Flirting with Equality, Flirting with Rejections

It’s been awhile, but earlier this year I mentioned my book project in passing – and it turns out I’ve never said much more about it than that. With more than a year of querying and rejections under my belt, I’ve decided it’s time to say a little more.

A year ago, I finished the first round revisions of turning my dissertation into a book. It was a process that took me almost a year, including nights after work, spring break, and most of the summer of 2016, and I’m proud of that work. Dissertations are always just that – a dissertation, never great, but always something that gets you the degree. I’ve known since I finished mine that it could never go forward in the shape it was in.

But time – that’s the factor. I spent several years ignoring the dissertation, then began playing with it again in the fall of 2015. I ripped it apart, tore it into new pieces, made big cuts, restructured it, and even came up with a new title: Flirting with Equality: American Women in the Cold War Military.

It’s a project that I was obsessed with for years in grad school. I visited around a dozen archives, interviewed more than 20 women, and put my heart and soul into it. Flirting with Equality starts with the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which made women’s service permanent, and carries through to the end of the Cold War. To understand why women’s military service functions the way it does today – and by extension, policies relating to gay, lesbian, and transgender servicemen and women – my book is a must-read.

Well, at least in theory.

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As I finished the draft in summer 2016, I began compiling lists of agents and composing query letters. I sought proposal samples, studied them, and wrote my own. And of course, I began putting my work out there.

A little over a year ago, I sent out my first batch of query letters something I continued monthly through last November, contacting about 50 different agents.

The good news? I got actual responses! Some agents even asked to see the full proposal, or sample chapters. These are all good signs.

I even started getting rejections, which is exciting in its own right even when they’re rejectionsafter all, and often form letters – but hey, you can add them to your list.

I paused a bit around November when the election hit. My big nagging feeling was that no one would really care about a book on women’s military integration once Trump won. Had Hillary won, I suspect a lot more people would be interested in the broad category of “women’s firsts,” for example, but things didn’t play out that way.

By March, I was still racking up rejections and sensing a theme. One excellent agent liked my work, but wanted me to have a stronger platform. One agency that does exclusively nonfiction said the same thing – they only work with established authors with a strong platform.

“Platform” refers to how well-known you are. Do you tweet and have twitter followers in good numbers? Do people know you? Do you have visibility – usually online? And all of this makes sense, of course, in today’s publishing world, but when one agent suggested I spend a year or two focusing on my platform development, then get back to them….well. Let’s be honest.

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In short – this caused me to think long and hard about my approach. I’m still putting myself out there; I’ve queried probably 75 agents in the past year and in 2017 alone got actual rejections from more than 20, or close to half of the ones I’ve sent to this year.

It’s time to get back on the wagon, though. I held back this summer because I was taking a different approach, to no avail. I still have more agents to query, and it’s time to get my work back out there.

The time and rejections have been good for the project, though. A year later, I think my proposal is better and my queries stronger than they were the first time out of the gate. I feel like I might have a new way to think about the project’s relevance. I refuse to believe – as one rejection letter noted – that people or publishers only want works about the military today.

History still matters. The voices of the women in my book project matter. And it’s time for me to get back up on that horse and get out to the races.

Here’s to more rejections, and getting closer to that elusive goal.

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