Don’t give up.
This month at WU we’re focusing on best advice, and that’s mine. If you truly, truly want to be a published author, don’t give up, no matter how impossible it seems at times, no matter how long it takes–no matter how many rejections you get in the mail.
One of my closest friends just finished her first novel (and it is brilliant!) and started the agent- querying process last week—and got her first rejection within days. And my heart just aches for her, because there is nothing more discouraging, more soul-killing than crafting your query letter, polishing, agonizing over every word so that it represents your beloved novel the best it possibly can—and then getting that polite, impersonal ‘I just don’t feel enough enthusiasm for your project’ form letter in reply.
I wish I could make the process easier for her. I wish I could give aspiring authors guarantees that if you do X, Y, Z, some agent or editor will fall in love with your book. But I can’t. All I can say is, Don’t give up. Don’t despair.
I had to write five novels before I got one published. And am I glad I didn’t know it would take that long when I started writing my first book? I sure am. Would I have kept going anyway? I would. I really would, because I just couldn’t not. I couldn’t not write, couldn’t stop trying, because I had stories just begging to be told.
The only time I ever really, truly considered giving up on my dream of being an author was when I was about 4 months pregnant with my older girl. It was an afternoon in early spring. I’d just been dropped by my first agent. And then in the afternoon mail I got the final, nail-in-the-coffin rejection on the book I’d been shopping around for nearly two years. I remember calling my mum in tears and saying, This is it, I just can’t do it anymore, I’m going to stay home and raise my babies, this book has been rejected a dozen times and I am giving up.”
And my mum—I’ll never forget this—said, calmly, “Well, maybe this is just not The Book.”
And then I got off the phone and took a deep breath. And I realized two things. First, that I was going to be a mother myself. And I had to ask myself what I wanted my daughter to learn from me, from the example I set by how I lived my life. That when things are hard, when your dream doesn’t come true easily or right away you give up? Of course not. I want my girl—both my girls, now that I have two—to grow up knowing that any dream worth having is worth fighting for.
And second, I realized that I wasn’t writing because I wanted to get published. I was writing because I couldn’t not write. Because I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing air.
I called my mum back and I said, “You’re right. I may need to put this book aside. But I am trying again. I’m going to write another book. And if that one isn’t sell, I will write another, and if that doesn’t sell, another after that.”
And my mum—I’ll never forget this, either—said, “You see, the thing is, you are a writer.”
A week or so later I had the dream that inspired me to write Twilight of Avalon, which was The Book—the one that landed me my second (wonderful!) agent and then a publishing contract.
So I’ll close with the reply I sent my friend when she forwarded the news of her first rejection on to me:
There’s a Barbara Kingsolver quote that I absolutely love that goes, “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
Nearly every published author out there has had to earn their rejection stripes—and I’m sure they’d all say (I sure would) that getting each and every one of those stripes stung like a snake bite. But don’t give up. Look at each rejection, each obstacle in your path not as something to drag you down—look at them as a series of stair steps, that, once you’ve climbed them, bring you to your goal.