It is extremely hard to break into publishing, no matter the route you take.
And worse, it's getting even harder.
And chances are, you are...not good enough yet.
Ouch, ouch, ouchity, ouch. But there it is, I said it. I said it because this is a realization that, as hard as it is to face, every writer must face it at some point.
My "Come To Jesus" moment was around March 2009. I'd sent my partial to Nathan Bransford and he totally asked for the full. I thought I was Big Stuff. I thought I must be freaking brilliant. I thought I'd have a deal by the end of the year for sure (Note: Actual deal happened April of 2011, so...majorly delusional).
What I got was a very long email. An email that was actually 9 or 10 pages long, not double-spaced, when I printed it out. It started something like, "This story is great! But..." And then for pages Nathan proceeded to tell me every single possible issue with my novel, from character development to plotting to prose to theme to world building. EVERYTHING.
I'd never had a crit like that before. I had faithful crit partners, who kindly pointed out issues with my books, but nothing like that. I mean, he layed it all out, and clearly, too. There was really only one conclusion to be drawn—I was not a good enough writer.
That is the simple truth. I was not good enough! I had NO IDEA that I was missing so much, that I was so far from the mark.
It was like getting dumped in a tank of cold water, this realization. How had I dared query when I was still so lacking? How had I dared to think I was ready to be published at all? All of the sudden I could see clearly just how much further I had to go, and that maybe I wasn't taking this whole writing thing as seriously as I should have.
That was the first time I really looked at my work critically. Sure, I pretended to be all serious about editing before that, but honestly I had no clue what I was doing. And my story was awesome! It unfolded organically, and surely that is how it should be so nothing could be wrong with it unless it was a difference of opinion (*hangs head*).
As cheesy as it sounds, my eyes were opened. There was a big gaping hole in my novel, and I could either try to fix it or give up. Obviously, I kept working. But I wanted to point out this moment because it was a major turning point in my journey towards becoming a better writer (note I said better writer, regardless of the publishing outcome). I improved greatly when I found a crit group, and then again when I worked with Nathan, who had more skill than I did and could push me that much further.
And, boy, did I get pushed. Do you know what I got after I finished all the revisions in that 10 page email? ANOTHER 10 page email. And another. Okay, and one more before I got signed...and another after. All on one book. I don't call it Writer's Bootcamp for nothing. I think Nathan was smart, to give it to me in pieces, so he didn't completely overwhelm me and my newbiness.
Ever so slowly, over the process of about nine months, he turned me into a good writer, not just one with a lot of good story ideas and potential. And I will be forever grateful for this investment in me, because he didn't have to do it and he did anyway.
I think every writer needs to have this kind of moment—this "Oh crap, so I'm really not good enough what do I do NOW?" realization. It sucks, but it's the beginning of the next leg in the journey, the leg that is SO MUCH BETTER because you start to see the results you've been wanting for so long. Sure, it may take a couple more years (it did for me), but the improvement is measurable and continued. Stuff clicks. It's at once trying and triumphant, as you see just how much further you can push yourself as a writer.
In the end, I guess what I'm saying is to keep pushing yourself and seeking out ways to improve. Never assume just because you got to a certain point that you have it made—there is always, always room for improvement. And right now, when things are so tough in the business all around, you can't afford to stop pushing for better. The competition is stiff. If you're on sub right now, you know that better than anyone. Gone are the days when you could get away with a good idea and decent writing. Everyone has a killer idea. Everyone's writing is getting better and better quality by the second. If you don't meet the mark, the stark truth is that there are thousands of others who do, and their books will be bought instead.
So step it up. Never stop pushing for that next level. Take writing and revision seriously, and be honest about the state of your work. If it's not where it needs to be, take it there.