Posts Tagged ‘rejection’


After ten years of dreaming about it, seven years of preparing for it, and almost three years of ruthlessly pursuing it- I’ve finally done it. It took me exactly 190 rejection letters between two completed novels, but I have at last been offered a contract. It wasn’t for my first novel, The White Room, which was ultimately rejected by the two publishers who were recently interested in it. Instead, the offer was for Beautiful Monster, the horror story which I collaborated on with Kim Williams-Justesen~ a fact that, given the gruesome nature of the novel, surprises me. But that’s beside the point.

What happened: On the eleventh of May (my birthday!) we submitted the story to a press I’d come across through a strange chain of events two weeks before. A day after the initial submission of the first three chapters and the last chapter of the book, we received an e-mail asking for the entire manuscript. We’ve been down this road before, I thought, bracing myself for the agonizing coming months I’d spend waiting for the eventual, “thanks, but no thanks.” But… that isn’t at all how it played out. Instead, just a couple of days later, we received an e-mail congratulating us. Our novel was accepted for publication. I didn’t get the e-mail. I got the news in a phone message from Kim.

What it was like: It was unreal. I guess if I had to compare it to something, it was a little bit like being on an airplane when it climbs or drops several hundred feet in a matter of seconds. Your vision swells, your stomach lurches, your heart does a somersault, and your head feels like it’s imploding. I don’t think I took a breath for several minutes after I heard the news. I sat down, suddenly unsure if standing was such a good idea. In her message, Kim said she’d forwarded me the e-mail. I got on the computer, logged into my account, and there it was. I blinked at it. I read it three times. I logged out of my e-mail and back in again to check it a fourth time. It was still there. I picked up my phone, went to my voicemail, and listened to the message one more time. Nothing had changed. We’d just been made an offer.

That was when the bliss hit me. Bliss may be a strong word, but I think it’s deserving of its placement in this context. My body tingled and my mind raced. I wanted to jump out of my skin, but in a good way. I wanted to leap from my chair and run into the streets, thrusting my glee upon anyone within a five-mile radius. I could not sit still. I had nowhere to go, so I grabbed my phone again and began texting the news. I later learned that in my excitement, I’d made several errors in my efforts, sending the message, “We just got offered a contract on Beautiful Monster!” to my dentist in Utah, the landline of my poodles’ vet hospital, and, I’m pretty sure, to a woman I’ve never met named Joyce whose number is in my phone because six months ago, she was handling my property out-of-state. But I didn’t care. I was spreading the joy.

You’d think that after all the months and years of working for this very moment, waiting for it to be realized, the bliss would last longer. It doesn’t. I think I squeezed about ten wonderful minutes out of the whole deal before the doubt started in. The doubt is mean and ugly and wants nothing more than to crash your party. No sooner had I hit the send button on the fifth or sixth text to anyone within send-button range when the doubt began creeping in. It told me it wasn’t real. It told me I was being scammed. And worse, it told me that now I was going to have to go back and explain to everyone I’d texted that it was a false alarm. The sting of that blow was very real to me then, and I briefly considered sending out a mass Just Kidding! Gotcha! text to all my contacts.

Suddenly, I doubted everything from the reality of the e-mail to the legitimacy of the publisher. I’d researched the press before submitting of course, but now I was obsessed by the idea that I’d somehow missed something vitally negative about them. I got on the computer. I spent the next several hours combing through their website, researching their authors, and looking for holes in their plans to rip me off. I googled their reviews. I visited Editors and Predators. I read everything I could. I found nothing that supported my suspicion that this was some kind of scam.

We got another e-mail from the publisher saying we’d be receiving a contract in the next few days. We also got our author guidelines and editorial formatting forms, which I believe is for e-book formatting. By now, I’d talked to a friend of mine, an author who has been in the business for about twenty years. She had a little experience with the press and knew someone who had substantial experience with them. The conversations that ensued calmed my mind enough that I made peace with the fact that until I saw the contract, there was no reason for me to neither celebrate nor mourn.

In the days while I wait for the contract, I am surprisingly peaceful. If this is a good gig, then great! And if not… I am out nothing. It is during these days of waiting that I believe I have probably grown the most as a writer than I ever have before. I’m realizing during this time that even when the dream comes true, there’s still the reality to be reckoned with; as soon as a wonderful thing happens, there begins the threat of the next potential great disappointment. A lot can happen between the signing of a document (assuming we sign it) and when the actual book is produced, and somehow, I’m okay with that.

All of a sudden, I’m not fighting anymore and this is new territory for me. I think I’ve finally given up. I don’t mean to say I’m quitting. I mean, I think I gave up the control that I never had in the first place. For the first time in years, I don’t care whether or not I get published. I’m turning my attention back to my writing, back to my life, back to the things I love. And for the first time, I’m realizing how hell-bent I’ve been on this thing… for the first time, I understand that even when it does finally happen, it doesn’t actually fix anything. Until now, I didn’t even know I’d been trying to fix anything.

I’m standing here~ facing, for the very first time, the reality of a dream I’ve been entertaining for ages… and I don’t care about it anymore. I realize that I love my writing and that’s all that matters. Above all, I realize with painful clarity all of the unnecessary pressure I’ve put on myself~ the tremendous weight of my self-imposed demands… and the unreachable heights I’ve set for myself.

I haven’t talked to many people during the past few days. I’ve been quiet and withdrawn, but I am at peace. There’s nothing to say. There’s nothing to do. I am tired, as if all the time I’ve spent working for this has finally caught up with me and is taking victory over me. I’ve been sleeping a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever been as exhausted as I have these past few days. I feel raw and weak, but I am finally at peace with the world around me, and at peace with the knowledge that whatever will be will be, and it’s no longer up to me to try to force it.

I’m optimistic about the contract. I don’t know yet whether or not we will sign it, but I feel good about it so far. Whichever way this goes, this experience has been nothing like I thought it would be. It is… real, and somehow I guess I never thought it could be. One thing is certain though. This is not the final destination I somehow thought it was. This is just the beginning. I’m as curious as anyone to see how this plays out.

Advertisements

I began this blog one year ago with the sole purpose of sharing my experiences in the world of writing with anyone who was interested in hearing it. I knew going into it that one of the side effects of this would be having to broadcast my failures to whoever happened upon the site. I also knew that after fifteen or twenty years, people might lose interest in hearing about my latest rejection letter. But surprisingly, I have had a lot of fun with it, and have even garnered a strong following of readers to whom I am very grateful. This proves to me that I have done the right thing; that by sharing my experiences, I am relating to people who are going through similar struggles in their own writing careers. Most of all, this is proof to me that all writer’s must go through this very dark, very uncertain place. It may last years… and if so, then so be it. This is the reality of this business, and in maintaining the integrity of my blogs fundamental purpose, I have sworn to tell the truth about my journey, even when it sucks.

That being said, here is where I am right now:

Since finishing my first novel, The White Room in October of 2010, I have received exactly 156 rejection forms to date. As an unpublished author, this is not uncommon. I understand it. I did not expect an agent or publisher to read my query letter and rush to publish me. As an unpublished author, I am an unproven investment, a high risk which, especially at this time in the market, very few people in the business are willing to take a chance on. Not to mention, the subject of The White Room has some heavy competition right now.

I haven’t yet taken one of my 156 rejection letters personally and here is why: none of the rejection issuers have even read any of my work, save a handful who have asked for a small writing sample. And of those few, I’ve received no usable feedback besides the usual, “sorry, but, well… the market…” So how could I take even 156 rejections as anything that relates in any way to my skills as a writer? I can’t. This is just how it works, and I came into this game with my eyes open, my spine in tact, and my expectations brutally realistic.

Still, I have been asked numerous times why I don’t self-publish. I have seen their brows furrow when I admit the amount of rejections I have received. I know there are people who think I must be a very poor writer given the lack of interest I have had on my novel. I also know there are people who believe this is a pipe dream and that I should start spending my time doing something more lucrative. But I won’t do any of those things because the truth is, I love this game. I am addicted to it, and despite all these “failures”, there are also some little successes along the way that make it worthwhile.

The White Room is currently being looked at by a publisher who liked the concept, liked the writing and wanted to see more. Shortly after that publisher asked to see it, another one popped up, asking me for the same. In this business, it’s considered poor etiquette to continue submitting your work to other agencies when one of them has taken a significant interest in your work, so unfortunately, I had to explain to the second publisher that the novel is currently being looked at by another house. I know these things are in no way a promise of anything; still, this attention is a true honor; this small shot of optimism is why I play the game.

If I am rejected (again), I will not be bitter. I will be disappointed, of course, but I will keep trying. Even if The White Room never sees the inside of a bookstore (or a Kindle!) I will keep trying to get it published, and more importantly, I will keep writing new novels (Beautiful Monster is complete and being submitted!) and MOST important of all… I will get better and better at my craft. I will be a professional and I will keep writing because that’s my job. I’m in this for one thing and one thing only: to write. Getting published is just a potential bonus.


I live my life these days according to an ongoing list of weekly to-do‘s that I design every Sunday night; each day of the upcoming week containing a set of challenging-yet-reasonable objectives that I cross off the list as they are accomplished. I’ve found that otherwise, my life loses direction and time passes by until one day I wake up and wonder what happened to the last week, month, year, etc. I’ve lost enough time this way to take my little to-do list very seriously at this point in my life.

It’s taken many years of soul-searching to pin down my real priorities and learn that I need to focus on those and let go of the little time-wasters that hinder me. This is, for me, the only effective way I’ve found to live. Future-based goal setting is great, but the trouble I have with that is the excuse I will invariably make: “I have plenty of time.” I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who needs to not only set goals for the future, but also smaller goals that I need to do today which will ultimately lead me to the accomplishment of the bigger goals.

There are two kinds of goals on my list: those things that need to be done daily: exercise, eat right, read, write, make some kind of spiritual contact and go to work (on work days). Then there are the things that are more sporadic: meet with my critique group, clean the house, write a blog, query a few literary agents, meet with friends, etc. In both cases of the daily and the more intermittent to-do‘s, it becomes mind-numbingly monotonous after a while, and eventually you reach a point when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

I suppose that all of us reaches a kind of breaking point at one time or another, no matter what path we’ve chosen – and today, I hit a big one. I have the day off work, which means my to-do list is going to be extra long. I woke up and looked at the list, thinking I was ready to tackle the day. But when I saw “query five agents” at the top of the list, my heart plummeted, my spirit sank, and for the first time, I considered putting a big black X on the page and going back to bed.

Instead, I made some coffee, played with the dogs and argued with myself in silence. It’s been several weeks since I queried any agents and I know the rules: do not “query-bomb” (meaning don’t contact every agent under the sun in one blow – they know each other, they talk with each other, and they don’t like it when authors clearly don’t even know who they’re querying.) I know the rules, I respect the rules and I play by the rules.  The point is, it’s been several weeks since I queried anyone, and today it needed to be done. So in the end, I lost the argument with myself and sat down to query some agents.

Here’s what querying agents means for me: first, I need to block out a good hour or two (sometimes more) of my day. Second, I need to locate the agent, (which can be terribly tedious in and  of itself) then research what genres they accept, what kind of writers they’re looking for, and find out if they accept e-mail submissions, snail mail only, or both. Then I need to learn as much as I can about the agent and what he or she represents, and contact them according to their personal guidelines, which varies from agent to agent. Some want just a query letter. Others want a query letter with a synopsis. Some want a query letter, a synopsis and a specific amount of sample writing. Some want all of this, plus a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Some want all of this in the body of an e-mail (if they accept e-mail submissions). Others want sample chapters as an attachment. Some want you to include not only your bio and platform, but your marketing strategy plans as well. Needless to say, every agent has different guidelines – and that’s okay. The point is that this can be a very challenging process for authors, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s just part of my job. But there comes a point in which you just can’t help but feel exhausted by it all, and that’s where I am today.

I queried the five agents today over the course of about two hours. I followed all of their rules and was a professional through and through. But I was less than enthused about doing it. Counting the five I queried today, I have been through this process 135 times. Of the 135 agents I have queried, one asked to see my entire manuscript, and three asked to see the first five or six chapters. That means 131 literary agents have looked my query letter over and passed without asking to see any of my actual writing. And here’s the best part: this is not only normal, it’s expected. Statistically, I have a good seven to nine more years of this before someone takes an interest in my work. Every writer I’ve ever talked to went through this part of the process too, and they all tell me the same thing: “It’s not personal. Just keep writing.” So I do. And I do so with an unshakable determination to get better and better at my craft.

But… today… I’m creatively bankrupt and void of all inspiration.

As The White Room treks the globe, accumulating endless rejections, my other manuscript, Gallery of Dolls, is several thousand miles away being revised and polished by Kim Williams-Justesen, co-author of the novel. Also, I am at the beginning of chapter five of Alejandro (working title). The plan is to have Gallery ready for submission by the end of January 2012, and Alejandro ready by May of the same year. Under normal circumstances, thinking of the future of these books (and the ones that have yet to be written) gives me a shot of optimism and boosts my spirits. But today… just for today… I’m going to allow myself to dread my future as a writer. I’m going to accept where I am rather than fawning over where I wish I were.  Today, I wish that I wanted something simpler. Today, I wish that all I wanted from life was to get a good job, have a couple kids and settle into the comfort of a nine to five job. Today… I wish I was someone else because I know without a doubt that I will never be happy with any of those things. Today… I surrender.

But tomorrow is another day and I won’t give up on it. I never wanted a simple life. I never expected this to be easy. I had the luxury of walking into this business with my eyes wide open. As Kim told me over a year ago, “writing the book is the easy part.” And she was right. There isn’t much room for pity and there are no shortcuts. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and despite the rejections, I’ve had some wonderful experiences. I’ve met many of my heroes. I’ve had agents tell me some wonderful things and point me in some good directions. And above all, I’ve been able to do what I love: write… and I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of help along the way.

No, I won’t give up. The people who love me wouldn’t let me and more importantly, I would never forgive myself if I did. I’ve worked too hard for this and I’ve spent too much time to justify walking away. But more than all of that, I don’t want to give up. Today is a bad day and that’s okay… but overall, this is what makes me happy, despite all the heartache along the way.

I started this blog to document my adventures in the world of writing. I’ve always told the truth but I’ve never really said much about the strains and pains of this business because I never wanted to discourage anyone. But to maintain the dignity of my blog’s overall purpose, I can’t really forfeit the darker side, either. The truth is that being a writer has a hell of a lot more to do with sitting down, writing and maintaining a smile while the world tells you you’re not good enough than anything else. It has more to do with working than playing. It’s about getting good at your craft and playing the game. It’s about accepting that there are no shortcuts and loving the process in its entirety, despite its flaws. It’s about understanding that the dream is always preceded by the nightmare. Your job is to write and let the business of getting published take care of itself. In the interim, hold tight to the little things that happen along the way which propel you in a forward direction and prove to you that your path is true.

In New Orleans this summer, I spent some time with my best friend from childhood. He said something that I hold onto. He said, “You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer and one day you’ll be published. You always had a way of setting your mind to something and getting it. You will get this too.”

And I will. But not today… and that’s okay.


 

Of the various steps a writer should take before handing his or her query letter or manuscript over to an agent or publishing house, probably the most important one is getting raw, honest feedback from a few trusted readers. These lucky folks are called Alpha and Beta readers.

An Alpha (Alpha meaning first) reader is the first person who gets to see your work. This person has the responsibility of stopping you from further embarrassment before anyone else gets to see it. The Alpha reader should therefore, in my opinion, be your strongest critic. This person must be wholly comfortable telling you what sucks about your manuscript and what doesn’t. An education in English and Grammar is also a plus.

In my case, my Alpha reader is Kim William-Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger series, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim acquired her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing) from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2003. Not to mention, she has been circulating throughout the literary world for a good number of years, so she kind of knows her stuff – and, as it should be, she is probably harder on me than anyone else.

Kim is really the only person who gets to see my work in its most unpolished and unrefined state. However, knowing that she will be reading it, I work hard to keep it clean and neat, and to follow the rules of writing fiction, which automatically puts me in better shape. A typical page that’s been critiqued by Kim usually comes back to me with plenty of issues. Unnecessary words are called into question, 90% of all adverbs are slashed, question marks indicate a characters inconsistent voice or behavior, and of course, misspellings, grammar issues, and improper English is marked. Not to leave out issues with paragraph breaks, timing, dialogue, too much exposition, tense shifts and logic flaws. The point is, at first sight, the returned pages are often intimidating and discouraging but this is probably the most important part of the process.

After the necessary changes are made, my wife Heather is next in line. Heather isn’t really an Alpha or a Beta reader really, but (even though I am her husband), she is honest with me. Heather has a keen eye for small details that often get overlooked by me (little things like a murder scene in which the victim falls the opposite direction he should have after having been struck by a pissed she-vampire!) This is Heather’s strength and it has come in handy many times.

After Heather, my manuscripts go to a few trusted friends. Some of them are writers and some of them are not… but all of them are avid readers who know why something does or doesn’t work. These are my Beta readers.

Beta readers are, in some ways, the most important of all, because they are not looking for grammar and spelling issues. They are literally sitting down with your book and reading it front to back, and giving an opinion of the overall feel of the story. And it’s amazing sometimes what a Beta reader might catch. For example, it was my sister who caught a major discrepancy in time while reading The White Room. Speaking of sisters, family will often want to read your work, and that is good. But keep in mind that often times, they are not going to be as forthright with you as someone who is unrelated to you. That being said, I have received quite a lot of good feedback from family and close friends. Still, for purposes of critique, I rely more heavily on people who didn’t change my diapers and see me through that nasty adolescent stage!

Having Beta readers is fun too, because you get to revisit your story with a new eyes, so to speak. Right now, my friends Tom and Sherrie are in possession of The White Room. Tom is freaking out about the spider in Gretchen’s hair (a scene I’d pretty much forgotten about) and I am cracking up because I can’t wait to see how he acts when he gets to the other spider scene (insert evil laugh here).

After a manuscript has been through several hands, professional and unprofessional alike, a writer can now submit his or her manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher without fear of being rejected due to sloppy errors and lazy plot holes. Now, when you receive your rejection letter (and you will), you will have the confidence to continue submitting, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, your story is a good, strong one… and one day, the right person will see that.


There aren’t many things that are more revealing than art. Whether writing a story, painting a picture, or singing a song, we put ourselves directly into the things we create. Knowing this, many people tend to keep their creations to themselves for fear of judgment from others and/or having their work rejected outright.  The good news about never disclosing your inventions is that you eliminate the risk of being criticized. The bad news however, is far more considerable. First, if no one sees your work, you will never get any feedback. This will limit your potential because we are biased, either negatively or positively, toward our own art. Second, if no one sees it, no one can buy it. And last, but not least, whether you have a natural talent for something, a burning desire for something, or both, you owe it to yourself to take it is far as you can.

The other day a friend of mine asked me how I “overcame” the fear of rejection. It was a subject I hadn’t given hardly any thought to for a very long time. I stared at him and gave him the best answer I could – “I don’t really know.” That question prompted me to give a little more thought to it though. Truth be told, I rarely suffer from any distress over whether or not someone will or will not like my writing. However, that certainly wasn’t the case ten, or even five years ago. So, to the best of my ability, here is the story of how I got from there to here:

When I was young, I often wrote little poems and stories that no one ever saw. As I got older, I kept writing, but still kept it to myself. In my twenties, I took a temporary interest in photography. Photography was much easier to exhibit because I could hide behind the models. I still never became entirely comfortable with displaying my work though. After a few years of taking pictures, I reached a point where I felt I’d taken my photography as far as I wanted to. It was like walking off a cliff. I was left wondering, “what now?” I spent a great deal of time and energy looking for a more powerful sense of purpose, and all the while, only one thing kept happening consistently: I kept writing.  At this point, I was writing mostly poetry, and no one except a very few carefully selected folks were allowed to see it. I was terrified of what might happen to me if someone didn’t like it.

As my seriousness in writing grew stronger, so did my need to expand my confines. I vividly remember the first time I ever posted a poem on MySpace. I put the poem up and took it down three times before finally deciding to let it linger on my “blog” for a while to see what happened. I checked my MySpace a dozen times that day, waiting for the hate mail to flood in.  By the end of the day, an amazing thing had happened: nothing. No one seemed to notice whether or not I posted my poetry, and that is what gave me the self-confidence to keep doing it.

Over time, I accrued a cute little following of poetry readers who liked my work. I also made friends with some other poets and eventually I was featured on several radio shows and some online magazines. I was at the height of my career as a poet! But I was restless and had fast grown tired of the limitations of poetry. That’s when I started writing novels.

I paired up with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen, took some writing classes, devoured every book I could get my hands on about the writing process, and above all, I wrote my ass off. In the meantime, I attended writing conventions and workshops, signed up with the local writer’s league, and began to meet all kinds of writers, big names and little names alike. I didn’t have time to be terrified of what people would think of my writing.

Then, the first literary agent I ever met took a strong enough interest in my book to request my full manuscript. I was both elated and horrified. I sent her the book and for the next five months, I obsessed. When she finally got around to letting me know she didn’t feel the market was quite right for my story, I felt as if I had been dropped like a glass ball, and shattered into a thousand little shards of the man I thought I was. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty. But I had a lot of helping hands putting me back together, and was very quickly back on the wagon, acquiring rejection slips from agents far and wide.

Today, I take criticism and rejection like they’re candy-coated Klonopins, and somewhere along the way, without even realizing it, I have (for the most part) seemed to have misplaced my fear of judgment and rejection. After analyzing it a little, I’ve decided that the answer to that question, “how do you over come fear of rejection?” is that you don’t. You just plug along and take the necessary steps despite the fear. There are however, a few things you can do along the way to soften the blows.

The first, and most important thing you can do to combat the fear of rejection is to be damned good at your craft. Learn everything you can, utilize that knowledge, and experiment with it openly.

Second, give yourself permission to suck. You don’t have to be perfect. You aren’t even supposed to be.

Third, read the works of your contemporaries. I assure you that therein lies much suckiness. The point to this however, is not to scoff at your friends. The point is to stop comparing yourself to Charles Dickens.

Fourth, read the stories behind the success. Stephen King acquired enough rejection slips he was able to wallpaper his office with them… and he did. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected over one hundred times. “The Wizard of Oz” was called stupid and unimaginative by critics. No matter what an agent or anyone else tells you, art is subjective. No one has the facts on what is good and what sucks. They never have and they never will.

Fifth, accept the fear. Oh yeah… I said it. Accept that you’re afraid and that being afraid is part of the game.

Finally, one of the most important things one can do to combat fear of rejection is to just keep writing. By focusing your attention on your craft and away from the opinions of others, you are putting your energy into the only thing you can control… which is you. Also, by continuing to attend writer’s events, critique groups, and submitting to agents, over time you’ll naturally build an immunity to the scathing reviews.


    

     We all choose different paths in our approach to the business of being published according to what it is we want, and these days, there are more options than traditional publishing, in which the writer seeks a publishing house to represent his or her work, usually at the cost of several years of rejection, and/or having one’s self-esteem beaten down and battered to a bloody pulp by a series of professionals who may or may not know what they’re talking about.  Now, we live in an age of indie art where writers can publish their own books.  There is conventional self-publishing in which the author fronts the money to have his or her book put into print, and is solely responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of the book.  Also, we now have print-on-demand books in which a publisher prints whatever amount of books the audience requires and the author puts no money upfront as the cost is taken from the sales of his or her book.  There are branches of each of these methods of self-publishing (some more appealing than others) extensive enough that a writer these days has far more options than he or she once did, and personally, I think that’s pretty wonderful.   However, despite the fact that I am currently standing in that terrible position where it feels like the whole publishing world is standing in line to get a chance to tell me I’m not good enough, traditional publishing is the path I have chosen.   

     Before I began this journey, I first gave a lot of thought to what it was I wanted from this.  I knew that if I was going to pursue this path, that I was going to be in it for the long haul, and that I would need to be willing to go through whatever level of hell I had to in order to get to where I wanted to be.  I suppose this explains the several-years reluctance in which I shied away from this whole “writing thing” as if it had fangs and a thirst for blood, but nevertheless, this is the path I have chosen.      

     After fully understanding all of the various avenues of publishing, I firmly settled on traditional publishing because I knew that, although I would meet far more resistance, going the traditional route would ultimately lead me down the paths I wished to wander.  I realized that even if I failed, I’d be far happier having given it all I had than not having done everything in my power to make it happen. 

     That being said, there are several disadvantages to traditional publishing, not the least of which is the possibility that you might never see your book in print.  Agents and publishers are flooded by manuscripts on a constant basis and it’s very likely that your pride and joy will be buried, overlooked, forgotten or never even looked at.  To break into writing the traditional way, you need to have a firm faith that one day, someone will see your work and have a strong enough vision for its possibilities in the market.  You need to believe that your writing is strong enough to stand out among the abyss of other talented author’s books.  Above all, you need to be patient and you need to keep writing.  If you’re going to take this route, it’s not enough that you’ve written a book.  Now you need to write the next one.  And the next one.  Eventually, you will have a pretty vast library of material for an agent or editor to choose from, and if you can get their attention once, they’re going to want to see more of your work.

     I’m lucky.  I have that faith.  I suffer terribly from other various personal insecurities, but there is one place I have total faith and that is in my writing.  At a soul-deep and cellular level that is impossible to explain, I know I’m in the right place, doing the right thing.  I may not be published next week or next year, but it will happen.  Despite the fact that thus far, I’ve garnered six rejections from agents, and been (so far) ignored entirely by another dozen, the towel isn’t feeling anywhere near heavy enough that I think it needs to be thrown in yet.

     What someone traveling down the traditional path needs to understand is that rejections aren’t personal.  This is not an attack on the author or their work.  This is an agent giving you respect enough to admit they don’t have the vision necessary to take your work to the heights it could reach.  I have yet to meet a rude agent who tells me that I suck and I really need to just give up.  In fact, the agents I’ve corresponded with have been encouraging, pleasant and professional.  A few of them have taken a sincere interest in my book and offered some good advice.  In that way, this is nowhere nearly as brutal as I had expected… but then again, I’m pretty new still.

     I’m sure I’m headed for some far harsher dealings, but I’m tough enough to be told no.  The fact is, I don’t have to have this right now.  Whether or not I ever get published is, as far as my writing’s concerned, inconsequential.  I will continue writing, and then writing some more, whether or not it happens.  I’m okay waiting for the right agent, the right publisher.  I believe with everything I am that somewhere out there, exists someone who will have that vision for my work which will carry it to the places that I can not.  I’m not an editor.  I’m not a marketer or a publicist.  I’m not an agent or a publisher.  I’m a writer.  It’s my job to write the best novels I can, and to trust the other professionals to do their jobs the best they can.  I don’t mind being told that I need to get better at my job, so long as it’s by someone who knows what my job entails.  As far as I’m concerned, it would be arrogant of me to write a book and think it was good enough to impact the market without getting some serious professional input.  So I’m not going to go down that route.  I’m going to do my job and I’m going to do it well. I’m going to continue getting better at it until, one day, I can be where I set out to be.  But it takes time.

     And as that time goes by and my rejections pile up, I am encouraged more and more by other writers to self-publish.  But I won’t.  I know far too many people in this business who are successful to not have faith in it.  And besides, I respect the business.  Despite the neglect it’s awarded me thus far, and despite the abuse that it will surely hurl at me in the future,  I love this business too much to walk away.  I couldn’t do it anyway. I am learning good business and good ethics.  I am learning how to effectively write some truly knock-out, wicked good stuff.  And above all…  I am meeting my heroes… the ones I looked up to when I was a kid.  It’s an honor to be among them.  Who am I to turn my back on that?

 


     So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday.  Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me.  Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult.  Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.

     I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay.  I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little.  I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist.  In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me.  The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk.  It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience.  But how can you get experience if no one hires you?  The writing business is much the same way.  This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.

     Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives.  This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure.  Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about.  The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.”  In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice.  After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks.  And,of course, the New York agent.

     So, what is the next step?  From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story.  If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise.  But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law.  They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market.  Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not.  So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.

     From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published.  After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it.  I’m not going to do that.  If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?”  This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak.   Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to  the gut in this business.  Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.”  So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough.  This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition. 

     I am lucky.  I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work.  These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating.  So, I will let myself feel this.  I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now.  If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can.  But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write…  so that’s what I’ll be doing.