I want to write that I bounced back from this the very next day with a can-do attitude! For every rejection I got, I sent out two more queries!! Carpe damn diem!!!
I want to write that I did not take it personally. This was just business and business is about money, not propping up feelings. And they were rejecting my books, after all, not me.
I want to lie and make myself look like a better and stronger person than I am. But I did not race forward with the same momentum now, my finger crawling furiously down lists of agents and publishing houses, and I did not drive to the post office with stacks of queries quite as often.
In truth, I drifted.
The work of trying to get published was depressing; it gobbled up my limited free time like Pringles and spoiled the fun of writing. It was also costly for someone who had $25,000 in student loans and a McJob. I couldn’t bear to think of how my youthful inexperience had ruined it with the agent, although I took nasty glee in seeing his name get flagged on Preditors and Editors due to some other complaint. I was sorry when it was resolved and he went back to being called legitimate. One day at random, I found a new author’s book on the shelves at Target dedicated to him, and wanted to hurl it over the aisles into Car Repair.
I still sent out queries, but not at the pace of before. Now almost all of the publishing houses were closed to unsolicited submissions, and I do not write in genres with a preponderance of agents. News came that the science fiction market was crashing entirely. Advice hammered down fast and furious and contradictory. Write what you love NO write what is safe. Never say die BUT the odds right now are almost impossible. The industry was consolidating YET . . . and on it went. As a side note, telling a science fiction and fantasy author to just write romance and break in that way is not helpful.
I looked at my books and wondered if I could pare them down, or remove what might offend. Maybe I was shooting myself in the foot. Some of the criticism my work receives is for being too feminist. But thinking about changing that element rankled. When I was a child, the movie I despised most was the second Indiana Jones. I loathed that shrieking blonde twit whose inability to do anything but make a mess was the punch line, and that character inspired a lifelong grudge. I won’t write weak women for my lead characters. They are flawed because they are human, but they aren’t doormats or punch lines. No. I wouldn’t revise my books to have a male character be the hero solely on the basis of that character being male, and I wasn’t going to reduce my female characters to clinging to his biceps in admiration. I wanted to write people, not caricatures. Whether one is a hero or a twit has nothing to do with one’s personal bits.
Should I write romance to break in, as I was told? But one doesn’t just jump genres like hopscotch squares. One cannot write a genre well unless one has steeped in it for years, and books based on their romantic element have always bored me to tears. As a feature among many in a book, I enjoy it. As the main entrée, I’d rather wash the dishes. Although I read outside my genres to not limit myself too much, romance has simply never attracted me.
So I continued to write the books I like with a sense of hopelessness. For some months, I stopped writing entirely. Nothing happened with my queries: a nibble here, a nibble there, he liked it but he’s leaving the business, she no longer represents that genre, and it happened more and more often that agents never responded at all. My rejection file grew and grew.
Then, when I was 28, I was accepted.
It was only a small publishing house, yet they wanted my book. THEY WANTED MY BOOK!!! It was one of the two that had been rejected by the Big 6 company after their restock of the editorial shelves, and I was delirious yet cautious. There could be no advance with a place this small, but that was all right. I knew better than to go into this business with dreams of wealth. Over the next year, I worked with the editor on cleaning up prose and expanding description, and then it was off to be made into a real book. I returned to my laptop with renewed vigor and wrote The Dammerung.
My first book was published when I was 30. The print run was of modest size but it was selling, and I was due 8% of every sale. For three months, I did book signings and talks and panels and was interviewed by a magazine with a nice distribution number. Things were starting to take off.
And then my publisher went bankrupt.
The books vanished with the distributor. The publisher refused to answer phone calls or emails. No statements came. I hadn’t gotten a single one yet, as they were released quarterly, and had no idea of how much I’d sold or earned. You cannot promote a product that does not exist, and of that book, I netted $0.
Now I was 31, and back at Square One.