When you are trying to get a novel published, you spend an awful lot of time sitting around waiting to be rejected. Sometimes, this happens even when you are not, in fact, sending anything to publishers.
As someone who has been writing since she first picked up a pen in her chubby little hand but who has, in fact, spent the last two decades not sending her work out to publishers, I am a slightly weird example of a newbie wannabe writer. During my undergrad, I just knew I was going to be published someday. I even sent a partial manuscript to a small Canadian publisher when I was in my early twenties. It was, of course, rejected; the rejection was personalised, but it still hurt. I did know I wasn’t going to give up.
I did, though. Oh, I kept writing. I’ve lost count of the number of novels I’ve written. I would always pound them out, edit the hell out of them, and put them carefully away on the Shelf of Shame. I did plan to start sending stuff out again. I did. But this manuscript had problems in the climax, and that one was too sentimental, and I had to write a synopsis, and how was I supposed to write a synopsis? My synopses always ended up being about ten pages long. And then there was the query, or the cover letter, or whatever. Was there a difference between a query and a cover letter? How long was an excerpt? Why did no Canadian publishers accept children’s fantasy? (This was before Harry Potter. Eventually, it was also after Harry Potter. Canadian publishers took a while to catch up on the whole children’s fantasy thing.)
Oh yes: Harry Potter. Before Rowling’s books, no one wanted fantasy; it was all about gritty realism. After Rowling’s books, everyone wanted fantasy, but everyone who wrote fantasy was a Rowling copycat. And then there was Twilight. Oh God, was there ever Twilight. Suddenly, there was no more “children’s literature”; there was “YA” and “middle grade.” YA was all dark and gritty, with pouty girls on the covers. My stories didn’t have romance plots; no one would want them. There was no use in even trying.
I did this for decades. I made all the excuses. I made it to the age of thirty-six without having sent out a single manuscript or even a single short story or poem since that one novel I had finished when I was twenty or so. It was easier to deal with the rejection when it was only happening in my head.
I finished another novel when I was thirty-six. This time, I was determined to do something with it. I mean, I was thirty-six. Never mind that I hadn’t been trying: I was still someone who had meant to be published by her mid-twenties and had made it to thirty-six without gaining a single publication credit. Writing had always been what I wanted to do, and here I was, avoiding sending stuff out because I was afraid of failure. So I edited until I could edit no more, and then I actually did write the damn synopsis and the damn cover letter and eventually an agent query and so on. And I’ve sent the novel out a few times. Two publishers and a few agents have it at the moment. I’ve had some rejection letters and a lot of ringing silence from the agents (agents often don’t respond at all unless they’re interested). I do feel crushed and despondent and as if I’m attempting to climb a ridiculously high mountain with no gear. I’ve got a short story out as well. I know I could receive a rejection at any moment…or I could wait for months and months and then receive a rejection. I know in my heart that all the replies will be rejections because I am so very used to thinking of myself as failing at everything. Yes, I realise that huge numbers of people go through this; I am not claiming uniqueness in any way.
But you know what? At least I’m trying now. Even if I’m eventually rejected by every agent and publisher in the world, I’ll have tried. I spent so long not trying that trying feels weird. All I really know is that I can’t stop writing, so rejection or no, there will be more novels. If they sit forever on the Shelf of Shame, so be it. I guess the fact that I’m thinking like this now instead of just telling myself that there’s no use in even researching publishers is, in its own topsy-turvy way, a kind of success.