Today is a serious day. I'm going to talk about things I've kept off this blog for about 15 months. I'm going to talk about being on submission—more specifically about what it's like to experience all those things writers dread happening.
Because, really, no writer wants to be that person. The one who has to go through hell just to get a book on the shelf. You hope with all your being that your journey won't be too horrible. And you should. Without that hope? I don't know how I'd be where I am, even if it's not entirely where I want to be.
But what happens when it is you? What happens when writers list off "horror stories" about their publishing journey and you realize you've basically been through all of them?
If you want to know, read on. If not, stop here and go eat a cupcake. Actually, everyone should eat a cupcake while reading this. It'll take the edge off.
Now, I told myself that I wouldn't talk about submissions on my blog when I was out. I didn't want editors to know how long I'd been out or if I was struggling. But after 15 months? Heck, I think I've earned a little bit of a right to talk about it. And what does it matter that anyone knows how long I've been out? Does it make me less of a writer? Do I suck because my book hasn't sold?
Might be cocky, but I'm gonna say no. I can't control the market (let me know if you can).
This is the silent torture of those who've been out on sub for a long time. You're not supposed to talk about it. You're not supposed to admit to people how much it hurts. You can't complain, because you have an agent and you should be grateful and so many authors would kill to be where you are.
So you end up feeling guilty on top of sad, because as those passes pile up it does hurt. It shouldn't, but it does. An editor rejection is not like an agent rejection. With agents, you can keep trying with a project. Revise, try again. With an editor? Most of the time you get one shot. And each time someone says no, it feels like your book gets closer and closer to never happening. Because, well, that's what happens to books that don't get bought.
At that point, it's over. You have to walk away from that story maybe forever. That is incredibly scary and heartbreaking.
Submission messes with your head in big ways. It's either "Yay! You have finally got that deal you always dreamed about!" Or "Sorry, not for me." Over and over, such a high and such a low.
It's no secret that getting an agent was a tough road for me. I queried for about two years. When an agent finally was interested, I revised for nine months before the offer of representation, all the time wondering if it might fall through. But it didn't, and I snagged an amazing agent I could work well with. All that work was hard, but ultimately worth it.
I figured, you know, since it was so hard to get an agent, that selling my book should be easier. I'd already been through hard stuff! A lot of hard stuff, actually. The Universe owed me an easy time, or at least easier.
Yeah...don't expect The Universe to be "fair."
Fifteen months, and I have not sold a book. I have watched some of my friends get agents and deals within this time. I hate to say it, but it hurt occasionally. And soon I will be seeing these books also come out before I sell. You start to wonder if you're any good. You start to wonder if you made the right choice writing something different. You wonder what more you could have done when you've already worked so hard.
But I've been a "good writer" all this time. I worked on a new project as advised. I got many crits, edited it for half a year. I sent it to my agent, thinking this would be my "back up," my "safety net" if worse came to worst with subs.
That safety net book became the book my agent politely recommended to be completely rewritten. Which, ouch. Seriously. We'll get back to this in a second.
The rewrite news came at the exact same time I'd finally made it to acquisitions at a big publisher—a dream publisher. Said publisher ended up asking for a revision, and I agreed because the editor really seemed to get my book. Finally, someone understood what I was trying to accomplish and they LOVED it! I could hardly believe it after so long (six months then). They asked for an exclusive, which seemed a pretty serious commitment to me (oh, naivety). It was exciting, and I had a lot of hope.
But I couldn't do the revision immediately because of the exclusive. There were other editors we had to wait on, and so for two months I waited to find out if any other editor wanted it or if I would do the revision with the dream publisher.
During that very stressful time, I worked on my rewrite of the "back up" book. It wasn't pretty. I was not in a good place. Stressed, anxious, scared, jaded, and yet secretly so hopeful it hurt. The rewrite absorbed all of that pain, to the point that just opening the document gives me a panic attack. Still.
We finally got the go for the revision after all the other editors passed. "Yay!" I thought. "Finally we can move to the next step!" Within a month, I got a wonderful editorial letter from the amazing editor at dream publisher. The revisions were brilliant, doable, and totally in line with my vision. I couldn't have been happier with how amazing that editor was! I worked my tail off, did everything I could, and the book was (and is) in incredible shape. I'm still proud of it.
The good news? The editor loved the changes! Enthusiasm abounded when I was informed that it would be taken, once again, to acquisitions. After all that work, and such excitement from the wonderful editor, I thought surely it would happen now. I did my job. I wasn't too proud for edits. I put in my time. When you put in your time, you get results.
But the editor was not allowed to buy my book. Six months of waiting and hoping and working...gone with one email. I can't lie, it was devastating. How could it not be? When you work that hard for something, losing it is like this hole. I hadn't even realized just how much I'd expected it to happen until it didn't. My mental state since then has been shaky, as is my confidence.
All I could see in my writing after that was a big fat FAIL. Fail fail fail. You're a freaking failure. You lost the only chance you had. You can't write a second book without having to scratch it all and rewrite. I didn't even have another book good enough to sub! There I was at the end of the summer with nothing to show for a whole year on submission. And then, well, you know that my agent had to leave the business. Luckily, I didn't have to query again (and I'm very happy with my new agent!), but it did kind of round out 2010: The Year of Suck.
The Complete Rewrite.
Editor Revision and Pass.
Losing Your Agent.
I think most writers can agree that they would not want to step within a mile of any of those events, and yet they seem to keep popping up for me. (At this point I can almost see the comedy in it all. Laugh or cry, right?)
So what do you do? What happens when all the things you fear as a writer happen?
Oh, I've wanted to quit. Sometimes I still think about it, how easy it would be to just disappear and pretend none of this ever happened. All I'd have to do is delete this blog, shut down my twitter account, and in a couple months no one would remember that one writer who used to blog and never sold a book. I could just stop writing, or at least stop trying to get published. When you're so stressed you start losing your hair? Yeah, it's time to consider alternatives.
It's also easy to think the whole industry is out to get you. It's very easy to let the utter unfairness and illogicality of publishing turn you into an ogre of hate. They say you should write a "different" book, but then all they really want is what's in vogue. They say your writing is great, and yet they pass. They buy some books for six figures, and yet can't spare a few thousand for yours. Bitterness can easily sink in—the internet and all its news of deals and bestsellers and cover announcements doesn't help.
Basically, you feel entitled to be angry and envious and jaded. I guess you are. But really all those emotions are a cover for what you actually feel—you feel like the biggest loser of a writer on the entire face of the planet. You've tried, and you've failed. Miserably, even. Maybe it is you that's the problem. You suck, that's why you can't sell a book.
It's a low place, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Writers have a reason for fearing it, for hoping that they won't have to face any or all of these things.
You're backed into a corner. At this point you honestly have two choices—fight or flight. If you wanted to run, I don't think anyone would blame you. I mean, you clearly tried and tried hard. You did your absolute best, and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
But because I'm way too stubborn for my own good, I'm still fighting. It hasn't been pretty, clawing my way out of this pit, but step by step I'm getting there.
I had to go back to the beginning and try to figure out why I liked writing in the first place. I had to isolate, so I couldn't see what I was "missing." I had to remember what it was like to write a story just because it was one I wanted to tell. I had to admit that my anxiety was out of control, and I needed help to get it back in check. I had to slowly rebuild faith in my ability to write.
Actually, I'm still doing all of those things.
When the bad stuff happens to you, it's time to make a choice. I won't be the one to tell you to keep going—the only one who can decide that is you. But you must choose a path. When you get here, to the really hard stuff, you can't stand at the fork in the road without losing it. Choosing a path makes it a little easier, because you're going somewhere again. Maybe it's not how or where you want to go, but it's something. And sometimes that something can turn into loveliness.
Also, whatever you choose, make a point to celebrate the little good things along the way. I've come to savor the small miracles. They might be the only ones I get! Even if the Big Stuff doesn't happen, there's a lot of beauty and satisfaction to be found in the work of writing.
More than anything, I think this Year of Suck has shown me just how much I can survive. I always think, "Surely, I can't endure anything else or I'll DIE. No, really die this time." Then something even worse happens and guess what? I'm still alive! Look at that. It was in no way fun, but I'm still here and I'm still writing.
It might take time to heal, but you don't have to let the bad stuff stop you. Somehow the hope survives, even if you look like a masochist. Hope's plucky like that.
Besides, the only way is up, right?