I’m trying to decide how honest I should be in this post. I have to walk a fine line between seeming like a professional and conveying the sheer magnitude of the improbability that has just occurred here.
Any of you who have been in touch with me via Twitter or other internet media during the past two years probably remember watching me go through several phases of passive-aggressive rage regarding my novel Borderline. It’s actually a little bit ironic. Borderline Personality Disorder, a central subject in the novel, is theorized at present to be caused when an extraordinarily emotionally sensitive child is raised in an “invalidating” environment — that is to say, when the child’s expressions of feeling or perceptions of the world are repeatedly contradicted by the authority figures in his or her life. “That’s not scary,” says the well-meaning parent, and many things like it over many years, making the Borderline-vulnerable child believe that there is something wrong with her, that she sees a world no one else sees, that everything she feels is somehow a lie that no one else can see or understand.
My relationship with this novel was enough to give anyone Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved it. I felt passionately about it. I tried to share it with other people. And for the most part, people reacted as though I were offering up a dead skunk. Over the course of about a year, I did manage to get twelve people to agree to read it. None of them actually did, beyond the first few chapters, and to make matters more unsettling, they dropped out of communication with me altogether. As though the novel were not only too bad for them to finish reading, but so bad that it made them think less of me as a person. One of those twelve was actually a professional critique service. I got my money back, and said professional hasn’t responded to a single communication since.
Diana Rowland aptly dubbed the manuscript “the Weeping Angels of literature” (Dr. Who reference) because whoever touched it disappeared off the face of the earth. The novel seemed genuinely cursed.
In the face of this, is it not understandable that giving up on the project seemed like the best idea? So I did. I gave up on it. But then I dragged it out one day, I don’t even remember why, and made one last desperate tweet for feedback. Amanda C. Davis happened to have nothing better to do that weekend, so she read it. And she said, “I think you should go ahead and query this.”
I should have seen this for the encouragement it was, but given what I’d been through before, I assumed this was just her way of saying “I don’t think there’s much point in spending more energy trying to fix this mess. This is as good as it’s going to get.” So I, incredibly, put the novel away again. For months. I only dragged it out when I was halfway through the second draft of my next novel and hit a terrible research roadblock I couldn’t find my way past. I dragged it out and read it again, and once again I had that bizarre feeling of living in a parallel universe from everyone else who had ever seen this thing.
I loved it. It had been long enough since I’d read it that I’d forgotten parts of it, and they made me laugh. I even got tears in my eyes at one point. I said to my husband, “I love this book. I would want to read this book. Why does no one want to read this book?” I tweeted something to that effect, and Amanda tweeted back, “I’ve often wished there were a sequel to that!” And it finally clicked that she had actually meant she also liked the book.
In a frenzy of excitement, I queried my dream agent, the one I’d wanted ever since I read an essay on publishing he’d written in 2009. Within hours he asked for the full manuscript. So I sent it. I knew I was in for a long wait, so like a good girl I researched other agents and sent out eight other queries, one each day. I got about a 50% “send more” rate, which is, as I understand it, spectacular. But all this mechanical professionalism, this steady train-chug of submission progress, was hard to invest in, because the book was already metaphorically sitting on my dream agent’s desk. I tried not to even think about it, because when I did, I suddenly noticed all kinds of flaws in it I hadn’t noticed until I realized he was looking at it. I wanted to yank it right back off his desk and say, “Never mind, I’ll get back to you when I’m a real writer. I’m so sorry to have wasted your time” But I didn’t.
I did give up, though. Again. I stopped sending queries, because I realized that I’d rather just try my dream agent again next year with a different project than keep offering up what I still wasn’t 100% sure was anything other than a dead skunk. I had no one’s enthusiasm but mine and Amanda’s to suggest anything different.
Then yesterday, I got the call. Russell Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency and his partner Rachel Kory wanted to represent me. They loved the exact same things about the novel that I did, the things I had stubbornly stuck to even though they blithely ignored genre guidelines. Suddenly it mattered to me a lot less what those twelve vanishing people thought, or didn’t think, about my novel. I may never know, and I’m at peace with that. Because the person who mattered most to me — literarily speaking — felt the same way about my book that I did. And, bonus! I’ve met someone new in Rachel, someone young and energetic and hungry and innovative who also loves my book. Between the two of them, they make, quite literally, the perfect agent.
Of course, I don’t know what Borderline‘s ultimate fate will be. But I’m not worried in the slightest. Not only is it in the best possible hands, but it isn’t my only dog in the race. I have three other series ideas in various stages of development. This is the end of one phase of my life and the beginning of another. And if I had been even one ounce less stubborn about this project, even half an ounce, today would just be another day.
Let that be a lesson to you! And, honestly, to me. I came within a hair’s breadth of giving up on this book so many times. And whatever ultimately becomes of it now, it will always be the book that got me a literary agent.