On Tuesday, I covered my querying process – and all my rejections – in detail. In today’s post on #5 of the 7 stages of memoir writing, I’ll explain why it’s important not to give up, and how to keep looking for new approaches to the querying process.
I’ve kept Stage 5: More Querying separate from Stage 4: Querying because it felt so different from querying when I still had a lot of hope. During Stage 5, after I’d hit bottom in my belief in my own writing, it was hard to keep going. I had to deal with a lot of despair about my writing ability, and it was challenging to keep up the enthusiasm necessary to keep querying and pitching and revising.
And Now for Something Completely Different…
So over the next few months I gave myself a fresh start and worked on a middle grade novel, The Algebra of Dogs and Silence. I didn’t even open the memoir manuscript, and I couldn’t bear to think about querying again.
In March 2018, my job took me on a three month trip to South America, where I stayed until May. I wrote my novel on the bus and while walking to work. I poured all my feelings of loneliness and rejection into my story about a 10-year-old Latina girl who can’t talk and a dog nobody wants, and how their friendship helps her find her voice.
When I got home in May, the middle grade novel was finished. That gave me the energy to revise Flying Free again and get back to querying. I researched and queried more agents while I was revising. I bugged friends and critique partners for feedback. I sent drafts of my queries and proposal to professional editors.
I hit a lot of walls. Friends who once seemed eager to read my memoir stopped responding to my emails. One editor-for-hire told me there was nothing she could do to help me with my proposal. The market for memoir was too tough, she said. She wouldn’t even take my money.
That was pretty depressing.
New Approaches to Find Agents
I tried some new approaches. I attended writing conferences and took more classes on how to pitch at Hugo House and online. Then I polished my queries and my loglines and my pitches. I made dozens of revisions. I can still see the draft files on my computer.
As I continued my research, I discovered many new ideas on how to use social media to help get published. My next attempt was to pitch agents on Twitter, although I didn’t have a lot of confidence it could work, especially since I was still a novice user of the platform.
I participated in Pitch Madness, also known as #PitMad, a “pitch party on Twitter,” where over a 12-hour period of a specific day, writers tweet 280-character pitches for their “completed, polished, unpublished” manuscripts.
Okay! I’ve got one of those. Actually, I had two, the memoir and the middle grade novel.
The first time I participated in #PitMad, I tweeted the following for my middle grade novel, The Algebra of Dogs and Silence.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE x ALVIN HO in 70s Indiana
10yo Claudia’s a first-generation Latina who can’t talk in school.
Luna’s a dog so traumatized she won’t let anyone within 20 ft.
Through their unlikely friendship, Claudia finds her voice. #PitMad #MG #INSP#STEM #POC #DIS #OWN
— Cecilia Aragon (@CeciliaRAragon) June 7, 2018
At the end of the day, I’d gotten four requests for queries from agents. Wow! Maybe my memoir wouldn’t sell, but I could find an agent for my novel.
With tremendous excitement, I carefully prepared packets for each of the four agents and sent them off.
Within a few weeks, they were all rejected.
PNWA Conference Pitching
I was racking up the points for those 100 rejections this year.
Next, I went to PNWA, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference near the Seattle airport, in September 2018. I signed up for two “pitch blocks,” where agents and editors sit at one end of a big room, and hopeful authors line up behind a masking tape stripe, waiting for their four-minute turn to pitch.
It was kind of nerve-racking to stand in line waiting for those make-or-break minutes. Still, I’d practiced my pitches for the memoir and the middle grade novel, and friends said they were good. I’d even made business cards, and my talented author/illustrator friend Rebecca Thornburgh created a design for the novel. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
Here’s how I prepared my pitches:
- I started with a one sentence description of each book’s genre and its hook, including the word count.
- For the memoir, I described my platform and my marketing efforts.
I pitched to over a dozen agents and editors, screwing up my courage to stand in line and jump into my prepared speech for my four-minute chance for glory.
By the end of the conference, I’d gotten interest from nine agents and editors. Exciting! Besides, everybody was nice, even when they rejected me.
I eagerly went home and wrote up query letters, personalizing them for each agent or editor.
Then I sent them off and moved on with my life, steeling myself for yet more rejections.
I also applied to writing mentorship programs, including one sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and #PitchWars on Twitter. It couldn’t hurt to keep learning more about writing.
A few rejections trickled in, and I shrugged and moved on. They still stung, but I made a tick mark for each rejection and told myself I was one step further to my goal of 100 rejections in 2018.
Pitch Madness Take 2
For the September 2018 #PitMad contest, I spent days revising the Twitter pitches for both my middle grade novel and the memoir. I was fortunate enough to get help from author Brittney Morris on my memoir pitch, and this was the end result:
WILD meets HIDDEN FIGURES in 80s Silicon Valley:
— Cecilia Aragon (@CeciliaRAragon) September 6, 2018
I only got a single favorite to my tweet.
Still, I submitted material to the agent according to their submission guidelines.
In the next post on Tuesday the 23rd, I’ll talk about what happened afterwards, and how I (finally!) found agent representation.