First of all, I am so overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and sympathy concerning yesterday's post! I wish I could figure out how to really express my gratitude, but all I can say is a humble thank you. I absolutely adore the online writing community, and this just made me love you all more. Cookies for everyone!
Since my submission story is finally out in the open, today I wanted to take the more positive, helpful route (hopefully, none of this is easy to address). I want to talk about what I've learned so far. Not that it was fun, but I have learned. I can't say I think all this happened for a reason. I don't think crap happens to us for a reason—I think it just happens and it's up to us to figure out how we'll let it change us, for better or worse.
Submission isn't something a lot of writers talk about, and I want to put some things out there. I want to help prepare writers who will face this stage, because I went in without really knowing what to expect. I'll start with having an agent/being on submission in general, then move on to the particular struggles I've faced and what came of those.
The Other Side of the Fence. AKA: More Waiting
When I was querying, it felt like the hardest, most impossible thing in the world. And it was. I'd queried over 200 agents. I'd tried 4 different projects (out of the 8 books I'd written). I knew I "wasn't there yet," but no one would give me the specific advice I needed to get there! Every minute of my day was spent thinking about my email inbox. Will there be a rejection in there? A request? WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN I AM DYING HERE?!?!
And then it happened, and it was nothing like I expected. I did 4 or 5 revisions before the offer of representation. Which was torture at the time, but in hindsight really helped me build a relationship with my agent. When he offered? I knew without a doubt we could work together—we'd already been working together for 9 months. Now I can't imagine how some writers pick an agent based on a few phone calls. Wow, hard.
I'd heard things about submission. I had friends who'd been on sub, and it was hard to watch them go through agony I couldn't really understand. I mean, I was kind of jealous they even had an agent. How in the world could it be worse than being at the bottom like I was?
Well, I've learned that submission is basically the worst time you have as a writer. It's true limbo. You are in between not-published and published. Submission isn't something you want to STAY in indefinitely. Pre-agent, at least you are firmly in the "not published" category. In submission, you could be published soon...or not. It's closer and yet further away than ever.
Don't get me wrong, having an agent is as wonderful as it is terrible. Does that make sense? I felt reassured that someone in publishing had faith in me, but also terrified that they'd be the only one. I was so excited to be at the next phase, but also scared of disappointing my friends, agent, and myself if I failed. Very conflicting feelings in this phase.
What I was least prepared for was the loss of control. It was easy to have faith in my agent, but at the same time it was strange not being able to do anything. I just have to...wait. In querying, when you get a rejection you can send another letter out. You can decide who to send to, when, and what. That all goes away, and while it's nice it's also weird. I was so used to working for myself, and now my writing fate is out of my hands.
And the waiting...oh, the waiting. Writers are pro waiters, aren't we? Hate to say that one never ends. It's something you just have to learn to accept. You think agents take a while to respond? Well, editors are even busier, so busy it's insane and I don't know how they do it.
But, as the responses to my post yesterday proved, this is all NORMAL. It's part of the game. You are not alone if you struggle during submission. For a while I did think I was the only one "sucking it up." Then I started to connect with a lot of other writers on sub, and their stories weren't all three-book-deal-in-a-week stories either! Heck, even those fast deals? I promise most have an epic, hard journey behind them. Years of writing, of failing.
It's NORMAL to have your first manuscript die. Normal to get rejected after revisions. Normal to feel terrible about it all. If this stuff happens to you—it doesn't make you a sucky writer. You're just plain old normal, and there are so many people who get it. I've taken a lot of comfort in that.
You know, it's the "dream" stories that get you started in writing. Oh, I've had my wild dreams and I don't regret them at all. I needed to believe. Now it's the "hard knocks" stories that inspire me to keep going. I need them to remind me that writing is plain hard for everyone. We're all in the same boat, no matter what stage. Writing is wonderful, but it never gets easy.
Would it even be worth it is it was easy?
The Complete Rewrite, A Study In Psychological Endurance.
I've revised a lot, cut out chapters and characters and whole plot lines. I was not afraid of revising. But restarting a book? Opening a blank document and writing it all over again? Scary.
But when I received feedback from my agent on this particular book, I knew it was either start over or put it on the shelf. There were too many BIG changes. And, well, my agent was right. As I read that letter, I bawled not because it was mean, but because he was right. I agreed with him on almost every point, which meant I'd spent about nine months of my life writing the wrong story for my characters. Not a good feeling.
I thought about that letter for a long time before starting. A month. I didn't take notes. I didn't open up the doc. I just let it all sink in. I let myself calm down and really think about what I wanted to do with this book.
In the end, I decided to go for the rewrite.
It was hard. And not in the way I expected. It wasn't the actual writing that was difficult. I already knew the characters, world, and story. I had outlined my plot. All I really had to do was write it all down, but my confidence was shot. I doubted every word I wrote. I mean, how could I know if it was right when I'd messed up so bad before? I thought the other draft was great! What do I know? I'm an idiot.
It's really, really hard to write when you don't believe in yourself. I had to trust in my crit partners, because I couldn't see for myself at that point. I love my crit partners, and this was just more proof of how important they are. I learned that just because I didn't think the book was good didn't make it true. Just because I didn't think I was a good writer didn't make it true. A lot of great writers feel like they suck sometimes—writers go in phases like that.
It's okay. Those phases end. The confidence can come back if you let it. Don't be so hard on yourself.
Editor Revision and Pass, Losing What Might Have Been
I talked a lot yesterday about how this hurt me, but not much about how I've healed over since. It's been about 5 months, and while sometimes it still sucks, I'm okay. I am happy, even. I take a lot of comfort in knowing there was an editor out there who understood and loved my book. I know it wasn't that editor's fault she couldn't buy it. I know that she is probably sad, too. She put work into my book, made it better, and for that I will always be grateful.
I learned a lot about the reality of publishing from this pass. I learned that, as much as people don't want to say it, the market plays a BIG role in what books get picked up and what books don't. When your book doesn't fit in a clean cut box, it can be really hard to get support for it in house. Publishers print good books, but they must print good books that will make them money. The easiest way to guarantee a return is to market a book to a specific audience.
It's kind of a weird contradiction. Because after all this I will still preach Write What You Are Passionate About, even though sometimes that means you won't get published. You have to write what you love. You have to stand by it. What's the point in publishing a book you aren't passionate about?
I learned that, despite rejection, I still want to be myself. I write weird books. That's okay. It might take a while for one of my weird books to stick, especially in such a tough market. That doesn't mean I'm a bad writer. There are so many great writers out there who can't sell books right now. Sad, but normal and true. It's not anyone's fault, really. It's just a tough business for everyone—writers, agents, and editors.
Losing Your Agent and Stuff
I'm still getting used to having a new agent. I miss my old agent. I love my new agent. I sometimes forget I have a new agent. Basically I'm all over the place. Happy and a little sad at the same time. Because, dude, my old agent was awesome.
But something cool has come of having to move on. I was starting to think that no one else would like my writing. After this year, yeah. How could I not? Hearing a different agent—one who didn't even really know me—say she loved my book, my writing? It was like being thrown a life preserver. Wait, you mean I'm not crazy? I am still a good writer?
That feels good. Really good. My new agent is awesome, too. She believes in me. It wasn't just a fluke that I got an agent in the first place. Maybe I do have some talent. Woot.
While I would never want to do it again and hope to avoid crap in the future, I will take the lessons I've learned and run with them. I try to see the good in things, even when it's hard. I try to laugh at myself. It's all in how you choose to see it.