As Ann Aguirre wrote on Writers Unboxed last month, writing as a profession is all about rejection. Rumor has it that it’s possible to have your book snapped up by the first agent you send it to (Stephanie Meyer, anyone?), but if that’s not your name, that’s probably not you. It certainly isn’t me.
I started writing fiction five years ago, dabbling in short stories and poetry, until I settled down to write my first novel, just to see if I could. It was a fantasy—complete with elves, swords, and magic stones—and I wrote the whole thing in six weeks while my infant son was napping. While I wasn’t so naïve as to think I’d finished it just because I’d typed ‘the end’, I edited it only twice before I let other people read it.
A writer friend told me later that it wasn’t so bad as to be unreadable. Fortunately, before I queried any agents, I had another idea—a more compelling one—in a genre in which I was particularly interested: historical fantasy. That second book took me six months to write and was much better than the first. I began the querying process.
Seventy-two rejections, two complete rewrites, and a year later, I was ready to abandon the project as a lost cause. Then a call came from the agency that had been my last hope. Redemption!
Except, it wasn’t.
My agent was in the initial stages of starting her business so was just learning the ropes herself; she sent my book to half-a-dozen publishers, some of whom even said nice things. But within nine months, the agent, who’d made very few sales overall, vanished: no calls; no emails; web page gone.
My writer friend told me it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I tried to believe her. Admittedly, I had written two more books in those two years of rejection and knew my writing was getting better. I began work on a fifth novel. Would this finally be ‘the one’?
Yes! At its completion, an agent, who was excited about my work and actually represented successful authors, took me on. I dreamed of a legion of readers and endless royalties.
And then the reality of 2009 set in, the worst year—perhaps ever—in which to try to sell a first novel. What followed? Rejection. Rewrite. Rejection. Rewrite. More rejection. For six months an editor at a big publishing house sat on my book. It was as if it had fallen into the publishing equivalent of a black hole. And then, rejection again. Despair.
For 2010, I wrote a new novel, one which my agent feels needs a total rewrite. Along with the total rewrite of my 5th novel, which I’m just completing. Sometimes it feels completely hopeless. But I also know, that this story is far more common among successful authors than not–and the only story for unsuccessful ones. My writing is getting better and if I do quit, than I certainly never will have a book accepted for publication.
So, here I am, trying again. You should too.