My insides literally shuddered with delight and nerves as my eye fell on the magazine that came in with the mail. Based on an email I had received a week or so before, I had reason to believe that this tiny, Christian girls magazine had a delightful surprise in it. I grasped it, ran to the bedroom I shared with four of my sisters, closed the door, and sank onto the floor, pretty sure my heart was going to leap out of my body as I slowly opened it. The ecstasy that filled me as I saw my (maiden) name in actual print–JACINTA VANZANDT–is indescribable. To this day, I look back on my 15-year-old self and sigh in delight. My first ever published story.
And now, almost ten years later, still my only one.
It’s a little depressing to actually write that down. But it’s the truth. Between life, college, self-confidence issues, and…well, a saturated market with no room for Christian mores, I have never yet had even a short story published since then.
I’ve been trying to find an agent and/or publisher for Drawn Into Love since I officially finished it and had it edited last fall, but with no luck. And, if I was honest with myself, every time I got a rejection, I nodded my head in agreement. The book wasn’t worthy. They knew it. I knew it. It was just a cute little romance, with no place in the world, and no reason to exist except that one ethereal concept: hope.
My family, husband, friends, and even beta readers could tell me all they liked how much they loved the book.That it was well-written, fun, and better than most of the other contemporary romances out there. It didn’t matter. I knew the truth, even if it was just me who acknowledged it. And so, every time I sent out another query, I knew in advance the answer that was going to come, because it was unworthy.
Here’s a little secret. If you don’t believe in your work, then the people whose job it is to sell it won’t either. If you don’t think it will sell, why would they? And if you write your query and proposals, all the while thinking about how absurd it sounds, I’m pretty sure that comes through, no matter how subtly.
A part of me knew that as well. But how can I change my own mind about my book? I didn’t think it was possible. And then I finally opened the book I purchased at a writer’s conference last year: Tailor Your Manuscript by Zoe M. McCarthy. I intended to use it for the book I am currently editing, Picture of the Past, but as soon as I read the first chapter, I knew I needed to apply it to Drawn Into Love.
I went through all the exercises in the first chapter for my poor little contemporary romance, which brings you through identifying your book and character’s theme, values, and struggles, and by the end of it, I stared at that page and realized that, despite writing the book, I myself had not understood what the book was about.
I kept trying to make it about romance, but it wasn’t about romance at all. Sure, romance had the primary plot point, but the truth was, the book was about Josie overcoming her insecurities as she learned to blend responsibility and passion in her new life. She assumed that working in the city to pay her mother’s medical bills meant giving up all she wanted in life when, in fact, if she had the confidence to pursue it, she could still do artwork and pay for her mother’s bills.
As soon as I understood my book, something clicked inside. Wait, this is a good story. Everyone I know, including me, has struggled with insecurity as they move out into the world and had to deal with reconciling their past (whether pleasant or unpleasant) with their present, figuring out the balance between responsibility and pursuing dreams. This is a story of life.
Now, since it is, in fact, a book, and it is, in fact, a contemporary romance, things work out in the book far better than they usually do in real life…but that doesn’t erase the innate struggle and the realization that you have to overcome the issues in yourself in order to move forward, regardless of the people or situations around you.
I plan to rewrite my query letter this week, and this time when I send it out, I think it will actually reflect that fact that I do think people will buy my book, and I do think it is worth reading.
Cue Chadwick. . .