The Path to Publication, Part Six: Eating Some Humble Pie

(Photo Courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh)

Thanks so much for tuning in to the sixth installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” When we last left off, I had just poured my heart into my first novel THE MERMAID GENE only to sign with the wrong literary agent and find myself dropped as a client within the first four and a half months of our contract.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. In between tears of frustration and grief, I questioned why I'd ever wanted to do this in the first place.

In that moment, I also realized I had two choices. I could retreat back into my corner and let this setback define me, or I could make the decision to rise above it.

The only problem was, I didn’t have anything to rise above it with.

THE MERMAID GENE was basically dead in the water. More than 20 YA publishers had already theoretically rejected it, and that meant only a handful of potential publishers remained. (I say theoretically because… Well, forget it. That part of the story is beside-the-point.) Suffice it to say, THE MERMAID GENE’s chances did not look good.

I had also started a new project a few months prior, but I was only about two-thirds of the way through with it, so it looked like I was back to Square One again. And needless to say, Square One was a very sad and hopeless-looking place.

But there was this niggling sense of wrongdoing I couldn’t shake. And after much thought, I finally pinpointed it: I had chosen the wrong literary agent. And even if the first agent who offered me a contract for THE MERMAID GENE never responded to my apology, she needed to hear it.

So I sat down and stared at my computer for awhile. And then I finally wrote this email:

Dear Hannah Bowman c/o Liza Dawson Associates:

Hi Hannah, it's Lisa [Ann O’Kane] from last fall. I am writing you today to let you know that I definitely made the wrong choice when I accepted representation for THE MERMAID GENE from the other agency instead of from you. (Turns out that sometimes when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)

Things did not work out with the other agency the way I had planned, and I will soon be looking for representation again. I am in the process of writing my next novel (a YA coming-of-age set in Yosemite that hopefully combines Alex Garland's THE BEACH with Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), and I would be honored if you would consider another query from me when I am finished.

(This is me with my tail between my legs.)

I hope all is well with you, and I hope to be ready to submit again by mid-summer. Thanks again for your enthusiasm about THE MERMAID GENE; I can appreciate now more than ever what an amazing agent you would have been if I had made the correct choice the first time around. Have a great afternoon.


I don’t know what I expected to happen next. I think I thought I would never hear from Hannah again, but she surprised me by responding two days later with this email:

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for getting in touch. I'm sorry to hear the other agency didn't work out for you.

I would definitely love to see your next project whenever it's finished. Is this [references an idea I mentioned to her in the fall], or is it a new project?

Out of curiosity, are you still looking for new representation for THE MERMAID GENE, or has it already been submitted to too many editors?



This is the moment when I wanted to crawl up inside of myself and die. Even after I’d walked away and signed with another agency, Hannah still remembered the dumbass ideas I’d referenced during our first conversation. She also still believed in my damn mermaid book enough to want to consider giving it another chance.

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