Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author J. Kathleen Cheney

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 J. Kathleen Cheney (Oh, wait! That’s me!) talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she (I) thought they would…

That Awful Moment…
I’ve never had stage fright. I’ve never had trouble talking to groups or interviewing for jobs or performing on stage. None of that really bothers me.

But there have been three (3) times in my life when a phobic reaction set in, all in ‘audition’ type circumstances. We’re talking full blown reaction, with hands shaking, knees knocking, and voice quivering. These happened when: 1) Trying out for Summer Stage in college (where I already had a part), 2) Trying out for flag corps, senior year of college, when I was already manager and squad leader, and….yeah, that time.

Now, let me set the stage. I had queried novels in the past, but hadn’t gotten too far with those. I’m not a good query writer. So when I saw that my dream agent was coming to the Dallas Writers Conference, I decided I would gamble and pitch my newest novel to her.

All the way on my drive to Dallas, I practiced my pitch. I thought the book would be right up her alley, a Fantasy with bits of Romance and Mystery. I had that pitch down letter perfect, and could deliver it in three minutes.

I sat in the waiting area at the assigned time and was cool and calm. And then the woman organizing showed me where my dream agent was sitting and I started walking that direction.

I promise you, I was fine when I started that walk.

By the time I reached the table, my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t hold my index card. Dream Agent politely introduced herself, and I rattled off my pitch in a ridiculously quavering voice, like Diane Rehm on her very worst days. I was done in what felt like 30 seconds.

Dream Agent looked at me and said something like Well, it sounds interesting. Why don’t you send me a partial?

I thanked her in that same wobbly voice, and when she asked if I had any questions for her, my mind was blank….so I said no and got out of there before I melted into a puddle under the table. I was the first in my time allotment to leave. I’m willing to bet money that I’d just given the shortest pitch out of the hundreds delivered at that conference.

I wanted to beat my head against the wall, because almost as soon as I was out of that room, the episode passed and I was back to normal. It was so frustrating, because that had only happened to me twice before in my entire life. Why then???

But all whining aside, I had walked away with a partial request for The Seat of Magic. And unlike a lot of people do at these things, I sent that puppy in.

Dream Agent asked for a full later, but ended up rejecting the book because it was, clearly, a sequel. (It was.) But I promptly wrote back and said I was writing the first book in the series at the time and would send a query to her agency as soon as I finished it. When I finally did so, my Dream Agent, after some work, offered to represent me.

The whole point of this being that sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are, things don’t go the way you expect. That’s not a sign you should give up. You have to keep pressing on…


4 thoughts on “Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author J. Kathleen Cheney

    1. Thanks…when it comes down to brass tacks, no agent will pick up your work unless it’s good…so that must come first!

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