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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.)

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.)

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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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