Author Update, Neurodiversity, writing life

Where Do Novels Go When No Agent Wants Them?

I’m thrilled to be officially querying a brand new manuscript in hope of agent representation! It’s titled THE VIOLET TAMARIND and you can read more about it and see a gorgeous mood board one of my beta readers made for it here.

But Allison (asked almost no one), whatever happened to that post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel you were writing for like five years and pitching and querying to agents?

Ah. Yes. That.

You’re referring to ECHOES OF THE OLD WORLD, the manuscript I started writing in my MFA program (one year for coursework, one year for my thesis) and then continued to work on until I finally (FINALLY) finished it, sent it to beta readers, revised (and revised and revised), and queried.

The short answer is that after one year and over 100 agents queried, no one offered representation. I shelved the book.

Shelved means I’m no longer working on it or attempting to publish it, traditionally or independently.

Definitely unfortunate. Often depressing. Not what I wanted for myself or the story. But I learned a lot through it about my own process, how to write a book, how to NOT write a book, and the publishing industry.

There were a couple of factors that, in retrospect, likely kept agents from offering on ECHOES.

1. I was querying a post-apocalyptic novel during a global pandemic.

Super bad timing. I had already started the querying process in January of 2020. Between the worldwide trauma and aversion to apocalypse since it seemed to be our new reality and the economic recession that hit (and is still hitting) the publishing industry, there was little to no chance of being offered representation with this book at that time.

2. I had unintentionally and unknowingly written an autistic protagonist.

I worked on this book between 2015 and 2019, and I found out that I’m autistic in November 2020. In the throes of processing this new self-knowledge, it dawned on me that my protagonist was also autistic. This amazed me, helped me understand agent rejections, and broke my heart a little. Amazed, because I had so clearly written in autistic traits without meaning to at all. Helped, because I could definitely see how a neurotypical person wouldn’t understand or relate to why my protagonist felt and acted like she did. Broke my heart, because I had so boldly written my own experience of being alive into this character, assuming it was relatable, and she’d been misunderstood. I’d been misunderstood.

Figuring out that my protagonist is autistic is a huge step forward in making the book work. When I lay in bed at night, I get ideas about how to restructure the story so the reader will have no choice but to fall in love with my characters. Ideas about how to rewrite the thing so that autism is included with intention.

But I also have other books in me that want to be written. I’m currently about 70k words into a first draft of a super cool fantasy novel that may end up being a duology. I have another idea for a different fantasy novel. And I could very well end up writing a sequel to THE VIOLET TAMARIND.

I don’t want to move backward, caught in a maelstrom of a book that will never be finished, never be perfect, and never be represented or published, while books that could be are never written into existence.

If there’s a time when it feels like coming back to ECHOES is right, I’ll come running to it with open arms. But for now, it’s onward and (hopefully) upward.

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