Wednesday, May 20, 2015

On Publishing and Perseverance

I keep a five-year journal, which is basically two composition books where each page =a day and I divide it into five sections and record a couple of lines about what happened on that day in a given year. I am on year four, so I’ve got quite a bit of history to look at every day when I sit down to make my notes.

A year ago yesterday, I was devastated. My top-choice editor had passed on the project most dear to my heart since Ballads of Suburbia. (I don’t know if anything will ever be dearer to me than Ballads…) It was my “grief book,” if regular blog readers remember me talking about it and it had been out on sub for a year at that point—I know because I revisited the hopeful “It’s going out on sub!” entry from 2013 a couple of weeks ago. My hope had already been hanging on by a thread. This editor was one of the only remaining from the first round (Yes, sometimes it REALLY takes that long. They are just THAT busy.) and since she’d told my agent she was still considering, I’d taken that as a good, hopeful sign. Or I tried to. Honestly I spent most days pretty depressed about my career then. Honestly, most of the journal, which starts in 2012 and thereby covers two full manuscripts and two partials/proposals  going on submission is REALLY fucking depressing on the career front. I mean, during that time period I went back to therapy because I was so depressed and I moved across the country to try to reclaim my life (both things were hugely successful—those are the brightest spots in the journal).

Anyway, so back to May 19, 2014. I was devastated. I believe I ate only a chocolate cupcake for lunch (though that might have been May 23rd, 2014, when we got the rejection from another editor who was really high on my list) and according to my journal I cried for two hours. I noted that my agent was insistent that I should NOT be so upset. The rejection was one of those “positive” rejections. The editor insisting that she loved my work and would love to work with me, but something in this particular project was just throwing her—that’s why she’d sat with it for so long. My agent told me that she’d used the rejection to start a conversation with the editor, to pitch her my next project and she was SO excited about it.

I would not be consoled though. This was now 4 years and 3 projects of rejection and I just felt like I was at the end of the line. This next project, the one that my agent and this editor were so excited about, I told myself it was the last one. If it didn’t sell, I was done.  And dammit, I really meant it this time.

A year ago today, I Skyped with a friend of mine who did an Angel Card reading for me. I’ve been a long time believer in Tarot, horoscopes and the like, and I desperately DESPERATELY  wanted some good news. My friend really wanted to give me some, but the cards did not show what I wanted to hear. She saw a lot of strife and heartache with the “grief book”—in fact, the card that represented it had an image with a heart and five knives going through it! More than one editor had told me there was too much going on and I might have to rip it apart to fix it and I COULD NOT see how, but the Angel Cards seemed to be saying the same thing. “I think you’ll sell it eventually, but not for at least another year and not without a lot of changes. I do think you will sell something else first, though,” my friend told me. And she repeated this a bunch of time as we went over the details of the cards. I did not like this. I did not want to hear it. Selling something wasn’t good enough right then. I wanted my “grief book” which I’d put so much of my own grief from the past few years’ failures into, to succeed, to vindicate me.

One image that showed up in more than one of the cards though, was dark horse, who seemed to be pulling me forward in one image and watching over me in another. “Do you know someone with dark hair?” my friend asked. “Because it seems like they are really looking out for you and fighting for your success.”

“My agent has dark hair,” I said.

“Trust her,” my friend insisted.

I did. She’d stood by my side through many, many rejections. She’d sent me a copy of The Little Engine That Could when I was blocked. I sent a few more morose and despondent emails (esp after rejection from the other editor I really wanted to work with) and told myself to believe, one more time.

In the second week of last June, my agent sent my new book proposal out. I haven’t looked at those journal entries yet, but I vaguely remember writing them and there wasn’t as much hope or fanfare as there had been with the previous three submissions, even though my agent was telling me that she really had a good feeling about this one. So good it scared her, she admitted at one point, but I figured she was still trying to cheer me up.
  
Then, just a week later, a gorilla rang my doorbell, and after dancing to “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang, informed me that I needed to call my agent.

I would have been shocked even without the gorilla. We’d sold the new book, my Young Adult memoir, to Julie Strauss-Gabel. She’d taken a year to reject my last manuscript (and please be aware that she’d also rejected a manuscript before that) and a week to offer on the new one. In the span of a month, I went from one of the darkest places in my writing life to the absolute most triumphant.

There are two reasons this happened. 1. I kept writing. Even when I didn’t want to. Even when I was so certain nothing would ever come of it again. 2. I had a really good agent. One who saw opportunity where I couldn’t: in that “positive” rejection.

Also, that Angel Card reading was right—maybe it was a higher power, or maybe it was my deepest gut feelings and fears that I shared with my friend and she interpreted—the “grief book” wasn’t ready. It needed to be ripped apart. Recently, I’ve figured out how and I’ve been toying with it while I wait for Julie’s notoriously tough revisions on my memoir. I can’t say now if it will ultimately sell as my friend, but dissecting the book is going to teach me a hell of a lot about craft, and given the current learning kick I’m on, that is all I can ask for.

I post this today to remind any writers who are struggling with rejection—whether you are published or not—that if you keep writing and keep reaching, you’ll get there.

I also post this because I’m feeling lost and trapped in other parts of my life right now and I’m hoping that similarly, a few weeks or a month from now, I will experience the same triumph.


Just keep swimming, my friends.

9 comments:

Michelle Tran said...

Wonderful post! I always enjoy when writers 'keep it real,' and don't give the 'fluffy success story,' because writing is hard work. The publishing biz is tough. And life is rough. But the hardships are what makes success so sweet, because even if you feel like it's all going nowhere, you keep at it. And before you know it, you've arrived at a destination you didn't even know you were heading into in the first place!

Hope all is well! And I miss that class of yours!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks, Michelle! I miss having you as a student!

Lydia said...

I love this post so much and aww, I'm sorry, you're having a hard time with other things! Hope we get to read the grief book one day but in the meantime, AM SO EXCITED for this YA memoir! :):) And I'd forgotten about the gorilla :) xoxo

www.thelittleenigma.blogspot.com

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