The proposal we had out on submission didn’t pick up any offers. Most of the rejections were along the lines of “love the writing, but…”
(FWIW, I always think that’s a cop-out. If you really loved the writing, there would be no “buts” because the writing is what makes the characters come to life and plot work.)
Naturally, I was discouraged and upset, even to the point of railing that boy, this time, I am really quitting.
“Why do I put myself through this?” I asked myself over and over.
It’s a damn good question. In publishing, you hear no a lot more than you hear yes (even if your book sells, you probably got a “No, thanks” from at least one editor on the way to garnering that contract). Even if you are lucky enough to land a contract, the publisher is probably not going to throw large wads of cash at you (unless you happen to be one of the tiny subset of writers who are already so “proven,” you could write the phone book and NY would want to buy it for six figures).
And guess what? After you do that the first time, you’re not done. No, it’s wash, rinse, repeat…possibly for years until you have that “breakout book” and possibly for always.
As my dear friend and CP Lacey Kaye said to me in email yesterday, this business is not for the faint of heart. I’m not even sure it’s for the bold of heart.
You see, I was pretty upfront and honest with myself about the relative chances of getting a contract for this book. Now, I still happen to think it’s a good book, more than good enough for New York publishers, but I also knew going in that even good books don’t always get contracted, and for reasons that don’t have all that much to do with their quality. Just for example, Several editors mentioned, for example, that their historical lists were very full and they had very few slots to acquire for.
So, before the proposal went out, I told myself in no uncertain terms that I would not EXPECT it to sell. None of this “positive thinking” stuff for me, no sir! I knew it wouldn’t sell and if it did, it would be the rough equivalent of winning the lottery.
Now, I think it served me well that I didn’t have high expectations, but I’d be lying if I said I truly had no hope. I did have hope. I mean, if I really thought it was so bad it had no chance of garnering an offer, I wouldn’t have put it out on submission in the first place. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I’m not that big a glutton.
When I realized it was definitely not going to sell (which was actually the day before the last two rejections came in), I didn’t cry, but I came pretty close to it. And over the next couple of days, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to decide whether I’m cut out for this or not. Because if I could be that upset when my expectations were low, how could I put myself through it again and again? What would happen the next time a project I really loved was rejected? And the next and the next? My answer to myself was pretty much that I’ll be just as crushed and raw as I was this time.
So, am I hanging it all up? Honestly, I sometimes wish I could.
The problem is, I can’t seem to stop writing. I can’t seem to stop. It happens in my head whether I want it to or not. Even while I was grousing to myself about this whole gig being so not worth it, I had multiple stories and characters pop into being and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. It’s kind of like a disease. In a way, I’d love to be cured. In another, it would be the rough equivalent of excising a part of my personality and changing the essence of “me.”
So, chucking the towel probably isn’t a choice. But I did come to a couple of conclusions about how my own goals need to shift as a result of this experience. Maybe, if you’re also out there chasing that contract, be it the first one or the one after that or the one after that, something here will keep you from contemplating towel-chucking:
1) It’s not about the contract; it’s about the writing. You don’t stop being a writer just because you don’t pick up a contract for publication. You stop being a writer because you stop writing. Period.
I know this isn’t an original thought, but I came to the conclusion that I’ve been far too focused on landing that next contract and a lot less focused than I ought to be on writing a book that pleases me, regardless of whether it pleases anyone else. It’s also something I have to remind myself of over and over and over again. Because I will forget sometimes.
2) Bite the bullet and write the whole book before trying to sell it.
I’m not saying this because I don’t think I can sell a book on proposal. It’s just that, if it’s rejected by all the NY publishers, I’m left with a book I can’t sell to anyone else without finishing it first. That’s a dilemma, because while it could earn me some money with an epublisher, there’s no guarantee that it will be worth the investment of the time and writing resources to finish it when I could be writing something else instead.
I am in a bit of a quandary over UNASHAMED, the book we just shopped unsuccessfully. It’s about half written. I love the characters and I really want to see them through to their HEA. But I also don’t know if that’s a worthwhile investment of my time when I have dozens of other things I could be working on that haven’t made the NY rounds and been rejected.
In other words, while there’s no guarantee that anything else I write will sell to an NY publisher, there’s a 100% guarantee that UNASHAMED won’t. Do I write it anyway? Decisions, decisions…
Decisions I’d rather not have to make next time!
3) Rejections are neither bad nor good. They just are. Overanalyzing them will only drive you crazy, so just set them aside and move on.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “Oh, but that’s a good rejection.” I’d be equally hard-pressed to recall how many times I’ve used those very same words with my writer friends.
Now I think there’s no such thing as a good one. There’s equally no such thing as a bad one (well, perhaps if the editor tells your agent to stick this writer’s garbage where the sun don’t shine, but I don’t think that happens too often).
A rejection is a rejection, period. It means you didn’t sell the book. It sucks. No amount of positive feedback can sugarcoat that, nor do any glowing comments about this or that aspect of your project mean that this editor is any more likely to offer for the next one than for this one. Ditto the editor who loathed the book and apparently thinks you should go back and read Novel-Writing for Dummies a few more times. There’s nothing to say the next project you offer up won’t be right up that editor’s alley.
So, don’t try to figure them out. Don’t second-guess the book you wrote and wonder what if you’d just done this or that differently. It will only drive you crazy and keep you from focusing on the next project.
And whatever else we can say about ourselves as writers, it’s that there’s always a next project.