January 29, 2011

A Cliff Called Knopf

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 5:32 pm

Many thanks to author Pamela Redmond Satran, who attended last night’s Writing Matters panel, and told me that she had just read the last backstory post and wanted to know what happened.

When you’re a writer, especially a struggling, beginning, yet-to-emerge one, you really don’t know how people react to your work–or even *if* they react. Last night was great because I learned that some people are reading what I say.

So here’s to you, Pam, and the others (*cough* Stacey Gill of Barista Kids) who came up and referred to a few words I have written.

This is what happened as I hung by my thumbs from the cliff called Knopf.

First, I got better. (Remember? I had a cold. Preschool kids, you know.)

Then, I started to revise.

My novel, at that point called WOLF IN THE ROAD, got better, too.

I reached that place where a writer heaves a sigh and says, Thank SOMEONE that last piece of %$# my agent saw fit to submit didn’t sell.

We sent the new version to the editor at Knopf.

I didn’t even get to hear that she liked my changes, enough to bring the manuscript back to her board, before finding out that she had passed.

Maybe that would’ve been worse: hopes raised, nerves stretched taut, tension at a maximum…only to be dropped. Again.

But at least I would’ve had that period of hope. When you don’t have the real deal, sometimes hope that proves to be false is all that gets you through.

My agent told me coolly about Knopf via email. (“Unfortunately, Knopf is passing on the novel.”)  I honestly don’t think she realized that for every one of the past 90 or so nights–man, how this business can drag; 3 months is but a second while on sub–my eyes had sought out the titles on my shelf published by Knopf–Jennifer Egan’s latest, a cookbook, it didn’t matter–and made a wish on that silly, dazzling greyhound colophon.

This business can break you without your even knowing you were broken.

Where to go now?

Another book, another sub, another almost offer?

That was when my agent told me, coolly again–I’m sure defeat like this hurts the agents, too; only they don’t get to whimper–that after two years and two books she didn’t feel she could go farther with me.

She thought that another agent might step in and pick up the sub where she was leaving off.

If you don’t know Mr. Right is right around the corner, it can sure bust up your universe when the guy you don’t particularly dig anyway breaks up with you.

My Mr. Right–the man–was in the driveway, about to leave for work, when I got the break up email.

“Come in!” I screamed at him, frantic with the knowledge that I had to care for two kids under four that day, all while finding…SOMETHING to do.

It was like ants under my skin until I could figure out a plan. I couldn’t wallow in the world of the unagented–I had to move.

But where?


  1. Ah, the lovely world of the used to be but no longer agented world.. .Somany of us can relate. ;)

    Comment by Judy — January 29, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  2. Jenny, so many people go through life with their story untold. Keep telling your story, painful as it may be. I can identify, sympathize, and would help if I could.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — January 29, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

  3. Thank you, Judy & Tom. Even better than a book contract.

    Comment by jenny — January 29, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

  4. Ow, Jenny, what a tale of pain. All that, and then she dropped you, too! Oof. I really identified with “sometimes hope that proves to be false is all that gets you through” and “This business can break you without your even knowing you were broken.” I understand.

    Comment by Savvy — January 30, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  5. Jenny, my heart aches for you.
    I know all of this makes us stronger, but I wonder if that strength is worth the pain–especially with time slipping by faster every year. It’s no wonder so many writers are turning away from the traditional routes.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — January 30, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  6. Jenny: I can relate. I had my hard-boiled Shotgun Start with an agent in Atlanta who expressed confidence he could get a “go” on it for me. After two years and half a dozen rejections some of the major mystery houses they decided it was time for us to part ways. Although I did get some useful feedback from the letters sent back from the editors (my agent shared thses with me)I came away from the experience discouraged and ready to take up Macrame or Tai Chi or perhaps Bok Choy. But, I continued to write, as I know you will, for one non-negotiable reason. We have to. Interestingly enough, after four years or so I’ve picked up the manuscript again and started noodling with it, trying to trim, pick up the pace, provide more character depth. And I’m finding the process gratifying. Perhaps you’ll come back to your book at a later time or maybe you’ll awaken tomorrow with the idea the agents and publishers can’t turn down. Best of luck.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — January 30, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

  7. Thank you, Savvy, Carolyn & Mike, for sharing the pain. I know all we writers have these tales–and maybe they do make us stronger, or at least aware of what Mike says: we have no choice. We do it because we love to, we do it because we *need* to.

    But readers would be nice ;)

    Comment by jenny — January 30, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

  8. OhmyGAWD, you’ve had some heartbreaks in here… I get that… that while you knew it wasn’t Mr. Right, at least it was Mr. RightNow, and that is better than sleeping alone, so to speak… Is this where you are, now, or is there more of the story?

    Comment by Hart — January 31, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  9. Lots more to come, Hart–thanks for reading!!

    Comment by jenny — February 1, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  10. It’s obvious you DO know how to tell a story.

    (She said dryly.)

    I hate how hard this is for you!


    Comment by Jody — February 1, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  11. Thank you, Jody.

    For both.

    Comment by jenny — February 1, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  12. Hey, thanks for the shout out & link! I was heartbroken when you said you got the breakup email. So sorry about that, but I think I see Mr. Right is right around the corner. Yeah, you can’t fool me.

    And there’s another Thomas Gill in the world?

    Comment by Stacey Gill — February 3, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

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