Every writer has their own path to publication. Some are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.
In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.
Today I am pleased to share J.M.M. Nuanez’s writing journey…
Amy: What inspires you to write Middle Grade fiction?
J.M.M.: I’m not sure. I just love stories period. And so far, the best ones from my brain have been middle grade. Mostly, I think that on the inside, I’m probably still in seventh or eighth grade, that point when you are on the cusp of truly crossing over, leaving childhood behind. Middle school is also a weird and fascinating time because everyone is crossing into young adulthood at different times. Hilarious and heartbreaking stories just spring up.
Amy: How did the story idea for MY PERFECT ME come to you?
J.M.M.: The first image I ever had was of a sister and her younger brother, holding hands, standing defiantly against the world. Oh – and the brother was wearing a skirt. It came to me randomly as I was walking home from work. Their names – Jack and Birdie – came to me soon after and I just had to know their story. The look in their eyes, their loyalty to each other, the skirt, it was enough to eventually cause me to give up querying my first novel and dig into their story.
Amy: Did your first query for MY PERFECT ME come easy or did it go through many rewrites/edits?
J.M.M.: It went through about four re-writes – the major one being through a Lit Reactor query writing course with Bree Ogden (which was amazing by the way!).
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
J.M.M.: A bit laborious. But not frustrating. Before I began querying, I did a lot of research on the process (the query-writing course included). So I knew that there was potential for the process being a long one – I told myself that if I got 100 rejections, then maybe I’d re-think the writing career. So, I started gathering a list of 100 agents. I had a list of about 40 before I started querying, starting with my top picks. In the end, I only queried fifteen.
I guess I should add that I’d been through the query process once before with another novel. I’d gotten as far as a few partial requests and one full request, but at that point, I decided to pour all my efforts into getting to know Jack and Birdie.
Amy: How many agents did you query for MY PERFECT ME?
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
J.M.M.: It was a mix. There were a couple that came back within minutes. And then a few I had to wait a couple months. Most came back within a couple of weeks. I also had a few R&R’s, which I eagerly agreed to since all of the feedback was very similar. It was the R&R that eventually landed me my first offer.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Susan Hawk? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
J.M.M.: The end of the query process unfolded at a very strange time – my husband and I were leaving our ex-pat life in South Korea, going backpacking around Asia for six weeks and then returning to America. The call with Susan happened – literally – within three hours of us getting on the plane to leave Korea and fly to Japan. It was about 3:30am and I was sitting in a Seoul hostel room the size of a shoebox. I had the hostel’s wireless internet and a cellphone with the Google Talk app.
Susan was the fourth and last agent I spoke to. A few days before, I’d received the first offer of representation. As per protocol, I had informed all the agents who had my query about the offer and quickly received three more offers of representation and requests for calls. Too bad I was in the midst of shutting off my apartment internet, shipping off my life and leaving for a couple of last nights in Seoul. It was an insane 72 hours.
Matters were further complicated by the fact that all four agents were absolutely amazing! I couldn’t believe it. Some small, stupid part of me was mad that I’d been put in this “horrible” position of having to turn someone down.
The big, bright spot, though, was that un-namable attribute that everyone always talks about when they speak of choosing their agent – that mysterious quality that allows their agent to “just get it” – they just know the characters and the story with seemingly no effort or explanation beyond the manuscript itself.
All the agents had impeccable reputations, were intelligent, kind, enthusiastic and generous. Susan was (and is!) all these things, but beyond that it was like she was sitting inside my head. Or like maybe Jack and Birdie were somehow also sitting inside hers. Not her version of them, but mine. Thus, our back and forth discussion about their story and the future was, well, effortless. I got off the phone, found my husband in the dim, communal kitchen and said, “She’s the one.”
Even though I knew that Susan was it, I told her and everyone else that I really needed the weekend to decide. Sitting on a tatami mat while hunched over my cell phone in a Tokyo AirBnb apartment – I’ll never forget writing those three rejection emails. It was the most difficult thing I’d done at that point in my writing career (and that doesn’t even include trying to be gracious and eloquent while typing on a tiny touch screen). Even writing the novel and all its revisions seemed easier.
But I tell you what: writing the acceptance email and then receiving Susan’s unbridled enthusiasm made everything worth it! I flew off into the jungles of Southeast Asia a happy, delirious writer – and remain so to this day. Go #TeamBent!
Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author?
J.M.M.: Moving on to the next book. ^_^
Amy: If you were doing a book signing and you met a writer who was about to give up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them?
J.M.M.: First I would ask why they want to give up. There are many reasons why someone would give up on their writing dream. It’s a hard road to take.
But in general, I would tell them what my writing professor told me in college: it’s not the talented who publish – it’s the tenacious. With tenacity you can learn the craft and finish the first draft. Many very talented people can’t finish a draft. Remember: you can’t revise (and subsequently publish) what isn’t there. Do the work. Tell the stories. Don’t give up.
J.M.M. Nuanez is an active member of SCBWI and holds a BA in English. For two years, she and her husband lived in South Korea and taught English in the public school system. Now back in the US, when she isn’t writing, she can be found reading, gardening, or knitting in her hometown of San Diego, California. Also, she is an avid fan of cats, pizza, and YouTube.