Sometimes, kids, you have a dream about a book with a kid in a potato costume on the cover. And sometimes, with the right kind of persistence, that dream becomes a reality.
That’s the story behind today’s guest post from My Life as a Potato author Arianna Costner.
Writing your story: the Power of Persistence and the Power of Letting Go
by Arianne Costner
The idea for my debut book first sparked while I was watching a college sports game. The Cougar mascot danced on the court below while I sat in the stands, wondering about the identity of the person behind the mask. I turned to my husband and said, “You know what would make a funny book? Something about a kid who was secretly the school mascot.”
“I hear they have a potato mascot somewhere in Idaho,” he suggested.
And I was hooked. My seventh grade students were strangely obsessed with potatoes and would totally dig a book like that. I could see the cover in my head: a kid in a potato costume. Gold!
Once I started writing, I was wholly consumed. I planned what would happen in each chapter. I forced my mom and sister to listen to every plot point. I formed a writing group, shoved my drafts at whoever would read them, typed ravenously while cackling to myself, practically neglected my family (all jokes, all jokes….)
I still vividly remember the moment I typed “the end” and the exhilarating rush that followed. I wrote my first book. It took two months. And to me, it was perfect.
To literary agents, it was not, which I quickly and painfully learned.
After finishing my book, I took a week or so to read it over and fix the errors/re-word some sentences. If I was feeling REAL bold, I even added a new paragraph here or there. Then, I started sending a summary and sample of the first chapter to literary agents. This process is called “querying,” and it is known to be a long process full of rejection.
And full of rejection it was. I kept changing the first chapter and sending out more samples, but “no” after “no” flooded in. I’m talking 30-40, with only a few “bites” (requests for the full manuscript)–which ultimately resulted in nothing.
I didn’t understand. A book about a secret potato mascot? Pure. gold. And I’d worked so hard! Why weren’t these agents seeing the potential?
The truth is, my writing wasn’t quite there yet. So, when a friend told me about a writing mentoring program called Pitch Wars, I felt compelled to submit. The program even ended with a showcase where agents could read your pitch/first page and request the full manuscript. Sweet!
To make a long story short, I made it in (huzzah!), was helped by an amazing mentor, and edited, edited, edited. Two books that seriously helped–and continue to help–me are WRITING IRRESTIBLE KIDLIT by Mary Kole and SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder. I learned that studying craft is not only helpful but essential to writing fiction, no matter how many A’s you scored in your high school and college English classes.
The day of the showcase came, and I got two requests.
Okay… not nearly as many as most, but at least it was something.
Those agents both ended up rejecting.
So I revised, queried, revised, queried. I even re-queried all the agents who passed before. Eventually, I hit the 100th-rejection mark, which is when common wisdom says you should call it quits. I started plotting and writing some new stuff, but I still kept sending queries on the side. I could never fully let go of that vision in my head: a boy in a potato suit on the cover of a book. I yearned so badly for it to be.
To be honest, sometimes my persistence felt closer to foolishness or desperation, but I wanted to leave no tables unturned. I needed to know that I did everything in my power to find my book a home. There’s power in persistence.
There’s also power in letting go. Once I accepted that my first book might just be a “practice book,” and that was okay, I felt calmer and more able to fully immerse myself in my other projects. I continued to send queries for POTATO, but honestly, maybe I could have stopped, gotten an agent on another book, and been totally fine. Sometimes letting go makes sense. Sometimes it’s better for your mental health. There is no shame in holding off on one dream to pursue another.
Persistence isn’t really measured by how many query letters you’ve sent or how many tears you’ve cried. It’s measured by your desire to to improve and the actions you take to do so. Persistence doesn’t always result in the exact success you hope for, but it makes you stronger, more knowledgeable, and closer to the place you hope to reach.
And sometimes, if luck strikes the right way, persistence, partnered with a lot of hard work, does pay off.
My story has a happy ending. One year and three months after typing my first “the end,” I found the perfect agent for me: Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary. Together we did–wait for it–more revisions, and then we started submitting to publishers. MY LIFE AS A POTATO sold quickly and competitively to Random House Children’s Books. It came out on March 24, 2020.
It has a boy in a potato costume on the cover.
Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.
After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are doomed! Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he tries his best to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?
Arianne Costner grew up in Mesa, Arizona but currently lives in California with her husband and three children. She is a former teacher who believes that writers should crack up at their own jokes. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing the piano and composing music. Her favorite kind of potato is the tater tot, with mashed potatoes coming in close second—as long as they’re not gluey. MY LIFE AS A POTATO is her debut novel. Her second book is coming out next Spring.
- website: www.ariannecostner.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ariannecostner
- IG: @authorariannecostner
- goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/42072421