Shortly after my last post, in the beginning of June, my book agent called with her response to my memoir draft. She had read a few chapters before, but this was the first time she’d read the whole thing. I was anxiously awaiting her opinion and held my breath when her number appeared on my phone. Then I heard her say, “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s not for me.”
My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. After four years of hard work and getting my hopes up that I might actually be able to take my book to the next level, I was being shown to the door. I was crushed.
After further reflection and lots of encouraging emails/discussions with fellow writers, I realized that she had done me a favor. It’s like when someone breaks up with you… at first it hurts, then you realize, “Wow, I dodged a bullet!” Because clearly that person isn’t the right person for you.
And clearly, this agent wasn’t the right agent for me.
When you read the Thank You’s at the end of almost any book, the author inevitably thanks his/her agent for their tireless help, encouragement and championing. Case in point: at the end of her memoir WILD author Cheryl Strayed writes to her agent, “Janet, you are my friend, champion, and literary kindred spirit. I will always be grateful to you for your support, smarts, and love.”
A champion is someone who believes in you, will fight for you and stick with you through thick and thin. I’m sure this agent has been a champion for others (she was highly recommended to me), but she was obviously not going to be my champion. How could she be if she didn’t respond to the material?
So, I’m glad that she was honest with me. She basically set me free to find my true champion.
The other gift, though, is that by rejecting my manuscript, she gave me a chance to make it better. The little feedback she did share with me basically let me know that the book isn’t ready yet. One could argue that just because it didn’t do it for her, doesn’t mean it won’t do it for others. I’ve had several people tell me they loved my manuscript. I also know I’m a good writer. But I’m not beyond seeing that my work could be further refined and focused. To think otherwise would be foolish. It is my first book, after all. I want to get it right!
So, for this I’m also grateful. Eventually, when I go out to other agents, I’ll do so with a manuscript that’s gone through another round (if not multiple rounds) of drafts, readers and feedback. I’ll know that what I’m putting out there is the absolute best it can be.
Writing a book is hard. It takes years. There are many stops and starts, a lot of bad drafts before a good one, and a lot of rejections.
If you don’t believe me, take it from these veterans:
“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.” – Barbara Kingsolver
“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” – James Lee Burke
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ – Saul Bellow
“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling
For more inspiration, read the rejections of many best-selling authors here: http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/
The point is, rejection is part of the game. Even if you’re not a writer – it’s part of life. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Learn from it. Sidestep it. Step over it. Inspect it if you must, but keep moving forward.
By all means, don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t take it personally. And never ever give up on your dreams. I’m not giving up on mine!