Finding the power in rejection.
I would be a liar if I told you that rejection doesn’t matter, that every time a short story market or an agent lets me know my work isn’t for them, I don’t sulk a little. This last year rejection has set the tone for just about everything in my writing world. While I’ve had some agents express interest in future work of mine, I haven’t found a fit with The Aldersgate nor have I heard back from the editor who’s had it for almost a year. I haven’t talked about either of these things on my blog, really at all, though I’ve hinted at it.
Searching for agents is a bit of a surreal experience, first of all. To get your book into the hands of other people, you’ve got to find that one person who clicks with you. And though you may have written may other things, it’s that one book that’s got to do all the work for you. Jeff VanderMeer told me, of the agent search, that really the agent is auditioning for me, and that’s a good point–but unfortunately one that is hard to believe in this present market. It’s hard not to feel like a grain of sand in the sea when sending out those query letters, and it’s so easy to start second guessing. I mean, is anyone selling steampunk/fantasy/Westerns? Does it matter? Am I doing this right? Should I respond? Should I follow up? Am I over thinking this? Am I putting too much faith in the whole thing? Lather, rinse, repeat.
The fact that the book itself is with an editor at a Reputable Publishing House makes the whole situation even more difficult. I’d like to query other books, I would. But this is the book that’s with the editor, where it’s been for a year. Yes, I am aware that in all likelihood the book will be passed on, and I made my peace with that a long time ago.
I’m growing more and more distant from The Aldersgate and, given every chance–and every rejection–see so many things I want to fix with it. Pacing, length, plot details. It needs work. But when the editor emailed wanting to see a draft of the book, I jumped. Was it 100% ready? Hell no. Is it still a good story? I think so. But none of that is up to me at this point. I was so thrilled that anyone was interested in the book that I sent it off, blinded by excitement. I mean a real editor? A real, real one?
But, all this rejection and uncertainty can make for a miasma of self-doubt. And I will admit, there were a few months there last year where I was really in the dumps. I hadn’t started the agent search yet–which really only began in earnest two months ago–but having the book in the hands of the editor paralyzed me. I eventually got out of it and re-wrote Peter of Windbourne, but it wasn’t until this March (after the great carpal tunnel disaster of 2010) that I really snapped out of it. I started something new.
And it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. I’m not saying this to sound full of myself, or to gloat. No, I think it’s important that writers get a perspective on their own work, their craft. They have to. Saying that everything is awesome is just as detrimental as saying that everything sucks. Dustman (which is totally not the final title) is a little more than half written and it’s the first ground-up fiction that I’ve written since Pilgrim of the Sky (Queen of None was there, too, but as it incorporates Arthurian mythology, the process of writing it was somewhat different).
Every book has a different zeitgeist. I wrote Queen of None as a way to cope with my sister’s cancer diagnosis. Pilgrim of the Sky was an attempt to satisfy a more indy vibe. The Aldersgate was my way out of post-partum depression. Peter of Windbourne was to prove I could write a epic fantasy that I created as a child and could pull off as an adult.
But I’m writing Dustman because I’m a writer. Because I’m a novelist. Because I have a thing for squid, broken romances, and gunslingers. And oddly enough, the rejections that have been (still) coming–and some of them have been very nice, I should add–have only fueled me to push myself with this story. To get it right. To delve deeper. To challenge myself.
And while that doesn’t mean the book has any more of a chance with agents or publishers, that doesn’t change the fact that I can still improve. That I am improving. I can still get better as a novelist–in fact, I can keep getting better. The only way to improve is keep writing no matter what. This is my craft, and though I’ve been writing the better part of my life in novel form, if I refuse to improve–if I start to believe I’ve plateaued–that’s death to my career. That’s the end, curtains.
My advice, in this long-winded manner, is to think of rejection as a lens pointing you to where you need to improve. Agents, publishers, readers… these people will give you new eyes to your work, giving you a real chance to get better. If you flag in the face of that criticism, you will fail. If you refuse to change, to grow, you’ll break. There’s such value, and such power, in the understanding that, no matter what–no matter how the industry changes or what the market is or who’s buying what–we, as writers, have the most power. We’re the ones the industry needs to thrive, and as we push ourselves to do greater and better things, we, in turn, can share greater and better things with the world.
We can always do better. And there’s a whole lot of freedom knowing that.