In February of 2003, I was one disheartened and frustrated girl. After three failed novel attempts (the first, a fantasy novel so bad my grandmother’s hanging onto it for blackmail purposes; the second, a YA novel that attracted a very excited offer from a scam agent who, it became apparent, had not read the book; the third, a coming-of-age novel that garnered interest and encouragement from legitimate agents, but no offers), I’d finally done it! I had a New York agent; we’ll call her Agent A. (I’ll leave it to you what the "A" might stand for.) Certified with the AAR, Agent A was eager to wine and dine editors who would be fighting over my novel, which had been carefully crafted to meet all the needs of today’s publishing market. Young sassy detective, romantic subplot, what more could you ask for? I’d completely faked out the publishing world. I was brilliant!
Except that I wasn’t. Though the novel got lots of favorable comments about the writing, by February 2003, ten publishers had rejected it. We were running out of options, and I decided the only thing to do was to throw myself into a new project.
Three characters sneaked up on me, jumped me in a dark alley, and wouldn’t let me up until I’d told their story. Whoa! I was surprised how easily the words flowed. I sped through the first fifty pages, quickly realizing that in order to explore the girls’ lives in an authentic way, I would have to turn off all the censors.
A little nervous, I showed the first fifty pages of The Bitch Posse to Agent A. Within a few days she emailed me back, telling me the novel was just too dark and that she couldn’t stand to read it, couldn’t see any way to market it, and couldn’t imagine anyone would ever want to read it. She suggested I stop writing it and try another mystery instead.
I was stunned. Abandon Rennie, Amy, and Cherry, just when they were in the middle of so much trouble? I couldn’t bear to think of it. Yet what was the point of writing something no one would want to read?
I discussed this dilemma with my husband (Phil O’Connor), who is also a novelist, teacher of writers, and my first and most trusted reader. "This is the best thing you’ve ever done," he said. "You have to finish it."
That was all I needed. I smashed those censors with a baseball bat and hurled the broken pieces out the window. Cranking up the Pixies’ Doolittle (which I played at least a hundred times during the writing of this novel), I threw myself into the story, letting the girls of the Bitch Posse drag me anywhere they wanted to go. And they pulled me into some very dark corners.
I was convinced no one would ever publish it because of what Agent A had said, so I let anything and everything go. I transcribed the girls’ story with unflinching honesty, closely examining moments I’d never before been so brave as to give more than a passing, embarrassed glance. It was tremendously liberating.
The first draft of The Bitch Posse poured out of me in six short weeks. When Phil read the whole thing, he looked up at me and said: "Congratulations!" He’s rare with compliments like that, so I knew he meant it. I dissolved my agreement with Agent A and spent the next few months polishing the novel. Near the end of summer, I submitted it to agents, and within two weeks had several offers of representation. I signed with Mary Evans, who is one of the world’s most brilliant and sensitive souls. After some editorial back-and-forth with Mary, she sent the book out for auction. The book sold in four days, with four publishers making offers.
Think I ought to send Agent A a signed copy of The Bitch Posse, along with this Backstory?
Read an excerpt at Martha O'Connor's website.