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Writing, Rejection, and Other Emotional Roller Coasters

Well, it's day whatever-ish of the worldwide isolation period, so I thought to myself, "Self," because I always address myself directly, "Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine. Surely, you can make some progress on your own writing career." And so here I am. Blogging.

Let me back up to give a little context. I'm a high school teacher at present, and retirement is looming. Well, maybe not looming...that has sort of a negative connotation. But it's out there, just three years and change from where I sit. When I got my official retirement date last fall, I sort of had an epiphany. For as long as I can remember, I've had two dreams: one was to be a mom (mission accomplished), and the other was to be a novelist. It was high time I made a serious go at dream #2, because it takes awhile to establish a foothold in the writing business, so I've been told.

Enter National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2019: a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month (November). I had started a YA novel a year and a half prior, and I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to push myself to finish it. Long story short: I did. I wrote and wrote, and got that puppy finished. I learned some things along the way, too.

  1. Even if you outline, your novel will probably take a turn you didn't plan in the beginning, and that's okay. Writing is a dynamic process.

  2. Writing the beginning of a novel is easy. Writing the end of a novel is easy. Writing the middle is basically dental surgery.

  3. People who have great ideas are plentiful. You're only a writer if you FINISH THE BOOK. (Full disclosure: I didn't make that one was actually a meme I saw somewhere, and the truth of it hit me like a 2x4 to the brain.)

Anyway, I did finish my first novel, Arcana Book One: Rise of the Moon, and it changed me. I suddenly realize that I am COMPLETELY capable of writing a book, even while teaching full time. I then asked my sister, who runs scholastic book fairs and has read more YA Lit than anyone I know, if she'd be willing to edit for me. She was thrilled that I asked her, and happily accepted. She's an incredible editor, by the way. For a second pass, I then asked another friend, novelist Kelly Miller, if she'd take a look from the point of view of a published writer. She also did an amazing job, and between the two of them, I really felt like the story got tighter and cleaner. Both of them really loved the book, too, which was a greater compliment than I think they'll ever know. They didn't just like my work, they validated my dream.

Next, I was onto beta readers. I discovered that teenagers are not really all that reliable when they tell you they'll read something. That shouldn't be a big shock, but I didn't really know how to feel about it at first. I did have one of them finish it, though, and she also gave me glowing reviews. At that point, I felt that it was time to seek publication.

I bought the well-respected Jeff Herman's Guide to Publishers and Agents, and I tabbed the hell out of it. Seriously. I think I ran through an entire stack of stick-tabs. I wrote a query letter. I sent said letter to Writer's Digest's query review service, and the reviewer basically told me I didn't need to change a thing. That he felt confident my query would get a response.

So the long and short of all of this is that I was feeling pretty darned confident. I liked my book, and so did other people. I had a good query letter. I had tabbed a gajillion agents who represented YA literature. I started sending out queries. That was three months ago.

So far, I've sent out 32. Two showed a little interest, but have not responded after requesting chapters. More than half haven't responded at all.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're out there telling me how many times JK Rowling and Stephen King got rejected before they finally found the right agent. And I hear you. I'm going to keep plugging away at the querying game. But I'm also going to tell you this, especially if you're an aspiring novelist like myself: It's rough on the psyche when you KNOW you've done a good job on something, and you can't get the attention of the people who can help make your dream happen.

I'm not going to fold and go cry in the corner, even if I get 50 or 100 rejections (the no-answers are worse, by the way. It makes you feel like you weren't even worth the time to send a formal rejection letter.). I'm just saying that knowing you're going to get a lot of rejections and then actually EXPERIENCING it are two very different things. But I guess it's like that Emily Dickinson poem that sagely advises that only those who have failed can appreciate success; I'll keep moving forward, and when it's finally published, it'll feel that much sweeter.

And if not, hey, there's always self-publication, which wasn't really an option for Rowling or King. I'm not sure if that's the correct route for me, but we'll see. I'm still very early in my journey.

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