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What a Working Mom Learned About Success After 23 Publishers Rejected Her Book

Recently, people have been asking about my journey to becoming an author. So, I thought I’d dedicate this post to sharing the rocky but exhilarating road I’ve traveled in order to see a book with my name on the cover, distributed all across the country on March 19, 2019.

It took five years (feels more like a lifetime) to strong-arm this crazy dream into reality. However, even in the midst of literary agents ignoring me, publishers rejecting my work and blank pages making me shake in my sleep, I found myself irrationally energized to keep going.

Each time I was defeated, I put that disappointment into a blender and transformed it into motivation. It’s a skill set I developed and honed over time—not because I’m superhuman, but because I don’t like to lose.

It hurts my fragile ego.

Also, because throughout this process, I believed in my soul that I had a message to share with mothers that would help turn their self-doubt into strength; I would stop at nothing to get this much-needed relief out in the world. Not to shine a spotlight on myself, but to transfer healing to mothers everywhere.

So, here we go. Five defining moments on this monumental journey.

1. Convincing myself I could do it

From 2011 to 2013, I flirted with the idea of writing a book. I was already running The Mom Complex and regularly conducting research with mothers, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. It sounded hard, I didn’t see myself as a writer, and I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it. I can barely spell, for God’s sake.

However, the tides turned in May 2013, after I made the decision to leave my advertising career, become an entrepreneur and take The Mom Complex out on my own. The belief that I could be a business owner—something I also had no idea how to do—bolstered my confidence to figure out how to write a book.

Five years ago, on a Tuesday afternoon while on board a flight from Richmond to Atlanta, I typed out the cover page and turned my fear and hesitation into momentum. I only squeezed out three pages of writing, but that didn’t matter. I finally believed I could do it.

2. Getting over rejection

It took me over a year to craft a book proposal that combined my research on the self-defeating tendencies of mothers with my personal experience of feeling less-than-good-enough for the majority of my life. The pressure was on because nonfiction titles sell to publishers on 50+ page proposals, not the full manuscript. The proposal is everything.

It was hard but exciting work. What was even harder, however, was landing a literary agent —a necessity for selling a book proposal to a major publisher. After getting rejected, dismissed or ignored by every agent I reached out to, I eventually landed a literary agent in L.A. who was the friend of a friend.

His endorsement was a sign that someone in the industry also thought I could write a book—it was no longer my own blind ambition leading the charge.

We were off to the races, and by “races,” I mean the race to lots of rejection. My agent shopped the proposal around to 12 publishers and every single one said no. Determined more than ever before, I spent the next six months absorbing feedback, reworking the proposal and sending the improved version to 11 new publishers. They all said no too.

That’s right. I was rejected by 23 publishers.

Without direct access to the publishers (to wow them in person), I had to allow the words in my proposal to stand on their own, and I was growing concerned that my words weren’t good enough. That I wasn’t good enough.

I’m not going to lie and say I pulled myself out of this pity party alone because I didn’t. I relied on the strength of my team at work who knew the power of this platform, the depths of my disappointment and how to cheer me up. Just look at this encouraging message they left in my NYC hotel room after a handful of rejections showed up on the same day.

3. Starting over

I took six months off from writing, kept working my day job at The Mom Complex and chose to believe that the stars would align at the right time to help me find a different path to getting a new proposal back to the same publishers.

Eventually, I got the break I needed when my friend Kate introduced me to Kristin—a badass mom editor and author in NYC who helped me land an A-list agent—YES!

But this new path quickly became filled with doubt and fear when during our first meeting, my new agent suggested that my first book should just be an anthology: a collection of essays from other mothers. In other words, I was advised to use the words of other women instead of my own.

Holy shit.

I immediately started sweating. Not sure of what to do next, I excused myself to the bathroom, splashed water on my face (and under my arms), took five deep breaths and returned to his office and stood my ground.

I had a powerful message to share, much of it personal to my own experience, and I was confident I could turn around a one-page proposal outline that would prove to him I was worthy of writing my own book.

That last part was a lie. Right after the meeting, I boarded a train back to Richmond and cried the entire way home. Terrified that I couldn’t deliver on my promise, I called friends for reinforcement. Earl, my former boss, reminded me that I’d overcome greater challenges in the past, and Lauren, my business partner, pointed out the positive response I’d recently received about my blog. She also reminded me to put on my sunglasses when crying in public. #goodpoint

4. The theme that changed everything

With Kristina’s help, I put together the one-page outline I’d promised and held my breath as my agent reviewed it. “Please, God, no anthology,” I begged.

My prayers were answered when he not only loved the themes in the new outline, but matched and raised them by suggesting the dragon-slaying theme that changed everything.

It was his idea to personify the self-doubt living inside millions of mothers as a fire-breathing dragon that inhales in everything we do wrong and nothing we do right and blows it back in our faces. Wow.

And this, my friends, is when the tears really rained down. I boarded a plane shortly after getting his text about slaying dragons and cried like I’ve never cried before, at 50,000 feet, all the way across the country.

During the flight, I drafted the invitation below that now appears in the front of the book.

Everything made sense. It was time to take my struggles from quiet and embarrassing to brave and bold. I knew how to write the book, who I would dedicate it to and how heroic it would make women feel.

5. Sealing the deal

My new agent shopped the new dragon-slaying proposal around and landed multiple offers for it—putting me in the unbelievably blessed position to choose the publisher I wanted to work with.

To everyone’s surprise, I went with the publisher who offered less money but more vision, love and support for my platform. I left money on the table in favor of girl-power and chemistry.

As many of you know, money is not a motivating force in my life. I want to do good work with good people and then I want to go home and see my family. I’ve never believed that bigger is better. I’ve never believed that more money is better. This book deal is no different.

So, there you have it, the five defining moments of my book deal. The actual writing of the book is another story for another day.

What I have to say is powerful, I know this to be true. I hear it from women all the time. But this message would never have had the opportunity to change the world if it stayed in a word document on my computer.

For now, I’ll express my undying gratitude to all the team members, milestones and hard work that helped turn this crazy dream and into reality.

Thank you from the bottom of my hard-working heart.

Katherine Wintsch is the CEO of The Mom Complex, a consulting company based in in Richmond, VA, and the author of Slay Like a Mother: How to Destroy What's Holding You Back So You Can Live the Life You Want.

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