Give Up or Sell? Here’s What I Did.

Welcome, Thesese Walsh. I know the ladies here will find your first sale inspiring, too. I did!

In June of 2008, I finally—after years of working on a story concept—found an agent. In July, she sold my book, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, in a two-book deal to Random House.

That’s the happy ending.

But as we writers know, every happy ending is preceded by a dark moment, when all seems lost. I had such a moment, and I’d like to tell you about it.

In March of 2008, with a finished manuscript in hand, I started seriously searching for an agent. I had done my research, had my dream list before me…you know the drill. I was hopeful but nervous. I’d been working on my manuscript since 2002, in one form or another. I say “one form or another” because Last Will started as a traditional romance and then morphed into something Other—but not before I finished it as a romance and had it rejected as a romance, after two years worth of work. One agent, the fabulous Deidre Knight, gave me some advice: “You should be writing women’s fiction.”

In 2005, I started writing the story over again. In 2006, after realizing I *still* hadn’t gotten it right, I scrapped most of a full third of the novel and began a third time.

It’s hard to persist for so long on a project, especially when you’ve already been rejected, especially when you’re not yet published. So now you know why I was hopeful but nervous.

I wrote my query letters, wrote my synopsis, and sent my first batch of submissions. One of the agents to whom I submitted my work was a Big Time Agent. This agent knew what he was talking about. Being picked up by him would mean fabulous things for my future.

He requested the full.

You can imagine my excitement, my almost uncontainable glee!

And then he rejected. He was nice about it. He gave me some tips. He wished me well. I, being a pushy girl, asked him if he knew of others within his agency who might connect with my work. He wasn’t sure, but he mentioned one female agent. “She’s very busy, though,” he said. Not a lot of hope there, but I, being a very pushy girl, decided to give the busy agent a try.

I wrote a new query, printed a new synopsis, mailed a new submission to this other agent. Soon after, I was asked by an assistant to this agent for a partial, and then the full.

And then, the strangest thing, I was contacted once again by the Big Time Agent.

“You’ve made our assistant cry with your story,” he said. “I’m going to reconsider. Stay tuned.” Later he emailed me, “Call me later. I’d like to talk.” He gave me his number.

I kind of knew this wasn’t the way things were supposed to work. When agents loved and wanted to represent you, they called *you* to tell you, right? But this was Big Time Agent. Maybe he did things differently. I was nearly bursting with hope. But you know what happens with things that want to burst.

When I called he said, “I’m probably not going to tell you what you’re hoping for. Really, I have a lot of questions.”


“Okay,” I said, and opened my ears.

He did have a lot of questions, but he also had a lot to say—about what he felt wasn’t working in the story. And there was a lot that wasn’t working, in his estimation. Large chunks of and even critical elements in the story were not only “not quite right,” they were plain “wrong.”

If ever there was a time I wanted to quit trying, toss my manuscript in the trash and pretend I’d never dreamed a dream, it was when Big Time Agent told me that my story wasn’t publishable. I couldn’t see it. I’d believed the story was finished and that it rang true, and that it was ready. I’d felt that it was ready in my gut. If he was right, and my story was that flawed, then my gut was flawed. Very flawed. And I believed that if you can’t count on your gut, it’s time to hang it up.

But the weirdest thing happened. Somewhere from deep inside my little old self, a voice peeped up, shy at first, weak, then stronger—like the stale and tiny heart of the Grinch swelling to life inside his otherwise vacant chest after he had a realization. And my book—it was like Christmas. It was there, and it had come, and I believed in it.

I remember telling my husband in our kitchen: “No, he’s wrong. Big Time Agent is wrong. The book is ready. You’ll see.”

My husband didn’t need me to tell him this, because he believed already; he was just proud and thrilled that I finally did, too.

And you know what happened next, because I’ve already shared my happy ending with you: I wrote a new query, printed a new synopsis, mailed a new submission to this other agent—an agent named Elisabeth Weed. And she asked for the partial and asked for the full, and then called me herself on the phone to tell me she loved the book. She became my agent, and she sold my book to Random House in a preemptive two-book deal. And I don’t tell you that to brag. I tell you that to say, “See now. The gut knows so much more than a mere mortal agent—even a Big Time Agent.”

What is your gut telling you about your work? Listen to it, especially when it tells you your story is worthwhile and that you are a fantastic writer. Never, never quit on your gut, yourself or your dreams.

Write on, all!

Thanks again, Mary! Today is my daughter’s birthday. Sounds like a lucky day to me. :-)

All best,

Therese Walsh
Author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy
(Random House, October 2009)
101 Best Websites (Writer's Digest, '07, '08 & '09)


  1. Scarlet Pumpernickel // September 27, 2009 at 11:32 PM  

    Mary, thank you so much for bringing us this wonderfully encouraging interview! Therese welcome to the fuzzies. I can't wait to see you book on the shelf! I can only imagine how exciting this must be for you! Congratulations!

  2. Mary Marvella // September 28, 2009 at 12:05 AM  

    Therese, your first comment!

  3. Donnell // September 28, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

    Oh, darn, I wanted to have the first comment. I've been waiting for this book to come out, and I absolutely love the renamed title. Therese, congratulations on this phenomenal book, and congratulations on having the fortitude to believe in yourself. You are a phenomenal author! I wish you all the best, and happy birthday to your daughter!

  4. Edie Ramer // September 28, 2009 at 12:51 AM  

    What is your gut telling you about your work? Listen to it, especially when it tells you your story is worthwhile and that you are a fantastic writer.

    Therese, what an inspiring post. I'm going to put that in my quotes, along with "Never, never quit on your gut, yourself or your dreams. love that!"

    I feel that way about my last two books, the gut feeling that they're good.

    Happy birthday to your daughter!

  5. Becca Simone // September 28, 2009 at 1:08 AM  

    This is probably the best first sale story I've ever heard. Thank you so much for sharing. When does this fabulous book come out?

    I think it's awesome you went with your gut. You could have easily succombed to "big agent's" critique and rewrote the whole thing again, but thank God you didn't.


  6. Becca Simone // September 28, 2009 at 1:13 AM  

    Man, I LOVE it when I misspell a word in a post. Did I mention I'm a writer? "SuccUmbed." Sheesh.


  7. ArkansasCyndi // September 28, 2009 at 7:32 AM  

    I've the pleasure of watching Therese sell this book and I was truly as THRILLED as someone can be for another writer.

    Talented, Smart. Driven. That's why Therese's book sold.

    Big Time Author was wrong.

    Congrats. I can't wait to read it.

  8. Therese Walsh // September 28, 2009 at 7:46 AM  

    You peeps are the sweetest, and all awake so early! Thank you for the birthday wishes for my darling D; she just left for school with her new earrings and a container of brownies to share, happy.

    Becca, the book comes out October 13th. Two weeks from tomorrow. Not that I'm counting. ;)

    Here's a bit of breaking news: My first blog review came out yesterday, at Books, Books and Reviews. It's feeling very real now.

    Thanks again for having me, Mary!

  9. Judy // September 28, 2009 at 9:55 AM  

    Therese, what a wonderful, inspiring story! You're right! The story has to fill your heart and your gut! What one agent won't like, another will, and if you've worked hard and know it's good, we've all got to be brave enough to pursue it. Thanks, Therese! Good luck with the book.

  10. Mary Ricksen // September 28, 2009 at 1:22 PM  

    Happy birthday to your daughter Therese. I really enjoyed your post. It reminded me of something that happened to me. You have great character and determination. That is what your husband saw and that is what I see. Good luck!

    Thanks for another moving blog MM, touching indeed!

  11. Mary Marvella // September 28, 2009 at 1:34 PM  

    Therese, I think our readers like your story!

  12. Anonymous // September 28, 2009 at 3:47 PM  

    What a wonderful inspiring story. Your persistance and fortitude finally paid off, and you never gave up! Look where it got you! Random House. Holy shamolee. That's amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. It gives us all hope.
    Patrice Wilton

  13. Patrice // September 28, 2009 at 3:53 PM  

    Hi everyone,
    Seems like I finally got my google account working. Hope to be here more often!

  14. Mary Marvella // September 28, 2009 at 5:41 PM  

    Welcome, Donnell, Edie, Becca,Cyndi, and Patrice! Therese did a great job, didn't she?

  15. Mona Risk // September 28, 2009 at 5:53 PM  

    Therese, what a beautiful story of perseverance.

  16. Scarlet Pumpernickel // September 28, 2009 at 6:29 PM  

    Therese, I forgot to add what a fabulous cover! I'm going to scoot over and read your review! Congrats again!

  17. Mary Marvella // September 28, 2009 at 6:38 PM  

    Welcome, Donnell, Edie, Becca,Cyndi, and Patrice! Therese did a great job, didn't she?

  18. Therese Walsh // September 28, 2009 at 9:03 PM  

    Thank you again for having me, Mary, and thank you everyone for your kind comments!

    If you're struggling to finish your novel or struggling to find representation or just plain struggling, I hope that you'll try your utmost to keep going. Even if you miss a day or a week or a month of writing, try to keep the fire in your belly lit until you sit down and write again.

    Write on, all!