I was flirting with the idea of self-publishing MAMMOTH. The only thing keeping me from doing so was that I hadn’t yet come up with a cover design I liked. (More on that in a future entry!)
Eric was on my radar because I knew several of his clients (Rebecca Enzor and I ran in the same toy collecting circles well over a decade ago, and I knew Rebecca Phillips from the ABNA), and I figured, hey, might as well get one more opinion.
The TL:DR version is that I asked if fat characters are really such a tough sell, and Eric said nope. “If you’re getting that kind of feedback from agents, they simply aren’t the right agent for you.”
“Don’t give up.”
DON’T GIVE UP.
If you’re a writer in the querying trenches, go back and read that last bit again.
DON’T GIVE UP.
Eric shared a ton of great info in that AMA (seriously, go read the whole thing if you haven’t already), but those three words are the most important part. You might be one email (or tweet or Reddit post) away from the right connection, and you don’t want to miss that. I’m glad I didn’t. Turner Publishing is releasing MAMMOTH this fall.
Okay, so where were we? I took a little break to deal with Hurricane Irma cleanup (almost five months later, we’re still working on getting our roof replaced) and other life stuff. I’m still processing a lot of anxiety-related stuff (hurricanes and anxiety disorders are a fantastic combination), I’m catching up on a ton of reading, I finished a new rough draft during NaNoWriMo last November, and last week I helped one of my best friends move from Georgia to south Florida.
I’ve also been sitting on some super-exciting news, and now that the announcements have run in Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace, I can finally share: my next novel, MAMMOTH, will be published in fall 2018 by Turner Publishing!
This book is so dear to my heart, and I’m so ridiculously anxious (in a GOOD way) to launch it out there into the world. MAMMOTH is a body-positive, science-geeky story about being true to yourself and letting your talents and ambitions shine.
Most of the book is set at an Ice Age dig site; to get the paleontology angle as accurate as possible, I trained at the Waco Mammoth National Monument and learned to dig and prospect for fossils. I also interviewed paleontologists, toured a bone lab, practiced screen picking, and spent a particularly spectacular morning hanging out with a pair of elephants at Cameron Park Zoo. (Thank you FOREVER to my bestie Dava Butler, who works at Waco Mammoth, for making all that possible!)
I’m so jazzed to work with Turner, and so excited to share updates as MAMMOTH’S publication date approaches. Watch this space, my vintage velociraptors (as MAMMOTH’S Natalie would say) — there’s so much more to come. ❤
So. By spring 2017 I’d been unagented for nearly two years.
I queried new agents when I had the time and determination, but between being a caregiver for my dad*, who had renal failure, and digging up whatever freelance opportunities I could, I didn’t have a lot of emotional headspace left for agent hunting. Especially when the rejections I got were variations on a theme: “I love the voice/concept/whatever but there’s no room in the market for plus-size** characters.”
(Pun not intended. And, I mean… What? ELEANOR & PARK was on fire when I was drafting MAMMOTH in 2013-2014, DUMPLIN’ took off in 2015, THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED was on the way… The audience is there! Plus, MAMMOTH is a story about personal authenticity and paleontology geekery. Its protagonist happens to be plus-size. She’s also smart. Clever. Ambitious. Conflicted. Brave. Flawed. Obviously I’m biased, but I think her value as a character goes beyond the size tag on her jeans.)
In April, an agent I followed on Twitter, Eric Smith of P.S. Literary, tweeted that he’d be closing to submissions in a few months. Eric seemed super cool, and he represents several writers I know (Rebecca Enzor, a friend from my toy-collecting days, and Rebecca Phillips, who I knew from the ABNA), and I figured, why not? I was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, so that’s where I drafted a new version of my query letter. Within a couple of days, Eric requested the manuscript. Yay!
A few days after that I saw this tweet and wistfully thought, “Aw, I wish he was talking about MAMMOTH!”:
BUT. BUT. HE WAS TALKING ABOUT MAMMOTH.
He made a few revision suggestions that I totally agreed with, and a week or so later I signed a contract. His enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable, and I don’t know how he finds enough hours in the day to accomplish all that he does. Eric’s just awesome. Plus, I gained an amazing group of supportive agent-siblings!
MAMMOTH is now out on submission, and I can’t wait to prove that the market has plenty of room for Natalie and her dig site discoveries. THIS IS HAPPENING.
*My dad passed away in late May, and one of the last things that made him really happy was knowing I’d signed with a new agent. As overwhelming as the last few months have been, I’m really glad he knew I’d found my footing again.
**Not everyone likes “plus-size” as a label. I acknowledge that, and I’ll address the reasons I use it for Natalie in a future post.
When you’re trying to break into traditional publishing, landing an agent feels like finding the holy grail — you’ve completed the quest, you’ve leveled up, you’ve done the thing.
Then you start digging into everything that comes after, and you realize that signing with an agent is just another step in the process. And oh boy, you’ve still got a hike ahead of you.
So. You sign the contract. Your agent probably wants a revision, so you get that done. The two of you put together a submission package, your agent starts reaching out to editors, and for half a second you can BREATHE because the process is mostly beyond your control. (You should still be developing your platform, extending your reach, all that good stuff, but at least the submission process itself can chug along without you for a bit.) In that moment of calmness, you start thinking about that new idea that’s been wiggling in the back of your head. That’s when the anxiety sets in because…
What if my agent doesn’t like my next book???
I’ve seen this question on so many writing forums and Q&As and subreddits. It’s a dreadful thought, and I can tell you from experience that it feels even more dreadful when it actually happens. So what does it mean when your agent just doesn’t connect with your new work?
The scenario can play out in several ways, and it mostly depends on your agent. If you guys work well together but your new idea is in a genre or area that he doesn’t represent, he might try to work something out with another agent (probably someone in his agency) who has more experience with that genre. If your new idea is still just that, a vague and nebulous spark, and you haven’t put a lot of time or work into it yet, your agent might suggest that you put it aside for now and work on something she’s more likely to be able to sell.
Or . . . You and your agent might decide to part ways. Cue the tiny violins and sad trombones!
I experienced that third option. In 2014, my then-agent was still trying to sell UNDERBED when I sent her the first draft of MAMMOTH. We worked through a series of MAMMOTH revisions, but in the end, she just couldn’t connect strongly enough with the main character to represent the project, and I felt too strongly about MAMMOTH to give up on it.
Because of that, and because she’d been unable to do much with UNDERBED, she and I parted ways in 2015. That happened on my birthday, by the way. I don’t recommend that. Really kind of ruins the day.
So yeah. These things happen. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that the project in question isn’t viable. It just means that you and your agent weren’t the literary soulmates you both hoped you’d be, and if an agent doesn’t fall in love with a project, she’s not the one you want selling that project anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right fit in this industry.
I sent out a couple of MAMMOTH queries that same day. Finding a new agent took longer than I expected (more on that in another post!), but now that I can turn around and look back at that rocky hiking trail from the other side . . .
I think it was all worth it. I’ve still got countless trails stretching out in front of me, but I conquered that one.
Breaking up with an agent sucks, but it’s not the end of your career. You mope for a bit, you vent to your friends, you post GIFs of the Doctor standing in the rain, and then you stand up and dust yourself off. You keep going.