Pay It Forward Interview : Chelsea Campbell

For my last two days of Paying it Forward, I’ll be interviewing authors who have books coming out this spring. While I feel like this week is going so fast, I’m sure Chelsea and Heidi are counting down the interminable minutes until their release days! Hopefully you’ve taken some time this week to visit some of the other writers’ blogs (links below), and let yourself be inspired and encouraged by their publication journeys. There are more than 70(!) writers participating, so clear some time for blog-reading.

Chelsea Campbell’s book, The Rise of Renegade X, releases on May 11th. While I haven’t been lucky enough to read it yet, I’ve been assured by multiple, taunting ARC-readers that I will adore it. (meanies!) After reading about Chelsea’s determined and bumpy publication journey, I’m sure you’ll be joining me in line on 5/11 to pick up your own copy.

1. Tell us about your book.

The Rise of Renegade X is about a teen supervillain whose plans to go to a prestigious supervillain school are ruined when he discovers his long lost dad is a superhero, of the good-deed doing, rescuing kittens out of trees type. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, then he has to go live with him for a while and meet his superhero half siblings and prove that, despite his genes, he’s 100% villain, or else he’ll have to stay with his superhero fam for the rest of his life (or until he turns 18, whichever comes first).

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication?

I wrote Renegade X in a month, but getting it published was a long, dark road that took about a year and a half. (Well, to find a publisher. When the book actually comes out in May, it’ll have been nearly three years since I wrote it.) It was clearly the best book I’d ever written, and one of my writing friends was convinced it would get snapped up right away. I SO wanted that to happen, but I’d sent out so many books over the years and always been disappointed that, even though this felt like The One (for reals this time), I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Well, I sent it out to agents, including one who still had the last book I’d written and hadn’t rejected me yet (even if it had been 6 months -__-). My query letter got over twice as many requests for material than any of my others had, but still everyone said no. Then finally one day, I status queried the agent who now had two of my books and hadn’t responded, and she liked it! She liked it better than the first book I’d sent her, which she’d actually read! (And yes, you read that right, I’m not exaggerating, she *liked* it. Not loved.)

So anyway, I signed with her and waited on submissions. We got some responses right away, all rejections. Months went by, and we got a few more rejections. I sent her another book, and after a few more months, she sent that out. When I tried to find out which editors still had Renegade X, she just said “it’s still out there.” O__o By this point, I was starting to have misgivings, but put them aside because I wanted this so badly. Then several more months went by, no word from her at all, and then I queried her on where she’d sent my books, who had the old one, who had the new one. No response. A week later, I tried again. No response. The next week, I tried calling. Twice. But no answer, and no response to the message I left. No matter how much I wanted and agent, and no matter how many long years it had taken me to get this one, I knew that if she wasn’t sending out my books, then she was just getting in my way, because it meant I couldn’t send them out either. So I did something that wasn’t easy and fired her. (She was relieved.)

It turned out she’d only sent the new book to one publisher, and she sent me a slightly inaccurate list of pubs who had rejected Renegade X or who had just never responded after having it for months. (???) Well, at least I had a list, but Renegade X was used goods. It had been shopped around by an agent who hadn’t sold it, and that’s the kiss of death for hopeful manuscripts. At this point, everything in my life was going wrong and especially this. I’d wanted to be published so bad I could taste it for a decade and a half. (I started young, but I was serious about it, if not naive and delusional.) I wasn’t writing anything new, and my energy for the struggle was running out. Things were at their darkest, and I was ready to give up.

But there were two books that really influenced me. One was Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, where he says not to be in the Waiting Place (I was definitely there) and the other was It’s Not Easy Being Green, a collection of quotes and anecdotes about Jim Henson. One of the anecdotes was about how he wanted to work at a TV station, but they turned him down. He saw an ad on the wall saying they were looking for puppeteers, though, so he went home, made some puppets, and came back. They hired him, and, well, you can see how puppets worked out for him. The moral of the story was, don’t take no for an answer. So that’s what I decided to do.

But I felt like a failure, and I was ready to give up. I’d come so far, worked so hard over the years, and I’d gotten so close to my goal–only to completely miss it. The uphill climb was too steep, and I wasn’t going to make it. But before I threw in the towel, I made one last effort. I sent The Rise of Renegade X to a small publisher, not really expecting anything to happen.

And then, a month later, they wanted to talk to me. About my book. The editor was interested, but he wanted revisions. I took his notes and added another 20k to the book in about a week, sent it back, and waited. A few weeks later, I had an offer. Someone actually wanted to publish my book!

My writing friends told me I needed an agent. I’d had an agent, and that hadn’t worked out so well, so I wasn’t eager to get another one. Plus, getting an agent was hard. I’d struggled for years, and all I could get was an agent who only *liked* my books and didn’t talk to me. Why go through all that again? But my friends insisted I both needed an agent–a good one–and that, with a pub offer in hand, I could actually get one.

I got some recommendations and ended up contacting Holly Root at the Waxman Agency. She loved my concept. (Loved!) And she wanted to read the book. Well, a few days later, we talked on the phone for longer than I’d ever spoken to the old agent. (Not kidding.) She got my books. She loved Renegade X. We laughed, we talked, and overall just clicked. It was a dream-come-true moment, and I signed with her, and she’s been awesome ever since.

Anyhow, I gave her a list of the editors who had rejected Renegade X, and she felt it hadn’t been properly shopped, and before accepting the offer I had on the table, we sent the book out to a few more pubs. That’s when I got the offer from Egmont. They loved the book and wanted to publish it! I accepted their offer almost exactly 18 months after finishing the book. It was a long journey, and there were a lot of dark moments, but it all worked out in the end.

3. Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?

Yes! Lots of times. I think every aspiring writer goes through cycles of “I’m just going to quit writing,” but then you don’t really. You just want to test what it would feel like, to see if you could quit and still live with yourself, but of course you can’t. I had a lot of moments like that. But then there was the time close to the end of my journey where I really did want to quit. I was out of hope and couldn’t make myself care about writing anymore. But as you can see from my above answer, everything suddenly turned around at the last minute and all worked out, just when I thought it was never going to be.

4. I wouldn’t have survived querying/revisions/submissions without _________________.

My crit group/writing friends. They always believed in me, even when I didn’t.

Now that you’ve enjoyed Chelsea’s interview, click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura Roecker, Beth Revis, Leah Clifford, Victoria Schwab, Kirsten Hubbard, Susan Adrian, Dawn Metcalf, Kim Harrington, Carrie Harris, Amy Holder, Kathy McCullough, Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, and Elana Johnson.

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