True or False?

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I had my first nibble and my first rejection from a literary agent this month. I have an author friend with an agent, and I decided to check out what types of books her agent was interesting in representing. Her website mentioned history, and narrative nonfiction and YA. This could be the one, I thought. I contacted my friend and asked her opinion. She contacted the agent and got back to me with: Gina’s* expecting your email.

I spruced up my query letter and sent it off with my fingers crossed. Gina got back to me quickly and asked for 50 pages. My heartbeat quickened. I took a deep breath and forced myself to slow down. I proofread the first 50 pages. My husband proofread the first 50 pages. I crossed my fingers again and sent it out. And then I waited. Patience is hard in this situation, but I just kept waiting. Finally, on the same day I was thinking about calling my friend and asking her if I should re-contact the agent, I got an email.

Gina was very polite, but the news wasn’t what I hoped for. She said:

The core of the story is great and your hard work and research shows. But the voice is so young, so simplistic… It would be tough to position this in today’s market. I shared this with a couple of colleagues who regularly read and rep YA and middle-grade and they suggested it might help to make it fiction and base it around an older (teenage?) protagonist.

Now what? Take my well-researched nonfiction narrative and fictionalize it? Add drama? Make the Holocaust more intense? Does the Holocaust really need more intensity? Change my mother’s story to make her older during the war? If she were 17 instead of 7, I could add a budding romance. But if she were 17 instead of 7, then my grandfather wouldn’t be hiding money in her doll. If she were 17 instead of 7, she would have been sent to a labor camp, and I could write about the atrocities of those places. But if she were 17 instead of 7, she never would have stayed with her parents, and the book would no longer be the true story of a family that beat the odds by all surviving together in the camps. If she were 17 instead of 7, she would have been aware of all the horrors happening around her, but the story would no longer be seen through the eyes of a child, which makes this book so engaging.

I know Gina meant well. If I follow her advice, the book might be easier to position in today’s market. But this isn’t fiction. This isn’t about being trendy, and it isn’t about making the most money possible. This is about history and truth and teaching about the evil of hatred and the need to be compassionate to all human beings. I will keep looking for an agent who is interested in narrative nonfiction.

*Name changed

9 thoughts on “True or False?

  1. Ellie says:

    Truth is important. The idea of fictionalizing your work is almost unbelievable. Shake it off as well-intentioned and move on. What about querying Dutch literary agents? Anyway, keep on.

  2. skrama says:

    Heidi – stay the course! Great writing comes from the heart and speaks the truth. Unfortunately, mainstream publishing may test you even more then the writing did – be strong!

  3. Alan Marks says:

    Stay the course! Be true to your heart and to your voice. That’s what real writing is. The right publisher will come, although it may take time. From what I’ve observed, writing the book is only the first of many trials on the road to becoming published.

  4. drneynaber says:

    Hey Friend, don’t let anybody steal your dream! I encourage you to NOT compromise your work & values! Your friends appear to want you to recreate “The a Diary of Ann Frank!” That story has been told, and does not necessarily need a remake. I like in their suggestions to Hollywood’s various versions of Romeo and Juliet. Unless you can modernize your story so it relates to today’s generation, the way Leonard Bernstein did with West Side Story, I would leave that idea alone.

    I also suggest you drive by a school near your home and watch the girls who are seven years old playing in the playground. Then stop in at a Build-A-Bear at a nearby mall and watch the little girls who come in to the store for awhile. Your mom was once like those little girls on the playground and at the teddy bear store; young girls who are living smack dab in the peak of their “age of innocence.” After watching those little girls long enough to have them emblazoned in your mind, go home and pull up some videos of middle eastern war zones and look at the faces of the little children who have forever lost their childhood to a war. Then pull up some photos of the war zones in Croatia, Vietnam, Germany. Also, look at pictures of seven year old children who are living in cardboard shacks on dump sites of Third World countries. Look how similar their faces are to those who have experienced the traumas of a tsunami in Japan, post-hurricane and post-tornado photos, and post fire damage photos, etc. Check out the photos of the little African American girls getting off the bus that brought them from the inner-city to an all-white school in Selma, Alabama. Their plight was to be the first to integrate all-white schools during the civil rights era of the 1960’s.

    Like the mythical Phoenix that rose from the ashes of disaster, your mama represents All of those little girls; those in the playground and those living in ruins who will need a handful of miracles to overcome their Life challenges.

    There is your story; Heidi, “Redemption of a Lost Childhood.” I encourage you to use your training as a psychologist working with young women who are challenged to overcome their traumatized and lost childhoods. Telling us your mom’s story of redemption can help women of many races and cultures recover from their lost childhoods.

    I hope this unsolicited advice helps. Your fan and cheerleader, Steve

    >

  5. jzguzlowski says:

    Heidi, when I was sending out my novel Road of Bones about a German soldier trapped behind Russian lines during WWII, I heard the same thing it a YA novel.

    Ridiculous advice.

    Keep searching for an agent.

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