MAKING WAVES TO SELL MY BOOK TO A PUBLISHER: HOW I SOLD THE NAMESAKE

8180330by Steven Parlato, Author of THE NAMESAKE

One Thing. When I saw this blog assignment title, I immediately thought of that One Direction song. Admit it, you’re humming it right now. “I need that one thing. And you’ve got that ONE THING.” (Full disclosure: I’m dad to a Brit-obsessed pre-teen daughter.)

Well, for me, writing successfully typically involves three things. Okay, there are a bunch (Rolling Rock and my wife’s potato salad were integral to completing THE NAMESAKE), but my big three are: Observation, Imagination and Persistence. I preach these to my students as keys to process, and I use them when creating poetry and fiction. Observation involves incorporating real-world elements and experience, and imagination’s a given for making up stories. So these first two have to do with creating the work. Anyone who writes—or opens his or her eyes daily—knows persistence is all about self-propelled forward motion.

But this post is about selling one’s creation, and as it turns out, persistence is pretty essential there, too; it’s most effective paired with pushing past self-imposed limitations. Here’s what I mean. In regular life, I’m generally a nice guy. Colleagues at the college where I teach coached me in the art of saying no, fearing I’d be capsized by tasks I agreed to undertake. That’s me, agreeable. I’m also a believer in meant-to-be, and even in “whatever-will-be”. This has sometimes led to taking the path of least resistance, the path of not making waves, not sending back the overcooked steak, the path to inertia.

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When it came to my novel, I forged a different path. On some gut-deep level, THE NAMESAKEmattered to me so intensely I had to persist. And several twists in the road to publication seemed to indicate it would never happen. I won’t bore you with details of the high-powered senior executive editor who liked my book, but unfortunately also wanted to live life (Life = having twins, earning an MLS; quitting her house to be an agent; then abandoning publishing altogether to become a librarian—librarians rock, btw). And I won’t go into the countless rejections from agents, some who loved the voice but didn’t love the story. Every author, published or un, can tell a similar tale.

You get the picture. Many times it would’ve been easier to quit. To be the quiet, nice guy, seemingly okay taking no for the final answer. But the toughest moment involved my agent. Well, my former agent. Remember the high-powered editor? When she took an interest in my early chapters, I knew I’d need representation. So I did some homework. I researched YA novels she’d edited, particularly those of debut novelists. I read some, and I queried agents who’d been acknowledged by their appreciative authors. And with one of these, I struck gold. Real-life, invited-to-New-York, office-elevator-bigger-than-our-kitchen, fancy-lunch-and-drinks, swept-me-off-my-feet gold. This agent was a SOMEBODY. He’d worked for years as an editor. Founded a well-known press. Was seemingly gaga for mymanuscript? I signed on the dotted line, and rode the train home starry-eyed.

Sadly, our instantaneous click almost as instantaneously fizzled. Nothing happened with my novel for over two years. At that point, I made one of the boldest decisions of my life. I made waves. I sent back the steak. I (amicably) dumped that agent. We both knew we made a bad match, but I took the necessary—and difficult—step. Although that was a definite low point, I actually felt pretty good (Well, after plunging into a deep-but-brief bout of despair); you see, somehow, I still believed in THE NAMESAKE. And, having spent those two-plus, agented-limbo years reworking independently, I began submitting right away (well, after the mandated thirty days). It turned out the second agent who fell for my book, the fantastic Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider, was really THE ONE. Speaking of persistence, Victoria was THE NAMESAKE’s Fairy Godmother of Persistence—but in a non-flighty, totally professional way— and her persistence led me to Jacquelyn Mitchard and Merit Press. Huzzah!

Anyway, when it came to selling my book, like anyone’s, there were many factors. Observation and imagination were essential in creating a saleable product. However, in that home stretch, persistence was definitely that one thing I needed most. And somehow (The grace of God? The prayers of a 90-something-year-old nun? An army of supportive friends and relatives, and one amazingly encouraging wife?), I realized—to paraphrase 1D–I’ve got that one thing.

Buy The Namesake: Amazon USAmazon CanadaBarnes & NobleIndieBound

** This post first appeared 12/27.13 on UnCommon YA**

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