How my daughter’s teeth got me a book deal – Matthew Farrell

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By Matthew Farrell

My journey from aspiring writer to published author was a long, strange and frustrating one. I spent years making contacts in the industry, writing drafts, sending them out, getting rejected, and starting all over again. It had reached the point in 2014 when I had decided that after twenty years, I’d given it a good run, but enough was enough. I wasn’t ever going to get published, and with a growing family and more responsibilities as a father, it was time to let the dream die. I was okay with this decision. I was at peace.♥

One year later, 2015, the urge to write was gaining strength. I tried to quell the compulsion, but it was unrelenting. This is how I know I was born to write. It’s in me. Even when I try and escape it, it’s there. Always.

I came home from a particularly bad day at the office, and as soon as I walked inside the house, my wife informed me that I had to take my daughter to the orthodontist. Apparently, something came loose on her braces and she needed them adjusted. I told my wife there was no way I was taking her after the day I had, but with two kids, two working parents, and a limited amount of time in the day, there wasn’t much I could do. We turned right around and off to the ortho we went.

My daughter had had adjustments before, and I knew they took less than ten minutes, so I told her I’d wait in the car and she could run in and get it done. I was exhausted and really not in the mood to interact with the staff. While I waited, I switched to every radio station I could think of and all of them were on commercial. I’m not kidding. All of them. With no music or talk radio to listen to, I gave up, went into the office, and grabbed something to read.

The orthodontist’s office had a selection of about thirty magazines. Think about that for a second. I could’ve chosen any one of the thirty and not been writing this story, but I chose the one I chose, a local monthly called Westchester Magazine. Inside the magazine, there was a feature article about a prominent literary agent who lived in the area and the article mentioned one of her clients who I knew through a few other authors.

We got home and I hopped on the computer to find some more information about this agent. On a whim, I emailed her, told her I was kind of a neighbor and knew one of her clients. I pitched my book and left it at that, not thinking anything would come of it.

About a month passed and the agent got back to me. She thanked me for sending the email, and asked me to send her a few sample chapters, but cautioned me up front that her list was full and the odds of wanting more than the chapters were slim. I sent them off without a second thought. No excitement, no butterflies in the stomach. I’d been down this road too many times with nothing to show for it. I sent them and moved on.

Several weeks after I sent the chapters, the agent emailed me, desperate for the rest of the manuscript. She loved the story. Her email was full of exclamation points! I couldn’t believe what I was reading. She loved my voice and the story and the premise. Send more! So I did. I sent her the rest of the book, and now there was excitement and nervousness and anxiousness. Could this be the one? Could I have finally landed an agent? Was I on my way?

Short answer: no.

The agent got back to me about six weeks after I sent her the full manuscript. She loved the book. She loved my writing and my voice. But her list was full and didn’t have the bandwidth to take on a new author. In retrospect, she was right. The amount of time I spent polishing my manuscript with my agent prior to submission was staggering. But at the time, it was the biggest gut-punch I could’ve ever received. I begged – and I mean begged – for her to take me on. I’d never been this close. I’d never had a professional from the industry excited about my work. She politely and professionally refused while I unprofessionally whined and begged and practically sold my soul for her to take me on.

At this point you’d think I’d be on a bridge ready to jump, right? Wrong. This agent didn’t take me on, and I continued to be an unpublished, aspiring writer, but what she showed me was that my work was good enough. I did have a voice. This was a good story. I was meant to be a writer after all.

So the excitement came back. The urge to write, which had never really left me, was front and center again. I began submitting queries and ended up on the desk of Curtis Russell at PS Literary Agency. He also asked for sample chapters. He also asked for the full manuscript. But then he asked for something no one else ever had before: a phone call.

Curtis became my agent, and after three months of manuscript polish and two rounds of submissions, my debut thriller was ready to be published by Thomas & Mercer. I still can’t believe I get to write that sentence.

So, aspiring writers, I want you to hear what I’m about to say. Listen up: No one ever knows when fate will show up so be ready. If my daughter’s braces didn’t break or my wife had nowhere else to be that night or there was a song on one of the radio stations or I picked one of the other twenty-nine magazines, I wouldn’t be here. Fate introduced itself, and I responded. You make your own opportunities in this life, so don’t be afraid to go after what you want. And when that opportunity comes, be prepared. Have your story polished and your sample chapters ready to go and your elevator pitch memorized. Go to writing conventions. Make contacts. Keep at it. You’ll get there. If I can tell you one thing, it’s this: dreams do come true. Mine did. Even if it took twenty years and a bad set of braces.

Matthew Farrell lives just outside of New York City in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two daughters. What Have You Done is out now.

1 Comment

  1. Susan F Chamberlain

    October 17, 2018 at 6:04 am

    Thank goodness you continued on as your book was a delightful read. The twist and turns kept me reading. Thank you.

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