By Sally Matheny
During a conference, a literary agent asks you to submit your work. Suddenly, you’re frozen somewhere between unqualified joy and unreserved terror. Who you are as a writer dangles precariously on your response. You know you should follow through, but is it worth the risk?
The first time an agent asked for my work it was a fluke. Really. I wasn’t pitching anything that year. During lunch, she asked me what I write. Answering her, I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been with an agent because 1) she didn’t represent my genre, and 2) I wasn’t pitching. I shared my passion for sharing history with children, especially WWII.
I informed her of intriguing WWII veteran interviews and incorporating those into a class I taught to kids. I told her of museum directors expressing their need for WWII books for younger readers.
My enthusiasm bubbled over. Although she didn’t represent children’s literature, she said if I wrote something about WWII for either four-to six-year olds or for middle grade, she’d see what she could do.
Wow! Writing about WWII for younger children would prove challenging. Yet, with my experience as a kindergarten teacher and writing for children’s publications, I thought I could do it.
A great deal of research had already been done and I had recently accepted an invitation to join a critique group. Perhaps the doors to publishing my first book were swinging open.
After months of exhausting edits, thanks to my phenomenal, yet brutal, critique group, I finally sent a polished copy to the agent.
Unfortunately, she didn’t remember asking for books for younger readers. While she liked the writing, she wanted manuscripts for the middle grades. She suggested I send her something else.
Arrgh. All that work.
After polishing off a tub of Chunky Monkey ice cream, I realized my efforts weren’t wasted. Although strong, the product just wasn’t what this agent represented. I wrote her a note thanking her for her time and for lighting a fire under me to work diligently. Plus, the whole process strengthened me as a writer.
Having no experience writing MG, I didn’t send her anything else. My manuscript hid in the filing cabinet until I finally rallied courage and modified it for a slightly older audience.
Recently, at another writers’ conference, I pitched the revised project to an agent who represents children’s books. Not only did he like my manuscript, but he requested three more proposals for a series.
I wish I could say I’ve been offered a contract with the agent, or better yet, with a publisher. But I sent the requested material only a few days ago.
What if there’s another rejection?
The way I see it, agent requests went from one item to four. I gained experience writing, pitching, and my research will provide for additional writing assignments. That’s progress.
I’ll keep working and submitting because “no risk, no reward.”
How are you following through after a conference?
A freelance writer and blogger, Sally Matheny’s writing appears in numerous online and print publications including Appleseeds, Clubhouse Jr., Homeschooling Today, Practical Homeschooling, and The Old Schoolhouse. In addition to writing, she has a passion for history. She speaks about and teaches both topics at co-ops, conferences, and to the N.C. Jr. Historian club she advises through the N.C. Museum of History. After serving as a public-school teacher with a master’s degree in K-6 education, Sally began a new adventure—homeschooling. She loves the flexible schedule which allows her more time for writing children’s books. Married twenty-eight years, she and her family call the serene foothills of N.C. home. Connect with Sally: www.sallymatheny.blogspot.com Facebook: Sally Matheny- Encourager, Writer, Speaker Twitter: Sally_Matheny, and on Pinterest