Hey, for those of you who’ve followed me for a while now—I’ve been doing this blog since early 2013—this is my 100th blog post. Kind of exciting, actually. I mean hey, I’m not Marc Maron, but I’m doing pretty well for myself.
Anyway, I wanted to touch base with you guys n’ gals today about writers’ fear. What do I mean by ‘writers’ fear,’ you ask. Well, I mean many things, but mainly the fear of rejection. ’Cause at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re really, truly, ultimately the most afraid of? I think so.
Here’s the deal for me right now. I have this novel. For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you the quick back story here, not of the novel, but of the construction, as it were, of the novel. I have been working on this beast for over three years now. It’s a psychological suspense novel. Now, at one point it had a certain title, and it was a certain word-count, and it was a particular genre, or at least I thought it was. At one point I switched the first chapter around, mixing it with chapter two, another POV. So anyway, the point is: this has been a long, arduous journey.
For a while, in 2013, when I first started this blog, I was interning with a literary agency. I learned a hell of a lot from that firm, and I’ll never forget that experience. Very valuable. And at that point I was working on another, earlier novel, a novel that I ended up tossing in the virtual trash. (Not literally. I still have it. It’s old and not very good but I learned a lot from writing it. If you haven’t written a novel before and you want to write one, I highly recommend writing a ‘practice novel’ or two. Seriously. Find out what it even feels like to write for that length, 70, 80, 90,000 words. It’s very different from other writing mediums.)
Anyway, at the same time while I was working at the agency, I had already been working on my suspense novel for a while. It needed work. Prior to this, I had workshopped it in a professional writing workshop. Everyone loved it. I got feedback from other published writers. I self-edited (a really important skill to attain if you haven’t already. Learn to be discerning and objective with your own work).
Fast-forward to today, May of 2015. At this point, the novel has changed titles, changed genres, changed word-count several times, been read by perhaps half a dozen people, and been professionally [partially] edited developmentally by two pro book editors (yes, even book editors like me need OTHER book editors to objectively see their work. Everyone needs an editor). The book has been fully rewritten twice. It has gone through the literary wringer. There have been several times when I thought it was, for SURE, ready. And it wasn’t.
You know, they say your first novel takes your whole life up to that point to write, to get out into the world. Now I know what they mean. And I’m not referring only to the three-plus years specifically on this book. I’ve had 15 short stories published in little lit journals and magazines at this point. I have written dozens of stories. I’ve written five, count ‘em five, full-length novels, all first-drafts except for this new suspense novel and my old novel from back in the day that wasn’t ready which I mentioned earlier, but that almost doesn’t count. Anyway, my point is: I have been doing this for a while.
And even before I was conscious of wanting an agent, before I knew for sure I wanted to really BE a writer, as in make a career of it, I was writing, I was working toward my [unconscious] ultimate goal: receiving publication and getting my work out ‘to the world.’ Right? Isn’t that what we all want? Even you literary snobs out there, who loath ‘commercial’ fiction, want to attain a mass audience and receive recognition. You know you do. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s in there, that desire. It’s a core thing we all share.
Again, now, in May, 2015, here we are. And, once more, I am at that painful, beautiful, exciting, fearful, anxiety-driving point: submitting the novel, seeking literary agent representation. The book is the strongest it’s ever been so far. I have more contacts now in the industry than I’ve ever had before. I am the best writer right now than I ever have been before. This book is very strong. And yes, still, in the back of my mind, I know that rejections are likely coming.
This isn’t because I’m jaded or being negative. It’s from personal experience. This isn’t my first time submitting. I submitted for the first time years ago, probably in 2011 or early 2012. I know what the fear and shame and anxiety are all about. No matter how positive you try to be, that damn form rejection letter, via email now, stings. It hits you in this core place. And what do we do? We take it personally. We do. We’re writers: we’re sensitive, we’re wrapped up in our work, and we’re impatient to get it out there. And then some agent, some stranger, socks us right in the solar plexus when we’re not ready for it. Ouch, right? Yeah, I’ve been there. I get it.
But I’m trying to remind myself, too, of the reality of this industry. Let’s be honest: at this day in age there are a TON of shitty, low-grade books out there in the world. I heard an author speak recently about the state of books nowadays and she said, “You just have to write the best book ever; the stakes are higher than they ever were before, because someone else is right behind you who WILL have a solid book.” Well, I disagree. I think that’s a fear-based perspective of the industry.
First off, we see crap on the shelves all the time. Poorly written books with bad characters completely held by the meat of the plot only, weak climaxes, wooden protagonists, over-the-top literary novels with $40 words every three sentences just to show off, terrible premises that are written just for mass consumption, and on and on. We all know what books I’m referring to. I don’t have to name books. So, ergo, we know it isn’t a case of ‘the writing has to be better than before.’ It’s more a case of, can you land the right agent, and how will you do so?
Some famous author once said, If you truly believe in yourself, and you can’t not write, and you keep putting it out there, then it’s really only a matter of time before someone finds you, i.e. an agent, an editor, a publisher, all three, etc. I honestly agree with that and believe it. I know people personally who’ve landed agents and then publishing houses and contracts through a very unlikely string of events. You never know. The thing to remember is, due to the advent of Microsoft Word, and the mass proliferation of MFA programs, and the rise in popularity in general of writing, everyone and their mother thinks they’re a ‘writer.’
Now, calm down, don’t get all bent out of shape here. I’m not trying to be negative or judgmental.
All I’m saying is: as a book editor myself, and having worked at an agency, I know for a fact that probably 85-90% or more of the people that submit are not real writers.
Ok, what the hell do I mean by ‘real writers,’ right? Well, I mean this. Anyone, in my opinion, who dedicates their life to the craft, who works their ass off, and/or who has a very compelling, incredible story to tell and can’t not tell it, is a real writer. But the people who just kind of pop out a first draft, Google agents, and press ‘send,’ are completely in their own world. And I’ve seen this trend for years now. It’s not the end of the world but what it does do is make it harder for those writers like you and me who ARE serious and who ARE truly trying to make a living at writing and who DO have a real story to tell and who CAN tell it and who NEED to get their work into ‘the world.’ Feel me?
So anyway, we’re full circle now; back to square one. Here I am, once more submitting this same book, knowing that I might be again facing a string of rejections. And I’m afraid. I have a few connections, and I am using those, but that’s no guarantee. I’m trying to maintain a level plane of thinking, stay positive, and sort of ‘take the actions and let go of the results.’ In other words, I’m trying to do what I can; what’s within my actual control—writing the book, editing, revising, preparing agent query letters and synopses, establishing connections, etc—and I’m trying to let go of what I clearly (or sometimes not so clearly) cannot control, which is everything else. (And of course the main issue: I can’t make that “perfect” agent like my work or decide to take me on. And sometimes I can’t even get that agent to READ the work, because some 18-year-old intern is reading it and decides, ‘Eh, no good,’ and presses the ‘reject’ button. Such is the nature of Da Biz.)
I’ll leave you with this, and I apologize for the length. Just know: If you’re a serious writer, young or old, trying to ‘make it,’ and you’re experiencing agent rejection for the first or millionth time, just be aware that you are so, so not alone. We’ve all been there before. I am there right this minute, at least I’m at the precipice and am awaiting the call for yes or no, again. But I do encourage you, as I’ve learned over the years, to try and think positive, to realize we’re all on our own solo path and yet we walk together, to feel the rejection only as a temporary thorn under your skin, and to accept truthfully and wholeheartedly that if you love it, if you can’t not do it, if you spend your whole life pursuing this love, believe in your heart of hearts that you absolutely WILL make it. You will succeed. You will pass the finish line. You will land an agent. You’ll get there. So will I.
I’ll keep you updated.
“You said it. Let’s edit.”
I do developmental book editing. Right now I am—happily—booked solid until August. IF you want a free test edit now I can do that, but I’ll have to throw you in line for Aug. Cool with that? Have an adult novel (no sci-fi please) or memoir? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.