Publishing can be a rocky road. When you are lucky enough to sign with a literary agent that is only the beginning of the journey. There are edits/revisions and a lot of work to be done before submission. After the work is completed, you still have to shop the book around and hope a publishing house wants to buy it. The process can be long and arduous. But what happens when things don’t go as planned and you find yourself needing to move on from that book and that agent? Today’s featured writer, Sara Raasch, shares with us her amazing publishing journey that includes some major setbacks, but ends with a stellar agent and a shiny publishing deal for her debut novel, SNOW LIKE ASHES.
Here is Sara’s writing odyssey…
Amy: You have an interesting backstory I think many aspiring writers would be interested in. You were previously agented with one book and then left that agency and went back to querying before landing another agent. Can you share how you came to this difficult decision and how it affected your writing?
Sara: Leaving my first agency was hands-down one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in publishing thus far. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly either — I grappled with it for about ten months before I decided it was right for me. At the time I was at a bit of a crossroads in my career — a book I ADORED with every fiber of my being had been on submission for two and a half years (talk about soul crushing) with no bites whatsoever. I was no longer sure if the writer I wanted to be was linked to that book, if I should have kept going with that book, or where I fit in this mad publishing world. In that ten-month grappling time, I did a lot of soul-searching, philosophical-journey type things, and ultimately decided to leave that agency and refocus who I wanted to be as a writer.
This decision didn’t only affect my writing, it affected every aspect of my writing world. It was like a blank slate, which was both horrifying and exhilarating, and let me truly “start over” and make myself into the kind of writer I wanted to be. Leaving an agency is terrifying — you worked so hard to get THIS agent, why on earth would you leave?? — but if it’s something you’re considering, make sure you do consider it very carefully. Any big career move should be made only after thoughtful deliberation. But if you do decide to take that plunge, know you aren’t alone in your choice, and many, many other writers have been in the same boat as you. It’s scary, but can also be the beginning of wonderful, wonderful things.
Amy: When you queried the second time with SHUTTER, SHUDDER did you feel like you were pretty seasoned with the process? Did the query come easily?
Sara: Oh, querying. No matter how long you’ve done it, how many agents you’ve sent to, or how long you’ve been in the business, querying SUCKS. But this time around, I felt a thrill with each query I sent out. Despite how much the rejection sucks (and boy, does it ever suck), there is something to be said for the sheer greatness of possibility. Each email could be The One, each incoming response could be a Let’s Set Up A Call. That possibility is what makes querying bearable.
One of my guilty pleasures is, sadly, writing summaries for queries. *ducks sharp projectiles* Okay, okay, hear me out! Actually, there’s nothing I can say to make it less weird. Querying did come easily to me this time around, but only because I adore writing summaries, and that mixed with my excitement to be reevaluating/redeveloping myself as a writer made the whole thing oddly enjoyable.
Amy: How many agents did you query before you got a positive response?
Sara: Luckily, I’m super OCD, and have a nice little excel sheet with just such digits.
I sent out 84 queries between the end of March 2012 and mid-April 2012 (I was excitable, okay? And I do not endorse this kind of aggression). Of those queries, I got 10 full requests (which still makes me dance a little inside) and of those 10 full requests, it was a week between when I sent the query to Sheedy Lit and when I got a voicemail saying they loved my book (the one I queried was a paranormal ghost story called SHUTTER, SHUDDER). Suffice to say, between leaving one agency and joining another, the beginning of 2012 was a frickin’ roller coaster.
Amy: You have a novel coming out in 2014 called SNOW LIKE ASHES. Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish it? If so, how did that influence your writing process?
Sara: Of course! A writer is nothing without a good network of support and beta-ship. My CPs influence my writing SO much! I shudder to think what SLA would be like without their keen eyes and loving ability to tear scenes to shreds. Also, my agent is a KILLER editor — I rave all the time about how great she is at making my manuscripts that much more polished and coherent.
Amy: What can you tell us about your call with your agent, Charlotte Sheedy? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Sara: I ended up speaking to both Charlotte and Mackenzie at various points before I accepted representation from them, and I knew they were a good fit because of how passionate they were for my book. Passion is truly the most important trait in an agent — if they love your work, that love will emanate out to editors and help sell your book a LOT more efficiently! There’s no substitute for passion, and as soon as I felt that spark with Mackenzie, I knew SHUTTER, SHUDDER (and all my future projects) would be happy with Sheedy Lit!
Amy: What was one piece of advice you got during your early writing stages that has stuck with you to this day?
Sara: There’s a quote I ADORE by Jodi Picoult: “You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.” When I’m stuck on a scene or afraid to tackle a new project or seriously doubting my ability to live up to my goals, I remember that quote. You can always make a bad page better, but a blank page? You can’t do anything to fix a blank page. So write, write, write, no matter how you feel, because writing has a way of working out the bad feels too.
Amy: If you met an aspiring writer at a book signing and they told you they were going to give up on their writing dream, what would you say to them?
Sara: “NOOO!” and then I’d tackle them and cling to the hem of their skirt and sob dramatically.
Seriously though, I’d ask why they were leaning toward giving up. That can really make all the difference — this industry is much too stressful to put yourself through it if you don’t REALLY want it. So if writing truly isn’t something that’s “for them,” giving up might be a solution worth considering.
But if they’re considering giving up because it’s hard, because the rejection hurts, because they’ve been trying for so long and they still haven’t gotten anywhere, because someone gave them a bad review/a mean crit/was overall nasty to them, I’d do the whole dramatic-skirt-clutching-sob thing. None of those reasons are enough to quit if publishing is what you really, truly, deep-down want. If seeing your book on a shelf or finishing your novel or getting an agent is so much a fiery part of yourself that you go to bed every night on the verge of exploding from wanting it so bad, then you HAVE to keep trying.
I’ve wanted to be published since I was, no joke, five years old. I started querying when I was around 15, and didn’t get my first agent until I was in college. I’m 23 now and just got my first book deal, so that’s almost 12 years of working toward this goal. 12 years. A lot of it was awful, a lot of it made me question if I really wanted this, a lot of it made me cry and growl in frustration. But then I’d remember why I started this crazy venture in the first place. Why I love stories, writing, this whole thing — because stories are so vitally important to life, as an escape, as a way to make sure we know we aren’t alone, as a way to smile when life is just too hard. Remembering my reason for doing this helped me endure 12 years of up and down and down again until that magical, wondrous day when my agent called and told me we sold SNOW LIKE ASHES to Balzer + Bray in a pre-empt. All those bad things suddenly seemed so, so worth it, and I know I was infinitely happier in my most miserable time during those 12 years than I would have been had a I quit, because even though I was miserable, I was still working toward my dream. And if you keep at it, it WILL happen. Not it might. It WILL.
And when it does, it will be even better than you imagined.
Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then — her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. Her debut YA fantasy, SNOW LIKE ASHES, is coming out Fall 2014 from Balzer + Bray. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures. For more info on Sara, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.