Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Persnickety Pigheaded Persistence

“It Don’t Come Easy”. Ringo Starr sang it, and it’s as true today as it was back in the early seventies. Maybe even more so. But today we seem to live in a society that more than ever espouses the philosophy of “I want it, I want it now, and I don’t want to have to work hard for it.”

That bothers me. Because there seems to be a lack of willingness to accept that some things just have to be worked for. Getting a book published is one of them.

One of my avowed life’s goals was to write a novel and get it published. Back in 2008 when I started writing the story that would eventually become Traitor Knight, I felt like I had a something that might allow me to accomplish that goal. I got it all down, went back through and made revisions, then made some more, and finally said to myself, “OK, self—this is pretty hot stuff. Let’s find a literary agent who’ll fall madly in love with it, take me on as a client, and pave the way towards the NYT Best-Seller List.”

So I did my research, found agents who were accepting fantasy novels, and started shopping my manuscript. And I quickly realized I wasn’t yet ready for the big time. Or even the small time. The agents to whom I submitted my queries rejected me faster than a gorgeous cheerleader turning down a prom date with the class nerd. Naturally I was crushed. After all, this was my baby that was being rejected.

At this point, I could easily have fallen victim to what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call Under The Bed Syndrome. This occurs when a budding writer, having received his first (or tenth, or however many-th) rejection, decides s/he’s a failure who will never make it, and sadly slips the manuscript into a box and shoves it into the dark recesses under the bed. Nobody loves them, their work is crap (I use this word rather a stronger one on the assumption that some of my readers may be maiden aunts from DeMoines), and their dreams are dashed on the rocks of rejection. At this point, they can’t even be bothered to cling to the wreckage.

It’s tough, sending your work out there to be subjected to the scrutiny of professionals. Odds are, despite your query letter assertions to the contrary, you are NOT the next JK Rowling or Nora Roberts or… well, you get the idea. Sure, there are a few people who make it big right out of the box. But that percentage of the total number of manuscripts submitted annually is so infinitesimal as to not even register on the Richter scale of literary shockwaves.

If you let that rejection define who you are, you’re done for. As a writer, if not as a person. You have to take that rejection and embrace it. I’ll admit, it stung when I got my first rejection letter. At the same time, I was thrilled. Because I realized that this meant I truly was An Author. I had not only dared to write a novel, but I’d double-dog dared to actually submit it to a literary agent. (I still have that letter somewhere in the files, and one of these days when I have a few minutes I’ll stick it in my scrapbook, along with my offer of contract letter, and a copy of my first royalty check).

Once I’d wiped away the tears of that first rejection, I went back and looked at my work with a critical eye. And acknowledged that the agent to whom I’d submitted it had been absolutely right. It wasn’t ready. It was, in fact, pretty bad. But this is the key point: I didn’t moan about stupid agents who didn’t know a good thing when they saw it. I didn’t allow myself to fall victim to Under The Bed Syndrome. Instead, I went to work. I revised and rewrote and tried my damnedest to make better. When I thought I’d gotten it to that point, I started sending it out on query again. And got rejected again. And again and again.

And I kept working. Because, despite all the rejections I’d received, I believed in my story.  I also believed in my own ability as a writer to tell that story. I just needed to keep working and honing my craft, until the point where someone would finally look at it and say “Yeah, I think this might work.”It took me five years of rejection and rewriting before I got to that point. But I was pigheaded and persistent. I didn’t give up. Oh, sure, there were times I came close. Times when I said “I’ve got to put this away for a while, work on something else.” But all the while, I knew it was there, waiting. It wasn’t Under the Bed; it was just sidelined for a little while, so both the manuscript and I could take a little relationship breather.

But I always knew I’d go back and look again with a fresh eye, and make it better, and send it out again. Until I finally got that wonder of wonders and holy of holies, an offer of contract. It took seven years, almost to the day, from the time I started writing Traitor Knight. And it took another year after that, of more rewriting, and editorial notes and proofreading, until it finally came to publication.

So if you’re a writer who’s been rejected and is thinking of quitting, here’s my advice. Don’t. Never give up. Be persistent. Believe in the story(s) you have to tell. You may need to do a lot of work on your craft before you’re to that point. You have to be willing to put in the time. To sit your butt down in the chair and write and write and write until your fingers bleed. And to read. Books in your genre. Books out of your genre. Books on writing. Any book you read, you’ll learn something from. About how to form a phrase or a description. Sometimes about what not to do. But you’ll learn. And grow. And become a better writer. But only if you stick with it.

Sure, there are times when that particular story you’re writing just doesn’t work, and you have to move on to something else. But you keep writing and reading and learning, becoming just that little bit better each time you send it out and receive another rejection. Until that glorious day…

Keep Calm and Keep Writing
 Go Ballistic and Keep Writing

However you do it is up to you. But don’t give up. Keep writing, keep putting it out there for people to read, and keep submitting it.

Dreams do come true. I’m living proof.