Working Hard and Believing
by Caroline Starr RoseI left teaching in May 2009 to pursue writing full-time. Risky? You bet. Leaving a steady job in the hope of securing publication -- it's a long shot. But by October I’d signed with my agent, Michelle Humphrey. Five months later, my novel-in-verse, MAY B., sold at auction. While this all sounds easy, my publication journey has been anything but.
After signing with Michelle, I sat down with a file folder I called In The Mail, a low-tech, messy record of my submission process over the years. Here’s what I found:
- 11 years of writing (10 years of subbing)
- 11 manuscripts (four middle-grade novels, seven picture books)
- 211 rejections from editors (2 fulls and 1 partial requested over the years)*
- 12 contests/grants entered (1 win)
- 75 rejections from agents (12 fulls and 2 partials requested, mainly in 2009)
Michelle sent me an email in March 2010 saying, "Good news! Best discussed over the phone." She told me two, possibly three editors were interested in MAY B., something I never expected from my very non-commercial book. It was amazing to talk with three people who loved my work, had shared it with others in their office, had thought through ways to strengthen the storyline, etc. The work editors are willing to put into a book before even knowing its theirs is amazing. In the end, I decided to work with Nicole Geiger at Tricycle Press. After a combined ten rounds of edits, line edits, and copyedits, the book was ready to go.
And then I got another phone call, this time from Nicole. Random House had decided to close Tricycle, she told me. All editors had been laid off, and all books slated for summer and fall 2011 were in jeopardy (MAY B. was originally to debut September 2011). For six weeks my book was without a home. All I could do was wait.
Finally Michelle called with the news that one of the three original editors was still interested in my book, an editor who also happened to work for Random House. MAY became one of five Tricycle titles kept in the Random House family and became a spring 2012 title for imprint Schwartz and Wade.
I’ll admit, it was hard learning my new editor, Emily Seife, didn’t feel the book was done. She asked for three more rounds of edits, two more rounds of line edits, and one of copyedits. Thankfully, she knew what I didn’t, that my book would be stronger, deeper, and richer with this extra work.
Over the years, in the midst of rejection and doubt, in the isolation of the pre-blogging era, two things have kept me going, the ideas that I have something unique to say, and my work can only improve if I keep at it. When I wrote MAY B., I knew it wouldn’t have mass appeal. I also knew it was the story I needed to write. Debuting with a literary verse novel in this slow economy is a reminder that my girl’s quiet story meant enough to several people to foster and develop. This leaves me utterly grateful.
Hard work is and will always be a part of every step of the process. Despite the long journey, every moment has been worth it.
*Most sent before emailed submissions became the norm. I waited over a year to hear back from a number of publishers, many of whom wouldn’t accept simultaneous submissions.