My (Literary) Cinderella Story (Guest Post by Jessica Vitalis, Author of The Wolf's Curse)
As an unpublished author, I spent years dreaming of my first book deal. I imagined my agent would call––no, my agent would show up on my doorstep, a bouquet of flowers and a publishing contract in hand. Celebratory music would play, crowds would cheer, the champagne would flow . . . okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly how I pictured my first book deal going down. Still, I’d always been a decent writer––papers came easily to me in school, and I’d won writing contests, scholarships, and even published an essay in a writing instructor’s textbook. As embarrassing as it is to admit now, I fully expected to write a book, land an agent, and get published right out of the gate.
Although my first book generated a fair amount of agent interest, I didn’t receive any offers of representation, and one agent not-so-gently pointed out my total and complete lack of fiction writing skills. All of the classes I took in college were non-fiction; I had no idea how to write scenes, much less an entire book with a fully developed theme and character arcs.
Undaunted, I set out to write book two. The years passed; between changing diapers and scheduling playdates, I studied craft, read as much middle grade fiction as I could get my hands on, immersed myself in the literary community, and continued writing. By the time I finished book three, my skills were greatly improved. Indeed, I landed a literary agent. Finally! It was time for my publishing dreams to come true!
Book three went out on submission. It received a revision request, which I threw myself into. And then the editor passed. And so did all of the editors after that. My agent and I finally agreed that it was time to work on something new. I wrote book four, set that idea aside, and wrote book five. While that went out on submission, I drafted book six. When the passes for book five started to come in, my agent and I reluctantly agreed that it was time for a fresh start.
Although the parting was amicable, it was still scary. After thirteen years of writing, I had to face the fact that I might never land another agent. But I wasn’t ready to give up. As I set about preparing a query letter and testing the water with a few agents, I saw a notification from a fellow mentor in Pitch Wars, a program I’d been involved with for several years.
This notification wasn’t from any old mentor: it was from Erin Entrada Kelly. The Erin Entrada Kelly (of Newbery fame). She was teaching a class and wanted opening pages to critique with her students; in exchange for sharing our work, she’d pass along all of their feedback plus her own. I jumped at the chance and sent off my opening.
A few weeks passed. Late on Saturday night, I got a message from Erin: I’m obsessed with this story!
I wrote her back, letting her know how very much her enthusiasm meant to me as I entered the querying trenches. And then I sat back and waited to receive her feedback, which I figured would come in sometime over the next week.
The very next day I received another message from Erin. She didn’t have any feedback and had instead used my opening as an example of writing well done; she asked if I’d be willing to send her my full manuscript with an eye toward passing it on to her agent––the brilliant Sara Crowe.
Needless to say, I sent off the full so fast my laptop nearly started on fire. But I’d been in the business for more than a decade and I knew better than to get my hopes up; the odds of getting an offer from Sara were about the same as stuffing my foot into a glass slipper and going on to marry a prince.
The next morning, I received another message from Erin: Sara loved my story and wanted to set up a call!
Feeling just a little bit like Cinderella, I did a light round of revisions and went out on submission. But having been in the trenches several times before (and with Covid shutting down the world), I still expected the wait to be long and painful. Two weeks later, Sara emailed me that an editor was interested in my book and wanted to know what else I was working on.
A week after that, another email arrived. I’d received an offer! For not just one, but two books! From a dream publisher! Sara did a quick round of negotiations for a pre-empt and by the next day, I’d accepted a deal from Greenwillow/HarperCollins.
My publishing journey might not have unfolded like I expected, but thanks to a whole lot of hard work and a little bit of help from my very own literary godmother, my first novel will hit shelves on September 21st.
Find Jessica at her author site.
Snag a copy of The Wolf's Curse.