If you'd told me a year ago today that I'd be sitting at my dining room table signing my contract for an unbelievable two-book deal from Penguin Random House, the world's leading trade book publisher, I would've asked you what you'd been drinking, and if you had any more to share.
You see, right around this time last year, I'd decided I was delusional. I'd tried for ten years to get the publishing contract I'd so desperately wanted. I'd written four separate young adult novels, queried illustrious agents from all over the United States, and had been essentially told the same thing:
The day I decided to give up was bleak. I sat on the couch next to Matt after receiving another "it's not you, it's me" rejection email from a literary agent I had just known was going to be right for me. My heart felt as though someone had sent it through a paper shredder. While tears streamed from my eyes, I contemplated my own sanity.
"I'm delusional. That's it. I've lost my mind. Yes, I am a good writer, but I am not a good enough writer for this. FOR THIS." I waved my phone in the air, that horrible, miserable messenger of doom, and leaned back against the cushions.
"You're not delusional, babe."
"CLEARLY I AM." I blew my nose into a tissue and felt like melting into the couch, seeping in between the cushions, and disappearing into the cracks with all the Cheez-it dust and pennies and half-chewed dog bones, never to be seen again.
What was the point?
I literally couldn't do it. I couldn't. I'd written four novels. I'd queried over a hundred agents in the past ten years. I'd been to writing conferences, participated in Twitter Pitch parties, taken a novel-writing workshop, read books on craft, researched and planned and studied and crafted and edited and tried and tried and tried.
I even had my undergraduate degree in CREATIVE WRITING for heaven's sake.
Novel writing, apparently, was beyond me.
It was better that I stick to what I knew, move on, and forget about fiction. I'd work at my editorial job, (which I loved), blog, and pick up creative freelance gigs when I could. I was kidding myself. I HAD been kidding myself. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was so incredibly wrong.
Matt looked at me, his brows knotted in concern, set his computer aside, and pulled me to him, tucking me neatly underneath his arm. He kissed the top of my head and murmured as I cried and said he was sorry and that the agent who'd rejected me was stupid.
Then, he told me what I needed to hear: I wasn't delusional. I was a great writer, and someone, someday would recognize it. He told me not to quit. Not to even think about it, because that's not the Kell he knew and loved. His Kell wasn't a quitter.
My mom told me the same thing when I called her, crying my eyes out, asking if I had any talent at all. If I ever had. She repeated Matt's refrain. She said I'd come this far and couldn't quit now, because I was made of tougher stuff than that. I'd find a way. She said that one day, I'd be sitting there with a book deal in my hand, and a novel about to be on every shelf, and I'd look back at this moment and laugh.
And...you know what? They were right. Because, here I am, contract in hand, signing my name in triplicate, and tucking the dozens of sheets into an envelope addressed to Penguin Random House, where some guy in the legal department has a file with my name on it.
But, despite what my mom said, I don't look back on the moment of despair and laugh. I look back on it with tears rolling down my cheeks. In fact, I'm wiping them away now as I type this. But this time, the tears are ones of absolute joy. And maybe a little bit of nerves. But mostly, heart-bursting levels of joy. Because I know the amount of work it took to get me here, and the number of people I needed to push me along. Sometimes (scratch that--ALL THE TIME), you need people in your corner, rooting for you. You need family members and friends to pull you out of the dirt of self-loathing and help you untangle the chains of misery from around your throat.
On that day, I was ready to give up. But you know what? That Tuesday was just TWO DAYS before Kari Sutherland, my DREAM agent, someone I'd queried without any real hope of getting a response, let alone an offer, sent me the email I've copied below. Just before I struck gold--was a mere millimeter away from it--I was ready to put down the shovel.
And it's okay to have those moments of gloom, as long as when you're at your weakest, when you're ready to tap out, you have some else's strong arms pulling you back into the ring.
Thank GOD, my mom and Matt were there for me that day.
My apologies for the delay in getting back to you, as I'm sure you're eager to send this manuscript out. As such, I wanted to send you an update although I'm not quite finished yet. I'm two-thirds of the way in and really enjoying it, although I do have some editorial suggestions. I was wondering if you have any time either on Monday or Tuesday of next week for a phone call to discuss the project, my feedback, and for us to get to know one another better.