By Kelly Zekas
A very common piece of writing advice is to never give up. I completely agree! I know how disheartening and frustrating it is to get rejection after rejection. And you’ve probably heard that most people didn’t sign with the first agent they queried and maybe they didn’t sell their first manuscript. It was their second, or third, or sixth or tenth attempt that landed them an agent and/or book deal. The idea is simply to not stop writing.
What most people will not tell you to do, is to get so stubborn about one idea, one manuscript, that you never stop trying to get it in the hands of someone who will love it like you do. That’s a mistake, they will say.
My co-author Tarun and I spent about four years trying to get an agent for our first book, These Vicious Masks. Most people likely and rightly would have told us to put it on the back-burner and work on something else. Well, we listened to part of that advice, we did put it on the back-burner, over and over again. We would rewrite the whole thing and send out new batches of queries until we felt too dejected to keep trying. But we never wanted to move onto anything new. We were completely convinced that this book was worth it and we just kept reworking it, over and over.
We never did get an agent for These Vicious Masks. In 2014 we heard about the Swoon Reads platform, which was accepting unagented submissions and decided we would put our book up. If nothing came of it, we were going to look into self-publishing. But Swoon did select our book, and working with them has been a dream.
I am not here to tell you this “no, no, we work on this book till our ears and hands bleed” approach was fun, would have worked for everyone, and that there wasn’t a humongous degree of luck involved. We might have had faster successes had we moved on. Maybe the book we did not write would have been better than These Vicious Masks. I am definitely not suggesting you have to put all your eggs in one basket – Do what’s right for you, your process, and mental health. We were really young when we started writing our book, and we needed those drafts to make huge mistakes – like changing the entire book from first person to third person back to first. We learned how to kill off darlings and take criticism when an agent asked for a rewrite.
Whether or not you decide to put down that first ms and open a fresh document on your computer, my best advice is this: if you believe in something, fight for it. There are so many roads to publication, and you have to find the one that suits you best.
We did find an agent, by the way, for our third book. Laura Zats was not yet an agent when we first querying, but we decided to only reach out to and ultimately talk to three dream agents with the final book in our trilogy.
Stick to what you love. Fight for things you believe in.
Kelly is the co-author of the THESE VICIOUS MASKS trilogy with Tarun Shanker. She writes about different people, ages, situations and time periods, but her characters’ issues are usually about love. This is undoubtedly because she started reading Harlequin romances at 12 years old. Kelly graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and The Stella Adler Studio with a BFA in Acting and a BS in Sociology. She likes to think these degrees are somewhat helpful to writing.