Happy Birthday, Sean Griswold (and his head)

March 1, 2012
Today is the one year birthday of my young adult contemporary novel, Sean Griswold’s Head. I’m oddly sentimental about this fact, because I’ve been so amazed by how this book has been recieved since it’s publication. Actually, everything that has happened with Sean Griswold has been amazing.
I started Sean Griswold’s Head in 2006. I brought the first few chapters to the Chautauqua conference and got a read from author Rich Wallace. He told me it had a great voice, that I really should finish this story. Really? An author and editor who probably reads millions of subs thinks this has promise? I went home and got a good chunk done (a chunk I’m pretty sure no longer exists in the finished manuscript), but then took a few months off to have a baby and move. By the time I finished, it was late 2007, but I knew, I KNEW this story had something.
I sent over 30 query letters to literary agents in small batches of 5 or 6. Of those, half requested to read the manuscript. And of those, about 10 wrote me back with really wonderful rejections that told me the same thing over and over again.
Contemporary YA is a tough sell right now.
I’m not sure I can place this.
Loved it, don’t know if a publisher could get behind it though
I might be making a mistake, but I’m only 92%, and I need to be 100% to be your advocate.

So I lost faith in Sean Griswold. I closed that file and instead started and finished (ish) Princess for Hire. And what do you know, an editor I’d met at a conference years before contacted me out of the blue and asked if I was working on anything. I sent her Sean. She loved it. And two agents did too! Hello sunshine! I signed with Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary and she contacted the editor. We worked on revisions together. Sean went to an acquisitions meeting and…
He got shot down.
A moment here to say that hurt. It really did. All those agent rejections seemed prophetic–a publisher couldn’t get behind it. And I had loved working on revisions with that editor, loved the serendipity of her emailing me when she did. I STILL love that editor, and love a lot of her books. But at that time, because of the market, because of the publisher, possibly because of the story, it just didn’t work out.
Sarah and I strategized and decided we needed to put Sean away for awhile. In 2008, pink books were still selling well (thank you, Meg Cabot), so we revised my messy manuscript and sent it out. We had instant interest, and from many different publishers. In the end, Princess sold at auction in a three-book-deal. I got to work on some gnarly revisions that took me months to complete.
In early 2009, Sarah and I had a talk about the fate of Sean Griswold. She wasn’t hugely optimistic about his chances, but said it was a good story and she wanted to go on submission with it. We did some more revisions, and off he went.
To be honest, I didn’t think the book would sell. How could it? How could a book that had been read and rejected by 15 agents and 1 publisher have any chance of actually becoming a book? Didn’t all those no’s somehow taint the manuscript? I adapted a devil-may-care attitude. I didn’t check my inbox a million times for emails from my agent. I didn’t expect a thing to happen. I hoped, yes, but even that hope was thin.
And one day an email from Sarah popped up in my inbox with the subject line “Cross Everything”. Bloomsbury, the publisher who coincidentally had lost the auction on Princess for Hire, liked the story and wanted to share the manuscript with their marketing team and would be in touch soon. I wrote back with a Yay! and my lovely, level-headed British agent replied with a “Just don’t get your hopes up” and went on to explain that although she really wants it to sell, sometimes marketing shoots down quirky books like this.
So I went back to breezy. Book sale? Maybe. Whatever. I don’t care. Just a little thing I POURED MY SOUL INTO. No big.
A day or two later, we had our offer. When Sarah called, I was sitting at the park with my girls. I didn’t cry or start shaking like I did when I heard the news about Princess for Hire. I believe I was in shock. “Really? They want to publish it? Really?”
It was as a modest deal. This wasn’t slated to be a huge book. But I didn’t care–I was going to publish another book in the genre I had always loved. Something that had seemed so impossible was suddenly a possibility. No, it was real.
Other publishers chimed in. We had lovely rejections, even other interest (really? You like it too?), but we went with Bloomsbury. I talked to my editor, Caroline Abbey, for the first time and hung up and finally cried. This story that had so many pieces of me tucked inside was going to be shared, and this woman GOT the book in a way no one else ever had.
Working with Caroline was a dream. I can’t say enough about how enjoyable the revision process was. I probably only cried 2 or 3 times, and those are great numbers. Caroline championed my book in-house, and somehow, Sean started to gain steam. I heard things about a marketing plan when I didn’t think there would even be a marketing plan. I did a huge blog tour. I went on a fun book tour. I got some great professional reviews. And, finally, Sean came into the world.
And then the biggest shocker of all happened. Readers read my book. Readers liked my book. Readers contacted me and told me how much this story meant to them because they had fallen in love with their classmate, or their mom had MS too, or they were sad and this story made them feel better. Those notes were, are, so special to me.
The hardcover of Sean isn’t in Barnes and Noble anymore, probably not in many independents (although the paperback will be out in September with a new cover. Details soon). I’m not selling hundreds of copies a week. But. Scholastic picked it up for their book orders, meaning I’m reaching a readership I wouldn’t have otherwise reached. I’ve been nominated for some nice lists and awards. Bloggers still review the book. And this book that I thought had no hope is still being read. Not by the masses, but there are readers checking it out of their library, borrowing SGH from a friend, ordering it online, downloading Sean’s cute head to their e-reader.
And the emails continue. I want to share something I got yesterday that made my life. A girl named Emily did her book report on Sean Griswold’s Head and SHE DID A DIORAMA. On his head. Dioramas are my favorite school project on the planet. I have been known to do diorama’s with my daughters just for the love of diorama. So yes, it boggles my mind that this little-story-that-could found Emily, and that she liked it enough to do this report. It boggles my mind that you’re reading this now, that I do what I do. Truly. Thank you.

Now, let’s take advantage of my misty-eyed pinings. I’m doing a little birthday giveaway to celebrate. Just comment below, I’ll pick a name, and send along a signed copy of Sean Griswold Head. Now, if you make another diorama? I’ll see if I can find you an actual Sean Griswold.