Sixteen years ago I set out to become a published novelist. During that year I took it upon myself to outline and write my very first book. After finishing the first draft I went through and re-wrote it before holding my breath and handing it to a few trusted readers. One reader, especially, who happened to be a professional proofreader, gave me lots (and lots) to think about. I re-wrote the book again. And again. And again.
After re-writing it a dozen times I began the agent search. I got such glowing rejections as:
*Thank you very much for submitting YET SHE MUST DIE. There is no doubt that you’re a real writer, and YET SHE MUST DIE is merely the first of many books. However, despite its strengths, given today’s tough fiction market, I didn’t feel quite enthusiastic enough to represent your manuscript.*
*It’s a good story, nicely written, but alas, I’m afraid it just doesn’t seem right for us.* (which meant, of course, that they didn’t like it!)
And then there were those simple but heartbreaking one-liners, such as: Sorry, I’ll pass.
I persevered, rewriting and sending out queries, until I decided it was time to cut my losses and move on. While I felt good about the book, it obviously was not of a high enough quality for the market.
I wrote another novel. And another. None of these caught the lasting attention of any agent, although I continued to receive that oxymoron: the positive rejection. Somehow, that was enough to keep me going.
I spent my time writing, reading other books in the genre, and going to writers’ conferences where I made contacts, attended workshops, and learned about the business. I took what I learned and funneled every bit of it into my writing.
Finally I was able to write a book that caught the eye of both an agent and a publisher. In 2004, thirteen years after I began the attempt, I was published. And you know what? It felt great.
I look back at that first novel I wrote, and while I have sentimental feelings for it, I wonder how I ever thought it was ready to be published. While it had, as the agents noted, some things of value, it simply wouldn’t be able to compete with other books. Those agents knew what they were doing. But I refuse to be embarrassed that I sent it out. That book was a stepping-stone. A learning tool. Some might say that first not-quite-good-enough manuscript is a necessity. Because it taught me a world of lessons.
It has been a hard road, and a long one. Every writer knows the pain of rejection and the sinking feeling when those letters come back saying No.
But hopefully every writer will also feel the joy that comes with seeing her work come to fulfillment. She will know that she persevered, taking what she learned and using it to pursue excellence in her writing. And she will continue to perfect her craft – because I know I certainly never stop learning! – making her work the best it can be.
We at SinC love to hear stories of success and how the pursuit of excellence pays off. If you have a story to share, we’d love to know about it.
Author of the Stella Crown mysteries and LOST SONS, coming out in April