Note from Aimee: Today’s post struck me right from the title. Why not me? I don’t know how many times I asked that question through my querying journey. Every time I read a published book, every time I saw an announcement, every time there was a full request announced. Happy for them. But why not me? This next post addresses that very question I believe so many of us have grappled with, and I’m so honored to have it here.
Content/Trigger Warnings: Minor mention of querying stats; mention of C-PTSD and related trauma (religious); mention of parental homophobia; RSD
Why Not Me?
I’ve been in the query trenches for three years.
To some, that’s nothing. A drop in the bucket. To others, it’s an unimaginable eternity.
My first book (YA urban fantasy) was sent to 101 agents. I received 3 requests and 100 rejections. Technically, I still have a full pending an answer.
The overwhelming feedback?
I entered every contest I could toss my hat into the ring for. On more than one occasion, they requested additional material.
The only personalized feedback I received (from two agents independently, and I adore them for taking the time) was that the writing was great, query was strong, but the concept wasn’t new enough.
And here’s a secret for you…
I don’t write new concepts.
I am a traumatized, C-PTSD-having, ADHD-fueled, mentally ill, perfectionist, queer mess.
And all I want in the world is to write stories for people like me. Even the familiar ones. Especially the familiar ones.
So, with my next book, I changed tactics. I laid out my marginalizations so my ‘new take on an old trope’ would be more marketable.
Yes, it’s a concept you’ve seen before, but it’s sapphic. Why does this story matter? Well, you see, I’m functioning from a base of 18 years of religious trauma. Would you like to know what my preacher was arrested for (unrelated to me and my C-PTSD, thank the spaghetti monster in the sky)? Shall I list my dead relatives? My abuses and traumas? My journey of self-discovery that resulted in a very mellow coming out at 27?
The sixteen page Facebook message from a family member the day after describing exactly how I’ll burn in hell? My father’s awkward silence and refusal to acknowledge my identity? My mother’s gentle, ‘Okay, that’s fine, but you can’t tell anyone’?
Would you like me to tally my scars, mental and physical, so you can weigh them against my content and see if my story (and therefore I) am ‘different’ enough? Unique enough?
If I describe myself as ‘neurodivergent,’ is that enough? Will you assume I’m autistic? Will you assume I’m mentally damaged and can’t handle the pressure? Will you show compassion? Or will you reject me out of hand assuming I’m difficult?
If I claim that my work is sapphic, is that enough? It isn’t a romance. Not a traditional one. Should I tell you why? Show you my deep mental and emotional scars that have led to writing emotional intimacy without the physical?
Or is that ‘desexualizing WLW’ and unacceptable?
In the span of two weeks, I witnessed two literary agents talk about rejecting a YA fantasy because ‘we’ve seen this concept before.’
Like me, they were rejecting authors that weren’t writing something different enough.
The feedback on this latest manuscript (again, YA fantasy)? Great writing. Fantastic worldbuilding. *Chef’s kiss* voice.
And a concept we’ve seen before.
I received my first full request so fast it made my head spin. I dared to hope that flaying myself alive was finally getting me in the door. Making an agent take notice of something the same, but different.
And since that request, nothing but form rejection… after form rejection… after form rejection.
Agents are busy. Their time is valuable. They owe me nothing as a querying author. I know and accept all of this.
But the form I receive for ‘too queer’ is the same form I receive for ‘not queer enough’ is the same form I receive for ‘terrible writing’ is the same form I receive for ‘great writing, but a concept we’ve seen before.
What’s wrong with a twist on a concept we’ve seen before?
Why isn’t there space for an urban fantasy starring an ambitious-as-hell girl who can’t connect to other people? Her journey discovering that she can open up without losing herself is valuable. Her choice to turn away from ambition for the sake of people who finally gave her a home is valuable.
Why isn’t there space for a fantasy set in a world where ancient religions are the norm, with all their humor and all their horror? That run-of-the-mill teen’s story is important. Her friends who are devout and questioning and set against the gods and kind and cruel in every combination are important. Her discovery that a system can be horrible to the point of evil and still contain good people, that destroying that system may destroy some of those good people, matters. Her quiet questioning matters. She matters.
The next story I write? That will matter, too.
Duty versus love. The trauma-driven need to protect oneself versus protecting a person who is open and honest and kind. Fighting like hell for something as a neurodivergent person, achieving the same and better than competing neurotypical people, and being betrayed by those people. The choice to burn that world down. Whimsy and humor and boredom and trauma and dissociation and self-discovery.
And when I have to reveal intimate aspects of myself with every query to answer the question ‘Why are you the person to write this story?’ when I constantly have to lay myself bare to get a foot in the door, the old advice rings hollow.
‘They aren’t rejecting you; they’re rejecting the story.’
Not anymore. Not when every story’s theme must have roots in my trauma, my marginalization, my life.
I don’t have an answer.
I’m not angry with agents, or even with the system. A form rejection is certainly better than no response. I’m grateful there’s an emphasis on marginalized voices, even if the implementation is sometimes dicey. There are thousands of wonderful writers with millions of beautiful stories all trying desperately to gain representation.
I’m proud of the stories I’ve written. Whether or not they’re important to publishing, they’re important to me.
So I’ll keep writing. I’ll cut myself open to carefully display the traumas that ‘allow’ me to write my stories in the hope that some agent will see and decide that I am enough.
That my queerness is enough. My neurodivergence is enough. My trauma and mental health issues are enough.
That my stories matter.
That my voice matters.
That I matter.
And until then, I guess I’ll just keep bleeding.