Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Author Suzanne Warr, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…
The Bump in the Road
As writers, we love to tell stories and listen to them, too. Daydreaming of my agent story was one way I kept myself going when my chocolate ran out but my rejection letters didn’t. In the end, none of the stories I dreamed up could compare to the story as it actually unfolded—which story of how I signed my amazing dream agent you can read here.
But today I want to share a different tale. One that I was sure would lead to my magical signing moment…but in the end took a bit of a turn. It came about when I went to the fall 2011 SCBWI conference determined to find out if I’d only deluded myself, and my writing was really the stuff a skunk would sneer at, or if I just needed to try a new book and see if it could find it a niche. I’d been getting so many full requests which turned to regretful passes, that my heart felt it was being used as a roller coaster crash dummy, and I just wanted to know what was wrong.
As you can guess, that’s not an easy thing to divine, and I found no fortune tellers hiding amongst the conference guests. But, as we neared the end of the last panel I found myself sitting near a certain reputable agent, whom I’ll call Gwen. She’d delivered a keynote earlier in the conference, and I’d had the opportunity to wish with all my heart that she hadn’t already passed on my manuscript. So, sitting in that chair one row back and two seats over, I decided that I’d approach Gwen and spread my dilemma at her feet. Paying no attention to the panel, I watched my target and groaned inside when she slipped out before the end. But as I gathered my things when it was time to leave, joy of all joys, she came back!
I talked to her, and tried to be fun and friendly—but not scary-stalker friendly—while she was warm and kind. We chatted for a minute or two, then I took a deep breath, and asked her if she remembered my book and could suggest any pointers as to what I could change? Despite being intrigued by the premise, she had to shake hear head that she didn’t remember. However, hooray! She said she’d be willing to look at the first ten again, so long as it was clearly understood that she’d just be looking in order to give me her thoughts. I thanked her, managing to keep some sense of calm as I did, and scurried off to logon to my computer and send her the pages. Then I waited.
A short eon later I opened her reply email with butterflies, hoping against hope that the answer wasn’t the one about the skunk with the snotty nose, but the other one where I wrote a brilliant book and the industry took to it like peanut butter to jelly. What I found instead was a kind note thanking me for this chance to take a second look, then telling me how much Gwen was enjoying the pages I’d sent, and could I please send along the full manuscript?
Well, we all know how easy it is for story tellers to exaggerate, but you couldn’t find words too ecstatic for how I felt. I was convinced—all the way to my little gnome-writer core—that this would be my story. Gwen would love my book, I’d have an agent in no time, and a big sparkly contract weeks after that. And wow! What a story it would make. The kind to rock the blogosphere.
Except for the teensy issue where my agent-signing-story didn’t end there. Not even one exciting chapter. Instead, it turned out that Gwen’s first impression had been right all along, and even after taking a long second look she still had to pass. Rather than a big beautiful glowing tale with glitter and rainbow colored confetti, I ended up with one sweet little foot note that might make up an almost-was blog post. But, the thing is, I still learned what I needed to learn from that conference and found my way out of my dilemma. My writing wasn’t skunky, and my book had merit, but it was time to move on and throw my whole self into writing a brilliant new book. So, I did.
Well, alright. I ate some super dark chocolate and washed it all down with eggnog. But then I wrote my brilliant new book! And two years later I was back at that conference, this time to pick up an award for the manuscript I’d written, and accept the happy hugs from my friends on having signed my dream agent, Christa Heschke, that summer. So, what’s the moral of the story? Is there a moral? Or is that the stuff we put in pretty fiction, while in real life we muddle along as best we can? Yeah, that might be true, but it’s also true that our lives are epic in scale. The stuff of hero’s tales. Stories like that can’t be written in one flash of inspiration—they take perseverance, and plot twists, and crazy character arcs that dive down a dark hole in the hopes that they’ll come out above a sunny green meadow on the other side of the galaxy. We’re writing our story, but we’re living it, too. So hang in there, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if you’ll give your story a chance to grow you’ll find it comes with happiest of all happy endings.