Yes, dear reader. You read that correctly. I said “no” to the very thing we here at Path2Pub are all about: Getting a book deal.
The Setup: It’s December of 2021. I take a quick break from my Spider-Man: No Way Home Twitter conspiracy theories (obviously) to pitch my manuscript during #PitMad, in what would inevitably be the final event—RIP.
I got a like from a publisher. Feeling great about myself, I immediately sent the requested materials—a query, synopsis, and the first 50-pages. Three days later, my partial request became a full. SOUND THE PANIC ALARMS!
Of course, I’ve been here before. I’ve received a handful of full requests that wound up becoming rejections. With my expectations tempered, I allowed myself the small victory and waited to hear back.
The Rising Action: A week and a half flies by. I take a break from re-watching the Spider-Man movies (obviously) to check my email. I practically fall off the couch when I spot a message from the publisher, asking for a phone call. I respond right away, saying I’m available the next day. We plan to talk then. Not wanting to set myself up for a letdown, I tell myself it’s an R&R to yet again lower my expectations.
Psych. It’s an offer of rep. SOUND THE PANIC ALARMS AGAIN!
It’s a surprising conversation. The publisher loves my story, gushes about its potential (the words ‘movie rights’ were brought up twice), and tells me I have a stellar voice. I’m verklempt and humbled. This was the moment I’d been dreaming about for years—and it was happening!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “JUST TELL US WHY YOU SAID NO!”
I’m getting there. Stick with me.
The Climax: I asked for a customary two weeks to notify outstanding agents who had my manuscript. They agreed. Because the timing of the offer was so unfortunate (right before Christmas as agents tapped out for the year), many of the emails I sent resulted in automatic passes.
That wasn’t the hard part though. The hard part was knowing in my gut the moment our call ended, I’d likely be denying the offer.
- We don’t have the same vision for my story. While the requested manuscript changes were doable (I’ve made a few of them), we couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the ending. It’s a Roman Holiday re-telling, and spoiler: if you’ve ever seen the movie, you’ll know it has a melancholy ending. I set out to make my ending far more palatable, but that isn’t necessarily what they want. If they were to acquire my story, they’d require a follow-up be produced. I’m adamant about my story being standalone. To add to that…
- There’s no interest in future endeavors. I comment on how I’m actively and excitedly writing/brainstorming two other projects in the same genre, and, with the help of their editing team, would rather focus on making those a reality than penning a sequel I hadn’t planned on. They disagree, stating a two-book deal would require the follow-up. They’d consider another contract if the first two sold well. This ultimately leads me to…
- I did my research. I spent those two weeks in-depth researching the publishing house. All their clients, their social media channels, relevant affiliate links, Goodreads reviews—you name it, I stalked it. The verdict? The publisher didn’t have a great track record in terms of marketing their authors. No ARCs given, very little presence online, and few to no reader reviews. Even finding links for where to buy the books was near impossible. This was a red flag to me, considering some of the promises I was given over the phone.
The Falling Action: Two weeks come and go. I take a break from seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home for the sixth time to email the publisher, sticking to my terms and voicing my concerns. We ultimately disagree, leading to us wishing one another well and me officially denying the offer of representation. I’m pretty sure somewhere in that time I go to see Spider-Man a seventh time (obviously). It’s all a blur.
I was relieved and heartbroken all at once. Proud of myself, yet devastated. It was a bittersweet sting. Like learning your fiancé cheated on you right before your wedding and calling the whole thing off. It’s the right decision, but you were so dang close to celebrating.
The Resolution: I won’t lie and say it was easy. To stick with the breakup analogy, I still find myself looking the publisher up from time to time to see what they’re up to. Who they’ve signed, and how it could’ve been me. Especially when those query rejections funnel in.
A few hours after the email, I published a vague tweet about the ordeal. It blew up, and for the first time, I learned what the ‘community’ part of #writingcommunity meant. I felt loved, supported, and encouraged in my heartache. That is a feeling I will never forget.
The moral: Getting an offer a rep is every writer’s dream. I still long for the day it happens again and I get to say yes! However, in the excitement and adrenaline of the moment (which you should 100% bask in), I encourage you to sit back and remember something crucial: Does this offer represent what I and my story are worth?
I hope it does. And if not? I hope you also have the bravery to stand up and hold out for the offer that will. After all, with great power comes great responsibility. Some guy said that once.
How close have you ever gotten to publishing? Have you ever had to turn down an offer before?
Sarah Ainslee is an aspiring YA author. When she’s not writing, you can find her coffee shop hopping, running, overthinking, or posting every single one of her in-depth thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe over on her Instagram.