From 1,000 Rejections to the NY Times Bestseller List
I have this moment that I often think about, way back when I started taking writing seriously. It was 2007. I was working full time, I had a new baby, and I had just started sending query letters to agents about my first book, which was a 125,000 word behemoth about four vampires living in the suburbs. The form-letter rejections kept trickling in. You know the ones I’m talking about.
“Not right for my list.”
“I’m sure you’ll find the right home for this elsewhere.”
“I just couldn’t fall in love with this the way I wanted to.”
My husband and I were setting the dinner table, and he looked at me and said, “Do you really think you’re good enough that people would pay to read what you’ve written?”
It was a moment. A moment. There was weight in that question. I thought about it for a moment, and I said, “Yeah. I do.”
He nodded and said, “Let’s get it done, then.”
That book never found an agent. It was too long, too meandering, too amateur. I wasn’t ready. My next book was an adult paranormal romance called A Wicked Little Rhythm, and I leapt into the query trenches again. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. And then. AND THEN. An agent emailed me and asked for some revisions before she could offer representation. She was the only agent—out of hundreds—who expressed any interest at all. I spent weeks working on those revisions, and she ultimately offered representation. I still remember getting “the call.” I sped home from work, and my husband and I went out to dinner. We were so excited, because getting an agent was just a springboard into getting your first book deal, right?
Wrong. That book was on submission for over a year. Again, rejection, rejection, rejection. The book didn’t sell.
While I was waiting, though, I started writing a YA novel about four brothers who could control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. I took all my rejection feedback about linear plotting and unlikeable characters and book length, and I worked hard to write this new project. I sent it to my agent in August of 2010, and she loved it. The book went on submission—and then I waited.
In February 2011, I got an offer. It was small—as most first novel advances usually are—but I took it. My first book came out in 2012. I’m not afraid to work hard, so I threw myself into making myself a real author the way I’d thrown myself into writing books. This was my dream, and I knew I had to hustle to make it happen.
By the end of 2015, though, I was worn thin. My sixth book was getting ready to come out, and while I’d already sold books seven and eight to a new publisher, I was exhausted. I was still working full time, and by then I had three young boys. I was writing in the evenings and on weekends, and with each successive book release, there were more demands on my time. I had a tearful conversation with my husband, where I said, “I can’t keep doing this. I keep chasing this dream of being a full-time author so I can have more time with my boys, but I’m worried I’m going to wake up one morning and they’ll all be grown up, and I’ll have wasted their entire childhood chasing a dream.”
My husband said, “Don’t give up. You’ve come so far. When is the last time you wrote something fun? Something fun for you, not for your editor or your readers?”
Friends, that was another moment. He was right. I pulled out an old project that I’d started and abandoned because I didn’t think it was marketable. The idea had already been rejected by one publisher. I scrapped what I had and started rewriting it. I didn’t worry about selling it, I just had fun. When I had 75 pages written, I sent it to my agent and said, “What do you think?”
She said, “I think I can sell this. Write me a synopsis. I’ll take it on submission.”
That book, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, sold quickly. At auction. In a major deal. It let me quit my day job, my ultimate dream. It let me have more time with my boys. In short, it changed my life. And then, in January when Curse released, it hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
I think about those two big moments all the time, when my husband asked if I thought I was good enough, and when he reminded me that the writing needs to be fun. Those are key, and that’s what kept me going through all those rejections—and what ultimately helped me find a spot with an amazing agent (Mandy Hubbard), an amazing editor (Mary Kate Castellani), and an amazing publisher (Bloomsbury).
Keep writing, friends. Work hard, be kind, and most of all, have fun.