Not the Darling: An Almost-Darling

Note from Aimee: The author of the following post had me weeping by the end of this poignant, perfectly timed piece. Another #PitchWars alum, the story is one that obviously strikes close to home for me personally but in today’s climate speaks loudly for us all and is a perspective I have yet to host here: a return to the trenches. That said, I do want to note (with the author’s permission) that the agency and agent discussed are not those being discussed at present.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Signing with an agent, agent ghosting, long-term querying (no stats specifically discussed)

An Almost-Darling

By: Anonymous

The beginning was thrilling enough that I thought I might be a darling.

I got into Pitch Wars with the book that was supposed to be my second attempt at querying. Thanks to a whirlwind showcase, I had an offer of rep before I’d sent a single cold query. The agent was a perfect fit—personable and enthusiastic, with a history of sales at a reputable agency. I had no doubts when I signed. Crank up the Hilary Duff, baby, because this is what dreams are made of.

We worked through revisions, made the book shine, and had one close call with an editor. But ultimately, sub went how it goes for most authors: a slow death for a desperately loved story.

Fortunately, my agent and I had picked my next project early, and I’d already sent them the revised draft. I received no response for a couple months. Worry pricked the back of my mind. Were they as enthusiastic about the idea as they’d been before? We had an encouraging check-in, followed by a few more months of silence.

I realized I was decidedly Not The Darling when I received a form letter from the agency, letting me know I’d been dropped. I had moved earlier that year, and because they didn’t confirm my address, the letter took over a month to reach me. My agent hadn’t even signed it.

I don’t know what publishing has in store for me, but I do know, without a doubt, nothing will be more shocking or humiliating than emailing to ask if it had been a clerical error, or if that was really how the only professional in my corner had chosen to part ways.

It wasn’t an error. The agent had decided not to represent my genre anymore, and I never would have gotten an explanation if I hadn’t requested one.

Several agent-siblings and I were dumped back into the querying trenches with nothing to show for our years of professional partnership. Just one little line at the end of the query. I was represented, but we parted ways amicably. Because you had to say it was amicable, or people might think you were the problem.

Months turned to years as I tried to recover emotionally and creatively from what happened. I queried another book. And another. And another.

I used to think even if publishing wasn’t a meritocracy, there was an element of forward motion. That one day, if I took my writing seriously, I could look back at the starting line, and it would be just a pinpoint in the distance. I don’t believe that anymore.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to get published, and I haven’t been able to come up with a good answer, really. Most of the time, I have no idea if I’ll ever get a book deal. The vast majority of people don’t.

But I think somewhere deep, deep down I’m cupping my hands around a flickering candle of hope that after all this, I could still be the exception. I could be the one who gets the deal, and everything else she’s ever dreamed of. A decades-in-the-making darling.

Black and white image of a hand holding a candle.
Image source: Pixabay.
Image added by Aimee, not author.

How I Quit Writing Forever, then Got My Agent

Author’s Note: I revamped my old website so I could do this announcement post, and hilariously, the very last post on my blog before I shut down my website was titled “How I Didn’t Get My Agent.” Written in 2019, you can read that here. It’s been a looooong road, and this is going to be a long post, so please bear with me!

Content Warning: This post contains query stats. But don’t worry they’re probably some of the worst you’ve seen.

Sometimes, you have to quit to be found. In this story, I will not overwhelm you with toxic positivity or tell you to “Just keep going.” Because this is a story about how I was, at almost every critical point in my writing life, not the Darling or the Exception, or the Chosen One. And that got to me so much I quit. Several (dozen if you ask my friends) times. But quitting gave me the perspective to carry on which led me to the infamous single yes (really a single one in my case). So, gather round friends, it’s time for me to get On Brand, aka brutally honest.

Dramatic Kitten yells and falls back. For my #PitchWars peeps – I am the most dramatic kitten still, yes.

I sent my first query when I was 14. The manuscript was called IN THE LIGHT OF DAWN. It featured elemental magic, talking Pegacorns, and a villain clearly taken from many hours reading Magic Knight Rayearth fanfic. I wrote it during the summer between the 7th and 8th grade and never edited it. Why would you have to edit a masterpiece?

Pretty sure that first query (and full manuscript in all its messy glory) went to Tor, my dream publisher (if any editor from Tor is reading this, my books are way better now, call my agent!). I remember putting that big manila envelope in the mailbox and thinking, “Today is the first day of my destiny.” Because I was a prodigy. Obvi. When I never heard anything (bless whatever intern for not responding and shattering my fragile, pre-teen heart), I sent out other queries with sample pages. To agents this time (like I needed one, right? But I supposed I could give these fools a try)… Nothing.

I was not deterred. (Bless me.) I’d written the sequel, IN THE DARK OF NIGHT, and four other books in the same world, the names of which I do not remember but were all horrible, things like ocean depths and thorny something or other. I tried to look them up for shits and giggles but couldn’t find them, they’re probably on a floppy disk somewhere (yeah, I’m dating myself with that).

A stack of floppy disks. To the youths, they’re like old school flash drives. Predated CDs. They stored like 1.4MB of data or some nonsense. You could download one illegal song from Napster (that website that gave everyone’s computer a virus) and that was about it. Unlike Napster, this image is not illegal and was sourced freely via Pixabay.

In addition to the churning out of books, I was also winning every writing competition my teachers entered me in. Short fiction, poetry, essays, whatever it was, I was coming back with medals, and plaques, and awards. I cruised through high school feeling Destined. So when I was approached by UNC Chapel Hill to apply for the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship, a writing scholarship that would cover my full tuition, I was sure I had it.

I… did not have it. That rejection letter was the first rejection letter that broke my heart. Spoiler alert: It would not be the last. I remember lying on the floor in the kitchen, the cool stone beneath my hot cheeks, screaming. My dad called me pathetic. Maybe I was.

Maybe I was a spoiled, entitled 17-year-old who had always won everything. Who had never learned to lose. Or maybe I was a teen with C-PTSD and then-undiagnosed ADHD who had rejection sensitive dysphoria who couldn’t handle someone saying their soul wasn’t good enough. Maybe I was both. We do exist in multitudes, as they say.

I did go to UNC, ultimately. For creative writing. I competed mightily with the recipient of the Wolfe Scholarship (whether she knew it or not). I worked my way up through the ranks of a brutally competitive program where every semester you had to apply to get to the next level, and the class availability got smaller and smaller. Whittling out the weak. Teaching us, whether we knew it at the time or not, to fail.

“So much raw talent, but you’ll never make it in this program writing genre fiction.” That’s what my very first fiction professor told me. I wanted to make it with writing. It was all I’d ever wanted. So, I put away stories about goddesses of dreams falling in love with gods of night and wrote lit fic.

Girl with long brown hair lies on white bed, sleeping with a red rose in her hand and a crown of briars on her head.

I argued Chekhov and Hemingway. I dissected Faulkner and literally got in a fight with Stuart Dybek at a bar. For years, I had my work ripped apart twice a week with ruthless efficiency. I stopped crying. For better or worse, my writing would never look the same.

When I graduated college at age 21, I quit writing for the first time. For 6 years, I didn’t pen a word. I didn’t read. Instead, I drank. Until one day, rehab woke me up. And when I came home, I looked around and the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have a single book in my apartment. Me, who had loved books all her life.

I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the Miss Peregrine series. The covers looked how I felt. Black and white. Nostalgic. Lonely. And when I had finished them, my fingers itched for a pen. So, I picked one up, and I wrote. Within nine months, I had four more books drafted.

Two of them would become my 2+ year journey in self-publishing. Another failure. I still couldn’t remember how to cry, but I remembered how to pivot. Back to traditional publishing I went. This was what I knew, and how I was trained, even if I was now writing the Big Terrible Genre Fiction. Brand new book. And the age-old query letter. My enemy.

That first book I queried was a YA fantasy, stats as follows:

  • Pitch Wars Entry 2017 (3 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2018 (0 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • Queries to agents: 51 – ALL form rejections or no response
  • Requests: 0
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book: 0%

While that book died in the trenches, I worked on another YA fantasy that for the first time featured a character with touch aversion and C-PTSD, like me. I would go on to query this book THREE times over the course of the next four years.

A vulture hides its beak in its wing against a black backdrop. IFYKYK.

Between 2019-2020 the revisions blended together and were not big enough to be a different set of queries, in my opinion, so for purposes of this post I am going to lump them together. Stats:

  • Pitch Wars Entry 2019 (1 mentor request, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2020 (0 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • RevPit Entry 2021 (Got cold feet and did not enter at the very last minute)
  • Queries to agents: 64 – ALL form rejections or no response
  • Requests: 0
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book for that round: 0%

The rejections for that book hit me hard. It was the first time since college I’d tried to write a character so closely related to my life experience it was impossible for me to separate the rejections of the book from rejections of me as a human. I quit writing forever again. Right in the middle of drafting this other book about a fairy godmother who hated her job. For about four (maybe six) months I didn’t write or read a word. Every book I picked up made me want to throw things. The professional jealousy was real, and it was beastly. Why did it feel like everyone was winning all. the. time? Hadn’t I suffered enough? Didn’t anyone give a shit about what was fair? Spoiler alert: Most people don’t care, no, but also, if you too are obsessed with the concept of fairness you might be neurodiverse (just saying, I wish I had looked into this sooner).

I’m not sure why I started writing again. I just… did. And then in four days, POOF, I had a finished book looking thing. It was adult, which was new. And missing a WHOLE bunch of words (which would turn out to be a POV), and was a mess, but it was done.

GIF of the Fairy Godmother from Disney’s Cinderella waving her wand.

That book would get me my agent, but not linearly. Because naturally. That book, ALL HER WISHES, an adult fairytale retelling, would also FINALLY get me into #PitchWars. Mentorship stats below:

  • AMM Entry 2021 (1 mentor request, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2021 (2 mentor requests, AND I GOT IN!)
  • PW showcase requests: 2*
    • *This was one of the lowest request rates of all the Pitch Wars mentees

After the showcase, I was a mess. Five years trying to get in, draft 11 of the book, 19,000 words cut to make room for 16,000 new ones. An ending rewritten THREE times, months of work and for… nothing. I’ve tweeted a lot about the post-PW angst, and I’m sure I will blog about it in the future, but it was brutal.

Mood board containing various pictures of me and text advice from my Pitch Wars journey. Including my fave: You don’t need Pitch Wars to survive publishing, but you will need friends – still appropriate, btw.

I queried because I felt like I had to, but I went in with a spirit so thoroughly broken I could barely see straight. Reminder that we’re a couple decades in at this point, if you’ll remember from 100 paragraphs ago. I have written like 14, 15, 16 books at this point, I can’t even keep track. It’s shit for me.

Like honestly, the whole thing is shit. If you’re in the trenches after a lot of years, and you’re feeling like it’s shit, you’re right. It is. I wish I had something inspirational to say to make it better, but I don’t. It’s just absolutely brutal when you aren’t lucky.

And if you’re wondering: What am I doing wrong? Is it me? Probably not. I mean if you’re following the advice, getting CPs, listening to querying tips, taking feedback and help, honing your craft, it’s probably not you. It’s just shit. And luck. And finding that ONE yes.

So, ALL HER WISHES querying, woof. That was awful. I went months and months without a single request. Dozens and dozens of queries. I lamented, cried (remembering how to do that very well at this point), screamed, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, ate more than was comfortable, bothered my mentor SO much, considered small presses, ultimately decided no and shelved the book. And revised ye old YA of my heart (again, but seriously tore it up this time). For that new revision on the YA (which would be the THIRD time querying this puppy), I had somewhat better luck but still not great. Stats:

  • RevPit Entry 2022 (0 editor requests, I did not get in)
  • Queries to agents: 93
  • Requests: 3 partials, 1 full
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book: 4.3%

I quit writing forever again. I was pretty serious this time. Wrote a thread on Twitter about it and everything. But my now-agent had kindly passed on ye old YA of my heart with interest in ALL HER WISHES, so I figured I would give it ONE. FINAL. GO. Ultimate stats on the book that got me my agent:

  • Traditional queries (outside the PW showcase): 84
  • Requests: 1
  • Offers: 1
  • Request rate (not including PW showcase requests): 1.2%
  • Request rate (including PW showcase requests): 3.6%
White mood board featuring a pink pair of shoes, pink roses, a white woman with long blond hair in a gold dress, a lilac covered field, and a shaded glen. Text reads “All she could do was stare at the silk in her hand and wish…”

That’s three decades of writing and two decades of querying. Of quitting and returning. It’s starting and stopping. Failing and pivoting. It is not Destiny. It is Determination. It is loss. And grief. It is hundreds of rejections at every turn, some I can quantify and some I can’t. It is 98.8% more failure than success.

Are you waiting for me to tell you not to give up?

I won’t. Because giving up is exactly what gave me the courage to keep going. The day I gave up was the day I finally separated my identity as a human from my identity as a writer. It was the day I realized all those agents were not rejecting me, they were rejecting things I could not quantify. Luck. Timing. Market. Style. Preference. Were some of them rejecting me in that I write neurodiverse, bisexual characters with trauma issues baked in? Maybe. Probably (whether consciously or not, everyone has bias). But that’s a them problem, not a me problem. I have carried so much shame in my life, I don’t need to carry more, especially when it does not belong to me. Giving up gave me time and space to finally see some of this and to find a life on the other side of writing.

Yes, there were days it was hard. There were days I was angry at the stories the gatekeepers were (and continue) holding back. I grieved not only my loss but the ones I saw my friends suffering, too. That thing inside me that screams NOT FAIR revolted, slamming against the cage of my ribs like a feral cat in a trap. I told it to shut up and go to hell. Fair or not fair, life is life, and here we were.

But after awhile, I started to miss writing. A little twinge at first, then a tick, then a pang that turned into a steady beat like a heart, like a need. The grieving was done, but there was still a hole that nothing else would fill, and I was reminded why I started writing in the first place. For myself. For the kid still inside me, longing for escape. For kids like me who deserve to see someone like them being the heroes of their own stories. For kids who are trapped in chaos to know there’s an exit on the other side, an exit that might not be sexy but is real and true and entirely theirs. To have a platform to speak on this, on trauma, on neurodiversity, on socioeconomics, on so many things that leave the kind of scars society doesn’t often see.

Those lessons that led to reasons are what will help me through the 98.8% more failure I know is headed my way. So, I stand by my earlier statement.

Quit if you have to. Quit now. Quit tomorrow. Quit forever or for a week.

YOU are the story most important. Never forget that.



P.s. All the love to Keir Alekseii for making this post possible by becoming my agent. I’m totally kidding about 98.8% more failure, btw, we are going to be fiiiiine! Please pretend you never read that. Jokey joke!