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.