I’m really excited to share today’s interview with you. The author of THE LAST CONFESSION OF AUTUMN CASTERLY, Meredith Tate, sat down with me over email and shared some awesome insights about her writing journey. Her reflections on the highs, lows, and rejections that she’s faced along the way are a good, honest look at some of the things you may face in your own author journey.
Read on to learn a thing or two about Meredith’s story and the art of perseverance!
Can you tell me about the book that got you your agent?
Meredith Tate: This is kind of a complicated answer, because my wonderful agent – who signed me for my YA allegorical thriller, THE LAST CONFESSION OF AUTUMN CASTERLY – is actually my third agent! AUTUMN is about two sisters, 18yo Autumn and 15yo Ivy, who couldn’t be more different. They haven’t spoken to one another in three years (which gets kind of awkward when your house only has one bathroom). Popular Autumn will do anything to escape her family and her suffocating small town, even if it means intimidating her classmates and dealing drugs; meanwhile, Ivy spends her time playing trumpet in the marching band, designing cosplays with her five best friends, and crushing hopelessly on her friend Jason. However, one day Autumn gets in over her head and finds herself beaten, bound, and held hostage…somewhere she can’t quite figure out. If she doesn’t get out in three days, she will die. Desperate, her soul leaves her body as a ghost, determined to find help. Unfortunately, no one can see or hear her – except Ivy. Following a string of increasingly dangerous clues, Ivy has three days to track down her missing sister, shadowed by Autumn’s ghost whispering in her ear. But the closer Ivy gets to solving the crime, the more Autumn begins to realize it’s not just her own life on the line, but her sister’s, too.
AUTUMN is a feminist YA contemporary with speculative elements. I pitched it as IF I STAY meets ONE OF US IS LYING. (TW: Rape) The book heavily deals with an issue that’s important to me – how our culture and justice system prioritize the future of rapists over the lives of their victims. It also takes place in my beloved hometown of Concord, NH, and features many real streets, businesses, landmarks, and restaurants!
I would love to hear about your author journey! For example, was the project that got you your agent the first book you queried? I know that you have several other books in addition to AUTUMN CASTERLY — I would love your author journey in full, honestly. Spare no detail!
MT: Spare no detail?! Okay, you asked for it!
I believe in transparency, so while I can’t share everything, I’m going to be as honest as possible. I think too many times, we only see “highlight reels” on social media, and my journey has had a LOT of low points and rejection. I don’t want to sugar coat that or make it look more positive than it was. So, here we go!
My querying journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster. I’ve had ups and downs, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I drafted my first novel in college (YA dystopian), and immediately started querying it. Yep, I queried a first draft – a 130k first draft that opened with a 30-page prologue starring a side character who died at the end of the chapter (I still love that book – I hope to go back and rewrite it someday!). I got a few requests, but not many. If there was a bingo card for beginner writing mistakes, I probably BINGO’d about 10 times in this book.
After a year of rejections on my manuscript, I signed with my first agent in summer of 2012. I hadn’t researched much, and didn’t know what questions to ask; I was just thrilled, because I assumed that meant my days of rejections were over (HAAAA) and I was going to be published immediately (*snort*). I worked with that agent for a year, but we never went on sub. In August, 2013, I was on a cross-country roadtrip with my now-husband. We were sitting in the stands watching a Twins game in Minneapolis with one of his friends, when I got an email that my agent was dropping me. There was a long road leading there; at that point we had discussed parting ways and it was honestly a mutual decision, but I was devastated and thought my career had ended before it even begun. It was cloudy, but I remember putting my sunglasses on, so no one at the game would see me crying! I remember turning to my then-fiance and saying, “I’m going to be successful regardless of what they think.” Maybe it was pettiness, but I wanted so badly to prove that agent wrong — to prove that I had what it took — that the moment I got back to my hotel room that night, I immediately opened up my laptop.
I queried that book for a few more months, to nothing but rejections. My then-fiance was in grad school and up late doing homework every night, whereas I had a 9-5, so after work I started drafting a new story, an adult dystopian romance (I will always love dystopian lol). I was a little more prepared this time. I wrote multiple drafts. I joined Twitter, and met a couple critique partners who beta-read the book. I researched agents and querying. I took some writing classes. I was sure this was “the book.” Then when I started querying, in came the rejections again (although I had a higher request rate this time). The low point in querying this book came when I went to my first book conference and had a humiliating pitch session with an agent. I left the conference crying and almost didn’t come back the next day. I always think of that day as the day I almost quit. This industry is rough! However, lots of positives were also happening — I got two great critiques from two established authors who offered critiques in charity auctions.
I decided to start querying small presses. It was summer 2014, and we were in the process of moving across the country, from Boston to St. Louis, and I was going through a lot of major life changes: I’d quit my Boston job, I was moving to a place I barely knew, and I was planning my wedding. While living in the Residence Inn waiting for our furniture to arrive on the moving truck, I got a publication offer. I nudged the other publishers who had the book, and received a second offer. The first contract felt a bit off to me, so I signed with the second publisher, who published MISSING PIECES, my adult dystopian romance. I had a great publishing experience with them. Almost 100 people came to the launch party in NH in March 2015. I got decent reviews and fanart from a reader in Australia. A teen reader even painted a canvas for me with my book cover on it; it now hangs in my office. I still love that book, and I’m proud of it; however, I knew I wanted to break into traditional publishing.
While launching MISSING PIECES, I had been drafting a YA dystopian thriller called FREEDOM TRIALS. While drafting, I connected with my forever-CP/bestie on Twitter and that definitely changed my career. I started querying, and this time, had a request rate of around 50%. However, they kept ending in rejections, mostly citing the genre or the ending (apparently ending the book with a 75-page flashback didn’t work, who knew!). I entered multiple online writing contests and did not make it to even the first round in any of them. While querying FREEDOM TRIALS, my third manuscript, I got to work drafting my fourth manuscript, a YA contemporary fantasy. I started querying it, to a decent request rate but no offers. I got a few requests from #Pitmad, but nothing that went anywhere. I entered Pitch Wars, and did not get a single request for more pages from any mentor.
After months of agent rejections for both books, I decided to query some small presses with FREEDOM TRIALS, and I got an offer in fall 2015. I nudged the two remaining agents who had the manuscript, and one of them offered, which is how I signed with my second agent! We ended up turning down the publication offer for FREEDOM TRIALS and focusing on my contemporary fantasy instead, as it was a more marketable genre. After several months of revisions, we went on submission to a handful of editors. During this time, I was twiddling my thumbs a lot trying to keep myself busy and distracted.
I found an open call for novellas for an anthology from an adult romance publisher, and decided it would be fun to try writing one. I love romance, and I hadn’t had any luck with my YA, so I thought it might be a nice change to try something different. I wrote it. I had so much fun writing it. But none of my beta readers seemed to like it. I submitted it anyway, and did not get picked for the anthology. I tried not to let it bother me. But it did. I wasn’t good enough. In any genre or age group I tried, I wasn’t good enough, and that stung.
I started drafting my fifth manuscript, THE RED LABYRINTH. Six months later, we had gotten nothing but rejections for my contemporary fantasy on sub, and I felt my career was at a stand still. Due to a number of factors, I recommended to my second agent that we part ways.
I decided to shelve the contemporary fantasy and focus on THE RED LABYRINTH. I started querying it, convinced this would be “the book,” but no luck. I got a decent number of requests, but no offers or consistent feedback. I got a couple of R&Rs, but couldn’t find the motivation to try tackling them. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I had been at this for six years and I had hardly anything to show for it. This was the lowest point for me.
The thing about lowest points, is there is only one direction you can go. It was spring 2017, and I was feeling incredibly dejected. I had written multiple manuscripts in multiple genres, and none of them got me anywhere. Instead of trying something new, I decided to rewrite the ending of FREEDOM TRIALS (at this point, I had come to terms with the fact that the 75-page flashback needed to go lol) and clean up THE RED LABYRINTH a bit more. I entered #Pitmad again, and for the first time, I had some luck; I connected with two amazing publishers — Page Street and Flux. After a few months, Page Street offered on FREEDOM TRIALS. I was thrilled. A story I had thought was dead in the water had found a wonderful home, and it was going to be published in hardcover all over the country.
During that time, I was in the middle of another major life change — my husband and I were moving to Switzerland. While negotiating the contract with Page Street, I decided I needed to throw myself into a new story. But being me, I couldn’t decide on one. I dabbled in multiple ideas, and couldn’t seem to commit to any of them.
I pulled up my old story ideas folder on my computer and found one I had started a couple years ago, a murder mystery about two sisters. All I had was one chapter from Autumn’s POV, and one chapter from Ivy’s POV. I decided I wanted to throw everything I loved into it. I based it in my hometown. I included references to pop culture things I love. I ranted about current issues that were important to me. I stopped caring about the market. I decided to write this story just for me. I sat down and started writing.
During this time, another surprise came — Flux came back with an offer to publish THE RED LABYRINTH. Another book I had thought was dead, would now be published. For the first time ever, it seemed like my luck was turning around. I had gotten two great deals with two great publishers, with books many agents had told me would never sell.
In February 2018, I finished drafting my sisters-murder-book, WALK THE SHADOW. I sent it to beta readers and was blown away by the positive responses — I had never gotten responses so positive before. Encouraged, I decided to jump back into the query trenches. One of my beta readers, who is also a good friend, offered to refer me to their agent. I was extremely grateful! I kept my expectations low, because at this point in my career I had racked up somewhere between 400-500(!) rejection letters, and I had no reason to believe this time would be any different. I was also starting to get rejections for WALK THE SHADOW — including some full rejections — so I figured it would work out the same way.
After two weeks, I had a really awful nightmare. In the nightmare, my friend’s agent rejected me. Brutally. It sucked. I was in the process of describing this nightmare to my CP via text, when I received an email I had to read several times to comprehend. I was in my hometown visiting my dad, and had my laptop open at the local coffee shop (the local coffee shop which is actually mentioned in the book!). My friend’s agent loved the book! And she wanted a phone call! I couldn’t believe it!
The next day, we chatted on the phone, and instantly connected. I couldn’t believe it. She really *got* my book. I was so excited.
That night, I nudged all the agents who still had my full. Over the next week, I got four more offers of representation from amazing agents I had admired for years.
When I had always thought about getting offers of representation, I had thought this would be my dream situation. In reality, it was a nightmare. I was so anxious, I was having panic attacks as my decision deadline drew closer. I had made so many mistakes in publishing, I was terrified of ruining everything the moment I got to this point. It didn’t help that the same week I was taking agent calls and trying to figure things out, I had a medical emergency — I lost the hearing in my right ear, in an unexplained permanent drop. What I had thought would have been the best week of my life was becoming the worst.
The night of my decision deadline, my husband was on a business trip, and I was all alone in our apartment in Zurich. I remember lying on the floor, sobbing, talking through it on the phone with one of my best friends, in the middle of the worst panic attack I’ve ever had.
A few minutes before 11pm Zurich time / 5pm EST, I went with my gut — I emailed the first agent who offered, the one I connected so well with, and accepted her offer. Over two years later, I am so, so happy I did. To this day, I am thrilled I signed with Sarah Landis, and blown away she saw something in this book and wanted to work with me.
Sarah and I worked on revisions for two months. Her notes made the book so much stronger! One of our changes involved the title, going from WALK THE SHADOW to THE LAST CONFESSION OF AUTUMN CASTERLY. We went on submission in May of 2018, and it was an extremely exciting time. In addition to going on sub, my husband and I were also packing for a big bucket list trip we had planned to celebrate our joined 30th birthdays — a safari in South Africa.
Two weeks after we went on sub, Sarah called me, right when I was packing, to tell me we had received our first offer! I was overjoyed! I couldn’t believe it.
I finished packing and left for my trip. I was sitting in the safari lodge one night in Kruger National Park in the wilderness, when Sarah emailed me that she wanted to talk. We were in a very remote area, so I had to stand in the shower to get cell service — and that’s when Sarah told me we were going to auction.
Fast forward a few days, I was home again, the auction happened, and we sold THE LAST CONFESSION OF AUTUMN CASTERLY to its amazing home with Putnam / Penguin Teen! It was the hardest secret I ever had to keep… and sadly it ended anticlimactically: I was in Singapore for a week at the end of June 2018, and due to the time difference, the announcement went live while I was asleep. Womp womp. But I woke to so many amazing messages on Twitter, it was such a dream come true!
The book sold in June 2018, and came out this past February, 2020. I truly can’t believe it, still. It’s been quite a journey!
Was there a time in your querying journey when you felt like giving up?
MT: So. Many. Times. Each time I shelved a manuscript. Both times I parted with agents. But I kept with it, because I could NOT stop writing, and I’m so glad I didn’t give up.
How did you get the strength to keep trying?
MT: I had a lot of support from friends, family, and CPs who kept encouraging me to keep going. I also had an insatiable need to write, even just for myself; I couldn’t stop writing stories, even when nothing was working.
Do you have any advice for querying authors?
MT: Rejections are not a “no,” they’re a “not now, not with this book.” My amazing agent rejected one of my earlier manuscripts, but offered rep for AUTUMN. Keep going, write what *you* want and not what you think the market wants, because you can’t control the market and by the time you write that popular genre, it could easily be the next one deemed “too saturated.” Find a good critique partner/group; they’re invaluable. Get connected with other writers! Realize that no two publishing paths are the same. Take time off from writing and querying if you need to. Go at your own pace. Do your research before signing with any agent or publisher, and take “red flags” seriously. If you get an offer from any agent or publisher, speak to their other clients / authors; don’t just speak to their well-known “successful” authors, talk to people whose books haven’t sold, or who parted ways with the agent/publisher in question. There are so many factors in publishing that are outside your control, worry about the main thing you CAN control: writing the best book possible.
What’s something you know now as an agented author that you wish you knew before?
MT: There will always be ups and downs in every step of publishing!
When and why did you start writing?
MT: I started writing in middle school because I loved telling stories and getting my thoughts out through (probably terrible) poetry. I was always writing short stories in middle and high school!
What inspires you?
MT: Honestly I draw inspiration from just about everywhere lol
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
MT: I am a little bit of both. I write a bullet-point list of plot points I know need to happen at some point in the story, and cross them off as I write them.
If you read writing craft books, do you have any to recommend?
MT: I don’t know what I would do without The Emotion Thesaurus!
Who would your dream co-author be?
MT: Leigh Bardugo or Holly Black!
What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?
MT: Fireborne by Rosaria Munda! Wilder Girls by Rory Power!
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
MT: I would love to walk into a bookstore on another continent and see a translated edition of my book, front and center. Oooo also, an airport!
What’s the hardest part about being a writer?
MT: I think writing can be very personal and it’s hard sometimes to put your words out in the world. The world can be cruel!
What’s the best part?
MT: I love telling stories! There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing someone say they connected to your characters. Also, the people — writers are amazing, and I’ve loved getting to know so many great people in this industry.
Is there anything from your time living in Europe that helped inspire you or helped you craft this book?
MT: I love writing in coffee shops, and Zurich has some amazing coffee shops that always helped me get into a writing mood. I miss them very much!
Why do you like to write for teens?
MT: Teens are awesome. Teens today will be the ones shaping the future. Also, I genuinely enjoying reading YA fiction more than adult fiction!
Your character, Ivy, is described as a band geek — do you have any personal experience on that front?
MT: Not only was I a band geek (trumpet, like Ivy!) but I also was the Drum Major — leader of the band geeks — during senior year 😉
Do you have any encouragement for authors starting their querying journey?
MT: Stick with it! Your dreams are worth it! If anyone rejects you or tells you that you aren’t good enough, let that fuel you; get out there and prove them wrong!
Meredith, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and for all your time!
About Meredith Tate
Meredith Tate grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, where she fell in love with the many worlds inside books. In college, Meredith spent a semester in London and then backpacked in Europe for a month before earning her master’s degree in social work from the University of New Hampshire. After graduation, Meredith worked in the field in Boston for a few years before deciding to pursue her true dream of telling stories. Meredith and her husband spent three years in St. Louis, Missouri, and three more years in Zurich, Switzerland, before finally moving to Houston, Texas. When she’s not writing, Meredith enjoys playing the piano and pursuing her dream of visiting every continent (4 down, 3 to go!).
Follow Meredith on Social Media!
And you can buy THE LAST CONFESSION OF AUTUMN CASTERLY at any of these links!