State of the Union: Writing

“So tell me a little about yourself,” someone said to me on Friday. “I’m trying to get a novel published,” was the first thing out of my mouth. As someone who doesn’t even tell his parents and close friends about his writing projects, really, this was kind of a big step to lead off with this information.

I talk about writing in vagaries in person, and with little added specificity when on this blog. There’s probably three people I truly discuss the WIP—and this counts for the polished manuscript I’m currently querying—because part of me knows that it’ll be a WIP until the day the first book comes off the printer. Outside of my beta readers, it’s something I want to hold close because I don’t want people to read it if there’s even a possibility it’ll change. And the fact that it’s guaranteed to change further into the process, my writing remains a secret.

A friend sent me a list of over fifty agents and an article that said, “Don’t stop querying until you’ve reached 80 agents.” I had made up my mind to quit querying and shelve Absolution at 40 queries—and prior to her list I was at 37. Because she had done the monstrously maddening process of agent research, I took two days—went a little mad—and submitted to a majority of the agents she’d sent along. I hit just above that magical number at 81, with a few more waiting in the wings, and nodded. All my chips are on the table.

I have received 39 form rejections or closed them after a prescribed period of no response given by the agent. The leaves 42 remaining, of which about half have the prescribed response time set for four-to-six weeks. I’m itching closer to those dates, and the more silence, the more I know that it’s another rejection via silence.

Because it may come up, I have had agents, published authors, agented authors, and multiple betas look over my query. It’s solid and well-polished.

By complete chance, I made a new friend who knows an author currently published by Penguin. She asked him what advice he would give to me, and he responded, “Get into Pitch Wars.” As that had been the plan since last September, it felt like the right sort of sign, y’know? My entry for Pitch Wars is ready to be copy and pasted into the form. I’m just waiting for the mentors to be revealed so I can do my research of who I want to submit to.

If I don’t get into Pitch Wars, I’m shelving Absolution. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, in a lot of ways, though an expected one. Drafting, revising, querying…it’s a maddeningly slow process. None of it is wasted time, but the secret thought of it being wasted because of no progress with the book remains.

A big focus on querying advice is to be working on another project to distract yourself in the waiting. Easier said than done, as I have definitely refreshed my email waiting for the next rejection—I’ve given up on expecting a partial or full request, and I’m close to giving up on expecting a personalized rejection at this point, too—between sentences while drafting Novel #2.

I think it’s difficult that even with a focus on moving forward, it never really looks like you’re going anywhere. When people ask, “How’s writing going?” It’s hard to distill into an answer on this side of the agent/un-agented divide. “I’m querying and working on novel #2,” is a fantastic answer, and very informative, but it carries no weight of common knowledge. There’s nothing to show for it. Writing is an art that requires patience, and at the end of the day, still doesn’t promise an audience.

People can see a painting develop across a canvas. You can hear a song in it’s infancy. Writing, by it’s very nature, fights back against this. I have my next two novels outlined, and the first of those is well under way in the drafting, but that means nothing because people only see me sitting. It’s a series of perceived delays that stretch and stretch.

If you’re not in love with the craft for some deep-seated reason, you’re not going to put yourself through it many times. No one likes being rejected—especially if you’re looking for a reason, those are so few and far between they might as well be unicorns—and this is an industry built around on rejecting everything and everyone. Don’t believe me? Ask Stephen King or J.K. Rowling how many times they were rejected first.

I think the hard part is not taking the rejections personally. They’re not rejecting me, they’re rejecting something I created. But when that something is a book, it might as well be another limb. No author is disconnected from their work enough for it not to affect them on some level.

I was telling the same friend who sent me the list and article that I’m not surprised I’m getting rejected so universally and formally. Agents are looking for good writing, first and foremost—supposedly—and I think I’m there. I don’t have much self-confidence in, well, anything, but I do believe I am a good writer. But it’s very healthy to remember that agents aren’t selling writing (most times), they’re selling the story. I wrote a book I looked for on shelves for fifteen years and never found—of course there’s no market for the story I’m telling. That immediately makes it a harder sell.

And I know I have to room to improve—every single writer does—but I thought my writing was of a level where maybe it would catch someone’s eye and they’d take a chance on a harder sell of a story. But I’m guessing that is not the case due to the rejections and silence, which is something I need to use as a motivation to improve my crafting on Novel #2.

Novel #2, on the crafting level, has definitely benefited from me going through the whole process with Absolution. I won’t deny that. It’s all I could hope for, in that regard. But on the plotting and story level, they’re such drastically different stories that I don’t know if my actual writing has improved. It’s one of those things I won’t know until I finish a draft and get it before my betas. Something I’m working towards 750 goal words a day at a time.

(It should be noted that Novel #3, the second outline, takes up 97% of my writing thought-life these days. But it’s not detracting from sitting down and getting the words out for N#2. Just an interesting personal observation.)

Last week I received 13 rejections on Absolution and a rejection from a dream writing job of mine. I grieved into a beer after swimming a mile in the lap pool, then poured my frustration into drafting and a couple donuts.

It’s hard to hold to any sort of hope when the giant pause button on my first manuscript looms over everything I do. Every rejection and day is a ticking countdown clock. Come September, I may just be another writer in the interim, not actively pursuing publication, but actively pursuing something new to bring to the table. It may be enough for me, but I wish people could see how much work and time it really takes.

I don’t have much support in this whole writing thing, really. Even gaining a little bit of traction of support would be a solid breakthrough. Even receiving just the smallest of helpful critiques or direction nudging would be appreciated, but in the agent world I think they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be on the other side. And that’s okay, they’re swamped. But it really sucks that in a world forgetting books more and more daily, the ones writing them often feel forgotten by the one group of true champions we’ve got.

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