This year marks the tenth anniversary of The Goose Girl, my first published novel. I began it in 1999, during the summer break between my 1st and 2nd year in graduate school. I finished a first draft in late 2000, rewrote for another year, and queried many agents, none of whom would read it. I eventually found upcoming agent Amy Jameson, who agreed to read the first five chapters. Then all. Then agreed to represent me.
The following year was one of joy and agony. For about nine months, every single time my phone at work rang, my heart would jump. Maybe it was Amy! Maybe she'd sold it! But though sometimes the caller was my agent (joy! I had an agent!) she had bad news (another rejection). The Goose Girl was rejected by all the major children's publishers and a couple of fantasy publishers to boot. Here's some of what the editors said about why they were rejecting it:
"I ultimately didn't think the story itself was consistently strong enough to hold a young reader's interest."
"I'm afraid that the writing struck me as occasionally a bit stiff, cliched, or self-conscious."
"I did not find the story compelling enough to maintain my interest...I felt that the narrative was a bit too labored, too slow in progressing...the rather slow and deliberate pacing of the plot does not bode well for a middle grade audience."
"Further, many young adult books are becoming more and more 'edgy.'"
I despaired. Amy did not. She kept submitting. (and I kept writing...but would anyone want Enna Burning if no one wanted Goose Girl?)
The company I worked for moved out of state and laid everyone off. In a couple of months the dot com bubble would pop and my husband would lose his job as well. It was in that uncertain time that I got the call at home that Victoria Arms at Bloomsbury wanted to publish The Goose Girl. (In case you assume my financial troubles were solved forever, it was a 4 figure offer--but I didn't care! Huzzah! An offer!) It was only the second acquisition Bloomsbury USA had ever made. (The first was The Frog Princess. Bloomsbury UK were the original publishers of Harry Potter.)
It's still phenomenal for me to look at all the rejections The Goose Girl received, and then to look at what it's done out in the world. Among its shiny bling:
- An ALA Teen's Top Ten (voted by teens in the US as one of their 10 favorite books of the year)
- The 2003 Josette Frank Award Winner
- The 2003 Utah Children's Book Award Winner
- A Texas Lone Star Book
- An NPR 100 Best-Ever Teen Novel
- Translated into 10+ languages
The year it was published, a bookseller at The King's English told me she had recommended it to a mother for her young teenage daughter. Some time later, the mother came back into the store and told the bookseller that The Goose Girl was now her daughter's favorite book. She and her husband were going through a divorce, the girl was having a hard time, and she had begun to sleep with her copy of The Goose Girl, hugging it to her chest. I still can't retell that story without crying. That's the unexpected part. The exquisite part. The reason that fiction exists. I think I'm just telling a story that wants to get out. I don't know how it will affect any readers. That my words got to hold a girl's hand during a tough time is such an honor.
This book doesn't feel like it belongs to me anymore. It hasn't for ten years. But I still love it. I love the characters, I love the words and scenes still in my head. I'm so grateful I got to tell that story. And I'm grateful for all the rejections. I'm grateful that my earlier stories were never published so that this one--the one I really love--got to be my first and defining book. And I'm grateful that those other publishers rejected it, so the story could reach the right editor at the right publishing house. I'm grateful for the booksellers and librarians who still stock and talk about it. I'm grateful for the readers who built into the story their home.
I'm just flat out grateful. I don't feel like it's mine, but my name's on the cover. So as the story's legal representative, thank you.
I'm going to be celebrating The Goose Girl's tenth anniversary here for the rest of the year. I'll do games, prizes, a chapter-by-chapter book club (like we did last summer with Princess Academy) and other fun stuff.
If you've read the book, will you briefly share your thoughts, reactions, any stories? No need to do a formal review. I just would love to hear your voice.
EDIT: your comments made my editor cry happy tears. Thank you!