A Thank You To the Agents Who Said No

I wrote my memoir, Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family’s Journey in China, sent it to beta readers, edited and rewrote, and began work on that all important task: the query letter. Following the advice I’d read on this blog and others, I wrote a query letter that rocked, and earned me several requests for partials. But then, one by one, they were rejected…

GIVEAWAY: Aminta is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Nicolette won.)

 

        

Guest column by Aminta Arrington, who has an M.A. in international
relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Studies
and studied at Waseda University in Tokyo.  She has written about
China for The Seattle Times and China Daily, and she edited the
anthology Saving Grandmother’s Face: And Other Tales from Christian
Teachers in China. Aminta contiues to live and work in China with her
family. Her new memoir, HOME IS A ROOF OVER A PIG (Overlook,
July 2012) is about her move from suburban Georgia to China with
her husband and three children.

 

First there was Tina. “I don’t know who YOU are,” she wrote to me. And then I realized. I had kept “me” very private. And this was a memoir, after all. Readers of memoir want to know, upfront, who they will be spending several hours with. I stopped querying at this point, put myself out there despite my insecurities, listened to my voice, and rewrote my first chapter in a much more warm, personal way.

Then there was John. “I’m starting to feel I’ve read it already,” he said. I reread the manuscript looking for repetition. And I found some. I cut out portions and reorganized. The result was a much cleaner, flowing product.

(What should you do after rejection?)

Then Diana. “I wanted to follow your children,” she said. “I read about their conflicts in Chinese school, but then what happened? I wanted to know.” I listened to her advice, and spread the children’s struggles with learning Chinese, making friends, and coping with life in another culture at such a tender age, over several chapters. I also wrote about their victories, but kept the tension going instead of resolving the issues right away. It reflected our lived experience more accurately, and made the pages turn more quickly.

And what would I have done with Claire. Claire was the one who pushed me to put in more of our adoption story (our middle daughter is adopted from China), more of myself, more of my relationship with my husband Chris. It was while sending revisions back and forth to Claire, that the creative seed for the first page, the hook of the book, finally germinated and wrote itself. What a relief to have that finally cleared from my subconscious! Ultimately Claire and I differed on the overall direction of the book. But by that time, I had found Alexis.

Yes, Alexis Hurley. I had queried her in the very beginning. She was from a great agency, InkWell Management, and her interests—History, Current Affairs, Memoir—fit my manuscript exactly. It was about this time—nearly two months after I sent her my query—that her assistant requested my partial. I sent her 100 pages, with the bright shining new first page, my personal story up front, my voice strong in all three of those critical first chapters. A few weeks later she requested the full, then offered representation.

(How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.)

Home is a Roof Over A Pig publishes from Overlook Press on July 5, and I’m so thankful to Alexis for making my publishing dream come true. But I also must give a heartfelt thank you to Tina, John, Diana, and Claire. Thank you for saying no, and keeping me from submitting a manuscript that wasn’t ready. But more than that, thanks for taking the time to tell me why.

GIVEAWAY: Aminta is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Nicolette won.)

 

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22 thoughts on “A Thank You To the Agents Who Said No

  1. Onjeinika

    This was right on time and so helpful to read. Writing a memoir seems harder than fiction because I grapple with voice and how much of me I am really willing to expose. My writing journey has been quite similiar to yours. Congratulations on your book!

  2. Pamela Carey

    Hooks, lines, and sinkers – writers have experienced them all! It’s refreshing to get feedback from agents about what really works. Then YOU took it from there. Congratulations and looking forward to reading your book! I’m starting over with queries for my second manuscript, since the publisher of my first book
    (MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS) went out of business.

  3. Michael G-G

    Thank you for the inspiring post. I’m glad you had the mindset of learning from the agents who rejected you, and that your changes brought you to your current agent. This sounds like a great memoir, and I’ll be looking out for it.

  4. ukjb053

    I’m exactly at this place. Getting those comments and revising (again and again). Realizing I’m glad it didn’t get published before it was ready. But hoping it’s ready soon. I totally get that. Congrats on your book being published. A great accomplishment and very exciting!

  5. Lacygnette

    Yes, it was kind of those agents to give you comments. But you took the next step, weren’t defensive, and made your book better. Bravo!

  6. Nicolette J

    I think it is quite wonderful that you have adopted a daughter from China and you also have such an interest in the culture and values – I am very fond of Japan and Thailand myself. You make a great point that criticism should accompany rejection and we should constantly learn from that, and that some things that we feel are the “make or break” point of something can actually push us in the right direction. Congratulations and keep writing! 🙂

  7. DanaChish

    Fantastic, encouraging advice! Thank you. Well done. And be sure and sign the book that you give away!! I’m looking forward to you signing mine 🙂
    As was said above – I wish more publishers would give feedback, but I understand they are busy. What a gift to you!

  8. dburt

    Nothing tickles my fancy quite like the idea of a free book 🙂
    This actually seems like a refreshing piece of literature. I think it will be added to my list!! I love the idea of mingling amongst other cultures in novels. Mostly because things never go as one suspects.

  9. wendybythesea

    I had a friend who posed the question, “Would Hemingway have been the writer he was if self-publishing was an option back then?”

    We have to see the value in “no.”

  10. rascribbler

    As an aspiring writer, looking to eventually get published; I found your article surprising and helpful. Although my research on literary agents and publishers all say that getting published can be a “long, frustrating, humbling” experience, your article gave me more insight as to how and why. I can take these tidbits and add them to my checklist of items, and hopefully make my submissions more polished. Thanks for writing!

  11. aobrien

    Wow, that’s so encouraging. Sometimes it’s such a struggle to put words to a page, and I know that struggles shows up in the writing. But seeing why the story doesn’t work should help to make the story better, and take away some of that early frustration.

  12. susanbkason

    What a fabulous post! I had a similar experience, although my manuscript is still in submission. A couple of agents who sent rejection letters were kind enough to take the time to write constructive comments. I’m also very grateful to them. Once I’d completed my revisions, I found an agent through this blog who believed in my story and offered representation. I can’t wait to read your book and am excited to hear about your China experience!!!

  13. Heather Marsten

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m learning from all the critiques I’ve received how to write my memoir stronger. It is encouraging to see how applying all the comments from rejection letters helped to make a stronger story. I’m hoping, when I submit my MS (some time from now) that I receive encouragement, even in the form of a rejection with comments. Your title intrigues me. Looking forward to reading your story.

  14. Kristan

    Great attitude, and great post. It’s neat to see how their feedback pushed you to improve your work. (If only they’d all take the time to write something, even brief… But I know they’re busy!)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story, and for the opportunity to win your book! Sounds like something I’d enjoy. 🙂

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