My agent, bless him, didn’t want to get my hopes up.
A novel which he’d loved, and which we both thought would get good traction in the market was floundering – as had the two YA novels before it. This latest novel, written quickly over the summer, was rejected by first one, then another editor, and the numbers were piling up.
Normally, within the first five rejections, I would have figured out a pattern of what was wrong with the piece – that many disconnected editors are usually not a monolith, but normally there’s a kind of consensus which arises from the editorial letters… the main character is X, the setting is Y, something specifically isn’t working and five out of six editors agree. Not this time. The replies were mostly, “it’s written beautifully, just not what we’re looking for.” “Stella is a hoot, but we already have x, y, or z, this season.” So, my agent persisted, and I moved on to something else, as one does. It’s part of the job of the writer – to write, and not worry about what is going on with the selling – that’s the sole reason for an agent, so the writer can set aside THAT particular anxiety in favor of the other hundred thousand.
Honestly, I’d already started revising Stella, in my head. I had done SOMETHING wrong, I couldn’t know for sure what, but I was positive it was me. That’s what we all believe – it’s US. It’s always US. It’s not the market nor the editors, nor is it the time of year, it’s US, and we are foolish and ignorant and WRONG.
Which is why last month’s phone call was such a shocker. My agent emailed me the day before my uncle’s memorial service with CALL ME in all caps in his subject line. (Amusingly, somehow in my last move he’d lost my cell number – or else I never gave it to him. This tells you how much we speak to each other across an open line. Introverts use EMAIL and we LIKE IT.) When I phoned him, he said, “Well, I didn’t mention this before, because sometimes, these things fall apart…” He’d had a conversation with an editor in passing, heard she was heading back to middle grade, after losing two of her big YA names to adult fiction. He asked what she was seeking, sent her my work midweek, and received a response… by the week following. She’d read my book over the weekend, taken it to an acquisitions meeting the following week, and messaged him with her interest a day later.
So, I’ve sold a pair of novels, one of which is definitely middle grade! I’m still blinking. Normally, NOTHING moves that fast in publishing. That Katherine Tegen (henceforth KT) offered the opportunity to work with her for TWO books was even more surprising – I’d never gotten that sort of offer, even after four books with EditorE. Suddenly, it feels like anything can happen – and I’m not completely sure what will. It’s a good – if unusual – feeling.
One of my earlier rejections for RADIO STELLA which is now being renamed STELLA SPEAKS is that the novel was “too commercial” for their house. This …was a surprise to me, as the idea is normally that if you win an ALA nod, you’re considered by most people to be a literary success, if not not necessarily a commercial success, as one normally has to do with reader popularity and the other with literary merit as judged by teachers and librarians… I’m reading Katherine Tegen publications like mad just now, catching up with what they’re about – their tagline is “high-quality commercial fiction,” so apparently now I’m commercial? Okay, I’ll take it.
Writers write. So, I’ll just get back to that and leave the perplexing question of what kind of book Stella will be to others more qualified to decide.