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  • [SWP: Behind the Book] The Stories We Need to Tell
[SWP: Behind the Book] The Stories We Need to Tell
Written by
Ellen Bravo
May 2015
Written by
Ellen Bravo
May 2015

When I started the search for a publisher for Again and Again, a high-profile friend referred me to a big-name agent (we’ll call him Mr. Big). “He wants women writers,” she told me. “Your novel is just what he’s looking for.”

Mr. Big worked the old-fashioned way: no electronic submissions. As directed by his website, I sent a single-page query via snail mail. Six weeks later I got a one-paragraph reply in my mailbox asking for the first fifty pages, which I shipped immediately. Another six weeks went by before I got the request for the entire manuscript, and at least another six before I got a call from this agent’s assistant. “I loved your novel,” he said, “and so did my colleague, also a man. We’re sure the big guy will love it, too.” [Really, that’s what they called him.] “I just want to make sure you haven’t sent it to anyone else.”

I assured him I had not. Four days later, Mr. Big himself phoned. I felt like a teenager waiting for an invitation to the prom. “This will be a very short call,” he announced. “My assistants both loved your manuscript, and they never like anything. So I looked forward to reading it. And I did read a few chapters, but it’s not for me. It’s an issue book. The only reason I’m calling instead of sending you a note is that you’re such a talented writer.”

I tried to digest all this. Again and Again is a novel about friendship and marriage, about secrets and regrets and second chances, about principles and politics and so much more. It’s also about campus date rape--a theme that is being explored on House of Cards and multiple other TV shows these days, a topic of interest to many readers.

“I worked hard to make sure the book didn’t sound preachy,” I told him. “If it needs work, I’m glad to make edits.”

“Oh, that’s like remodeling a house,” Mr. Big said. “It never works.”

I wondered what universe he occupied, in which everyone could afford to move on to bigger and better houses rather than fixing up the place where they lived.

Mr. Big’s opening words on that call were clear. However talented I might be, I was not being asked to negotiate. But he did have an offer for me: “If you don’t find an agent in six months, come and see me and we’ll start from scratch,” he said. Then he exhorted me to read the book he’d authored on how to write a best-selling novel.

Hard to believe I’d waited five months for a pitch to buy someone else’s book.

I’d like to say the rejection didn’t bother me, that I brushed myself right off and thought of all the positive feedback I’d gotten from every person who’d actually read the manuscript. “I need copies right now for my daughter’s/son’s/friends’ daughter’s/son’s/book club,” they told me. Most described it as “riveting” or “a page turner” or “a game changer.” Several thanked me for helping them make sense of something that had happened in their own lives--something they hadn’t been able to name before, or something they’d felt they had to hide.

It took a little effort to get to that place. But one thing I did know from the start: I’m proud to write fiction that makes visible people whose stories have typically been obliterated or distorted. Their voices help spotlight problems in our culture and propel change.

Thanks to She Writes Press, Again and Again will be out in mid-August. It will offer suspense, humor, and psychological upheaval--and it will touch many lives.

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  • Sakki selznick Publishing

    Um, well, I guess my perspective is a bit different: The Big Man, as his staff calls him, took the time and trouble to call you and say you were a gifted. It's not the right book for him. His assistant and someone else are kicking themselves over losing your book. And bravo that you continued and the book is coming out!

  • I find inspiration from your ending sentence - "But one thing I did know from the start: I’m proud to write fiction that makes visible people whose stories have typically been obliterated or distorted." I look forward to your book helping me express my voice!

  • nicole meier

    Great story! Unbelievable that you were pitched an agent's book, but what a great ending!

  • DelRica

    Question...did you buy/read his book?  lol You must be a good writer if he didn't send it to you unsolicited.  

  • Mardith Louisell

    Fantastic that you moved on. Congratulations!

  • Sally Ketham

    Yay for happy endings, Ellen! Your book sounds fascinating! :)

  • Dana K. Schwartz

    Ellen thrilled to hear that you found your happy ending without Mr.Big. I too am a very "talented" writer- I'm wondering if I were less talented if I'd be published now? I know that it's a process and someday I'll find my spot in the sun, most likely beyond the shade of the Mr. Bigs.
    Thanks for sharing your story-

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I know too well the "near miss" experience--it brings a unique kind of pain. Congratulations on finding a publisher. I'm looking forward to reading your book!

  • Jerilyn Ring

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I feel a little less alone.

  • Shary

    You're one powerful woman, Ellen Bravo. Bravo! Thank you for sharing your experience and for showing us how to respond to insanity with grace. Welcome to SWP!!

  • Ellen Bravo

    Thanks for these comments. Yes, Debra, date rape may well have been an issue Mr. Big wasn't comfortable with. Hoping my novel is able to help change the conversation in this country - while keeping people riveted and entertained!

  • Congratulations for being persistent. One agent doesn't make the book world, just one of thousands of gatekeepers. I'm glad you found a publisher because this sounds like an interesting story.

  • Debra Borchert

    Did you ask Mr. Big what he meant by " It’s an issue book?"

    Obviously he thought that to be a bad thing, but where would the industry be if there were no books on issues?

    I'm wondering if it was because it was an "issue"  Mr. Big wasn't comfortable with.

    You thoughts?

    I'm so glad you found the right publisher for you.


  • Jeannine Atkins

    I look forward to reading this book, which sounds both engaging and important.

  • Rita Gabis

    Bravo to you!  Rejection is hard…and a constant in a writer's life.  But persistence is everything!  Thanks for being a model of what it means to press on...

  • Michelle Cox

    Well put, Mary Lou!

  • Mary Lou Gomes

    Isn't that why we are all gathered here a She Writes and not He Writes. It's natural to dislike rejection. It's hard to get back up, believe in yourself and move on. congratulations!

  • Patti Clark

    Thank you so much for posting this. I had something similar happen. It's always good to hear that one is not alone in such an experience. Thanks again.

  • Michelle Cox

    I loved this post!  It resonates so much with what I'm sure a lot of us have experienced so far in the publishing world.  It makes it all the more exciting to be part of something new.  I feel lucky, too, and honored, to be part of SheWrites.  I'm really looking forward to reading your book!  Congrats!

  • I've heard so many variations of this same story, Ellen, and I think it's important to share them so that people who are out pitching their work don't feel so upended when things like this happen. This old-school mentality that so many new york agents and editors have that you should just wait and wait and wait for them to get around to your work is frustrating, to say the least. I've heard agents and editors ask writers to make their female protagonists male, so at least that didn't happen. But maybe it would if you were to "start from scratch." I'm so glad you settled on SWP!

  • Eileen Flanagan

    Good for you, Ellen, for believing in the power and relevance of your story! There is so much in your story that reveals the problems in publishing. The slowness of the traditional route, the bias against the difficult stories of women's lives, despite the fact that a majority of readers are women. I hope your work helps many readers. Congrats!