When I first started the W.O.W. series it was really for selfish reasons. I needed to hear other writers’ stories of rejection to help convince myself I wasn’t alone out on loser island.
As the months have gone by, and I’ve done numerous interviews, I’ve begun to realize that every author has their own personal story of how they dug out of the slush pile to find an agent. Many of them have followed a similar path, tramping through the query trenches, until ultimately succeeding. Others, like MarcyKate Connolly, while still successful, have a truly unique and compelling story – a story that I am proud to share today…
MarcyKate: For the most part, yes. My very first (and incomplete) attempt at a novel was an adult thriller. The sole copy of it lived on a flashdrive that was stolen when my car was broken into one night. (I signed up for DropBox the next day. It has saved my life several times since. No lie.). I also dabbled with a Middle Grade idea, but that needs a lot of work before it’s ready for any eyes but mine. YA, however, is where most of my ideas seem to fit best.
Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to MONSTROUS?
MarcyKate: MONSTROUS is my 7th book, but only the 4th I queried. 5 of those 7 are complete, and 2 others are in varying states of disarray and incompletion (which I plan to eventually remedy).
Amy: After reading your blog, I know you’ve had many ups and downs with manuscripts. How did you deal with the disappointment and continue to write?
MarcyKate: I did my fair share of wallowing, but only offline and in private. Especially when I was in a “Down” period with the manuscript I queried before MONSTROUS – I had a ton of requests, but never could get it to tip the agent-scales from “like” to “love.” I’m very fortunate to have some excellent writer friends who’ll commiserate about the ups and downs when necessary. But that (and more pounds of chocolate than I’d like to count) was not what really kept me going. What did (and still does) was the understanding that even if I never got an agent, I would still keep writing. I love it too much not to do it, and I know without a doubt that if I stopped, I’d regret it.
Amy: Did you have critique partners who helped you polish MONSTROUS? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
MarcyKate: Absolutely. I usually run an early draft of each manuscript through my online crit group over at AgentQuery Connect, then (after revising, of course) I have a few beta readers who help me identify any remaining weak spots. They are a critical part of my process!
With MONSTROUS, it took me longer to send it to readers than usual. I was very nervous to show it to anyone, which was more than a little ridiculous considering the fact that it was my 7th manuscript. Unfortunately, knowing that did nothing to help my nerves! I finished the first draft in October last year, but I didn’t send it to anyone for reading until early February or so. This particular main character is just so weird (in the nicest meaning of the word) that I felt oddly overprotective of her. This was also the most challenging project I’ve undertaken to date and there was a lot more rule-breaking with it than I’d tried before, so part of me kept wondering if I was crazy to try to write this book. Obviously, I’m very glad I did!
Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for MONSTROUS? Did it go through many drafts?
MarcyKate: Don’t hate me, but I kind of love writing queries! (Synopses on the other hand….) I usually start playing with queries about half-way through the manuscript and this was no different. I had plenty of trouble query-wrangling with the first two books I submitted to agents, but once I hit the 3rd something just clicked for me and I got the basis for it down quickly. MONSTROUS was pretty much the same way. I think I wrote it in maybe a weekend, then tweaked a few words here and there in the ensuing months before I started sending it out (the AQC query forums are excellent for that sort of testing).
Amy: How many agents did you query for MONSTROUS?
MarcyKate: I queried about 20 agents. I had 18 requests, but several of those came through contests. My query request rate ended up being about 70% which was a lovely surprise!
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
MarcyKate: It varied pretty widely. I actively queried for about 6 weeks on this project and the response times were all across the board. Some rejected quickly, some requested quickly. Others took a few weeks to respond one way or the other, but those requests were just as enthusiastic as the fast responders.
Amy: Can you tell us what your “call” was like with your agent, Suzie Townsend?
MarcyKate: In a word, AWESOME. But I suppose you’d like more than that? :P
When I got my first offer, I had several queries still pending, one of which was to Suzie. I nudged her to let her know and she got back to me very quickly with a request. After Suzie read MONSTROUS (in about 24 hours – she is a FAST responder which I love!), she emailed me to set up a time to chat. We settled on the following Monday at noon.
One small point of stress was that my office is about the size of two parking spaces put together and I share it with three other people—two of whom are prone to breaking out into song and dance, usually tap-dancing, at any given moment. (I’m 100% serious – this is one of the hazards of working in theatre! There’s a reason a sign like this one hangs in our office!) Obviously this is not an environment conducive to having phone calls where I actually want to be taken seriously. I work at a college in Boston and since it’s summer, I thought for sure that the food court nearby would be a ghost town since there were no students around and that had been the case for most of the past few weeks.
That was my first mistake (my second was not having a backup plan!).
I got to the food court about 5 minutes before Suzie was supposed to call and was stunned to see almost every table filled. The place was abuzz with noise, but still better than having The Call two feet from my singing and dancing co-workers. The only empty table I could find was near the escalators. Suzie has always been high on my list of Agents-I’d-Give-My-Right-Arm-to-Work-With, so I was very nervous and used the rest of the time left to review my questions and focus on actually breathing.
About 30 seconds after Suzie called, the construction on the escalator began and I realized why that table was empty. We’re talking people jack-hammering 15 feet away—max. She didn’t say anything about the excessive noise, so hopefully she didn’t notice, but it was a wee bit distracting for me!
First she talked about what she loved about MONSTROUS—which, after 3 years of No, was surreal (this was true of all 3 calls I had. It does not get old!). She brought up a few suggestions for things she thought could be strengthened with some revision that really resonated with me. Then she talked more about New Leaf and how they work, and asked about my other projects. I must confess that despite taking lots of notes, most of The Call is a blur. What struck me the most was her incredible enthusiasm for the work she does and for her clients’ books—and her enthusiasm for MY book. Every agent I talked to on the phone was excited about MONSTROUS, but Suzie was just a little bit more. She also happens to be very easy to talk to which is important to me since I tend to be rather shy. We’d already developed a decent rapport emailing back and forth about requested materials, so it was great to find out she was as approachable on the phone, too.
At that point, I still had a few agents reading and a call slated for later that week with another wonderful agent, so I didn’t say yes right away. By that Friday, I had a total of three offers and was beside myself because they were all top-notch agents and all of them would have been fantastic advocates for MONSTROUS. (Needless to say, there was much gnashing of teeth and flailing of arms!) But after talking to Suzie on the phone and our email correspondence over the course of the week, I just didn’t see how I could not sign with her. She’s an awesome agent with an excellent track record, her clients adore her, and she thoroughly convinced me that she believes in my book. Now that we’ve been working together for a few weeks, I have no doubt it was the right decision. :)
Amy: As a moderator on AgentQuery Connect, you’ve seen many posts about the ups and downs of the publishing business. If someone posted that they were going to give up on their writing dream, what would you write back to encourage them to keep at it?
MarcyKate: I actually blogged about this a couple times over the past year (here and here). It’s a harsh truth that not every writer is going to get an agent or a book deal or make the NYT bestseller list. It’s not the cheeriest thought, but it is true. Publishing is not an easy business to break into. You’re going to face rejection at every single stage of the game—querying, on submission, and then even from readers. You have to be able to face that hard truth down and walk away from it wanting to try anyway. In my opinion, the question you need to ask yourself is: “In 20 years from now, will I regret giving up?” Each of us can only answer that for ourselves. Agents, editors, crit partners, reviewers, etc don’t really affect that. It’s strictly what matters to YOU on a personal level. Because that’s what’s important. Some people will answer “No” to that question – and that’s totally fine! It’s not for everyone. But I suspect most of us will say “Yes.”
And if the answer is “Yes,” then keep writing. As often as possible. Try new things. Never be afraid to experiment—even if it doesn’t turn out like you hoped, you’ll probably learn something along the way. And who knows, maybe that crazy new idea will be The One (it was for me!).
MarcyKate Connolly is a writer and arts administrator who lives in New England with her husband and pugs. She’s also a coffee addict, voracious reader, and recurring commuter. She blogs at her website and the From the Write Angle group blog, and volunteers as a moderator at AgentQueryConnect.com. Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. Early this year, her short story “Connected” was published in the Spring Fevers anthology by Elephants Bookshelf Press.