Maybe I’m just not the next JK Rowling. Maybe I am doomed to die in obscurity, a penniless author of a dozen self-published books that never circulate much farther than my sphere of influence. Maybe some dreams don’t come true. Those are the top three negative thoughts that pop in my head when the email in my inbox begins with “Upon careful consideration, I don’t feel I am the right agent for this project.” Then there is a small part of me that breathes a sigh of relief. Good. One more No on the road to Yes.
Let me be clear. I hate rejection in all its forms whether it is in person, by phone, through email or letters. I am not a fan, but I am also not particularly invested in wallowing in self-pity because (not for the first time) someone didn’t quite get my work. Or they got it and they liked it, but just not enough. I need an agent who loves and believes in my book as much as or more than I do so I can make sure it gets the care and consideration it deserves.
In 2010, I self-published my first book of poetry God,Hair, Love, and America. It started out as a Christmas gift for my mom. I didn’t think much of vanity presses or self-publication. I was a snob about it, thinking that if you were really talented the only way to go would be through the traditional channels. But then again, I also didn’t think that poetry was very marketable and so I decided to do the book with no expectation that anyone outside of my family would even want it. I was wrong.
Actually I was very wrong about a lot of things. My book was by no means a New York Times best seller, but it did sell and people seemed to come out of the woodwork to support me in my endeavor. Moreover, I fell in love with the whole creative process of making my own book. When you self-publish, you get to make all the decisions from the font to the layout and art. It has been very empowering. Creating my first book was an affirmation that yes, my work is good enough to be seen by others. I put it out there knowing that some people would love it, some would hate it, and some would be indifferent to it. But that it was also enough that I loved it, that I believed that my words had beauty and power. Having other people embrace my work too just built my confidence in believing that what I have to say is important.
Fast forward through the next few years. I have now self-published four books including an anthology of poetry written by the youth in a leadership program I used to run and also my very first children’s book, Coco LaSwish, A Fish from a Different Rainbow. From the time I saw the proof copy, I realized that this book was different. This was the one, the book to go mainstream.Why this book? Because it is meant to be shared. Coco LaSwish is a beautiful fish who gets ostracized by the hater fish for being too fabulous. Instead of hiding her light, she decides to stay true to her authentic self.
As soon as I realized that this is the book I wanted to take worldwide, I also realized how comfortable I have gotten with having complete creative control over my work. What if they want me to change the illustrations? What if they want to change the text itself? What options am I willing to explore for the opportunity to see my work in a broader venue?
The truth is that I don’t know yet, but I am ready to have the conversation. I believe in this book. It’s the shortest book I’ve ever written and also the only book I’ve ever really illustrated. It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful, both in form and substance and it serves as a reminder to people big and small that who you are is just right. In the month and half since my book was released, I have sold almost 200 copies and been invited to share my book at a church, a school, and a library. I’ve watched grown people read my book and cry because it touched something in them. I’ve watched little people touch the pages and 'Ooooh' over the pictures.
I am ready for the next step in my evolution as an author. But so far, the agents I’ve queried aren’t quite ready for me. The emails are cordial, in some cases even complimentary, but the answer has been No. Not gonna lie, there are days when that is really hard to hear, especially when so many other people in my life are telling me how much the book means to them. There are as many opinions as there are people, but the one that matters most is mine. And I say YES. One way or another, Coco is going all the way. How many No's does it take to get to Yes? I don’t know, but I’m about to find out.
Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, YA fiction aficionado, afro-punk, international educator, and community organizer based in Seattle, WA. You can find her most Tuesdays at the Seattle Poetry Slam or maybe just being nerdy at her favorite bookstores.