As if I knew.
But there are no “how to do it” rules. There are only “how I did it” stories. And each one of those stories is different. So here’s mine.
Anybody who writes with the hope of getting published has heard, “Never give up! Keep trying! Be persistent!” But I did give up. After three unpublished novels—one of which had gone all the way to getting an agent and earning a number of “we really like this BUT” letters from editors—I was tired of beating my head against the wall. Getting published seemed like nothing but a crap shoot, and writing wasn’t fun anymore. So I quit, and put my energy into other things.
And that worked… for awhile. A pretty long while, actually—about ten years.
Until finally I started missing writing. I missed the way it’s always in your head, the way you always have something to think about and imaginary people to keep you company when you’re in the middle of a story.
So I started looking around for stories, without even knowing that was what I was doing. And when the Mary Shelley story occurred to me, I thought, Well, I’ll just write it and see what happens. I had no real expectations of success, but I’d been away from the grind of researching agents and writing query letters for long enough that I thought I could stand to do it again. Just once, just for this short little project. And then at least I could say I tried.
I did a quick Google search and found an article about the “top twenty children’s book agents.” Might as well start at the top, I thought, and winnowed that list down to about a dozen. And on Halloween 2016, I sent out my queries along with a 600-word picture book manuscript.
Three days later I heard from Elena Giovinazzo at Pippin Properties. It was the only positive response I got—but of course, one was all I needed. We worked together on the manuscript through three or four drafts, and when she finally sent it out to editors, it took longer than we were expecting to find a home. So long, in fact, that I was steeling myself for disappointment once again.
But finally, in May 2017, the wonderful Julia Maguire at Knopf said yes—and at last I was really on the way to being a published author.
Well, that’s far from the end of the story—I had, and still have, so much more to learn about the process of making a book—but I’m going to leave it there for now.
But I guess if I’m giving advice to aspiring writers, my main point is just this: do what feels right for you. If you feel like you need to take a step back, then go ahead and step back. It’s okay to give up… for awhile. You might just need to gather strength for another try.
And maybe that’s the leap that will get you over that wall.