It’s been almost a year to the day since I was plucked from the slushpile and pledged my soul to el Diablo signed with my literary agent. So today, I thought I’d discuss a pit where once I dwelled, neck deep in danky doom, like some 6’7 piece of bearded navel lint. Stick with me through the depressing intro – much like asphyxiating on carbon monoxide, it gets more pleasant towards the end.
Old crusty men will tell you there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. But old crusty men tell lies and smell of vaguely of urinal cake (have you ever noticed that? BIZARRE). Bollocks to old crusty men. There are actually three absolutes in this rollercoaster we ride.
Death, taxes and rejection.
If you’re a writer with aspirations of getting traditionally published, comprehending the third is just as vital as realizing that Frank Miller is a dude who once wrote some pretty good comics but has now turned bitter and gone pantsless hobo crrrrrrazy. The truth is this: the road to autograph-signing-induced RSI, drowning in fangirl undies and throwing TVs out the window at San Diego Comic Con is paved with boiler-plate rejection.
Rejection is someone you’ll hear rumours about from your crit-partners, maybe catch a glimpse of in your writing groups, but you’ll first become intimately acquainted on your quest to find representation. And when I say ‘intimately’, I’m not kidding. You’ll know where Rejection’s birthmarks are. You’ll know about that tattoo it got when it was 18 and drunk in Tijuana. You’ll know it’s not a natural blonde.
People will come at you with gems like “Stephanie Meyer got rejected nine times before Twilight got bought” or “JK Rowling ate a dozen rejections before she got her deal”. Let Phoenix Wright, attorney at law, put all such delusional cracky-talk to rest. I know writers who’ve swallowed three hundred rejections before they found an agent. Three hundred. Before they even got a ticket to the dance. Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to representation.
Got an agent? Awesome! Achievement unlocked! Now comes level two: Submissions. Your work gets sent out to publishing houses – one blind, wriggling little tadpole thing amidst a thousand others, all struggling together up that long, moist tunnel, vying for…
Nonono, wait. I’m putting a stop to this spermatozoa analogy right now.
Point is, the odds of getting picked up by a publishing house are long. You might get lucky. You might win the lottery on your first round and not have to dwell in the stinky ass-crack of Submission Hell for too long. But chances are, this isn’t gonna happen. I know plenty of writers who’ve gone from the dizzying high of landing an agent only to watch their book get passed on by every editor it’s sent to. Revise, Resubmit, Rejection. Until their fingers are worn down to little nubby stumps and signing with James Frey starts to look like a viable alternative. I even know of an author who got signed, edited, then dumped by her house as her book was in artwork stages. And to get so close just to watch it slip away? Wedding tackle, meet steel-toed boot.
Yes, okay, it’s hard. We get it. What’s your point, Jay?
My point is this: Walking this road is a slog, and some days, it’s going to seem like it’s too hard and too far away. You’ll do the math (never do the math – math is your enemy), work out the odds and wonder why you’re wasting your time. But as you walk this yellow brick road of rejection slips, you should take a moment to listen. The soft squishing sound beneath your Chucks? That’s the bodies of the people who walked this road before you and let it get on top of them.
You don’t want to be them.
As hard as walking is, as long as the odds are of you getting to the end, the odds are longer if you stop walking entirely. The probability of you getting to the finish line if you lay down? It’s nil. And ten-thousand-to-one odds are a damn sight better than an absolute impossibility.
About twelve months ago, I went from zero offers of representation to four in a single week. In the space of two months, I went from a guy with an inbox full of boilerplate rejection to having three different publishing houses bidding on my book. Two months. That’s not even a season of Metalocalypse. You couldn’t gestate an even halfway-decent xenomorph army in that time. That’s how fast this worm can turn. And it can start turning tomorrow. But not if you lay down. Not if you stop moving.
If you stop moving, you die. And your dream dies with you.
So my point?
Keep. Fucking. Walking.