The Path to Publication, Part Seven: Believing in Yourself

(Photo Courtesy of Jennifer)

Thank you for tuning in to the seventh installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” (Did you miss my first six posts? Scroll to the bottom for links to check them out!

In my earlier "Path to Publication" posts, I discussed writing my first novel THE MERMAID GENE, querying that novel, signing with the wrong literary agent and getting dropped as her client within the first four and a half months of our contract. Last week, I recounted my decision to eat a big ol' piece of humble pie and tell the other literary agent whose offer of representation I had declined (in favor of the agent who dropped me) what a huge mistake I had made by going elsewhere.

I don't think I expected to hear back from Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. She had graduated into a powerhouse agent in just a few short months, and she already had five clients and two six-figure deals under her belt. She was currently taking the literary world by storm, and I figured I had already ruined any chance I had of ever speaking to her again.

But I emailed her anyway, and I told her she had been the right choice all along. I also told her I was working on a new project, and I would be honored if she would accept another query from me when I finished.

But Hannah surprised me. Not only did she respond to my email, but she asked me what happened to THE MERMAID GENE. We set up a phone call, and after a few conversations back and forth, she told me she still believed in me--and THE MERMAID GENE--enough to send over a contract and try to submit it again. (!!!)

She was realistic about our chances, however. THE MERMAID GENE had already been rejected several times, so she felt like only five or six remaining editors would be willing to look at it. Also, the manuscript would require some work. A lot of work, actually, so I would need to be willing to pour my guts into it and understand that all my work may end up being for nothing.

Or, she said, I could work on my new project ESSENCE. That story seemed to already have a grip on me, and its chances in the marketplace were probably much better, It was brand-new, and its bridges hadn't already been burned like THE MERMAID GENE's had. Also, the cult book market wasn't nearly as crowded as the paranormal market, so if we ended up selling ESSENCE, it would probably have the potential for a much stronger, more impactful debut.

However, Hannah cautioned, the market was shifting away from YA paranormals, so if I wanted to catch the paranormal boat, I needed to do it now. That meant I couldn't choose ESSENCE and then return to THE MERMAID GENE later. I needed to either choose THE MERMAID GENE now or say goodbye to it--probably forever.

Also, she was willing to send me a literary contract for THE MERMAID GENE that day, but she couldn't very well sign me for an unfinished manuscript, so if I chose ESSENCE, I would need to go it alone. And when I finished ESSENCE, she would agree to take a look at it, but she wouldn't promise anything more than that. She may end up hating it, and I may end up without an agent and without the possibility of ever finding a home for THE MERMAID GENE.

So... I took a deep breath and weighed my options, and then I made one of the scariest decisions I have ever made in my entire life:

I told her I believed ESSENCE would be a better book, and I wanted to focus my attention on finishing it. 

If she wanted it when I was done, it was hers. If not, I completely understood her decision to pass.

She respected my answer--admired my bravery, I think--and she told me she looked forward to hearing from me in a few months. I thanked for her time and consideration, and I told her I REALLY hoped we could work together someday.

And then you know what I did? I hung up the phone and proceeded to hyperventilate. And then I went home and stared at my computer screen, and then writer's block seized me and I didn't write another word of ESSENCE for almost a month.

I HAD JUST TURNED DOWN A LITERARY CONTRACT. I had just turned down an honest-to-goodness, real-life literary contract (from my dream agent)--and I had no idea if I was even capable of completing ESSENCE, much less making it into something Hannah (or anyone) would ever want to read. I had just killed THE MERMAID GENE, and I had absolutely no idea if I would ever have anything to show for it.

I was terrified, but I remember being proud of myself, too. I knew the decision to pursue ESSENCE was the right decision, even if it wasn't the easy one. ESSENCE was a better book than THE MERMAID GENE, and it had the potential to be a so-much-stronger debut (if I could pull it off).

At the end of the day, I knew I would respect myself a million times more for having the courage to believe in ESSENCE--instead of just jumping to sign a contract for a project that wasn't quite right.

But... That didn't stop the anxiety nor the crippling panic that made my creativity die on my page. ESSENCE had been progressing beautifully, but now it felt dead in the water. I hadn't anticipated THAT.

So what happened next? Please tune in next time time to find out!