Friday, June 11, 2010

The number you don't want to know

It sucks when they come in waves like this.

No, for once I’m not making a dirty joke. I’m talking about rejections, and the fact that two author pals just got hit with them. The sort of rejections that take the wind out of your sails and the gin out of the cupboard because you’re hoping a stiff one (nope, still not dirty) might take the sting out.

But the gin doesn’t help, because let’s face it – rejection sucks. Even the positive rejections, the ones cushioned by praise and flattery and “almost there” cheerleading.

I hate the idea of standing here with an amazing agent and a recent book deal trying to say something wise and comforting. Frankly, I might’ve thrown rocks at someone like that a year ago. Or four years ago. Or six years ago.

And that’s when I start thinking about the numbers. About the fact that somewhere in the great unknown is a list of every author and the number of books he or she must write before getting a big break. For some, it’s one. For others, it’s 20.

When I first started writing fiction in 2002, I heard the average is seven. Six books that don’t sell. I remember hearing that and laughing. That won’t be me. That could never be me.

I was wrong.

The counting gets tricky since my sixth and eighth full manuscripts sold as part of my three-book deal, but that doesn’t count partials, and then there’s the mess with my third manuscript selling and getting canceled (go here if you don’t know the story).

But my point is, this: I am eternally grateful I didn’t know my number beforehand. If someone had offered me a crystal ball and given me a peek, you can bet your sweet assignat I would have looked.

And that would have changed everything. Maybe I would have been discouraged by all the dead book corpses. Maybe those earlier stories would have been infused with the hopelessness of knowing they would never be published. Maybe I would’ve missed the important lessons I learned in writing them.

I honestly don’t know.

I know rejection is hard on everyone (nope, still not dirty). But the thing you have to cling to is the belief that THIS BOOK MIGHT BE THE ONE.

Maybe it won’t be, but that’s not the point. Hope should be the thing driving you every time you open a new Word document and type “once upon a time.”

Not knowing how many tries it will take allows you to get everything you possibly can from the experience of writing each book. It lets you savor that thrill, to truly keep your eye on the ball in front of you.

And for every writer, that is the only ball that matters.

(OK, I kinda meant the last one).

31 comments :

Bethany Elizabeth said...

You're probably right, it's better not to know how many manuscripts will go unpublished at the beginning. I've writing my fifth (wow, has it been that many?) but I still really want to try and get my third book published. Books 1 and 2? No way, I'm not even going there. But I don't regret writing them.
:)
Great post - I haven't queried yet, so I haven't faced the rejection. I'm not looking forward to it. Still, it's part of the process, right?

Jeannie said...

I'm throwing myself into the fray very soon--my RWA chapter is having an agent/editor luncheon and I get to pitch my work. I'm hoping for some requests. Keep your fingers crossed.

Rejections always sting, but any accomplishment requires risk...in this case risk to my ego. Off I go.

Piedmont Writer said...

I'm still holding onto hope that the book I'm querying gets picked up but it's not looking that way. I don't think I'd want to take a look into the chrystal ball, I would be so discouraged. So the only thing to do at this point in put the baby under the bed and get on with the next.

Lou said...

...just sitting here waiting for my rejection email... it's due in about two weeks.... my positive attitude prefers to imagine rejection, so I can be joyous if it goes another way! I'm a pessimistic realist.

Actually, as this is my first attempt, (a children's book) I'm expecting a rejection, and praying for feedback from the agent on the manuscript...

Candyland said...

I guess all we can do is hold onto that little bit of hope (or defiance) that no matter what the number, it will happen.

Danica Avet said...

Well, here's how I see it: Writing to write is wonderful. It feels great to put the images in my head on paper and let the characters grow. I love it. Writing saves my sanity because otherwise I'd look crazier than I am (you know, laughing out loud at conversations my characters have in my head?). Everything else, requests, rejections, highs, lows...it's all lagniappe. I don't know if I'll ever become a full-time writer, retiring from my job to write all the time, but that doesn't matter because I'm still a writer. Once you put serious effort into writing, you are a writer and no one can take that from you no matter how many rejections or blank looks or this-woman-is-insane expressions you get.

Claire Dawn said...

I am an optimist with everything but my writing. I'm more like "This one is NOT the one. " :( I've got a writing conference coming up and I have to submit 25 pages at the beginning of next month. And all I can think is which 25 pages aren't crap??? :'(

So tomorrow, I'm going to throw my worries out the window, and do the NYWC challenge. I'm writing 3000 words to a new first draft. First drafting makes me happy!

On Monday, I'll go back to moping over the crap I've already completed.

Linda G. said...

Amen, sistah. Persistence, along with a healthy dose of patience, is an essential ingredient in this business. :)

(And in my head, those were ALL dirty. Sorry, just the way my mind works.)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

One question that gets asked a lot at writers workshops is how long it took to write the book. It's a difficult question to answer. Mine at the time was an essay collection with works I'd written over the course of ten years. In some ways, if asked how long it took to write the novel I'm working on now, I'd want to include the novel I'd included before that, plus all the essays and so forth. It's persistence and hope, yes, but we need to value that it's all a process, with each step building on the last.

Mother Hen said...

Nobody likes to be told 'no' especially if a lot of work has been involved in the first place. I wrote my first children's story in about ten minutes. Now I am on month 11 for the YA novel I am working on. There is no rule for it. Some are lucky, some just have to hope for luck.

Daryl Sedore said...

Great Post!

Sometimes I think you're just as funny, or funnier (is that a word? like "funly") when you're trying not to make sexual references.

This post was exciting (not meant that way)
LOL!!!

Tawna Fenske said...

Bethany, I always hated it when people asked how many books I've written (still do, actually). It's tough not to think of the unsold ones as wasted effort, and important to remember that no time spent writing is EVER wasted.

Jeannie, good luck in the fray! I'll keep all fingers & toes crossed for you!

Piedmont Writer, there's a delicate balance in looking ahead but not looking too far ahead. Last spring when I finished a book that hadn't yet gone out on submission, my husband asked, "what next?" And I totally lost it thinking, "can I really do this AGAIN? If this one doesn't sell either, can I really keep cranking them out like this?" And the answer was/is a resounding "YES!" but it's tough to consider that when you've just poured your heart & soul into something else.

Lou, don't you hate that? You want to be optimistic, but you don't want to get your hopes so high up there that the fall will kill you. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you!

Candyland, amen to that! Not to get all woo-woo, but I really do believe our number is already set -- there's not much we can do to change whether it's our first or our fifty-first book that gets picked up. The key is to just keep forging ahead and you'll eventually hit it.

Danica, what a fabulous attitude! You're right, if you get too caught up in the drama of submissions and rejections, you lose sight of the whole point of this whole @#$% writing thing -- it's fun, it's rewarding, and it's exhilarating, regardless of one's publication status.

Claire Dawn, huge good luck to you with both the conference and the writing challenge! Be sure to come back and tell us how both things go.

Linda G, somehow, I knew you'd pick up on the dirty parts even without the parenthetical statements!

Jeffe, great point about it being tough to answer the "how long did it take to write?" question. Do you count the years spent honing your skills? The time spent mulling the idea without actually writing? Where do you start counting?

Mother Hen, you're totally right -- there are definitely no rules. Sometimes that annoys me, sometimes it thrills me :)

Daryl, you know what's funny? Most of those references really WERE accidental. It wasn't 'til I went back and read what I'd written that I started thinking, "oh, that sounded dirty. Um, so did that. And that. And..."

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

If the sole reason someone writes is for publication, I would imagine s/he would have more trouble. Since most of us write for many other reasons, we are able to see rejection as part of the process. Don't get me wrong, it SUCKS! I hate it. But it doesn't stop me from writing, and enjoying it.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Thanks for teaching me what an assignat is. And for sharing, seriously. There's so much information about what not to do, and how hard this business is, and how few people it works out for that it's really appreciated (by me, at least) when that sometimes overwhelming tide of negativity is tempered with level-headed, clear-cut, grounded positivity. I appreciate that you acknowledge the difficulties of the process while also making the achievements accessible. It's nice to hear.

Larissa said...

Oh, I love you so much, Tawna. Thank you, thank you for saying that.

I HATE it when people go on and on about how everyone has trunk novels, blah blah blah. Do they even think about how that makes someone working on their first novel feel?

Fantastic post. :)

Robin said...

Encouraging post. Working on a first now. And I know that I am not going to get it right. But, if I don't start somewhere, I will never get where I want to go. So, I keep pushing through it.

Xuxana said...

Oh my gosh Tawna, you wrote that so gorgeously <-- is that even a real word? I don't know, but I had to say it. I too know someone who's been a bit down about recent rejections and this post of yours puts it into such a great perspective.

You've also helped me too. I've been panicking about the ONE novel I've written and keep putting off sending it to agents as I'm terrified of rejection. But now I realise that even if my first attempt novel gets rejected, I can still write more and maybe one day one of my books will get picked up by an agent. Which is great because it means I can just keep writing. I've concentrated all my efforts into this one novel, when all along I could have started on my other book ideas a long time ago.

Cheers to you, darling! :)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I didn't know how average I was until now. It took me 7 books before I sold. But in between I finished my degree, raised my kids, and worked. Still it took a loooooong time, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. I'm so glad I hung in there. :)

mi said...

really great post!

it's true about having to believe each book could be THE ONE.
i think that's what drives us to hone our craft and learn from the previous manuscripts.
i'm going through that right now, actually. my last manuscript was the one that would land me an agent - i was positive!
but it didn't happen. and now, with my current wip, i'm seeing the benefits of being rejected because my writing has improved and my storytelling is much better.

for me, rejection is motivation to become a better writer.

Kathryn said...

Thanks for the pick me up. It can be hard sometimes (that's what she said), but it's the journey right now, and that's a learning experience and a reward itself. It's great to have blogs and social networks to help soften the blows. When writers stick together, it's much more inspiring! Thanks Tawna! :)

out of the wordwork said...

Sometimes, ignorance truly is bliss. Knowing too much, questioning too much, over-thinking too much ... it's just all too much. Hope can never be analyzed - you either have it or you don't. And if you don't then you might as well give up. Without hope, there can be no persistence and, like everybody knows, without persistence there is no chance. Keep the hope alive people. Great post, Tawna.
Nelsa

L'Aussie said...

I've mostly read that your first 2 books are rubbish as we learn to write a novel best by writing a novel. Now you tell me it's actually more! Phew! But I'm not going to let it get me down...so pleased for your success and for your honest sharing..:)

L'Aussie said...

Now where did I put that gin?

Daisy Harris said...

Firstly- LOVE YR BLOG!

Secondly- I just started blogging about this very issue! I'm working on my revisions for my second book right now and I decided to make it my goal to get 400 rejection letters.

It'll make me a better person and a better writer. But I guess i'll find out!
D

Melanie Sherman said...

I can't help but think that if you start each new manuscript with "Once upon a time" your number may grow substantially. :)

Although I'm receiving lots and lots of rejections, I'm having fun! Maybe I should start my second novel, though, just in case.

Lani Woodland said...

I loved this post!

WendyCinNYC said...

Oh, I hear you. And if you happen to have a crystal ball and know my number, PLEASE DON'T TELL ME.

Unless the answer is "Now! This one!" Then by all means, spill it.

Tawna Fenske said...

Elizabeth, great point about not writing just for publication! If that were the only reason someone started writing, they'd be in for a whole world of disappointment!

Elizabeth, hey, look at that -- two Elizabeths in a row! Thanks for the kind words, and especially for grasping exactly what I was trying to accomplish with the post. I don't want to discourage anyone or say "you're totally going to end up with a trunk full of unsold novels." My point is that you never know, so the only thing you can do is stay focused on the one that's in front of you.

Larissa, I was at an RWA meeting Saturday and made the mistake of mentioning my former book deal with Harlequin/Silhouette (the one that got canceled when they terminated the Bombshell line a month before my pub date) to a brand new author writing her first or second book. I could see right away that I'd totally crushed her by telling her that sort of thing can happen. I wished I could take it back so she could keep believing in the Tooth Fairy :)

Robin, you never know, that first effort might be exactly what some editor is seeking. That's the beauty of this business -- it's always possible!

Xuxana, glad the post touched a nerve! You're right, it's important to move on as quickly as you can and get going on another book. I've found it dramatically takes the sting out of rejections if you have something else to pin your hopes on!

Kathi, I'm sure you're way above average, dahling! :)

Mi, amen to this: "for me, rejection is motivation to become a better writer." Well said!

Kathryn, you're totally right about the support of other authors helping to pull us through the tough spots. I know I couldn't do this without it!

Nelsa, maybe we can find a way to bottle hope and sell it to other authors? We could make a killing!

L'Aussie, I wouldn't say that any of my books were rubbish (though certainly the first two weren't as polished). My third actually did sell, and I know plenty of authors who sell their first -- you just never know, really!

Daisy, thanks, and welcome to the blog! You'll have to report back if you accomplish that 400 rejection letter goal (or more importantly, if you DON'T because you manage to get one that's not a rejection!)

Melanie, definitely start the second! If nothing else, it'll give you somewhere else to focus your energy.

Lani, thanks! Glad you liked it!

WendyCinNYC, let me consult my crystal ball and get back to you. Oh, crap. I just dropped it on the floor. Got a broom?

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

prashant said...

Rejections always sting
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Larissa said...

Hey, Tawna! I linked to this post today. I hope you don't mind...
Thanks again for a great post. :)

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