Deb Erika gets close, but no cigar (or book deal)

Erika MarksYou know what they say: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Of course, when it comes to submissions, it rarely feels that way.

When I sold LITTLE GALE GUMBO, it wasn’t the first time I’d had one of my manuscripts go out on submission. Two years before my agent sent the manuscript out, I was working with another agent on another women’s fiction project. Oh, it was a whirlwind of excitement! We spent a few weeks on edits and within a month of accepting the email offer to represent the novel, we were out on submission.

The responses came in fast and furious. No offers right away, but the rejections were kind—some even including suggestions! I was encouraged, so was my agent.

More rejections arrived, but I remained encouraged. After all, I had waited 15 years for this—surely I couldn’t get this close and not get all the way, right?!

Well…my optimism sagged. A last-ditch round of submissions yielded no offers. And as bad as that was, the news got bleaker. My agent felt the project had run its course, and so had our partnership.

I believe they call that a double whammy.

And while our parting was utterly cordial (and not entirely unexpected—the agent had made it clear they were representing the work, not me) I was crushed all the same.

After 15 years of writing and submitting, I’d come so close. Too close, darn it! Sure, I’d worked manuscripts to death before, but they’d never come as close as this one had and I wasn’t ready to put it away. No, ma’am. So for the next week, I put that poor, tired thing through its paces ONE MORE TIME. I returned to my spreadsheet of agents and I compiled a new list, for my new manuscript.

Oh, sure. I knew the rules. The whole once-it’s-been-seen-by-editors-its-dead-in-the-water rule, but I knew rules in publishing were made to be broken. After all, the agent hadn’t tried every editor on the planet, right? Surely there were one or two who’d been on vacation or maternity leave or on their lunch break when that initial mass emailing had gone out? And what about the excellent suggestions that had come back from a few agents—and wasn’t there even one kind woman who’d offered to give the book a second look if I addressed her concerns? I’d be a fool to not at least try, right?




At the end of that week, I took a hard look at that new list of agents, that new manuscript, and I had my Joe Buck You-know-what-you’ve-gotta-do-Cowboy moment. I put it all away and I started something new.

I left it and I didn’t look back.

Well, not until this post, I suppose.

And leaving it was the best thing I could have done.

But I think Kenny really says it best when he says: Now every gambler knows that the secret to surviving, is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep.

Actually, I think it sounds better coming from the man himself:

And guess what?!

Today is a special giveaway–because I had the joy of meeting fellow Deb Eleanor Brown last Friday, I want to share some of the love. I will send one lucky commenter a copy of THE WEIRD SISTERS signed by Eleanor! Just leave a comment to be entered to win!

16 Replies to “Deb Erika gets close, but no cigar (or book deal)”

  1. What a story — and a reality check for me as I narrow in on the querying process. I came close with a middle grade novel once, too — an editor at a big publishing house really liked it and gave me some feedback, asking me to resubmit. Unfortunately even when I revised it wasn’t what they’d hoped for so it didn’t work out. I think that’s the hardest reality for me at this point as I’m getting ready: that I can feel good about my current WIP, that others can give me great feedback, and that it still may not find a home. (p.s. have you ever considered self publishing for that novel? I’m wondering if I might…)

    1. Good morning, Julia, dear! I hear you on all this…it really is so, so deeply frustrating because with every hurdle you get over, you feel as if there’s some kind of unspoken given that you’ve made it past the point of no return, but we all know that isn’t the case. Once again, I equate it to romance. How many times have we all come so close–even getting engaged to someone–and so sure that guarantees our success, only to find ourselves starting over.

      Remind me if you’ve done a post on the possibilities/your thoughts on self-publishing? If not, might you? I’d love to know where you stand on that subject as a writer…

  2. Thank goodness for the persistence that made you stay in the game after you had to “fold ’em” on the first book! Otherwise I wouldn’t have the fantastic Little Gale Gumbo on my bookshelf, and that would make me sad.

    I wouldn’t totally write off the first book yet, though. You never know–it just might not have been its time yet. It could be that it’s a perfect third or fourth book, rather than a first. 🙂

    1. Aww, thank you, my dear. I think that’s what I especially loved about Joanne’s list yesterday–about all of us looking at our “catalogs” because it does give such insight into our writing journeys, and our growth–basically, seeing the forest for the trees, which can be so hard to do most days when it just seems like a path with no beginning, no end, and no logic!

      (And I’m not gonna lie–I have always loved me a little Kenny, and I know my day is brighter for watching that video 😉 )

    1. You are a sweetheart. Thank you.

      I’ll always remember people around me assuming that was the final straw, thinking surely I’d throw in the towel. But that only drives us harder, doesn’t it? When you get that close, how can you NOT go back in the water and try again, right?

  3. Oh, what a heartbreak!! But wow, I’m so proud of you for dusting off and taking another stab at it. You are an inspiration.

    Now, that WEIRD SISTERS book I’ve been hearing so much about: How have I not read it yet? (Well, I know it’s because I’m buried under piles of historical fiction ARCs and purchases, but that’s still not a good excuse.)

    Thanks for this post. You rock.

    1. Hello, my dear! So glad you came by!

      Eleanor’s book is so wonderful–of course, SHE’S wonderful, but I can say the book is also great because I read it (and loved it) BEFORE I met her.

    1. Thank YOU for coming by, Marisa–I really appreciate it!

      And another fellow Kenny lover! Yes!! I have to admit it was a true rabbit hole searching for this on youtube…I had to force myself away from just one more Kenny clip!

  4. The first half of your post made my heart ache for you, Erika. Ugh, I so know that dejected feeling of editor after editor saying “Thanks but no thanks”. I’m SOOOOO glad you stuck with it, though and what a testament to you that you did and brought LITTLE GALE GUMBO into the world!

    1. Oh thank you, Joanne. Like your great post yesterday proved, it can take a lot of knocks to get that door to open–and even when it opens, it doesn’t guarantee an invitation inside. Sticking with it is the best advice there is. What other choice do we have, right?

  5. “My agent felt the project had run its course, and so had our partnership.”
    Ugh! How did you get through this! Poor dear. I would probably fall to the floor weeping. You’re a tough woman, Erika. I so admire that. You really are an inspiration.
    Thank you for sharing this. You’re amazing!

    1. Hi Cynthia! You are such a sweetie to say so–and as a fellow writer, I know you can appreciate the determination it takes. I’m just so grateful we all have the community of support from one another. It really is such a gift knowing that we all can share in our journeys. (But yes, I cried some big fat tears when that email came in!)

  6. Hearing about your experience (and the other Debs’ as well) teaches me so much about the writing process. Knowing what to leave and what to keep – that’s a skill schools should teach! Congrats on your forthcoming book Erika! Can’t wait to read it.

    1. Thank you, Alisha! I’m so thrilled to hear (we ALL are!) that we can offer some good information–and we’re so grateful you stopped by. Yes, it is a good skill to have–but often a hard one to develop. Especially early on we want to keep it all, I think!

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