This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author C.K. Kelly Martin revealing hers…
Guest post by C.K. Kelly Martin
There was a moment back in 2002 when I believed things were truly starting to happen for me in publishing. After a year or two of querying I’d landed a literary agent and diligently revised my first YA novel (aptly titled The Start of Something) for them. I also had two finished sequels ready to go, bringing my tally of completed books up to three at that time. My agent began to send book one, The Start of Something, out to New York editors and the first reply we received was from Bloomsbury. The editor hadn’t quite finished reading my manuscript yet but said, “At this point I’d say we are really interested and do need a little more time.”
As you can imagine, I was over the moon. It seemed to me that even if Bloomsbury ultimately weren’t interested, another publisher soon would be. To score such a positive response on my first editorial submission was surely a sign of great things to come!
Well, not with any speed it turned out. Bloomsbury subsequently rejected The Start of Something, as did four other editors my agent submitted to. In the meantime, I’d been working on a young adult book about a sixteen-year-old boy who discovers on Christmas Eve that his ex-girlfriend (who he’s still in love with) is pregnant with his baby. When I reached the end of that novel (my fourth) in April 2003 I was pretty spent from having accompanied main character Nick Severson on what was a highly emotional journey. I also believed in my bones that it was the best thing I’d ever written.
With high hopes I forwarded the manuscript to my agent. Naturally, I expected some criticism and revision suggestions. What took me by complete surprise was the revelation that my agent actually didn’t like I Know It’s Over at all. They called it “ponderous,” complained that the story was too long, that “not much actually happens in the novel, in a sense” and therefore advised the book needed 35–50 pages cut. They also couldn’t understand what Nick and Sasha saw in each other and found the dialogue stilted. Basically the only things they didn’t have a problem with were the subject matter and some of the writing.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I was devastated as I read my agent’s thoughts. I’ll be the first person to admit that I write novels in which not a lot happens in a sense, but that’s not something that I think of as a negative. Most of my books are about emotional journeys (those are the kind of stories I’m most passionately drawn to) and not populated with a lot of external events. They’re character-driven, contemplative entities by nature, and what my agent wanted was to strip what I believed to be an emotionally nuanced story down to a skeleton.
My surprise quickly gave way to disappointment. I distinctly remember that when my husband got out of the bath I was in tears about my agent’s email because I knew I couldn’t have it both ways—I couldn’t keep the essence of the book I’d wanted to write AND keep my agent (we were just too far apart in our views). And at that point having an agent was as close as I’d ever come to winning the brass ring of publication. Parting ways with said agent seemed like an enormous step back. Who knew if I’d ever find another one?
For me, this crucial difference of opinion regarding I Know It’s Over became a definitive turning point. I’d previously believed my chief ambition was to be published as a young adult author, but in the space of a few minutes I discovered it was much more important to be true to the novels I wanted to write. Even when it set me back in terms of publishing. Otherwise, publishing wouldn’t feel like a prize at all, more like a penalty.
I told my agent we weren’t on the same wavelength about I Know It’s Over and that, unfortunately, I didn’t agree with their suggested changes, particularly about the cutting of what amounted to twenty percent of the book. As we discussed the matter, it became obvious that my agent felt as strongly as I did and we agreed to dissolve our business relationship. There were no arguments and no bad will between us—it was just a classic example of “artistic differences” with no objective wrong or right. It’s quite possible the changes my agent suggested may have led to a sale also—an even quicker one maybe—but if so, they would’ve led to the sale of a book I didn’t want to write. What would be the point?
As it happened, I didn’t land another agent until early 2006 and didn’t receive a publishing offer for I Know It’s Over until June 29th of that year. The novel was in the very same shape as when my first agent had read it, but I Know It’s Over never did turn into an easy sell. Every British publisher who saw it rejected the novel in the end. My agent paired up with a U.S. co-agent to shop it stateside and happily it found a very good home with Random House, with an editor who shared my vision for the book and did an outstanding job of helping it sparkle. By the time it was released in the fall of 2008, I Know It’s Over’s journey had been so long that the fact that it was being published didn’t feel so surprising, but it did feel right. More than worth the wait.
C. K. Kelly Martin is a film school graduate who began her first novel in a Dublin flat and finished it in a Toronto suburb. She currently resides in the Great White North with her husband and is the author of several young adult books.
GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…
Congratulations to the winner of a *signed* ARC of Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin! The winner is…
Congrats, Deena! I’ll email for your mailing address. And thank you so much to everyone who entered and to the author for offering up the prize!
More about the book:
THEN: The formation of the UNA, the high threat of eco-terrorism, the mammoth rates of unemployment and subsequent escape into a world of virtual reality are things any student can read about in their 21st century textbooks and part of the normal background noise to Freya Kallas’s life. Until that world starts to crumble.
NOW: It’s 1985. Freya Kallas has just moved across the world and into a new life. On the outside, she fits in at her new high school, but Freya feels nothing but removed. Her mother blames it on the grief over her father’s death, but how does that explain the headaches and why do her memories feel so foggy?
When Freya lays eyes on Garren Lowe, she can’t get him out of her head. She’s sure that she knows him, despite his insistence that they’ve never met. As Freya follows her instincts and pushes towards hidden truths, the two of them unveil a strange and dangerous world where their days may be numbered.
Unsure who to trust, Freya and Garren go on the run from powerful forces determined to tear them apart and keep them from discovering the truth about their shared pasts (and futures), her visions, and the time and place they really came from.