Monday, February 03, 2014

Standing on the Ramparts of my Castle of Perseverance. Well, my Fort of Perseverance. Okay, my Small Cardboard Box of Perseverance

One of the things that they don't tell you about trying to break in as a writer is that it frequently involves a number of concurrent processes, many of which are totally outside your control, and that all unfold in their own time*.

And that sometimes, those unfolding processes intersect in ways that aren't much fun.

By early January, I had four short stories out on submission to four different markets at the same time -- that's my most ever, and I’m pretty proud of that.

By late January -- as I mentioned here -- I had started the process of querying my novel and seeking representation by approaching eight literary agents.

I had no idea how long it would take to hear back about any of these. Sometimes you put your work out there and hear back within days. Sometimes it’s months.

I knew that not all of these attempts were going to pay off. Between the short stories and the agent queries, I was expecting to get some rejections. That's par for the course.

I wasn't expecting to get four rejections in a single day.

But on Friday, January 24th, I got four "thanks, but no thanks" emails -- from two different agents, and two different publications.

I posted an update on Facebook when I got my second rejection that day, (less than) half-amused and (more than) half-pained, noting that it was a "personal best"**.

I was, and I'm not even kidding, still in the process of doing that when I got the third rejection, which actually made the whole thing even funnier, although not really less painful. The fourth came later and was just icing. I mean, I actually, literally laughed out loud when I got that one, because one punch in the gut from the universe is awful, but four of them is comedy. 

And it did feel a bit like a punch in the gut from the universe. Rejection hurts. I've gotten more used to it for my short stories -- I have yet to have anything accepted for publication -- but the agent queries were new and a bit sharper. I was feeling really good about my query letter, good enough that I was expecting to get at least some requests to read my manuscript before potential agents made their decision to say yes or no. And my novel... well, it represents more work, and I'm more deeply emotionally invested. It's closer to my heart.

So yeah, by the end of that day I was feeling raw and bruised. I understand that it's not personal, that the folks sending those emails weren't rejecting me, but one more story or query among the dozens or hundreds they receive, that didn’t match what they were looking for. But in the moment, not being personal doesn't make it easier.

Rejection hurts.

So what did I do?

I fought the impulse to try to analyze the rejections to death. I'll look at my query letter again when this process is over, and consider how to make it better, but trying to sift through the entrails in a more specific way is just rejectomancy, and that's an exercise in both frustration and futility.

More importantly, I started researching. More agents to query. More markets to submit stories to. How to keep moving forward.

There's an old idea in writing*** that success is based on some combination of talent, persistence and luck. By definition, I can't do anything about my luck. I'm already doing the best writing I can, and striving to improve, and that's all anyone can do about talent.

That leaves persistence. Persistence is the thing I can really control. I can decide to not give up.

I am not going to give up. Even when it hurts. Even when I get rejections. Even if I get four of them in a single day, I am not going to give up.

More on this process as it continues to unfold. Until then, I persevere, and I hope that you will too. Onward!

* Or possibly they do tell you that, and I wasn't paying attention.

** Yes, I was fishing for sympathy. C'mon, people, that's what Facebook is FOR.

*** And, I imagine, in other endeavours, creative and otherwise, where success is partly dependent on gatekeepers.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

I read an piece with Jim Butcher in which he tells of how he was rejected by an agent and then later running into her at some function where she (I think it was a she) promptly offered to represent him. When he asked why she changed her mind, her response was "because now I've met you." Sounds like a convergence of luck and persistence to me. So keep at it!