Since I’m terrible at keeping a regular blog, lets catch up, shall we? Where was I… oh yes, at the part whereupon our naive, foolish young writer finished his draft of an epic fantasy, clocking in at over 200,000 words of earnest, enthusiastic writing. I’d lost sleep over this. I went to sleep writing this. I woke up thinking about this. Around a year of my life was dedicated to that mind flood: a calloused fingered, tunnel-visioned, feverish skate across the ice and fire of creativity; that daring trek across unexplored territory battling the twisted and misshapen beasts of Procrastination, Fatigue, and Writer’s Block.
Tattered and bloodied, I emerged from the depths victorious, carrying my trophy: the coveted Tome that justified the extra hours, the sleep deprivation, the neglected spouse. In my hands was that badge of honor that could never be taken away from me: a finished novel.
Then I had to ruin everything by submitting the damn thing.
In my last post I covered the Big Fat Writer’s Mistake: thinking that a draft is a finished novel. Science has proven that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, the Scourge of Rejection was to be my next experience, destroying all the triumph and positive momentum that had hurtled me forward in the first place.
I wrote a story. I ran it through Spell Check. I corrected any obvious errors. I looked up agents and publishers. I followed the submission instructions. I sent my naive little queries and submissions through snail mail and even the occasional email to those forward thinking, tech-savvy agents. (Remember, this was nearly a decade ago.) Then I waited.
I waited. I bit my nails. I tried to start other projects. I failed miserably. I worried. I told myself that my writing was horrible, that my queries were in the trash, that I would never become a ‘real’ writer.
Then I waited some more.
And then one day, I received an envelope in the mail. I can’t recall which agency it was. But inside was a politely worded letter, a sight that would become very familiar in the upcoming months. Anyone who’s submitted to an agent/publisher probably knows the words by heart, as they are all pretty much the same:
Thank your for thinking of our agency. As you may know, the market is highly competitive, and we can only choose a few clients. Unfortunately, your manuscript is not what we’re looking for at this time. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents.
The Evil Masters of Publishing
There are countless variations of the same statement, but all I heard was the True Voice speaking from in between the lines:
Your story sucks. Hope you didn’t quit your day job, because your future as a writer looks as bleak as the Apocalypse. Stop wasting my time -and yours. Did I mention that you suck?
The Evil Masters of Publishing
When I received my first rejection letter, I just stared at it for a while. I desperately tried to find something positive, something in those lines that told me it was just the wrong time, the wrong project, the wrong agent/publisher.
Next, I tried to encourage myself. I thought of all the quotes by bestselling writers on how they could have wallpapered their room with all the rejection letters they received. After all, no one gets picked up on their first try, right? Ok, hardly anyone. So what made me think I was any different?
I lifted up my head. Chuckled a bit. Placed the letter in a folder that I would proudly display with any and all other rejections after I became a bestselling author. I went about my business, confident because I knew there were other queries out there, other submissions sitting in the purgatory of slush, glimmering like a diamond in the rough, just waiting for the right explorer to discover it and rain praise and dollar signs at me.
Then the next rejection letter arrived. Shook it off. Then the next. A bit troubled. Then the next. Ok, now I’m worried.
Then the next. And the next. And the next. The sound of my dreams dying was torture, the glittering shards of their broken pieces lacerating my pride, dignity, and self-esteem. In the end I lay slumped in my shackles of doubt and despair, barely feeling the lashes of rejection anymore as they arrived. I was numb to the pain. I was numb to the world. The verdict was in.
I was a terrible writer. The world was on fire, and my corpse was the kindling. It was over. My career finished before it could begin.
Until that one rejection letter arrived, with three words that quite possibly saved my writing career: writer has promise.
We’ll talk about that next time.