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.

19 Responses to “Walk”

  1. *salutes* Sir, yes, sir! I would love to keep f*cking walking, sir. And I’ll even love it.
    You’re right. It’s when you give up that the dream dies. As long as you keep trying, the dream is alive and kicking.
    Why do your posts come at a time when I need them the most?
    To that, I say: Thanks.
    Is the tattoo done? I’m on my way to get two some time soon. Pics to come. Nothing elaborate, but certainly meaningful.

    • You’re welcome. 😀 It does sound like a desktop calendar platitude, but it really only takes one.
      Tattoo is indeed done. Will be posting pics about the event once it’s healed. And it really doesn’t hurt that bad!

  2. PK Hrezo says:

    Great post, Jay. I’ve never commented before, but have been reading your posts for awhile. Stumbled across your blog when I was waiting to hear back from your agent, who later rejected two fulls of mine. Ouch.
    But what you say is so so true. It’s so easy to drown in the swamps of sad rejections. It’s like I always tell my kids, “Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we give up on it.”
    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! (sorry about the R’s on the Fulls – I’ll punch Matt in the face for you, if you like)
      The whole thing is a hard slog – it really is a lottery, and there’s always another mountain to climb. But the most fundamental truth is that you can’t win if you don’t play. If you’re getting full requests, you’re super close, so don’t give up! Walk on, my friend.

  3. CobraMisfit says:

    Outstanding post.
    I was wondering what that “squishy stuff” was on my Chucks. . .

  4. Thanks so much for the reminder, Jay! A crit partner had exactly this happen to her two weeks ago. Four agents. She hasn’t gone on submission yet, but I expect the comparison to continue. Hopefully I will follow suit, but if I don’t, on to the next story. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Far out, that’s stonkingly awesome! Tell your friend congrats!
      You should totally start rubbing her head for luck every time you see her now. I’m sure that wouldn’t’ annoy her at all.

  5. Julie Musil says:

    Aw, this was a great read! Congratulations to you on your success, and you’re absolutely right. The only sure way we won’t reach our goal is if we quit. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. judymintz says:

    Just the boost I needed this morning. You are a very entertaining writer. If your book is as good as your blog, I’ll be tempted to buy it, although I’m not typically a ‘xenomorph army’ kind of gal.

  7. Clara says:

    Thanks for this Jay, it really helped! Specially since yesterday I got a rejection that went about like this: “This is not for me, but thanks for the look up.”
    After 30 formal rejections so far, I feel pretty good (I mean, 300, holly guacamole!)
    What really pisses me is that agents love formal rejections and I can’t know what’s wrong without feedback (aaaggghhhh!)
    Oh well, I’ll just keep on walking now ; )

    • Sorry for the R! 🙁 Form rejections are one of the most frustrating parts of the process. Exactly like you say, you can’t know what’s wrong without feedback, and boilerplate rejection gives none.
      But, think of it this way – if agents spent their time explaining what’s wrong with your ms, they have far less time to spend on their clients, and one day (fingers crossed) you’re gonna BE one of those clients. On that day, you’ll appreciate the fact that your agent is dealing with you, rather than critiquing random novels. 🙂 Best bet is to seek your critiques through crit partners and writing groups – there’s a lot of good online resources out there. I’d start at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, if you’re not already there.
      Personally, I think the single most frustrating habit of literary agents is the habit of not replying to queries AT ALL. It takes no time at all to set up an automated “thanks but no thanks” response. Offering boilerplate? Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I understand why agents do it. Offering no reply at all? That just plain sucks, imho.

      • Clara says:

        Thanks Jay, you’re the best! : ) And you have a very good point!
        But ha, I’ve been to all them websites: querytracker, authoradvance, Write Watercooler, agentquery, Nathan Bransford…I’ve gotten great feedback on my queries for all its ten different versions, and I changed them accordingly. But so far, no success with agents : /
        Still, you’re 200%right sir: I hate it when I hear nothing at all! Way more then formal rejections.

        • Oh yeah, NB’s boards are a great place to source readers, too.
          True story – My agent is very cagey about whether he sends rejections or not. He’s not down on paper as a ‘no reply means no’ guy, but nor does he promise a reply. So when I e-queried him and got no response, I could have written it off as a rejection. But instead I thought ‘Meh, I’ll give it one more shot, what can it hurt’ and sent a snail mail query a couple of months later. And that was the query that got me repped.
          So yeah, always worth asking again if you get no response. Just in case.

  8. Ad says:

    I took something completely different away from this post. 🙂 But you get that no doubt, Walking is hard, but sometimes, one foot in front of the other, no matter how painful that can be, is the only way to get where you’re going.
    Waiting for your book. I’ve not read any fiction for over a year now. Want to dive into the world and devour every found thought and lost dream.
    Take care mate.

  9. […] Kristoff, who recently exhorted us all to walk and keep on walkin’ till we reach the destination, has got me thinking that, hm, yes, I […]

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