The short story:
I offered her 10 million dollars, my first born, and a signed Michelle Obama Becoming book to agree to be my agent. Naturally, she accepted.
The longer story:
Sit down and buckle up boys and girls and cats whose owners taught them to read, we’re going on a little ride. Like all the best stories, mine starts long the before I ever signed the piece of paper legally binding me to my agent for life (…oh. That’s not how that works? Interesting). It starts with Harry Potter. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure every story starts with Harry Potter, but mine is different because I was 90% sure that I was Harry Potter.
No, I wasn’t a boy, but yes, I could break off a twig from a tree and pretend my mother’s bathrobe was my Hogwarts uniform with the best of them.
Reading those books changed my life.
Nothing written will ever surpass them in my eyes and you can argue that out in the comments (lol I’m not cool enough to have comments). I grew up loving to read, much in thanks to JK Rowling, and as I went through school it became fairly obvious that I had more natural talent at writing and reading comprehension than I did at anything else school-related. I always struggled in the sciences, which is naturally why later I decided to get my master’s degree in Neuroscience—HA! But this is neither the time nor the place for my foray into graduate school (…and I hope the time and the place never finally align because ain’t no one ready for that story).
I think it really hit me that I was a pretty decent writer when I was in high school. It was my sophomore or junior year and I can distinctly remember a teacher reading something I’d written aloud to the class. She said that even though I’d written the entire thing in the wrong tense and from the wrong perspective (didn’t really understand 1st vs 3rd person back then), she told everyone how impressed she was with my writing. Naturally, I wanted to die when she read from my paper out aloud, but also remember thinking, maybe I’m good at this writing thing? I can also still remember how this boy in my class named Matt [last name retracted] came up to me after class and said, “You didn’t write that. Your mom wrote that for you.”
I’ve never forgotten you, Matt. Neither has my mom because she laughed so hard when I told her you said that.
Anyway, I finished my first book at 17 after I’d finally procured a laptop for college. It was over 100,000 words long and it wasn’t especially good or bad, but I’d finished it and it was like the lid just flew off. I’d really only written little stories or things for class or poems here and there, but this was my first full-length, long-ass novel and there was just no going back.
I started another book at 19, and it was a YA contemporary adventure story in the vein of Jason Bourne, which is a genre you don’t see very much in YA. There’s likely a reason for that, but I heard a song on the radio and the idea just bloomed in my head. Little did I know I would be working on that book off and on for the next 7 years. To this day, I call it my Franken-book, which is perhaps disrespectful to Frankenstein’s monster, but this book was a beast. I queried it in early 2012, got two full requests I think, one of which I postponed to ask the agent for more time while I incorporated the notes of a friend who’d just finished it.
Little did I know how much longer it would take rewrite that book, or how many times I would rewrite it. I wish I was joking when I say the total number of rewrites/revisions was around 20.
4 years later, I finally decided to call this frankenbook done. I had some real balls back then because I did in fact reach out to that same agent (the one who asked for the full 4 years previously…) and ask her if she still wanted to see it based on my new query and opening pages. She politely declined. It hurt real bad, I’m not going to lie, but I kept on querying that book. I got maybe three requests on this second round of querying, but the book was, at its core, a flawed and beautiful but mostly irredeemable monster. Some parts I’d written at 19, some parts at 26, and it just didn’t flow.
I equate that book to a serious long-term relationship that you just can’t bring yourself to finally end. We should have gone our separate ways long before we did, but I just couldn’t quite let go of the hope that one day this story would match the idealized version I had in my head. I kept thinking that it was only one more rewrite away from being great.
Plot twist: It for sure wasn’t.
But, at this point (summer of 2016), I’d spent a LOT of time digging into the craft of writing. I never did read that Stephen King book (you know the one), but I read a lot of articles and blogs on plotting and pacing and character development, and also just read a lot of books that were really well written. Because of my time in graduate school, I love researching to the point that I’d rather spend hours/days/years researching something as opposed to actually doing that something. Regardless, by the time I queried that frankenbook I’d spent a fair amount of time researching the querying process and learned a lot more about publishing in general. I really thought I has a solid grasp on how to do this ‘writing’ thing, but of course, I did NOT.
Or, in this case, Bree Rossi
I didn’t send out my queries in batches (which I would highly recommend if you’re querying so you can see what’s working and what’s not). I didn’t have a single critique partner besides my mom and then, later, a friend who liked to read. I used a few tropes but not well or uniquely enough to stand out. I thought I could successfully employ the 100% zero outline approach, but of course, that’s also exactly why I had to rewrite that book like 20 times. I didn’t think I needed to know the marketing ‘climate’ in terms of what genres were selling and what weren’t. And, most importantly, I hadn’t really learned how to let go yet. If you’ll allow me a harsh and sweeping generalization that I’m going to make whether you allow it or not, let me just say that writers have a hard time letting go. We sink our creative claws into a project (or person or thing or hobby or vision) and we don’t want to let go. We’re stubborn as hell, but I think that’s required to finish a book, so…I guess carry on, then?
So. 2016 ends and I’m ready to dig into a new project. At this point, I’ve queried that frankenbook twice, worked on about 7 other contemporary YA books that I quit somewhere between 20% to 80% of the way through because they just weren’t quite right. I moved to Denver and so new ideas began to sprout up in my head. It’s hard for me to perfectly chronicle all the times I’ve been depressed in my life but I’m fairly certain the beginning of 2017 was a Depressed Time. As I was suffering from some pretty radical insomnia and feeling Very Apathetic, this character popped into my mind. He was young and lanky and relentlessly hopeful. He was pretty much everything I was not, and I kept putting him into all these different stories to no avail. The plot would inevitable fall apart (because I decided to actually attempt the revolutionary practice of plotting the book before getting too far) or I’d decide it wasn’t an interesting or unique enough a premise to spend any more time on it.
But the boy in my head wouldn’t go away, and he wasn’t going to fit into contemporary story. He was better suited for a fantasy story, and I’d never written fantasy. I mean, the first book I ever remember my dad reading to me was The Hobbit, but I was so young I only understood like three of every twenty sentences he would read (and most of those sentences involved the word dragon). I’d read a good bit of fantasy, but I’d never ever tried to write it. It’s like, I’ve eaten a lot of tiramisu in my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be making it, you know what I’m saying? I’d also never written a book from more than one POV, but I had all these characters in my head they all wanted to be heard.
Finally, around January of 2018, I found the right story for the characters. I started writing and signed up for a workshopping class at a writing center close to where I live. It was my first “real” experience with a critique group, and it was hard core. That first day…woah, it was bad. I’d submitted my first chapter for critique, which has long since disappeared from the manuscript PTL, and I went into it thinking it was okay. Not the greatest thing I’d ever written, but not terrible at least.