuck in a writerly bubble.
The manuscript went through several rounds on submission with editors. I even got to pitch it at Pennwriters. A bright spot during this time was connecting with other authors, such as the supremely talented, Jenni Walsh, who continues to inspire me in so many ways.
Being on submission involved a whole lot of angst though. (When you write your novel, you figure out who you want to be. While on sub, you find out who you are. It’s a torturous test of patience and faith, but…there is an end in sight.) After much waiting, and second readers on board, we received feedback and encouragement. But best of all, we got an offer!
I couldn’t be happier to announce that RETURN TO ME has found the perfect literary home—and will be published by The Wild Rose Press this fall 2015. A companion novella is forthcoming.
Thank you to Rachael Dugas and her team at Talcott Notch Literary, Cindy Davis and Rhonda Penders and team at The Wild Rose Press, my critique partners, my family, and even those who passed on me during early iterations, because you helped me get better, more determined, wiser. For all of this, thank you.