Go for Broke: Break the Rules – Bev. Cooke

It took four years and three tries before “Street Kid, Subway Cat” was ready to send to send out. The story was based on my brother-in-law’s experience of befriending and domesticating a feral cat who lived in a New York City subway station. He named her Gidget, and we met her on a visit to my brother-in-law. Well, if you can call a middle of the night tromp over my calves and a panicked flight when I lifted my hand to pet her as “meeting” a cat – because she was the definition of “scaredy cat.”

The book about Gidget and her adventures had gone from a picture book, which felt too cloying and sentimental, to a young adult novel that was too short on both words and plot to a mid-grade novel that felt about right. I sent it to my dream publisher, took a deep breath and began to wait.

The editor emailed within the promised time, which is unheard of in the children’s literature (kid lit) market; it’s almost an unwritten rule they’ll take practically forever, but even so, she rejected it. But, again breaking unwritten rules, the editor explained her reasons. She said the book was neither one thing nor the other. It didn’t feel like a mid-grade. Some of the subject matter was too mature and it begged for more plot and conflict, or it needed to be shorter and simpler. She suggested that I either make it a picture book or a young adult. But thanks for submitting, and we’d really like to see more of your work.

I took my courage in both hands, said a quick prayer, and picked up the phone. I got through to the editor with no problem, another first in the kid lit market. Normally, editors only talk to writers whose books they’ve accepted, not to us wanna-bes. We discussed the rejection in more detail. I decided to go for broke and ask the big, forbidden question. In kid’s lit, you NEVER, EVER, EVER ask the editor to reconsider a rewritten rejection. Never. It’s one of the real, written down in stone and cast in concrete rules. You suck it up and send the story elsewhere. But, I figured, what did I have to lose? The press had already said no, and they had said they liked and wanted to see more of my work. So I asked: if I rewrote the book as a young adult, taking her suggestions, would she reconsider it? It took some persuasion, but finally, she agreed.

I sat down to the work. During the rewrite, Gidget, the inspiration for the book, came to live with us. As fearful as ever, she found a refuge under my desk by the hot air register and took up residence while I wrote about her alter ego’s adventures.

She dozed there, warm and comfy, as I broadened and deepened the story, discovered new characters and lived in that world so strongly that finishing work each day felt like more like entering a fictional world than returning to real life. I felt as though I knew Candlewax and Little Cat, the two main characters, better than I knew myself. I finished it, sent the manuscript in and began, again, to wait.

Again, within their stated response time, the editor called. Another rule in kid’s lit: editors only phone you to offer you a contract, never to reject. When I heard Ms. Editor’s voice, my hope surged, and my hand on the phone trembled – this had been a rule breaking experience so far. Was this phone call going to break another one? I could see the news flash: Editor calls to reject author’s novel! Story at 11! But while Candlewax, Little Cat and I might have been rule breakers, Ms. Editor wasn’t, at least this time: she offered me a contract. The book was released as Feral because, Ms. Editor said, she, the author and every character in it were feral rule breakers.

About Bev. Cooke

Rejection is a fact of a writer’s life, whether you’re sending out your first or 100th manuscript. Bev. Cooke knows this from personal experience but even so, she’s been lucky enough to have several things make it into the world. Her latest efforts are included in the women’s devotional, Darkness is as Light, edited by Summer Kinard and published by Park End Books. She’s working on her fourth Akathist and a fantasy novel for mid-grade Orthodox kids. She and her husband attend All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria BC, Canada and are the
minions of Sampson, the household feline.

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